(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY What do Greece, the Jerry Sandusky trial, that coworker you can't stand, and your Twitter feed all have in common?
They're getting too much of your attention.
What, that's not you? Okay, how about Lindsay Lohan, Microsoft's (MSFT) Surface tablet, and "Falling Skies?"
Look, we can spend all day guessing what your particular distractions are, but it doesn't really matter. We all have them. Some amount of mindless downtime is good for you. The problem is that as a culture, we're becoming obsessed with everything and everyone else. And the one thing we should be focusing on -- ourselves -- is getting left behind.
I bet I know what you're thinking. Doesn't focusing on yourself make you a narcissist? Isn't that what the "me generation" is all about? Being too self-involved for your own good?
Actually, no. Being too self-involved and seeking constant distraction are actually both aspects of the same phenomenon. Seeking attention and distraction are two sides of the same coin. Here's how it works.
When you seek lots of distraction, it usually means there's something bugging you that you're not dealing with. You might be aware of it on some level, or it could be just beneath your subconscious, but it's there. And it makes you anxious, uncomfortable. So you distract yourself with something, anything. It's comforting.
And get this. When you Google yourself, constantly check your inbox, spend loads of time texting and tweeting, you're just seeking attention. You're trying to bring other people into your sphere of influence. They revolve around you. It's all about you. That makes you feel more solid, more real, more powerful.
We use controlling behavior the same way. When we feel nervous, out of sorts, out of control, bothered by something we can't identify, we get picky and controlling. We micromanage. And that little bit of perceived control makes us feel somewhat safe, on top of things.
I can go on and on but the point is this: It's all the same thing. And it always means the same thing. When you're anxious, when you feel the need to be distracted, when you're needy and attention-getting, when you're controlling, it means there are things that are really bothering you that you're not paying attention to.
It could be anything -- your finances, career, boss, family life. Maybe you're trying to keep too many balls up in the air. Your job is overwhelming. Or maybe you're just really unhappy with the way your life is going.
The real problem is that there are so many ways these days to be distracted, to get attention, to gain the perception of control that it's easy to just fall for a quick fix. It seems to work, if only for a brief time. Unfortunately, none of it's real. You're not really dealing with things, just putting them off.
Look, when you see yourself going off the rails like that, instead of giving into it, try this. Stop, put down your smartphone, go to a peaceful place somewhere, and be with yourself. If you can manage to be calm for a bit, you'll figure it out. All you have to do is find some quiet, look inside, and see what's there.
It's called perspective. The answers are there. They're always there. Once you know what's going on, then you can deal with it. Maybe some change is in order. Maybe it's scary. But if you just take it one step at a time, you'll find it strangely uplifting. You'll gain strength with each step.
It all begins when you focus on yourself. Let the rest of the world turn on its own for a while. It'll all still be there when you get back. Really.