Hi, I’m Christian and I’m an addict.
I don’t even know when it first began. It’s been so long, I’ve kind of just accepted it. I mean, everyone else is doing it too!
You see, every morning I wake up and I look at my phone. I ingest my daily dose of Facebook, Instagram, texts from friends, whatever. I open my laptop and check my emails. Maybe I respond, maybe I tell myself I’ll just send them later. Next I exercise or hop in the shower, all the while listening to my favorite podcast. There’s just so much interesting information out there, ya know?
So anyway, podcast on the way to work or the grocery or whatever. Then it’s time to get to work. I’ve got a big article to write! I need some help. Wow this article about “How to Write the Best Article in 11 Easy Steps” sounds like it will do the trick! I mean it’s only 11 easy steps! Next I’ll click on a few blog posts to get the juices rolling and then maybe move over to YouTube to watch one of my favorite freelancers explain her favorite writing process.
Anyway, a couple of hours pass and I haven’t actually written anything, so now I’m bummed and I need a pick me up. A couple of episodes of Parks and Rec should do the trick. Don’t judge me! I’ve got my computer out in front of me in case an idea strikes!
OK 10 episodes later, it’s time for dinner. I search google for about an hour, trying to sift through all the best ways to prepare mac and cheese. I mean, what if I choose the wrong recipe, I better look through every ingredient list. What’s a keto mac and cheese? Oh wow, the ketogenic diet sounds awesome. Might as well take a look at this blog totally dedicated to living the Keto life.
Alright, well the day’s pretty much spent. I guess I’ll hit the sack and dive into those business books I’ve been meaning to devour. I once heard that if you read something right before bed, it helps your brain to better understand and remember it! Wonder where I read that? I’ll just look that up real quick…
It’s Time for an Intervention
I’m addicted to information. I don’t know how many of you suffer from the same addiction, but I would guess that it’s pretty much everybody. It’s not an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or technology…it’s an addiction to information.
We live in a day and age where information is king. The internet has ushered in an era of unparalleled access to information, education, and entertainment. Never before has there been a database that contains (and grows) as much as the world wide web. It’s truly an amazing thing, full of potential for the whole human race. But then there’s also the more common reality of too much information. Why, on the first page of a Google search for wart treatment, I can find a litany of interesting info. The cause, the leading research-based treatment, disgusting photos that I can’t stop looking at, and about 30 home remedies, each promising better results than the last! I came here just to order some wart-freezing chemical treatment, but by golly, I better clear my schedule!
We’re addicts. People that create content online (including myself!) are trying to design titles, photos, and videos that trigger that impulse to click. That’s how you sell stuff! Ever go to YouTube and find yourself clicking on every single recommended video in the sidebar? How many ads do you think you clicked through once you come to, wondering where the afternoon as gone.
If I’m truly seeking the life of adventure and wonder that Tom Sawyer represents, I should probably stop. Each word does not somehow make me more amazing. What makes life amazing is spending time with friends, going outside, making things, experimenting with life, and having fun. It’s time for a change.
As we continue to navigate through this world of increased access to technology and information, I truly believe that two things will become paramount and eventually, highly sought after skills. First, the ability to focus, whether on the present moment or on one’s own self-discipline. The second, is the ability to take action. Lucky for us, these two skills were the key to overcoming my own addiction.
Stop consuming. Start doing.
The idea is this: If you are constantly consuming, you can’t produce anything. You have no time for it. You’ll have no fresh ideas since your head will be filled with someone else’s. You’ll have no energy for your own glorious work because each quote that you find energizing, motivates you to seek more information that gives you the same feeling.
This is why self-help is often flawed. People read books, listen to gurus, and attend seminars. Then they wonder why no change has occurred. Change doesn’t come through reading or through consuming. Change comes through action. Put the book down and get to work.
