Needless Distraction vs. Meaningful Creation


In 2008, Americans consumed 10,845 trillion words. That’s around 100,000 words per person per day. In fact, if you took all the information we consumed, printed it in books and stacked them across the entire United States (including Alaska), the pile would be 7 feet high (source).

We’re a Culture of Needless Distraction

Distraction is comfortable. It’s been 10 years and 4 months since I gave up television. It was right about the time George W. Bush began his presidency (no real correlation). Occasionally (though less and less) I’ll catch a show on Netflix but I’m referring to the endless hours of channel surfing. To this day, I’ll zone out of conversations and miss meaningful experiences when there is a TV on in the room.

Distraction is unfulfilling. I once watched an entire season of the show 24 in one sitting. I had just moved into a new apartment, and my only sustenance was candy. Just me, Jack Bauer, and a 1 pound bag of skittles for 24 straight hours. It wasn’t pretty and when it was all over, I felt zero sense of accomplishment. Instead, I was tired, angry and my love for skittles was ruined for life.

Distraction is addictive. I was hooked on video games as a youth pastor. At the time, I told myself it was to “connect” with the kids. If you’ve ever played online multiplayer games, you know how fun addictive they can be. A particularly embarrassing moment came during a heated exchange through an online chat with a much younger player. I recall thinking to myself, “You’re trash-talking a 10 year old. Shut it down.”

What are you waiting for?

When you start watching the seconds of your life tick away, your entire outlook will change dramatically.

When you start watching the seconds of your life tick away, your entire outlook will change dramatically. You’ll start to realize there is simply not enough time in the day for things in your life you previously thought were important. I’m not talking about watching less painfully addictive JJ Abrams shows. I’m talking about wholesale transformation.

The Beauty of Meaningful Creation

Creation is inspiring. Last year, I posted a list of quotes on passion (on my business blog). I added one of my own quotes, it was my post after all. The article skyrocketed in Google and soon hundreds of websites were featuring my humble saying on passion. It’s been liked, tweeted, pinned and prominently featured on a few high-traffic sites. People have grabbed it and added it to their own lists, and now it perches inconspicuously among quotes from Einstein, Hemingway and Churchill. Consider my mind blown.

Creation is encouraging. When the desire to make a difference converges with a desire to create, wonderful things happen. After nearly a decade of youth ministry, I look back and realize I simply made myself available and tried to provide something worthwhile. The result?

  • 9+ years of youth ministry (avg. 47 lessons/year)
  • 425+ lessons taught (avg. 30 minutes/lesson)
  • 12,750 minutes of teaching (avg. 15 kids/lesson)
  • 180,000 minutes of attention (multiplying kids by the time)
  • 133 straight days of teaching and encouraging young people

My simple effort to foster meaningful relationships created a family, home and new life.

Creation can be intangible. You don’t need to write a book, start a blog or build a widget to create. It could be about opening your mind to new relationships, experiences, or life changes. In the last three years, I’ve had the fortune to marry my best friend, purchase my first home and become a father (with another on the way). My simple effort to foster meaningful relationships created a family, home and new life (my precious daughter Penelope). Consider my mind blown again!

Be prepared for the pitfalls of creation.

Before you toss your fancy flatscreen to the curb and quit your day job, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Being a creator is hard work. Actually, it’s really hard. That’s probably the main reason more people don’t attempt it. My favorite NFL player ever, Jerry Rice has a great quote, “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”
  2. Be prepared to fail (often). Your chance for failure is extremely high at first, that’s OK. When you’re doing something new you’re bound to make mistakes, meet with defeat and eventually feel like giving up. However, when you begin to look at failure as an outcome (on your way to success) your entire perspective on life will change.
  3. Don’t expect great things to happen immediately. We’ve all heard of a little game called Angry Birds. The raving success that received 500 million downloads in less than 2 years. One thing you might not know was Rovio, the company behind the game, made 49 games previous to this one. They hit fame and fortune on their 50th try!

How can we apply this to our lives?

I could easily say something like, “Stop wasting your time on things that don’t matter and go live your life,” but the real answer is different for everyone. Here’s the process I used:

  • Start with your friction. I decided to start with the parts of my life that frustrated me the most. Namely, areas of my life that weren’t in alignment with my values. For example, I highly value sharing and helping others, yet I was wasting my free time with needless distractions.
  • Eliminate the clutter. I worked to eliminate objects or activities that weren’t adding meaningful value to my life. Interestingly, as I started to change my perspective this was easier than I thought it would be.
  • Find your passion.  This is the most difficult part. I kickstarted the process by making ongoing list of ideas from new businesses, to products, to websites, to mobile apps. I spent at least a month making the list and stewing over the various options. My ultimate decision became what would make me most excited to get out of bed everyday. The choice was this website.
  • Make it happen. Finally, I made the intentional decision to live courageously and took immediate action. I don’t have it all worked out, but I do have a plan and I’m publicly sharing my journey so you’ll either be inspired or forewarned.

Closing Thoughts:

  • What one thing do you most want to accomplish but haven’t?
  • What have you created that you’re willing to share?
  • What’s your most embarrassing story of needless consumption?

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  • Talasan

    The skittle story is pretty funny! I think that it’s important to get rid of clutter and to live in a clean environment, in order to help get rid of distractions. If your house is a mess, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. If it’s clean, it feels nice and you don’t really have to think about it.

    Plus decluttering. My family is always on the lookout for things that we don’t use anymore, and we either give it away or trash it. It keeps us sane. Being over encumbered with stuff is draining. I love having the very minimal of what I need want. Instead of an entertainment center, we take to a small area that isn’t even the focal point of the living room.

    It’s been great. I think it’s about time to start rummaging through and getting rid of stuff again. Thanks for the great article!  

    • Talasan

      Oof, styling was off. “need want” = “[/need] want”

    • http://www.glidedesign.com Travis McAshan

      It’s funny you mention clutter. That’s been one of the things I have realized can have an immediate and dramatic difference. As you mentioned, it starts out by keeping things clean and tidy. But eventually you start realizing you don’t need so much stuff to clean up in the first place.

      Leo Babuta from Zen Habits has a great thought on this, “create limits”, which forces you to make choices (i.e. 100 personal items owned — hardcore!). I also saw another idea where you take EVERYTHING out of a room (i.e. in the driveway) then bring back only what you love. Good stuff.

  • rashmi

    i was addicted to tv series but after reading this article i came to know the meaningful things which i can do in my life so that at the end of the day i can feel better and satisfied and wake up in the morning with some purpose and aim 🙂 thanks 🙂

    • http://www.travismcashan.com/ Travis McAshan

      Rashmi, I appreciate your comment. One thing I was curious about is what you intended to do with your extra time now?

  • rashmi

    i do meditation in my free time 🙂

  • Raja Sodhi

    Frustrated !! Daily i just sit free with my laptop and mobile phone for hours … then eat .. then sleep … then repeat … i have no AIM in my life … Dont know what to do :
    i really want to change myself !!

  • abhi

    really a great one .thanks for giving my aim back to me.

  • abhi

    i have been doing nothing from previous 2 years .i am just struggling to complete my engineering and what can be more embrassing that a guy who wanted to be a successfull person is just doing “time pass”.but now on it wont happen.i m gonna get chnged.thanks tm…