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Understanding The Four Types Of Distractions We Face

When the iPad first came out, I’d play Zombie Highway. The point of the game is to drive as far as possible without dying. Seems easy. But, there are forces pushing back. The car could crash either by running into debris in the road or, it could flip over when there were too many zombies on the vehicle.

To succeed in the game required looking forward onto the horizon instead of at the zombies. Their presence was distracting and caused the player to focus on the horde instead of the road. In most cases, the zombies didn’t flip the car, but focusing on them led to distracted driving causing the player to crash into debris they didn’t see coming.

The loss of vision and visibility inevitably leads to failure. 

There will be numerous zombies on our mission (vehicle), and the overwhelming distractors will require we stay focused on what matters (the vision), while properly delegating our resources to handle the zombies. When we must deal with them directly, it’s crucial to recognize we can’t stay in the weeds, else we fall victim to unexpectedly crashing and burning.

The Four Distractions

Principally, there are four main distractions (via the Island Story Framework) we come across in our journey to our destination. And falling prey to them is connected to what we need, or what is motivating us.

  • Sharks keep us distracted with what is certain and push us away from uncertainty (from a motivation of self-preservation). We fail to explore new ideas that could help us effectively move forward because launching a new business, or product could lead to our downfall! Ironically, the sharks are constantly recruiting us to help them survive, while we struggle to do so ourselves.
  • Clownfish keep us focused on exploring the new and interesting ideas (from a motivation of fun/pleasure), but they never let us act on them. As we’re about to move forward with something, the clownfish shows us a new shiny thing and we let the previous thought fade away. It’s so hard to say no to fun things, so we never start anything new.
  • Turtles distract us with new causes. They prevent us from finishing anything because they're always recruiting us to help them start something new. As a result, we contribute to a slew of abandoned projects, hopes, and dreams, all initially motivated by a sense of significance. If you never finish what you start, you’re being distracted by turtles.
  • Swordfish push us to go faster and further than is appropriate, healthy, and sustainable (motivated by achievement). It’s never enough. There’s never an end. Swordfish push us to keep going when it’s time to slow down, stop, or pull back. Swordfish are the distractions that lead us to fulfill destructive behavior (sometimes in pursuit of perfection) slowly over time or in grand terrible moments.

Facing and embracing reality is no easy task and the moment we overcome one distraction, another quickly pops up. But distractions only work because they offer us something we want or an outlet from what we don’t want to face.

The key to overcoming the first three distractions is clarity on our intentions (purpose, vision, mission, and values), and being fully committed to them. The vital step for overcoming the swordfish is a clearly articulated finish line and proper pacing for arrival. 

Additional Resources

  • Watch: Fatal Distractions by Joel Thomas | Part 1

Hero Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

The Island Story

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