An Information Fast
I first encountered the idea of severely limiting the intake of information from Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Work Week. In it, he advocates for his brain-fogged readers to adopt a “Low-Information Diet”. This consists of no web surfing, excessive email checking, news, non-fiction books, or non-entertainment television (Ferris is a fan of letting a mind relax through fictional stories). Music is fair game, and you may indulge in one of the banned activities for one hour each day. I thought the diet was a really cool idea and made a note of it.
I forgot about it.
Then, a few year later, I came across an article by Kyle Eschenroader of Startup Bros that took the idea to a whole new level. This was no longer a diet, it was a fast. Eschenroader was tired of having too much to read, no enough mental clarity, and getting little done. He says we could all use an information reset. It looks like this:
For one week you will not:
- Read books.
- Read blogs.
- Read Newspapers
- Engage in Social Media
- Watch TV (of any sort)
- Watch Movies
- Listen to Podcasts or Talk Radio
For that week, you’re not allowed any inputs, only output. I tried it for a week and my, what a glorious week it was.
Kyle Eschenroader already wrote an amazing post about the reasons for an information fast and I will direct you to it here so that you can stop reading and get to work instead. I will share a few things that I noticed during my first week of information fasting.
More Productivity. Well duh, we all knew this was coming, right? But the results were even greater than I imagined. It usually takes me about four or five days to complete one blog post. Well, I had one done in a day, and I created three images to go with it, and I created three pins on Pinterest to promote it. I checked my watch and it was before noon. I also got to work on a funk album that I’ve been wanting to work on for some time. Five song ideas, fully fleshed out in one week? I’ll take it.
More Flow. I’ve written about the flow state before. It’s the mental state that is often referred to as “The Zone.” Some of the greatest works of art, athletic performances, and human achievements have occurred when a person was in a flow state. And one of the necessary requirements for tapping into flow is undivided attention. As I blocked Facebook and removed the batteries from my TV remote, my only real choice was to focus on my work. While I worked on the songs I mentioned above, I found new songs blossoming out of the one I was now composing. Removing inputs created a space for blissful productivity.
More Mindfulness. In the Zen tradition, meditators sit and meditate not because they are trying to achieve enlightenment or change their state of mind to something more pleasant. They sit because there’s nothing better to do. This might be a foreign concept to most of us Westerners who see any spare moment as a waste of time, but when you remove the distractions of constant stimulation, you do have a lot of time on your hands. I was able to use this to my advantage, diving more fully into my meditation practice. And without the never-ending script of podcasts, blog posts, and news babbling throughout my mind, I felt at peace with whatever I was doing in the present moment.
More Exercise. When I wake up in the morning, I usually face the choice between checking emails and social media or exercising. Not anymore. I worked out. I found it to be so stimulating and beneficial to my productivity, that I worked out multiple times per day. And listening to music while getting your sweat on is infinitely more fun than listening to some bozo blab about current events.
More Love? You really can only work so many hours a day before you need a break. What was I supposed to do for entertainment? Well it turns out that people, real people, can be pretty damn entertaining. I didn’t have the choice of watching people do funny or exciting stuff on a screen, instead I went and interacted with those real people. We went out and danced, we had a few drinks, we trained together, we made music together, we hiked together. I even picked up more shifts at work because the social stimulation was somehow more exciting. I spent two days with my girlfriend (who lives 700 miles away) in a cabin in the woods. No, we were not stalked by a dangerous serial killer who escaped from the local prison. Truth be told, I was never once bored. We gave each other our complete undivided attention. It sounds kind of corny but, I felt more connected to humans than I have in a while. All I had to do was turn the Wi-Fi off.
I’m going to repeat my experience again and when I do, I will share my day by day experience so you can avoid the same pitfalls that I encountered. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, go for it! Don’t wait and if you need any help, please feel free to reach out to me. You can also leave a comment below and I will get back to you.
A final tip is to help yourself out by removing the temptations. Make it harder to log into social media, take the batteries out of your remote, unsubscribe from your news feeds.
It’s not easy, but it surely is rewarding. Now stop reading and get out in the real world. Go get something done.
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