Right now is a pivotal time in my life. I’m finishing at University, I’m taking a year out of my career to move city and I’m finally moving into a flat with my partner. It’s a time in my life where things are changing, and this has prompted me to reflect on my life and habits.
I’m the type of person who has a thousand ideas for a thousand projects and can’t follow through with them. I won’t sustain the effort needed to say, learn a language or an instrument. I always find it hard to focus on one thing, and to come back to it regularly enough to really progress.
But there are some things I can come back to. I wake up in the morning, and I immediately turn away from my partner and check the news on my phone. You can probably relate.
Lately, following the fallout from the recent UK elections is particularly fascinating. After the news, I’ll check other sites like Reddit or Hacker News, looking to stumble on other interesting links which I had no prior plans to read.
I’m not the most efficient person, but I could tell you lots about the latest iPhone, or who is mad at whom in Westminster.
This leaves me vaguely knowledgable on a spattering of subjects I care about. The trade-off is that is takes away time for reflection. First thing in the morning, it distracts me from any early morning thoughts, and focuses me on something which isn’t relevant to anything else in my day.
Actually focus may not be the operative word. By rapidly switching between lots of different subjects and news stories, I spend little time thinking in any serious depth about any one topic. This also applies to taking breaks from work; constantly switching trains of thought does not aid concentration, just as you’ll get less work done on multiple short train journeys than one long one. It's the changes, and actually restarting after the changes, that take time and mental energy.
Doing this throughout the day also takes time away that I could be using to meditate, exercise, spend time with others, or even just relax and enjoy the freedom of nothing.
Crucially, it takes time away from idle thinking. Enjoying a podcast in the shower could have otherwise been that time when the subconscious finds a solution to some problem. That sneaky phone session on the toilet could have been an opportunity to regroup, and think about what needs planning in the next week. Those twenty minutes after work spent checking Facebook could have been time to practice that new language.
Considering all this, I have to ask myself, is all this media consumption actually useful to me? One can argue that keeping up to date on current events is useful, (one can also argue against), but I do wonder if this is healthy behaviour in my case. I’m starting to decide that it must be better in my situation to stop passively consuming whatever media is out there, to do only the things that I decide to do, and break off the old habits that are holding me back from doing other things in my life.
So I’m trying to start my morning with a big dose of nothing, and I’m actually finding it hard. When I can’t stand my own company, or something difficult comes up, my instinct is to reach for that dopamine hit.
For me the answer is to make a conscious effort to cut down dramatically, to stop justifying constant online distractions as ‘keeping up with the world.’
I need to stop focusing on other things, and start to focus on myself.