Are All Distractions—Squirrel!—Bad?

When the Distraction Is a Squirrel

I lost my water bottle. It had to be somewhere close because I hadn’t left the house that morning.

But I couldn’t find it anywhere.

I began retracing my steps. I looked out the front door as I passed by.


The squirrel was back at the bird feeder, draining all the seed that wasn’t meant for him.

From the 2009 movie Up, Dug the dog got easily distracted by a squirrel. We’ve been using “Squirrel!” as a term for distraction ever since.

And for me this morning, the distraction really was an actual squirrel.

23 Minutes Per Distraction

Distractions can be a real pain. They derail us from our best-laid plans. They feel like a waste of productive time. They make it hard to get back on track.

Studies say it takes around 23 minutes to recover from a distraction.

But with all their faults, can distractions ever be a good thing?

As I’m finding out, yes.

Good Distractions

Sometimes my mind gets trapped in a bad loop. I keep circling a thought I need to let go. It turns into unhelpful rumination.

What I need is a good distraction.

Distractions are useful when they bump us off an unhelpful track. Let’s be real: we aren’t always using our time wisely to start off with (as in my case of ruminating) when we’re interrupted with a distraction.

In these cases, we can be grateful for a distraction.

Distractions can serve as a reset, a pause, a moment to reevaluate if we were doing the best thing in the first place.

When we can use distractions to get on a better path than the one we were on, distractions are beneficial.

Use to Your Advantage

I am learning to purposely seek distractions when I’m spiraling into negative thoughts. Put on music. Work a Sudoku puzzle. Practice Bible memory. Even turn on the TV.

Used effectively, distractions can break up a bad mood, help us get back to sleep, and even stop an angry argument.

In John Gottman’s findings on effective communication in relationships, he actually recommends taking a 20-minute break from your partner if you find yourself in an overheated discussion.

But don’t use the 20 minutes to go to your corner to privately stew on “he said/she said” and “what I can say next.” (It doesn’t work, trust me, I’ve tried.) Use the time to mentally distract yourself from the argument, allowing your body chemistry to cool down, so you can return to the conversation with a clearer mindset.

Use distractions to your advantage.

But just don’t stay there too long.

Move forward once distractions have served their purpose.

Otherwise, distractions can rob you of time, health, energy, and possibly even money.

Thank You, Squirrel

I finally found my water bottle that morning.

The first time I’d seen the squirrel, I’d had the water bottle in my hand. Squirrel! I set the bottle down by the door to chase away the squirrel. Then walked away.

Oddly enough, it was seeing the squirrel again that brought me back to the door…and back to my water bottle.

Sometimes distractions—and squirrels—truly are helpful.

Are you easily distracted? What distractions help you? Share in the comments.

18 thoughts on “Are All Distractions—Squirrel!—Bad?

  1. Lisa Blair

    I hadn’t thought of distractions in this light, Lisa, “Distractions can serve as a reset, a pause, a moment to reevaluate if we were doing the best thing in the first place.” Yet, it’s true. This could be a mantra if it includes, “Move forward once distractions have served their purpose.”

  2. Barbara Harper

    This is so true. I remember using distractions to get my kids out of a negative loop (usually crying over something they couldn’t do or have). And I use them myself when anxious thoughts are spiraling. Sometimes it helps in those moments to answer the anxieties with Scripture. Other times, we know the truth, but we just need to get off the track and onto something else. Just now I am diverting thoughts about a colonoscopy scheduled for next week. I just don’t want to waste the time dreading (the preparation more than the event), so I distract myself when my thoughts go there. 🙂

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, I love this!! Honestly, your blog distracts me a lot, but obviously, in a wonderfully edifying way! I can, however, be the Queen of Negative Distraction, so sometimes, I use a train-on-tracks graphic, to remind me not to get derailed, off-track! But I love your positive, even necessary, spin on this. We surely need to get off negative mind-tracks and take a break. Listening to classical music (& practicing my Bach soprano part) does that for me, or walking, especially. But generally, I think the connotation for distraction (from the Latin distractio for separate) is negative; so your take on it is uplifting. Here is the definition from the Webster’s 1828 dictionary: “a drawing apart; separation. Confusion from a multiplicty of objects crowding on the mind and calling the attention different ways; perturbation of mind; perplexity.” [One of the distraction adjectives, now totally archaic, meant mad (as in crazy)!].

    That word, multiplicity, reminded me of a wonderful poem about same by Christian British poet, the late Denise Levertov:

    And reading *that* distracted me into looking at another favorite poem that speaks to me of distraction:

    Maybe these will speak to you, too. The squirrel surely spoke to me! We love UP, and Dug, of course, whose name is cleverly penned. I thought it was actually Doug! Thanks for the correction.

    Now I think I’ll distract myself w/ a little daily drudgery after such a delightful derailing by your delicious blog!

  4. Valeria

    Good post 🙂

    I find distractions to be very helpful at times … and I’m actually beginning to like being visted by “squirrels” that reroute my thoughts and redirect my footpaths 😉

    Have a funtastic week!

  5. Joanne Viola

    We always hear of distractions as a negative thing. But when they distract us from being negative … they can be a good thing 🙂 “Move forward once distractions have served their purpose.”

  6. PaulaShort

    Lisa, I really had to chuckle here. This is so me, LOL! ?? I totally agree that some squirrel distractions are helpful, causing us to pause and reflect. UP is one of my favorite movies.
    Visiting today from Let’s Have Coffee #20

  7. Lesley

    I like how you point out that distractions can be used in a positive way. It made me think, we often do that with children, but maybe we should be more intentional in distracting ourselves too!

  8. Lynn D. Morrissey

    The poem I shared yesterday by Denise Levertov, had a few typing glitches which I had not recognized. I just discovered this, and it’s correct; plus, it includes a very interesting commentary. I really enjoyed reading & applying. I think Denise is in so many words talking about inappropriate squirrelness which fragments when we are distracted by the world–opposite of the good squirrelness Lisa mostly shares in her fascinating, excellent blogpost.

    1. David

      Dear Lynn, thank you for these two comments on Denise Levertov. I will definitely look her up. This one about Adam’s distraction, wandering away from God, is very powerful.

  9. Lauren Renee Sparks

    When I was a young mom with tons of interruptions to quiet time or any other project I was trying to work on, I trained myself to see them as divine interruptions and look for what God had for me and my littles in them.

  10. David

    Very wise. Sticky distractions are the worst. I am starting to scatter good distractions around, and make it easy to jump to them from the more negative ones. Bought a new page-a-day diary & I’m writing short prayers every day; new Christian accounts I’m following on FB & Twitter; a yoga mat always laid out in my WFH office. I put His face all around me and train myself to look for Him.

  11. JeanWise

    Love that cartoon. and 23 minutes??? Yikes. So glad you presented both sides to distractions. And isn’t the world overflowing with them? no wonder we can’t focus

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