Do you sometimes find it hard to stay focused and not get distracted?
Unfortunately, we live in a world today where it is becoming easier and easier to be distracted in general. Even those who consider themselves to be very self-disciplined are not immune. Which leads to some of the common questions I often hear such as:
- How do I overcome distractions?
- How can I stop distractions at home?
- What does the bible say about distractions?
- How do I pray against distractions?
As Christians, if we are going to be successful in our walk with God, and in accomplishing our goals, we must learn how to overcome distractions and stay focused in the midst of a distracting world.
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What Are Distractions?
The Webster's dictionary defines the word distraction as something that directs one's attention away from something else. Simply put, distractions are meant to shift our focus.
However, not everyone is distracted by the same things. For example, having the television on may be a distraction for some. While others actually concentrate better when there is background noise.
It's also important to note that distractions are not always blatant or obvious. In fact, very often they can be rather subtle.
Other distractions are unavoidable, as they may come in the form of unexpected circumstances that are beyond your control. And sometimes, there are what we call good distractions, that are actually beneficial for you and maybe even necessary.
So, what causes distractions?
Sources of Distractions
Distractions can come in the form of people, things, specific places or environments, circumstances, thoughts, or temptations. Let's look at a few examples of distractions.
You decide to go back to school to get your IT certification, and a good friend you haven't seen in years, moves to your area. Distracting you from your studies, you start hanging out 3-4 times a week. Then you get your first semester grades, which show you're failing half of your classes.
You finally decide to quit your job so you can put all your time into developing your own business. But then, you get a job offer from a company offering you $10K more a year than what you were making. Distracted from your actual goal of working for yourself and earning six figures, you take the job offer instead.
You decide to write a book with the vision that God gave you. You receive negative feedback after discussing the idea with a few family members. Negative thoughts overwhelm your mind, and you never pick up a pen again.
You decide to start a blog, but every technical issue imaginable arises. Distracted by discouragement, you give up completely.
You set a goal to lose 20 lbs. and have your diet plan and exercise routine all mapped out. But your roommate is constantly filling the fridge with snacks and coming home with fast food. You give in and end up gaining 20 lbs. instead.
Distractions can come from all angles - in ways we least expect, from people we don't expect, at times we aren't expecting. And they can end up costing us time, happiness, peace, relationships, money and success.
What Does the Bible Say About Distractions?
Distractions from everyday work, goals and life in general can be frustrating, and can even cause major setbacks. However, things that distract us from God can be extremely dangerous.
As Christians, when we start to lose sight of God, His Word, and His plan for our lives, it can lead us in the wrong direction towards sin, missed opportunities, missed blessings, and discipline from God. Losing sight of God also causes us to live in fear, anger, worry, frustration, and doubt.
Let's look briefly at five main things that are mentioned as distractions in the bible.
The Carnal Things of the World
One of our primary distractions by far, are the carnal things that the world we live in has to offer. Which is why both Paul and John warned the first century believers about being distracted by the customs and behavior of the world:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NLT)
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NLT)
Everything from the internet, television, social media, and cell phones, to our jobs, relationships, hobbies, and habits have become things that distract us spiritually. Like unbelievers, we often end up not only adapting the ways of the world, but literally chasing after them (fame, fortune, accolades, pedigree, social influence, attention, etc.); which in turn draws us further away from God.
Our Fleshly Desires
Because the carnal world in which we live offers so much in the way of temptations, it caters to our fleshly desires which is also another big distraction:
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NLT)
But, praise be to God that through His Holy Spirit we can overcome the temptations of our flesh. We don't have to give in!
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)
Another major source of distraction are our thoughts – all the craziness that can sometimes go on in our heads. Unfortunately, we can’t control every thought that comes into our minds. However, we CAN control what we do with the thoughts once they surface.
As Christians, we should always redirect our mindset towards things that glorify God:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8 NLT)
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV)
The bible speaks of people being a huge source of distraction as well. And sometimes, it's even on purpose:
So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” (Nehemiah 6:2-3 NLT)
Sometimes we allow what people think about us, or the approval we seek from them to distract us. In this case we should work to adapt the mindset that the Apostle Paul had:
Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. (Galatians 1:10 NLT)
Other times we simply have to avoid certain people or relationships altogether, especially if we know it would hinder our walk with God. When Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth regarding marriage, he went as far as advocating for some to remain unmarried, because a single person can be fully devoted to God as opposed to having divided interests and responsibilities to a spouse or family:
I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible. (1 Corinthians 7:35 NLT)
Very often our circumstances can also be distractions in our lives. We can easily get so caught up in the trouble, pain, or misfortune we are experiencing that we lose sight of who God is and His sovereignty and power over our situations.
And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:30-33 NLT)
As you can see, regardless of what the source of the distraction is, they are inevitable. So what can we do to ensure we are not only ready for them when they come, but know how to overcome them as well?
How to Overcome Distractions
Regardless of what your goals or plans are (spiritual, physical, financial, personal), these eight tips will help you to stay focused and overcome distractions along the way.
Identify What Distracts You
You must start by identifying specifically what it is that distracts you. As I mentioned earlier, not everyone is distracted by the same things.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)
In order to fix the problem, we have to identify the problem. And we do this by identifying everything that hinders or distracts us from our goals.
Is it TV, electronics, social media, a significant other, laziness, lack of zeal, clutter, co-workers, background noise, hunger, your kids, or having too many tasks?
Even if you have to do an audit on how you spend your time for a week, you need to determine what is distracting you and causing you to be unproductive.
Eliminate Whatever Distractions You Can
Not all distractions are physical things, but once you identify what your distractions are, start by eliminating the ones that you can. When it comes to spiritual growth, the bible tells us that we simply need to get rid of some things:
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31 NIV)
In the same way, we need to start getting rid of things that distract us.
