Let’s just put it on the table: It’s not always easy to focus on what matters, most. Especially where money is concerned.

Other than the numbers and personal finance geeks amongst us, who really wants to take time each month to review financial statements; who enjoys tracking, assessing and evaluating the progress being made; who delights in creating a game-plan…on paper?

It’s necessary work. But for most people, it’s not fun work.

It’s far easier to check email (one more time); it’s far more interesting to peruse your social media stream (just for a few minutes); it’s much more pleasant to have that unplanned phone call (because, you know, you haven’t spoken to the person since yesterday).

We ALL suffer from being distracted.

Whether that looks like losing focus on the task at hand; or stalling to make a decision; and/or operating under the illusion that doing something is the equivalent to taking action that is connected to a strategy and purpose. (Heck, I did all three in the process of writing this post!)

And while our digital age certainly makes it easier to be distracted, it’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued in Unmodern Observations, that we “seek out distractions to avoid facing big questions.”

And there’s nothing like money (what you have and don’t have) to prompt the big questions of life, eh?!

Facing life’s existential questions – aka “adulting” – can be daunting and scarier than you and I may like to admit, at times.

In part, because the answers aren’t always immediate or neat and clean. In part, because you don’t always like the answers that surface.

That’s why taking a hard look at your finances (and life) may cause you to confront things you’d rather not. Like maybe realizing…

  • It’s time to throw in the towel on the business you started because, despite all your effort, it’s not profitable and you’ve exhausted all your financial resources to make it so.
  • You’ve reached your threshold and can no longer take working a job that isn’t satisfying and challenging simply because it provides financial security and stability.
  • You bought a house you can no longer afford.
  • In theory, the values you thought you and your partner shared were aligned; but just as soon as you hit a major financial hiccup and reality reared its head, that alignment evaporated.

All of these (and more) represent hard choices to make; certain emotions to be confronted; and perhaps the need to change long-held beliefs.

All of these represent a truth about life (yours, perhaps?) that being distracted can often help you avoid. And what’s worse, the distinction can be so subtle that you don’t even recognize what you’re doing.

The Costs of Distractions

In business, distractions (usually in the form of workflow interruptions) cost the U.S. economy $588 billion a year, according to Basex research.

And according to a Purchasing Power Survey, 34% of employees are distracted by issues concerning personal finances – spending two to three hours per week at work thinking about or dealing with personal finances.

Clearly, the cost of distractions is high as measured by the loss of time, productivity and money. And, it doesn’t just affect you and your immediate family. But, your employer (or business) and the economy at large pay a price for your distraction, too.

When that distraction isn’t temporary. When it isn’t a needed break to get you re-focused and energized. When it becomes a way to avoid taking action that is connected to a strategy and purpose. Then, you are likely avoiding a truth that you have concluded you’re not ready to face. Unfortunately, the price for that choice stunts progress toward the future you want most.

At this point, you might expect me to suggest ways to minimize your distractions. Nope!

Instead, I want to offer a way of identifying and tackling the “why” behind your distraction, which is far more enlightening in my opinion. Think of it as an outer-body experiment where you are observing yourself:

  • Choose a day, e.g., Monday.
  • As you go through your day, pay attention to how often you become distracted and shift your attention away from the task at hand or defer making a decision (it doesn’t have to be money related).
  • Note what captured your attention instead and how much time you spent doing that.
  • Note the first thing you did when you returned to the task you abandoned or finally made the decision you deferred?

If you do this experiment on Monday this week, do it on Wednesday next week. Do it for four weeks choosing a different day of the week each time. Once you have four weeks worth of data, review it to see what patterns emerge – what’s similar and dissimilar; what’s consistent?

Whatever pattern you discover is your answer to the question: “Are you being distracted or just avoiding the truth?”

And I’d say this is a distinction worth knowing – in matters large and small, money and non-money related – even if your immediate behavior doesn’t change.

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