By Maureen Pratt Catholic News Service
With most states enacting stringent laws on distracted driving, awareness of the dangers of trying to multitask behind the wheel of a 1,000-plus vehicle are commonplace.
The role of distractions in other parts of life might not be so apparent, yet those impediments to goals, sleep, health and many relationships can sneak up on us, some quite silently, and derail our progress as surely as distracted driving can leave car and driver wheel-spinning in a ditch.
Writing is the classic example of a pursuit that is fraught with distractions that can make goal achievement impossible -- if you let them. New topics for this column, for example, invariably pop up just as I'm writing the current installment.
Health conditions carry their share of distractions. That twinge, that hiccup -- might these be something new, part of something I already know about, or something benign? Did the doctor really mean, "All's well," or is he or she just trying to cushion a future blow?
Living our faith does not make us immune to distractions. Prayer can sometimes become a tug of war between the desire to be silent, focused and calm, and all of those ideas and worries that immediately clamor for attention when we settle ourselves into the pew or quiet corner of the house.
Distractions can be internal: ideas, emotions or other intrusions from the depths of our hearts and minds. They can be external, too: the phone, the door, the co-worker, the pet, the billboard. Any of these or other sights and sounds can jar us from the direction we want to go in and send us off on yet another tangent.
We can never do away with distractions, but we can strengthen our ability to manage them before they manage us.
Those new writing ideas, for example, will come in handy -- at the right time. So, I store them in a file where they can stay until I'm ready to tackle them. Caller ID is a useful device for screening unwanted calls, and its companion, voicemail, is also helpful.
Filtering distractions through our list of goals and priorities helps cut down on the number and kind of detours we allow.
Will an extra trip to the store help or hinder our timetable for finishing a home-based project? Does visiting multiple websites about one topic really help us resolve a question? Will chewing on something worrisome aid or act against our prayer time, when we hope to hear by listening to God's response about the same worry?
Some distractions are blessings in disguise, especially when they take us out of ourselves and put us in the path of someone who needs our help or remind us of the awesomeness of God's creation. Stress-relieving distractions are wonderful, too -- a dog that bounds up with a ball at just the right time, for example, or a spouse who says, "You've been working very hard. Let's just take a walk for a while."
To better respond to the good distractions and resist those that deter us from accomplishing a goal or completing a task, I find great guidance in prayer. Of course, if the prayer is distracted, I have to step back and work on my focus!
But, generally, prayer can center my thoughts and help me discern what is most important to pay attention to that moment, that day. It's what I call a "spiritual deep breath" that brings renewed perspective and calm.
As summer wanes and we look to a busy autumn and winter, we undoubtedly have goals we'd like to accomplish. Forewarned about those ever-present distractions, we can approach each goal with renewed resolve, and, fortified with prayer, we can take an evermore direct route toward achieving each goal!
Pratt's website is www.maureenpratt.com.