Ep. 49 – Other People’s Problems: How Good Deeds Become Distractions

You’re a good person. I’m sure of this. 

As humans in the world, we are part of a tribe-sometimes multiple tribes. Our close friends and family, those we learn with and work with, and the communities where we live, play, or worship – these are our people. Life is most beautiful when it’s shared. The moments add meaning to the days. 

I may not know you personally, but I have a feeling that you are someone that people count on. A lot. 

And that’s an amazing feeling. Until it isn’t. 

That’s what this episode is about. When other people (and other people’s problems) become a detour, a distraction to our time, goals, and progress.  

Episode 5 looked at three ways where distraction is in disguise during our busy days. Now distraction is around us every day, so this was a deeper look at the actions we take that have a very comfortable reason for why they feel so important in the moment and then we’re left with the very real effects on our time and attention and progress.  

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that you are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm. Ouch. That seems a little harsh. Good people help good people, right? Of course. 

The exploration on this topic is when help becomes a ready excuse for why you allow your time to be spent so freely by others – or you spend it yourself in service to others. What is the compound cost of that time against your own priorities and progress? 

In the 1980s, a concept called the “helper’s high” began being studied. It focused on the positive emotions that follow selfless service to others. And there are very real psychological and biochemical boosts that can happen when we help our fellow humans. Some research even suggested that the do-good mood boost could last up to several weeks. 

What I’m touching on here feels different. The initial ask or opportunity does have a quick brain impulse. Ah ha! Someone needs something and I CAN HELP! That quickly percolates however into a busy buzz in the back of the brain and it starts to feel something like this: 

·        Hmm, this is taking longer than I thought it would. 

·        I hope they appreciate what I’m doing for them. 

·        How come people don’t help me like this?

There’s a lot marinating in our mind. Going back to the distraction element, the altruistic excuse is a very dependable one. How can other people argue about your delayed responses and actions when you were, very clearly, being of service to someone or something that is bigger than you?

This can show up as innocently as responding to someone else’s “Hey do you have a minute?” as a welcome break from whatever you were doing. And then that minute is never really a minute. 

Or we start attaching hierarchy to the ask, such as when a boss or loved one asks for our help and we hesitate to say that we are in the middle of something else. Their need circumvents our own. There are also the times when we do this deliberately because we see it as a chance to get “extra credit” in the books. 

While all of these may make sense in the moment, the bill comes due at the end and you’re the one holding the check. Sure, the thing got done, the person got helped, and then you’re back to where you started – hours or days later – wondering why you’re not making the progress you want or why you always feel so fatigued. Or you end up spending extra time to catch up on your own list of things once all those boxes from other people are checked. That doesn’t really feel like a helper’s high after all. 

If any of this feels familiar, there is an opportunity to revisit the cognitive cost of your mental menu. How much does that “have-a-minute” actually cost? Maybe not cost them, but cost you. If there is a hesitation to share the value of your time, that’s often a signal that the people who order from your menu often benefit from discounted rates. And that’s not on them. They’re simply buying what you’re not selling. 

The challenge here is for you to look at the true inflation. What is the real cost of what you donate? An easy ‘yes’ today to be seen as a helper can quickly accumulate more meetings, tasks, and actions that you didn’t intend. It’s also important to ask if all that extra credit you think you’re accumulating actually carries any store credit. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t but it’s hard to know if you never actually try to redeem it. 

And the larger question here is how often and how willingly you jump to pitch in and help out. Even if others genuinely appreciate the effort, explore if this is a tactic you use to avoid the extra steps in the goals you said you wanted. 

If you’re busy making life easier for others, you don’t get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor. This is especially true if you’re the type of person who is always willing to help but rarely likes to ask for help. Reciprocity-that’s one of the original currencies in our tribes. 

It’s good to be good to others and it’s even more powerful to be good to yourself. That doesn’t make you selfish. That makes you dependable…to you. 

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit,” said famed American football coach Vince Lombardi. 

Look after your distractions so that they don’t become habits. 

The best habit we can cultivate is taking care to take good care…of others for sure, but definitely of ourselves. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.