Sometimes when I am teaching a fitness class, I have a participant who distracts the people around them. Class clowns come and go, making side comments and funny faces, telling jokes, and in other ways calling attention to themself and away from me instructing the class, and away from our purpose. Or maybe it’s someone who just talks incessantly to the people nearby, repeatedly attempting to engage them in conversation.
To participate in a group exercise class safely and effectively, one needs to be able to hear the instructions and concentrate on what they are doing. Yet, most people, in an effort to be polite, will feel obliged to interact with these folks because they fear being thought of as rude if they ignore them. More often than not, they will complain to me after class, but they won’t address the behavior themselves. Initially, I find myself hoping that a couple of general directions to the entire class to focus on what they are doing will stop the distracting behavior. Nope. Never works. So I get to address the issue directly, and I have on numerous occasions spoken privately to someone to let them know that they can’t continue to attend class if the behavior continues. This goes over REALLY WELL because nobody likes being called out on their behavior. Nobody!
Sleight of Hand
Why do people do this? I am reminded of a good magician who makes you think something is happening that isn’t, largely through the tool of distraction. A sleight of hand is not hard to pull off when people are looking somewhere else. That’s a good reason for attempting to distract people; otherwise, the magic trick won’t work.
Why would the rest of us try to distract others? What is there to be gained from it? Logic will tell us that it’s probably a bit annoying to others if we keep pulling them off what they are focusing on. Sometimes our chatty friends in class are a bit narcissistic and just can’t stand to go too long without someone else’s attention. They are truly (though largely unaware of this) uncomfortable with everyone’s attention being on someone else. Subtle feelings come up of being neglected, forgotten, or ignored, and they don’t tolerate them well.
Don’t Look At Me!
There are other reasons. Think about the person attempting to address an issue with their spouse who, in an effort to avoid the topic, keeps bringing up side issues. Or the kid who got a low grade on their report card and is trying to get their parent focused elsewhere. It’s pretty easy to see the self-interest behind the distraction.
Also, distractors may simply be trying to distract themselves. They live with some degree of inner emotional turmoil or discomfort that they aren’t willing or able to attend to. The person who feels incompetent or uncomfortable within themselves will get a conversation going just to get their attention elsewhere.
This interests me because it speaks to this not-uncommon and often ever-present feeling of vague discomfort that many people have. It’s a subtle, “something is not ok here” experience you could even call mild self-hatred and not be too far off. This feeling of “not-okayness” that for many is pretty pervasive and, I think, is much more pronounced in the past 2 years. It’s like the person is saying, “Help me avoid my discomfort by engaging me in talking.”
Sometimes my health coaching or counseling clients will try to distract me when we are talking in my office. It’s funny, in a way, to watch how incredibly creative people can be when they are trying to get my attention off the business at hand (by the way, it can’t be done).
What would it be like to let go of the distractions completely? To sit with our true emotional experience and allow it to have our full attention? To drive our cars without EVER checking the phone? To eat and focus only on that? To bow out completely of social media? To actually listen intently when people are talking to us without the distraction of thinking about what we’re going to say next. Or the distraction of worrying about a completely irrelevant issue while giving our conversational partner just enough of our attention to get by.
It’s a rich life when we are present for it, but when we live avoiding the fullness of our emotional experience, it’s nothing as good as it could be. Yes, fear is not fun to feel, nor is guilt or sadness, but when we allow ourselves a greater depth of feeling and an expression of those feelings, we get to a place of being more at home in our experience and less wanting to constantly exit it. We become less eager to follow distractions and more motivated to just be still in ourselves, as is. It’s powerful living, and I highly recommend it.
Let’s Try This
Great tools for achieving this disinterest in being distracted? Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and emotional release work. Over and over. Every day, some practice of just being right here, right now. In this moment, notice when you feel like distracting yourself. Instead of doing that, just get with what is generating that impulse. Then just sit with it. Try it! It’s a great here-and-now practice.