Traction Vs. Distraction

 “I had no idea if I came to church with you I was going to have to sit on the second row!“ was the disgruntled statement a friend made when she joined me. I told her I’d be willing to sit somewhere else if it would make her experience more enjoyable. She said, “Well, it’ll be okay, but when we went to church together in Junior High School, we sat on the back row, so I guess I was expecting the same location!”

We had indeed sat on the back row in Junior High School … strategically! I’m not sure if we did not want to distract people behind us while we passed notes back-and-forth, or whether we just thought we wouldn’t get caught back there.

Even though I stopped passing notes in High School, I remained on the back row for years until one of my mentors said something that made me re-think not only where I chose to sit in church, but how I positioned myself in my life.

She said in response to me as I was attempting to complete my dissertation, and was complaining about being distracted by so many other things: “High steppers and people of success manage things that distract them in order to get traction and move forward with forward positive steps.“

Manage my distractions? What on earth does that mean?

I figured it out at that moment in time, and it was a pivotal concept that has kept me on track to this day.

How are you handling this period of time while we’ve been sheltered in place? I had the opportunity to share this with a client of mine who failed to complete his homework this past week. He came in the session and said, “I’ve been so distracted by all the sickness, and deaths, that I have not been able to focus on my homework.“ I had the wonderful opportunity to share with him what I would like to share with you. Are you allowing distraction to prevent your traction?

You may be challenged with financial or job difficulties during this time. Are you allowing distraction to prevent your traction?

You may be a little weary of being “stuck in place” with too many people in what now seems like a minute amount of square footage. Are you allowing the distraction to keep you from getting traction?

Every moment of every day, there are distractions. The dinging of text message notifications, the ringing of the telephone, knocks on the door, someone’s television turned up too loud.

It happens to all of us. The real question is this… “Will we focus on our traction? Or on the distraction?”

This was the question that my awesome mentor, Dr. Pat Love, posed to me.

At the time, I was still struggling with learned helplessness. You might be familiar with it too. It’s a situation where we adopt a belief that we have no control over anything that happens to us. Therefore, we are yanked around by circumstances.

The truth is: although we may not have complete control over things that occur, we can certainly control our response to them.

It’s like that success equation I learned from Jack Canfield many years ago, E + R = O. Events + Responses = Outcome. He teaches that every outcome, every result you experience in life is a result of how we respond to events (or situations). For example, if your outcome is “being broke,” it’s a result of how you handled your generosity (or lack thereof) last year when you received your bonus. (Did you spend it all carelessly, or give 10%, save 10%, invest 10%, and use the rest wisely? Or did you blow it on a new “toy”?) If you experience a break up in an important relationship, it is the result of how you responded to events along the way.

We are not helpless! We get to choose every response, which then directs outcomes that fuel (or fail to fuel) our purpose and destiny!

The serenity prayer is a great outline for this concept. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference!

What that meant for me in graduate school was that if I wanted to complete my dissertation, I was going to have to find a quiet, serene place to do my statistical analysis, and my writing. I had tried to work in the Library, but there were so many distractions. So I had to decide what I could control.

To accomplish that, I had to become very intentional (and resign from learned helplessness). Perhaps these things will be helpful to you as you deal with distraction as you gain traction in your relationships, career, goals and/or dreams.

  • Assess what you can control and cannot control. Then as the great serenity prayer suggests, ask for wisdom to know the difference. I could not control the noise in the library (yes, we all know that Libraries are supposed to be quiet places! But ours was not!)
  • Make wise choices on things that you can control that are productive and helpful to you. For me, that meant relocating myself from the Library to a picnic table at a city park.
  • Focus on what’s before you for designated periods of time. Then take a break. While working in the park on my dissertation, I would work for 45 minutes, and take a 15-minute break and walk around the park. That was the perfect formula for me. I decided to block off three hours a day to repeat that pattern until it was completed.
  • When you need to get traction, in a relationship, on a project, on managing your emotions, you must schedule it. Normally when we are trying to get traction on something, we get distracted by other things that need to get done first. Time will never materialize if you wait for it. You must create the time, and you must create it for a long enough period of time, and  with enough consistency, in order to gain traction, and cross the finish line.
  • Celebrate progress. We would all like to think we could write a dissertation in a few days. That is not likely, and the completion will be delayed if you don’t celebrate progress. I decided that my celebrations would come with sections. I knew that there were going to be about 12 sections (at least) in my dissertation. I knew that if I kept my three-hour commitment to my traction daily, that about every other day I could celebrate.

At the time I was still eating sugar, so I reserved my favorite food, a king size Butterfinger and a diet Dr Pepper for celebrations at the end of each section. It certainly kept me motivated, because I had always had at least one a day before that time!

  • Get accountability. At the time, I was maxed out! I had to carefully schedule in my showers daily because I was a mom, a full time student, had a full time job and a part time job. But I didallow myself one “treat“ weekly, and that was choir practice. I struck a deal with our amazing choir directors, Jimmy & Becky Pearce, that I could not attend choir practice if I hadn’t completed five of my three-hour sessions that week. I don’t think they were too fond of that being a consequence, but they knew it was important to me. When I walked in on Tuesday nights they would ask, “Did you complete five of your sessions this week? Or do you need to use this time to do that?” That accountability alone kept me on track!
  • Make “quitting” or “giving up” an ABSOLUTE “NO! NOT! NO WAY! NEVER! NOT A CHANCE!”  I couldn’t believe it when I considered going ABD. What is ABD? All but dissertation. It’s a status too many graduate students leave with. They have the education, but not the letters behind their name. When faced with the enormous, daunting task of completing a dissertation, I did consider it … for at least a few minutess! LOL! After those few minutes of even entertaining it, I knew I had to make a decision that I would not stop, I would not falter, and I would not quit.

Because I love music, and I love to dance, I recommend you find a song that will help you remember your resolution to complete your project, your goal, or your dream once you get traction.

I chose one of Michael Jackson’s songs, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough!“ When I got discouraged, I would get up from the picnic table where I was writing, put my Walkman headphones on, and would dance around the park singing at the top of my lungs… “Don’t stop till you get it done!“

It’s funny now, because anytime I hear that song, whether I’m walking in the mall and hear it over the loudspeaker, or I am at a wedding or celebration where it is played… I am immediately back there in Commerce, Texas, sitting at a picnic table, writing furiously. And I did not stop. Til I got it done!

Where will you find me on Sunday morning? On the second row! Why? Because I can’t control whether or not parents let their kids go in and out of the service multiple times. I cannot control the people who choose to talk during the service, I cannot control fidgety and wiggly people. But I can control where I sit in order to avoid distractions. Why do I do that? Because I am there to get traction in my personal and Spiritual growth. I avoid the distractions, and I get traction! 

What about you? What do you need to get traction on? Improving your relationships? Starting your business? Buying a home? Putting a pool in your backyard? Making a difference in the lives of your adult children?

Whatever it is, it is worthy of the dedication it requires. Tackle distractions managing those you can. Get traction by devoting time and energy! And whatever you do… “Don’t stop till you get it done!”