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How I’ll Replace Distracting Thoughts With Writerly Ones

November 5th, 2013 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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I need to remove distractions. This is not as simple as removing them from my work environment – this is about removing them from my mind.

Addictive Mindset

I find the more time I involve myself in something, the more my mind wanders to it when I’m supposed to be doing something else. It’s like a mini-addiction.

I find the same thing with crisps (bear with me). Generally speaking I don’t care much for crisps. If I have, say, two packets in a week (normally I’ll have none for months), then I might begin to get a hankering for them.

Chocolate is worse. Christmas brings a bounty of sugary brown treasure and it can take weeks to “get off” Cadbury’s Heroes!

Likewise, the passions in my life. Some of these are more addictive than others. If I involve myself more in activities around writing, writing occupies more of my thoughts.

That’s all good, but there are some distracting thoughts I could do without. One I struggle with is videogames. I have an overabundance of these and I always want to get through them. When I am enjoying a particular game, or looking forward to one, it occupies my thoughts.

Mmm... brains. Image courtesy of Rhonda Oglesby on the Flickrs.

Mmm… brains. Image courtesy of Rhonda Oglesby on the Flickrs.

The more I engage in activities around games, the more I think about them. The more I think about them, the more I engage in activities around games.

I check gaming news sites; I play vicariously through “Let’s Play” videos; I play games on my mobile; I think about strategies for my next play; I imagine designing my own.

It’s a vicious circle, and it’s distracting. The trouble with vicious circles is too often they control you – you’re a hamster on that wheel, unable to slow down. Tweet this

(Side note: I’m not saying videogames are addictive: there is no solid evidence. I am saying patterns of thought, or frames of mind, can be self-reinforcing. And that goes with anything, not just games.)

Pattern of Interest

It reminds me of how practice works in the brain, and I expect it’s a similar phenomenon. I remember reading (and also writing) on several occasions that the more a neural connection is made, the more it is reinforced. As the connection is strengthened, so it becomes easier for the signal to travel between those neurones.

This is how we learn to remember things (like your seven times table for example), but also how habits are formed, and (probably – I’m extrapolating here) ways of thinking – mindsets.

If true, this means the more you think in a certain way, the easier it is to slip into that way of thinking (actually physically easier).

It sounds obvious, but knowing about why this happens also allows us to know it can be changed.

Maybe I can get from the choclate brain to this? Courtesy of Drew Coffman on Flickr

Maybe I can get from the choclate brain to this? Courtesy of Drew Coffman on Flickr

Take Control!

So, if I’ve got nothing pressing to do at lunch, or I really don’t feel like doing the task I’ve set myself, I will read from a selection of writing blogs and comment, rather than trawl the gaming news sites (I should be doing this anyway of course, and I do, but not enough).

I will remove all games from my phone (I will, honest).

I will no longer seek out gaming videos to add to my “Watch Later” list on youTube.

Writing will be my crisps! Tweet this

I’m not going to cut out gaming completely. It might be argued I should, but I don’t want to. It’s been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember (which might account for how easy it is to slip into that frame of mind).

I just want to seal it in a box called “weekend” and use it as a reward.

Over to you:
What subjects crowd your brain? Have you ever tried replacing “addictive” thoughts with more productive ones? Do you think it’s even possible to unlearn such patterns of thought? Please comment! I’d love to hear from you!

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  • http://www.jzh-text.info/JZH_home.html Johan Herrenberg

    Hi, Matt! Though your post seriously distracts me… I want to share one experience I have had the past few months.

    I am busy finalising the first volume of a long novel. A chapter I had to finish was extremely layered and very complex because of the intertwining of several points of view that weren’t wholly in sync, either… Ever since I joined it, Facebook has played an important part in my life. I have made new friends there (people with a shared interest, who don’t live in the Netherlands) and I was able to keep abreast of what my real-life friends were doing, reading et cetera. As a consequence, Facebook ran alongside everything I did, on my mobile, too. Wherever I was, I checked what was going on. When I had a small creative pause, I checked Facebook. And then I noticed it really hampered the concentration I needed to finally get that terrible chapter done.

