The Power of Positive Distractions
What is a Positive Distraction?
Simply put, a positive distraction can be an image, activity, event, or even a thought that elicits a positive emotional response. Think of when a co-worker tells a funny joke, or unexpectedly brings a dozen donuts to work. These are positive distractions.
While it may seem intuitive that positive distractions are good for you (as the word ‘positive’ would imply) there have been multiple studies in recent years showing that positive distractions may be better for us than one would think.
Some of these benefits have important implications for the workplace.
Positive distractions are shown to:
-Reduce Short Term and Chronic Stress
-Enhance Feelings of Energy
-Restore Well-Being following an adverse event.
Think of an employee feeling bogged down during a difficult day at work then taking a 5 minute break to look at photos on their phone from a recent loved one’s birthday, or engaging in a few minutes of friendly conversation with a co-worker.
While distracted from their work task, the time that the employee takes to engage in this positive activity is shown to decrease stress and actually help redirect the employee to focus on their work at hand.
Studies also show that positive distractions do not have an adverse affect on memory. So the employee that is experiencing the positive distraction is not having their short-term memory compromised by the event.
In addition, studies show that individuals who have recently experienced an adverse or traumatic event, like a natural disaster or medical condition, are shown to cope better when a positive distraction is introduced. Think of therapy animals in the hospital or USO events entertaining the military overseas.
Of course, not all distractions are positive, some are negative, eliciting a negative emotional response. Think of the effect that an unexpected noise at work can have, like a drill in the adjacent room, or the way we feel when our phone rings and it’s a spam call.
Studies also make clear that positive distraction should not be confused with avoidant behaviors. Avoidant behaviors are a way to not confront unpleasant tasks or events versus positive distractions which help to alleviate the unpleasantness. It’s the difference between bringing a dozen donuts to an uncomfortable meeting versus going to get a dozen donuts to intentionally miss the uncomfortable meeting.
Positive distractions are a simple yet proven way to effectively raise well-being in the workplace. It can be a random act of kindness, such as giving or receiving a compliment, it can be posting a funny sign at work, or even being the guy that brings the donuts.
What are some positive distractions you’ve experienced at work?
By David Weiner, LCSW & Mason Ward
Andrade, C. C., Devlin, A. S., Pereira, C. R., & Lima, M. L. (2017). Do the hospital rooms make a difference for patients’ stress? A multilevel analysis of the role of perceived control, positive distraction, and social support. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 53, 63-72.
Shing, Elaine Z. (2017). Examining positive distraction as a coping strategy for chronic stress. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 77, 12-B
Haake, A. B. (2011). Individual music listening in workplace settings. Musicae Scientiae, 15(1), 107-129