I love a good metaphor.
The concept of deep work has been on my mind a lot lately, and I find myself comparing the management of distraction to the relentless task of tending to weeds in the garden.
Think about it…
You wake up, open your phone, and immediately your consciousness is flooded with headlines, imagery, emails, texts, and more. In the span of 30 seconds your mind has gone from asleep to overactive.
The kicker? This drastic shift from calm to distracted often doesn’t feel like much. Distraction has been normalized, rebranded as multitasking, and can look a lot like active work. But it’s not.Distraction has been normalized, rebranded as multitasking, and can look a lot like active work. But… Click To Tweet
The normalization of inundating our thoughts with an overwhelming amount of data and distraction can keep us feeling very busy and productive, when the reality is the opposite. It is holding us back from tapping into our true potential.
Back to the weeds metaphor.
When you wake up and look at your phone, or do a final run-through of the social rolodex before bed, you are planting tiny seeds in your consciousness. “Weed seeds,” if you will. They may not feel like anything harmful, or seem like more than a passing moment, but your brain holds on to all those little bits and pieces and works through them at a separate pace as they quietly demand your attention.
You may think you’re tending a garden only full of prized tomatoes (i.e. maximizing your creative, professional, or emotional potential) but the weeds are gaining traction via the guise of feeling “busy.”
The seeds of distraction take root, pulling away the precious resources in your consciousness, shifting from positive production to chaotic anarchy.
Shakespeare used a similar metaphor in Othello, with love serving as the distraction:
Act I, Scene III – Iago:
Our bodies are like gardens and our willpower is like the gardener. Depending on what we plant—weeds or lettuce, or one kind of herb rather than a variety, the garden will either be barren and useless, or rich and productive. If we didn’t have rational minds to counterbalance our emotions and desires, our bodily urges would take over. We’d end up in ridiculous situations.
It seems that garden metaphors and the human struggle to eradicate distraction have been around for quite some time. I would argue that these days distraction-by-way-of-technology is the love affair we’re all fighting to manage in a healthy way.I would argue that distraction-by-way-of-technology is the love affair we're all fighting to manage… Click To Tweet
Perhaps the answer is deep work by way of mindfulness.
But what exactly is “deep work?”
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.
The first thing to know about deep work? It can be deeply unpleasant.
Downshifting out of an overactive state to a more neutral, mindful one comes with a period of processing. Nixing all distractions from our awareness and honing in on one task for a reasonable amount of time can be tortuous. Impossible, even.
You may have experienced this if you tried to pick up a book lately and were unable to concentrate without that knee-jerk impulse to grab your phone every couple of minutes.
Why is that, you ask?
Well, for one, we are hardwired for those tiny dopamine hits our phones give us. But remember those “weed seeds” you’ve been planting?
The email you skimmed and will return to later… the dozen articles you have open in different browser tabs… the troubling headline, the upsetting photo, the text you forgot to respond to….
The distractions are all there, sprouting, and will soon need weeding.
Behind all of the clutter and distraction in our consciousness, our stifled minds are waiting for us to tap their full potential.Behind all of the clutter and distraction in our consciousness, our stifled minds are waiting for us… Click To Tweet
I view mindfulness as the gateway to deep work, and have been experimenting with lots of exercises to successfully take the journey from distracted to deeply focused. Ideally this work will lead to a state of abundant creativity and productivity, and I have already felt some success that I will be sharing soon.
The garden of our mind will always have weeds, but awareness of their existence is the first step towards getting the upper hand.
I look forward to sharing some of the gateways I have found, so that you can begin to flex your own mindfulness muscle. The “prized tomatoes” of potential will come in due time.
For now, maybe just take a few closed-eye moments to check in on the crop of weeds in your garden that are leeching your resources.