Getting a handle on the online distractions that keep you from writing

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to Jessica Michaelson speak about dealing with our “click and scroll” compulsions in the context of how they keep us from living the lives we want to lead. Jessica is a brilliant coach and psychologist that I’ve worked with on a number of different issues and I adore her for her clarity, deep honesty, relentless compassion, and her willingness to embrace the darker sides of our psyches. 

The trap of online use and how it affects our writing

I took the class because while I’ve gotten my past Facebook and Twitter compulsions under control, I still find myself checking email and for other alerts much more frequently than I’d like to, or that is ultimately necessary for my business and life. I also find myself getting distracted by online interactions at the wrong time — meaning, they are interactions I actually want to be having, but I’m having them at a time that doesn’t work in my life, with my kids in particular.

Also, I read a recent post of Jessica’s that got me thinking about the effect my online activities were having on my general demeanor — I know I’m likely to be more snappish and distracted when I allow myself to try to do two things at once, and I don’t feel good about myself when I’m like that.

The other thing that stood out for me from her post was how much more peaceful she was feeling and how much more energy she had as a result of cleaning up her online use. 

Although I’ve mostly managed to prevent online activities from interfering with my actual designated writing time, I’m aware that having my mind occupied and distracted and busyified with other people’s stuff and other online BS takes away from my clarity of mind and my ability to explore my own ideas, which can interfere with my writing. I instantly saw her point about how ceasing or reining in these kind of distractions would free up a lot of energy for me.

And I know I’m not alone.

A number of my writers in my online Writer’s Circle coaching program and in the classes I teach talk about how hard it is to stop themselves from surfing the internet reading the news or articles, checking email, and scrolling through various online social media sites, and how it impacts their writing time-wise. Having now read what Jessica wrote and listened to what she shared today, I can also see how those seemingly innocuous activities may be draining some of our energy for writing. 

It’s important to note the “may” in that sentence and I’ll tell you more about why in a moment.

Solutions for handling online impulse control

Here’s what I learned from Jessica:

  • There’s no one right way here (a woman after my own heart!) when it comes to online use. Every one of us has to decide what it is that we want to create with and in our lives, and then make a decision about how much (if any) online time supports that. In my case, a significant part of my business, marketing, community-building, and social life happens online, and that’s totally okay with me. It’s only when it crosses the line into compulsively checking that I don’t like it. 
  • Our brains love mindless, automatic, and habitual activities because they release dopamine, which feels great, so there’s a biochemical reward for doing the same things over and over again without thinking. It feels good, so we do it. 
  • The problem is that being on autopilot means that we have let go of making conscious choices in our lives, and that’s where most/many of us actually want to live, where we are in the driver’s seat of our own lives.
  • If we’re going through a rough patch in our lives, we may NOT want to try to reduce or corral our online use because it serves as a buffer for the discomfort we are experiencing. This resonates for me; I know that when I’ve gone through difficult life phases, having some of these tools for distraction have felt like life savers.
  • A big key to solving this challenge is to accept it. In other words, we will always feel discomfort in our lives in some form, and so we will always have urges toward numbing activities, whether they are online activities or another sort (like over eating, TV watching, etc.). Jessica says that the key here is to accept the discomfort, the urges, and the uncomfortable feelings as part of the package. To notice them, and breathe through them.
  • The solution is, in fact, a four-part combination approach of defining what we want from our lives, noticing what’s happening when we have the urge to click, accepting the discomfort we’re experiencing and impulses to click to calm it, and choosing to make new choices and create habits and supports to help ourselves see them through. Jessica goes into a more detail on each of these points in the webinar.

The discomfort of writing

All this strikes an important chord around the discomfort of writing. Remember, we know that writing — because it is our biggest calling — will trigger massive amounts of resistance. And resistance comes from wanting to avoid fear and discomfort.

So it makes perfect sense that it’s so so so easy to say “I’ll just check the news/Facebook/Twitter/email real quick before I start writing”. It helps soothe that discomfort with a nice dose of dopamine that makes us feel better … for a minute. But then we feel terrible for not doing the writing like we said we would.

Taking time to instead define what we want in our lives, for our writing, and for our online use and making new choices to support that are a huge step in the right direction. Jessica pointed out though, that we can’t skip the steps of noticing and accepting, if we truly want to create lasting change.

Want more on this?

If you’d like to watch to the replay of the webinar, you can check it out here.

Jessica is also leading a 14-day program to help people specifically make new individual choices about our online use, in case you’d like to find out more. I’m not an affiliate for her program; I just happen to believe she is a person of high integrity who offers a tremendous amount of value to her clients. Although she often works with mothers, she is by no means limited to only that population, and specializes in helping her clients become the best of who we are.


(p.s. I’ll resume my writing project selection series with my next post!)