Distraction or diversion?

I've come to realise recently that a lot of the things I call distractions are really better thought of as diversions. Both are things that you do instead of what you intended. The difference is: why? What makes them more compelling than your original goal?

A distraction is compelling because it's different. You watch TV instead of studying because studying is hard and mentally taxing, while TV is easy and mindless. Or you chat with your friends, because studying is tedious and introverted, while chatting is stimulating and social. Distractions are strong in the ways your intended task is weak.

On the other hand, a diversion is compelling because it's the same. You read people's opinions because you like having opinions. You watch videos of DIY projects because you like DIY projects. You want to be doing those things, but seeing someone else do them is much easier. Diversions are strong in the ways your intended task is strong.

The reason this is a useful distinction to make is that the strategies for dealing with them are very different. For distractions, you need to make the thing you intend to do more compelling and everything else less compelling. If it's human contact you miss, study with a friend. If mindless stuff is too tempting, remove it from your environment when you need to study.

But none of that really works for diversions. Focusing on how much you love DIY projects makes you want to both do and watch DIY projects. The two are hard to tease apart: watching other people do a DIY project is often a crucial part of not screwing it up. The only reason it's even a problem is that watching feels so much like doing – without actually getting anything done.

And it's this last thing that I see as the right strategy for dealing with diversion. At its heart, a diversion is still an attempt to do the thing you really want to be doing, just in a way that doesn't work. It's a kind of motivational judo, and you can use that judo right back: if I'm screwing around because I really like something, wouldn't I rather just go do it?