Q I find myself getting easily distracted and bored when I am reading or listening to someone or working on a task. I think I have always been someone who had lots of interests, however, I couldn’t quite stay with something to become really good at it. I am realizing how dissatisfying that is for me now that I am in my late forties. People don’t want to share deeper things with me because they don’t see me taking a fuller interest in their inner lives. My wife thinks I am pretty self-centerd, as I tend to get more excited about my own ideas and plans. There are moments when I feel awful about this selfish side of me, however, soon enough I am back to talking about myself. I can’t seem to change.
A It’s rare for someone with a fairly entrenched and self-absorbed personality to be this insightful and actually want to change. You seem to know your inner dynamics and ensuing interpersonal issues quite well. That is indeed a necessary start and I am curious how you got to understand this pattern as well as you have described it. It sounds like this style of being with yourself and others is a long-standing personality trait. There are people who actually avoid boredom, the ordinary side of life, loss, sadness, limits, loneliness and fear by constantly looking for the next stimulating idea, experience or person. This keeps them optimistic, energized and seemingly passionate. However, it’s temporary and superficial, like taking a stimulant to give you short term energy and a boost, but never dealing with the lack of vitality and lethargy underneath.
In today’s world the question of distractibility is complex given all the technology that is essentially designed to distract us—take us away from any deep focusing, especially contemplative forms. Additionally, most of us have so many different tasks to accomplish everyday.
People expect us to respond to emails, text, phone calls, etc. immediately. Some people actually do suffer from attention-deficit disorder and ought to be checked out and get some treatment whether holistic through diet, herbs, stress reduction, meditation and/or medication. But the majority of us actually need life style changes and support in going deeper. This would include finding time where you are not distracted by media and technology. Where you persuade yourself to learn something more fully or experience another’s feelings in a deeper way. Committing to listen to someone so they feel heard and understood is a rich and rewarding practice for everyone. This helps us move beyond our self-absorptive tendencies. There are so many tools these days to do so.
Being a mature adult means seeing and meeting the sides of life and ourselves that we don’t like or don’t give us instant positive feelings. Give those negative feelings room. Our mind, relationships and overall lives work in seasons and patterns. It can’t be summer all the time. The cold and wet winter nourishes the parched land to bring forth a lush spring. One needs the other—the yin and the yang. So it is with our own creativity and relationships.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. (650)325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com.