You settle down to start working.
Concentrating becomes a struggle, a challenging task.
Your brain releases stress chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine. It feels uncomfortable, so you glance at your email, check the news, or briefly scroll through social media.
Note: No notifications are waiting for you. No one is seeking your attention. Your phone remains silent.
This self-imposed distraction arises from the desire for immediate gratification.
The temptation to sacrifice future benefits for a less fulfilling but instant reward.
The harsh reality is that you probably don’t need to “imagine” this situation.
Because it’s the way most of us live, day in and day out.
Instant gratification hinders the state of progress, fulfillment and flow.
It prevents you from focusing long enough to enter a state of flow initially, and once you’re in it, it disrupts the flow.
The urge to self-distract is a natural consequence of the brain’s instinct to seek information.
We are wired to crave it.
The brain reacts to new information in a similar manner to how it responds to food and sex––by providing a pleasurable dopamine surge.
This mechanism served our ancestors well since new information often meant life or death (the sound of rustling bushes could indicate a tiger).
However, in the modern world, it hampers professionals:
We check our phones every 6-7 minutes, up to 150 times a day. This costs businesses hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity annually.
But the craving itself isn’t the issue. It’s natural. The problem arises when we give in to the impulse for instant reward.
Most of the time, that reward comes in the form of a dopamine rush.
And it’s the promise of that reward that captures your attention.
The predicament is that opportunities for instant gratification are more abundant now than at any other point in human history.
Consequently, our sensitivity to rewards has diminished.
Having low sensitivity to rewards means you require greater and more frequent stimulation to capture your attention.
Therefore, you end up pursuing increasingly intense highs. Anything less rewarding fails to hold your interest.
Conversely, high sensitivity to rewards means you need less stimulation.
Engaging in a challenging work task or reading a complex book provides enough dopamine to attract and sustain your attention.
It’s not the stimulation itself that you’re sensitive to.
It’s the reward derived from that stimulation.
The stronger the desire for instant gratification, the lower your sensitivity to rewards.
The easier it becomes to stay focused and postpone gratification, the higher your sensitivity to rewards.
The implications for your performance are straightforward.
To unlock heightened focus, you must amplify your sensitivity to rewards.
And once you do?
The mundane yet vital tasks necessary to achieve your goals become addictive, propelling you further and faster while enjoying the process.
Want a quick method to find joy in important (yet unexciting) work?
Take uneventful breaks.
When you feel it, rather than trying to fill it or escape with it, just sit with it.
Practice this daily.
These breaks will reawaken your sensitivity, making your work appear thrilling by comparison and allowing you to enter a state of flow more swiftly than ever before.
Give it a try and witness the results firsthand.