    So, radically, I announced last July that I would not be doing a lot on Facebook for the foreseeable future. And I kept my word. The result – the difficulties of the chapter have been overcome and it is now finished. Conclusion – if writing really matters to you, nothing else will beat the pleasure of making something as good as you can make it. And ideally, you won’t be feeling you’re missing on anything. Mind you: I am not saying that relaxation, in whatever form, isn’t important. It is. But it must be the sort of relaxation that energises you and keeps you focused (in the background).

    My few cents.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Good to hear from you again Johan! And thanks for sharing your story.

      I find social networks often come up in conversations about modern distractions. Glad you were able to kick the habit! It seems things are increasingly designed to be addictive and distracting, and now everything fits on a phone, so it’s always there.

      I have one question – do you miss it?

      • http://www.jzh-text.info/JZH_home.html Johan Herrenberg

        No, I don’t. The point is, with more than 400 friends/connections your Timeline is filled to the brim with signals, stimuli, to which someone like me is prone to react… That whole action-reaction system has now been dismantled. Earlier I stopped using Twitter, which is even more of a frenetic 24/7 thing. Bad for your creativity, bad for your receptivity.

        • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

          It might depend how you use it. I find Twitter a great source of links (Facebook, not at all), but still, the more I post on it, the more I want to check it.

          It might be a matter of setting aside time to check, so it’s less tempting the rest of the time. I don’t know, I haven’t tackled it yet.

  • http://creativeblob.com Rob James

    Of course, you must be careful not to remove your sources of inspiration.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Good point! Another reason for keeping some gaming as I do find some inspirational (I’m saved!) I still have podcasts and reading of course (when I’m walking or can’t get a seat on the train respectively).

  • Craig

    Oh ho!

    Video games. The modern evil. There isn’t a single thing in my life that provides a greater source of distraction than that curvy black box under my TV.

    You’d think someone like me (a person who – for no good reason – gave up eating chocolate in any way shape or form for 12 years) would be able to just nix the gaming and get on with more relevant things…

    However, having recently completed my second complete playthrough of Mass Effect (which instantly made me want to start another playthrough of Mass Effect 2 (my sixth, I believe) I dove straight back into Mass Effect 1, as an entirely different character, just to see some different things pan out.

    When not playing the game, I’ve been reading up on it on tv tropes (for the love of GOD, never, EVER go to that site, its more evil than facebook in the time it can steal from you). Which is kinda fun, in the details, but also feeds the addiction (“wait, so if I do THIS in the second game you get to see THAT? Well I never knew! Guess I’d better start another playthrough just to check that out!”)

    On a more relevant note though, as Rob points out, the only reason I’ve been delving so deeply into my Mass Effect lust (and it is a throbbing, aching lust) it is because it is an incredibly rich, detailed, well written universe, and it has provided me with a great deal of food for thought regarding my own massive space opera. Now all I need to do, i guess, is get on with it…

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Six playthroughs? Six‽ I don’t suppose you know how many words you could have written in that time? I don’t think there’s one game I’ve ever managed to get through six times. Still haven’t played Mass Effect mind you.

      You seem to have that thing where it creeps into other parts of your life too – does that become a problem?

      • Craig

        Hmmm, well, it averages out at about 40 hours per playthrough (depending upon how thorough you are, and dlc) except for Insanity, where a 20 minute mission becomes an hour and a half…

        Thats just Mass Effect 2 though. Mass Effect 3, thats, um, four playthroughs I think. And the first game I’m currently (like a meht addict) working on my third.

        Not to mention the multiplayer…

        The franchise as a whole is probably about… 600 hours all told. So thats what, an average length trilogy I could have written..?

        Yes, I have a problem… I admit and accept that.