Distraction and Addiction

Why are we so attracted to bright and shiny objects?

Here you are, on track, fervently applying your talents and skills on what will have the gretest impact on your life, that of your family and possibly the world when suddenly… What’s that?

It’s interesting to say the least. You justify disengaging for the briefest of moment, only to investigate the interruption for a minute, with the full intention to returning to the subject at hand.

Before you know it, the day is spent. One thing or another has successfully distracted you enough that all your good intentions to be intently productive have failed, and you ask yourself, “Why?”

No need to berate yourself. We all do it, and there’s good reason.

If you’re of the scientific persuasion, it might make you feel better and give you the tools that you need to understand why your mind tends to wander (just like the rest of us) which may enable you to actually do something about it.

We all seek some kind of reward for doing the things that are less than enjoyable. Scientists who study the mind often reach down to lower creatures for clues to uncover the answers of why we do the things we do. Rats think, process instincts and reasoning skills are compact and plentiful, so they make excellent test subjects in the laboratory.

If scientists run tests on rats in cages with levers that dispense an edible treat they can come to reasonable hypothesis of how we also might respond to rewards by studying the results based on the psychology of animals.

Neuroscientists track the electrical and chemical activity of the rat’s brain as it responds to stimuli based on pressing levers and getting something in return, shedding light on how the mind works in terms of short term pleasure and long term happiness, which generates questions to ask about how the results might compare to the human brain.

The subcortex is the pleasure center of the human brain, which is also true for the brains of other animals on this planet including rats. If one were to administer an electrical charge to that portion of your brain, you would feel a surge of pleasure.

Though shocking humans at this spot on the brain is problematic, it can be triggered by drugs such as heroin.

Distraction is not always associated with pleasure. Your attention may be interrupted by something inconsequential and meaningless, which may never result in a sense of pleasure just as Heroin addicts can experience a great deal of need when they burn out the ability of their subcortex to reward their continued drug use, so they experience little or no pleasure response leaving them wanting more all the more as they try to achieve the result they were accustomed to during their regular drug use.

It’s the Wanting

Wanting something is what fuels our distraction. Desire circuits are located near the subcortex and are more prevalent than pleasure circuits and are triggered by the neurohormone, dopamine. The effect of dopamine in this part of the brain is the key component in addictions.

Even when no drug is present, just being reminded of situations, circumstances or any trigger that initiates recollection of the use of the drug, releases a dose of dopamine in the brain, making the addict want to use the drug again to re-experience the full effect even more.

We all are wired to want the things we like due to the desire and pleasure circuitry in the brain being so closely associated. The downside of addiction is that as you bombard the pleasure center repeatedly, it’s ability to make you feel the thrill decreases, leaving the addict to want more and more substance, while casual users are more likely to experience the original high without damaging the subcortex’s ability to thrill.

Engaging in fun activities that are not addictive always have a sense of pleasure associated with them, while routine activities are more closely associated with addictive qualities and become less enjoyable over time, like watching television or engaging with our electronic devices and social media.

We were so excited about our TV that we wanted more and more channels. Now those who have watched it most have hundreds of channels but can’t find anything to watch.

What does your phone use say about you?

Social media is the new heroin, as each interaction produces a dose of sweet dopamine which keeps us wanting/needing more and more… leading to the decline of organic conversation in our culture.

Now that you have a basic idea about why your body reacts like it does to certain stimuli, you might be able to withstand succumbing to the lure of distraction, allowing you to stay more keenly focused on the meaningful aspects of life, without getting derailed.

If you find that you are unable to disengage in the distractions of life on your own, you may need a little help from your friends (a coach, counselor or consultant) to break the addiction and resume your life and experience long term satisfaction and happiness.

You can do this.

Your best life is waiting for you.

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