By now, we all know the risks of distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every year thousands of people die in car crashes where the driver was occupied in something other than driving, mostly texting on their phones. A driver who is texting is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash (for comparison, talking only increases risk by 30 percent), yet most drivers admit that they do it. The temptation for distraction is too strong, even in the face of a substantially greater risk of death.
When not behind the wheel where we risk our life and the lives of our passengers, distractions robs us of one of our most precious assets in life: focus. Most of us follow a reactive pattern: We respond to a downpour of emails, texts, and calls, and our to-do lists are filled with errands and chores, many of which are completely meaningless to us. We don’t have the time and attention to properly think, analyze, make decisions, or simply experience life directly without the mediation of some type of device. In his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman describes how depleted attention leads to poor performance, and eventually loss of meaning and purpose: “The onslaught of incoming data leads to sloppy shortcuts, like triaging email by heading, skipping much of voicemails, skimming messages and memos. It’s not just that we’ve developed habits of attention that make us less effective, but the weight of messages leaves us too little time simply to reflect on what they really mean.”
A mind that is constantly distracted is not only dangerous and unproductive. It is unhappy and lacks a sense of purpose. If you get pulled in all directions, you risk going through life without intention, transported on a conveyor belt to its very end, and reaching it full of regrets.
The antidote to this disease is simple, and you can apply it right now: instead of thinking of what to do, decide what not to do.
First, outline your future life in detail. Have a crystal-clear vision of the person you want to be. Then, vet each email, text, phone call, chore, offer, or meeting, to assess whether it aligned with this vision. If it isn’t, say no, or simply ignore it, and keep your eyes on the road. Leaving that one text message unanswered or putting it on the backburner may save your life, even if you’re not driving, and make the difference between merely being alive to going on the ride of your life.