If your goal is to lose weight, you need to throw away the junk food! If you're distracted by the TV unplug it! Turn your cell phone completely off! Anything that is physically stealing your focus, get rid of it! Or at least turn it off or put it away while you are working at your goal.
If certain people or places are a distraction - avoid them! You may need to temporarily block that friend who constantly texts you throughout the day. Or, stop hanging out with your negative cousin.
If you're like me, you need to avoid going to Walmart sometimes, because it distracts you from sticking to your budget!
Change Your Environment
Sometimes to overcome distractions we have to change our environment. This could mean staying where you are and making changes or adjustments to your current environment in order to make it a distraction-free zone.
If you are doing home workouts, you probably don't want to do them in the family room with the super comfortable reclining couch.
There are other times, when changing your environment, could literally mean, going to a different place altogether in order to be more productive.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35 NIV)
You need peace and quiet? Go to your local library. You need to free your mind to allow your thoughts to flow? Take a walk or go for a drive. You need advice? Go visit a like minded person or mentor where you can get positive feedback and support.
Have a Daily Task List
Even if you are opposed to making a list or having a schedule, it is unavoidable if you want to truly stay on task and accomplish your goals. A verse I like to keep in mind is:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23 NIV)
In other words, once I set a goal to accomplish, I need to do everything I can to get it done. And when you work at something with all your heart as if working for God, that includes putting in some effort every day to get to that goal.
Here are a few tips for daily task lists:
- Realize you can't conquer everything in a day. It helps to break things down into smaller, more attainable daily tasks.
- Tackle hard tasks first, so you get them out of the way. You will feel so much better when the tasks that you least want to do are behind you.
- Always set a time limit or deadline. Something that should only take an hour, should not take you all day to complete.
Never confuse being busy with being productive. We can fill our days looking busy, by doing stuff that doesn't matter or is a waste of time. That's not productivity. However, a good solid hour of time focused on something that gets you closer to your goal is true productivity.
Monitor Your Thoughts
So often we are our own biggest distraction. Sometimes its what is going on inside our heads that is stealing our focus. Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, doubt, anger or frustration can easily set in and distract us.
We have to constantly monitor our thoughts and feelings to ensure we are focused and staying positive. Negative thoughts can be detrimental in so many ways. Not only will it steal our focus, but it leads to physical issues as well - headaches, sickness, fatigue, depression, and other things.
External distractions are one thing, but its those internal distractions that if we don't get a handle on, can cause us the most harm. This is why it is very important as Christians to spend time reading God's Word daily.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3 KJV)
If we stay focused on God, by reading His Word and talking to Him constantly in prayer, He can help to free our mind from negative mental distractions.
Reaffirm Your Goals Daily
A big part of staying focused and overcoming distractions is reaffirming your goals daily. If we lose site of what we are aiming for, we set ourselves up to fail before we even get started.
This is where affirmations, lists, post-its and visions boards come in to play. Having a visual reminder in front of us daily helps to shift our focus back to where it should be when we do get distracted.
A great illustration of this, is a passage where Moses was teaching the Israelites about the importance of learning the Word of God:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NIV)
The Israelites as a nation had one main goal: to serve God! A big part of accomplishing that was to learn and obey His Word. And to ensure that they wouldn't forget, Moses instructed them specifically on how to go about learning God's Word.
He told them to talk about God's commands wherever they went, to tie them as symbols on their hands and foreheads, and to write them on their door frames. In other words, set up reminders all around!
With all the distractions we will encounter, we will have to constantly remind ourselves of what are goals are.
Beware of the Devil
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NLT)
No matter what you set out to do, you can count on the devil to try his best to distract you from serving God. The bible tells us to be alert for this very reason.
If the devil can manage to distract us with temptations and problems, he will keep us from being productive and accomplishing what God wants us to do.
And of course, the best way to stay alert is to stay focused on God and His Word. When you do this, you equip yourself to resist the devil and he will literally leave you alone (at least for now).
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7 NIV)
Recognize and Take Advantage of "Good Distractions"
Lastly, it is very important to recognize and take advantage of good distractions when they come.
Good distractions are those that steal your focus in a positive and healthy way. They can even revitalize your energy, allowing you to refocus with a clearer mindset. These good distractions typically come in the form of a taking breaks to do something that will give you a positive boost.
Examples include: meditating, taking a walk, singing a song, laughter, writing, listening to music, eating a snack, reading, playing with your kids, etc.
Staying focused and overcoming distractions doesn't mean all work and no play. It means doing what needs to be done to accomplish your goals, while also allowing room to regroup as needed. In fact, it is in our best interest to allow for good, healthy distractions.
Let's look at another passage of Scripture:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
Martha had purposely invited Jesus to her home. But, she was so caught up in doing housework, that even when he arrived, she didn't even stop to spend time with him. She even got upset with her sister Mary who did stop everything to give Jesus her undivided attention.
Jesus in turn rebukes Martha for being distracted in the wrong way. Yes, the work she was doing was important and needed to be done. But in that moment, spending time with Jesus was more important.
Don't get so caught up in your goals that the goals themselves become a distraction from what is MOST important in your life - God!
It's Never Too Late to Refocus
At one point or another, all of us are going to get distracted. The good news is that its never too late to get back on track and redirect our focus back to God, or our goals.
Even if we let our distractions steer us off course, ruin relationships, set us back months or years with our goals, cost us our money, or our peace - God is still there for us! He is there to give us the strength we need to try again and move forward.
I'll leave you with two of my favorite bible verses about overcoming distractions:
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17 NLT)
Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. (1 John 5:21 NLT)
Let us seek God through His Word and constant prayer, so that with His strength we can be the focused and productive Christians he has called us to be!
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