A picture of an alarm clock smoking cigarettes.

Distractions Are Like Smoking Cigarettes

Both of my parents smoked. All throughout their lives, they battled addiction to cigarettes. Mom and dad both suffered heart disease directly tied to smoking.

Thankfully, I never picked up the habit. However, before you want to pin me a medal on me, I think I know some of the impact of what they went through craving to light up. I deal with something similar…distractions. While not to the extent that smoking does to the body, there are negative health effects of not being able to get a handle on distractions. Let’s look at 5 similarities that make cigarettes and distractions addictive.

Distraction’s Version of Nicotine

Nicotine is the highly addictive drug found in tobacco. It reaches the brain within seconds of inhalation and triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This creates a reinforcing effect, making smokers crave cigarettes to experience the pleasurable feeling again.

Constant digital connectivity, social media, multitasking, decision fatigue, information overload, fear of missing out (FOMO), and app notifications are all electronic versions of nicotine designed to give you that dopamine hit.

A picture of the book "The Time-Optimized Life" with a QR code to download the first chapter.

Rapid Delivery

Cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine quickly and efficiently. The small size and filtered design allow for deep inhalation, sending nicotine directly to the lungs and bloodstream. This rapid delivery intensifies the pleasurable effects of nicotine and strengthens the addiction.

With the ability of algorithms, cookies, and AI to predict our behaviors, advertisers and social media platforms are designed to rapidly deliver the things we want to see and hear.

Fighting Withdrawal

When smokers don’t have nicotine, they experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and cravings. These unpleasant effects motivate smokers to light up another cigarette to feel normal again.

Does that sound familiar when you apply the same to how you feel when you are distracted?

Behavioral Conditioning

Smoking often becomes associated with daily routines and activities, such as drinking coffee, taking breaks at work, or socializing with friends. These pairings create a conditioned response, where the smoker craves a cigarette whenever they encounter these cues.

How many times have you felt the need to text or post because it is an engrained routine, even when it takes you away from more productive pursuits?

A group of clocks smoking cigarettes.


Cigarette companies add various chemicals to cigarettes, some of which may enhance the addictive properties of nicotine. These additives can affect the way nicotine is absorbed by the body or alter the taste and smell of cigarettes, making them more appealing.

We often feel like multitasking can be an answer to not being distracted. However, it only adds to the disruptions in our lives.

What to do?

Like smoking, there is no easy fix for controlling your distractions. But there are some ways to start. Pick one and work hard at it and you will find yourself being more aware to push yourself to be more focused.

  • Fill your calendar with dedicated time. Too many people I work with have a calendar that is filled with open spots. Fill them in and crowd out the nicotine effect.
  • Close down the rapid delivery by silencing or turning off notifications. Force yourself to go a little extra to see content. That hesitation will make you think twice and get back to what you are doing.
  • Schedule formal times to look at social media to “get a fix” and alleviate any withdrawals that might need to be addressed at bad times.
  • Quarantine any devices that cause you to be distracted during important productive times. You will train yourself to do more easily without them.
  • Think less is more. Trying to do more than one task at a time will make it that much easier to be distracted by other outside influences.

If you smoke today, I emphasize with you from a distraction perspective. It is not easy to break the  habit. However, with a little bit of discipline in just one of these areas, distractions can become less of an addiction and more of a recognition that more efficient and healthier time lies ahead.

David Buck is the author of the book The Time-Optimized Life, owner of Kairos Management Solutions, LLC, and founder of the Infinity Lifestyle Design program. As a certified professional retirement coach (CPRC), David works with financial services providers helping their clients create a post-career lifestyle strategy. To learn more, contact him at dave@kmstime.com or visit Infinity Lifestyle Design.

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