Roughly two years ago several friends coined a new nickname for me – “Shiny Squirrel.” That’s because the ease with which I got distracted by proverbial “shiny objects” and “squirrels” provided them with endless hours of entertainment. The nickname stuck, so I decided to run with it. Why not? Everyone likes shiny objects (depending on the object, of course), and squirrels are industrious little creatures who know how to follow their instincts to find what will help them thrive.
Here’s why I mention the whole Shiny Squirrel thing: I can be really stubborn at times. REALLY stubborn. By stubborn, I mean that I sometimes find myself stuck in patterns of thinking that I know don’t serve me, but I keep entertaining those thoughts anyway. Why wouldn’t I? The thoughts are so familiar they feel like a security blanket, so I literally refuse to let them go. While the “connected” side of me gently reminds me that my thoughts are doing more harm than good, my ego (a.k.a. “stubborn me”) refuses to stop running with the stories because they’re so familiar. Stubborn me doesn’t like the unknown, so I justify my stubbornness with the all-too-common, ‘yeah but…’ response, and then I find myself becoming a textbook example of the popular definition of insanity: Someone who does the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results.
So how does stubbornness tie into my nickname? Last year I was working with a very good friend of mine on a project when he taught me a simple trick that not only disrupts stubborn thought patterns, but it also works to get rid of really entrenched habits. The trick was so simple, in fact, that I ignored it for a while because it couldn’t possibly work… at least, what’s what stubborn me kept saying. On the flip side, Shiny Squirrel was anxious to try it out. “OMG, I can totally do this! C’mon! Lemme at it!”
What’s the trick you ask?
Yeah. That’s it. Distract yourself. If your reaction is, “Huh?” you’re not alone. That was my initial reaction as well. “What? You mean to tell me that all I have to do to get rid of an entrenched thought or habit is to do something that I do naturally anyway? Naaawww! It can’t be THAT simple!” And so I shoved the idea into the back of my mind and forgot about it for a while.
That is, I forgot about it until a particular thought I knew wasn’t serving me kept popping up. I was so frustrated over not being able to break the pattern I suddenly remembered the trick my friend taught me many months before. Even though I still had my doubts about its effectiveness, I thought, why not? Nothing else is working. So I started thinking about how I could distract myself (which alone distracted me) and I finally settled on my favorite tool, gratitude.
Those who have taken my “Living a Happy, Passionate Life” class, know that my favorite tool to feel better is to express gratitude. Gratitude is the perfect distraction, because it gives us an incentive to focus on the things that make us feel good… and when we feel good, we’re aligned with our higher, happier selves.
Now here’s the curious thing – and this is something I think you’ll like: Distraction only works when it’s used in combination with another habit that comes naturally to most human beings… and that’s procrastination. (If you’re smiling, I told you that you would like this part.) Think about it for a moment. Why do most of us procrastinate? We procrastinate because we’re putting off something we really don’t want to do. So why not use that natural tendency to our advantage?
If you were to ask a neuroscientist how how use the distraction / procrastination combo, he or she would respond by saying distract first, and then procrastinate. I agree, however I discovered something interesting when I deliberately shift into Shiny Squirrel mode: The process of distracting and then procrastinating happens so quickly I often feel like I’m distracting myself AND procrastinating at the same time.
For example, when my thoughts are running wild and I’m being really stubborn, I distract myself by deliberately making a gratitude list. I ask, “What I am I grateful for?” and then I give myself five minutes to write down as many things as I can. My answers can be repetitive, they can be silly, they can be mundane, or they can be spectacular. It doesn’t matter. I just write down whatever comes to mind. Most of the time I feel great by the time I’m done. Sometimes however, I still don’t feel good, but that’s okay because the real intent is to distract myself.
How does procrastination fit into the mix? What I’ve noticed is that while I’m distracting distracting myself by writing down all of the things for which I’m grateful, I’m simultaneously delaying the other thought that had gained traction. In other words, I’m procrastinating something I don’t want to do – which is entertain the thought that was not serving me and making feel bad. My personal observation is that distraction and procrastination usually work in tandem with each other, which is why they’re so powerful. As my friend David put it, distraction and procrastination are your two best friends when the goal is to dislodge an entrenched habit or derail a runaway thought.
Isn’t that great news? You can use two natural tendencies to your advantage! And the news gets better… even though I use gratitude as my favorite distraction and procrastination tool, the combination works with anything that gets you.
Are you a fellow Shiny Squirrel? Are you a master at putting off things you don’t want to do? If you answered yes, then welcome to my world… and congratulations! You already have the tools you need to master the art of living a happy, passionate life! YAY YOU! Say goodbye to entrenched habits, stubborn thoughts, or anything else that doesn’t serve you, and have fun distracting yourself into the life you really want to live.
About the Author
Appio Hunter is an author, speaker, spiritual guide, and self-described champion for living joyously. He uses his seminars and workshops to facilitate conversations about authenticity, alignment, and the daily experience of community, connection, and joy. Appio is also a weekly columnist with The Good Men Project and co-host of the Real Men Feel Show along with his good friend Andy Grant.