In praise of distractions

Last week, we mentioned that you, our dear readers, might need a distraction.  And, in typing that, it made me consider how many times we use the word “distract”, and all its grammatical forms (distraction, distracting, etc.,) to refer to something in a negative light.

But the truth of the matter is that distractions can often be a good thing, and a positive addition to your work, learning, or daily life.  This is especially true if, as in so many things in life, you are healthy and mindful about your distractions.

Studies have shown that people who open themselves up more to sensory perceptions and engagement–listening to other people talk, hearing music, touching different surfaces and textures–actually engage more of their brain, and thus, their creativity, than people who force their brain to focus, without any outside input.  Distractions can also give your lizard-brain–the part of your brain always on the lookout for threats, danger, and stampeding elephants–a break, lowering generalized anxiety, and aiding in relaxation.

But distractions don’t just have to be mental.  They can be physical.  Getting up and moving engages muscles, and our bodies work better when more than one muscle group is engaged at any one time, usually doing the most mundane of tasks.  This is why you get your best ideas in the shower.  Or while going for a walk.  Or gardening.  You get the idea.

Finally, and this may be more a personal observation than a citeable fact…life is too short.  There are flowers blooming out there.  There are cat videos that will make you laugh.  There are interesting people doing interesting things, and your brain is wired to want to take those things in.  So rather than deny you, your mind, and your heart all those great things that make them happier, work better, and feel more fulfilled, why not just be more mindful of your distractions?  Perhaps plan them out?

Perhaps, let the Library help you find a few terrific distractions!  Here are some that I’ve come to appreciate enormously:

Making things:

Knitting is one of the few things in my life that I am totally confident in doing.  Thus, when I’m really stressed, or facing a particularly intimidating challenge, I usually bring my knitting along with me.  Taking a few minutes to walk away and knit, and get a few rows finished, gives me the morale boost I need to finish.  And best of all, when all is said and done, I actually have something to show for it!

If you, like me, finds solace in a ‘maker’s break’, then use your distraction time to try a new craft, like Brioche Knitting, Soutache (orate braided craftwork), or even baking eclairs!  A note: as ever, the Library Staff are more than happy to taste-test any pastries that you make using Library materials.

Listening to music:

I have music playing almost constantly while I’m working, as to many of the people I know.  But how often do you really, actually hear the music in your ears?

One day, when I was in the middle of Academic Writing and wishing I were somewhere and someone else, I read this post from Michael J. Nelson (yes, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame), that not only gave me pause to think, but provided one of those pieces of music that I just love to sit and hear.  Here is his post below:

Full text of the post, in case you need it:

Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is so obviously great you are tempted to think that it’s always existed and take it for granted. It’s like Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: you so want to dismiss it because it’s been around too long and you’re supposed to like it.

But listen to it in its original form before he expanded it; the 2nd movement of his Op. 11 string quartet and you may hear it with fresh ears, to use a term that is anything but fresh.

Incidentally, the story goes that Barber sent the only existing score to Toscanini who returned it without comment. They met later and a visibly irritated Barber snubbed Toscanini, who caught up with him and said, “I know you’re angry because I sent the score back to you, but I plan to premiere it with the NBC Symphony.” A dumbfounded Barber asked how that was possible as it was the only score. Toscanini tapped the side of his head with a finger and said, “It’s all up here.”

True? Hell, I don’t know. But that’s the story and I’m sticking with it.

(if the link doesn’t go to the 2nd movement, it’s at about 8:40)

Watching Things:

Let’s be honest; sometimes there is nothing whatever to be done but just let your brain rest and enjoy some quality tv or movie time.  And here, the Library is also the perfect place to feed your need!  Check out Hoopla for free streaming videos, and our extensive DVD collection.  Might I recommend Fortitude, a phenomenally weird murder-mystery series set in the Arctic?  Or perhaps Pretty Little Liars, a show that has captivated patrons of all ages?  Or a raucous spoof like Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles?  Whatever your tastes, we are here, and delighted to help you find the perfect productive distraction for your busy lives!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *