“Happiness can only be found if you free yourself from all other distractions.” ~ Saul Bellow
While knee-deep in writing his best known book, Henry David Thoreau felt that there was too much clatter and distraction going on. In order to focus, he fled the city for his rural cabin, saying “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what I had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
The year was 1845, but Thoreau was seeking to do what so many of us right now, in the year 2014 are struggling to do: switch off. Find solitude. Disconnect from the hubbub and engage only with what’s real.
This is definitely my struggle.
I’ve been noticing a disturbing tendency in myself, one that I’m guessing is present in your life too: obsessively checking Facebook and emails. Of course, I’ve developed elaborate justifications for this social media habit: it’s an ‘important networking tool’, it’s for my business, it’s totally legitimate.
My relentless habit has even escalated to the point where sometimes I am driven by a feeling of Oh My God, I need to check Facebook because I could be missing out on the Next Big Thing/ Connection/ Client and if I don’t check RIGHT NOW, my business will wither and die.
You know, totally rational-like.
Obsessively checking emails or Twitter or ye olde Book of Face is the modern equivalent of going to the fridge when you’re not hungry. It’s a dumbing and a numbing and yet another way that our brains fill up with crap and froth, instead of settling into peace.
Old Man Thoreau proves that this numbing-and-dumbing is not a recent invention at all. We’ve long been filling ourselves up to drown something else out. It’s just that now, the sources have changed. I would venture that they’ve also become more insidious since 1845 – more ubiquitous and harder to escape.
I mean, perhaps Mr Thoreau could bugger off to the woods to write his book, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a modern day writer who isn’t simultaneously managing a blog, a Twitter account, guest interviews, and a Facebook page as well as their actual focus. (You know, the book.)
I don’t think that the modern day answer is to disconnect completely. I think it’s to manage the connection. Consciously. Mindfully. And to occasionally switch off completely.
It’s to figure out how those incredible technologies can serve you best, rather than you serving them.
So rather than running away to the woods and forgoing the incredible business (and social, and educational) benefits of social media, here are the three things that are helping me to manage them mindfully.
1. I do not check any emails or social media for the first hour of my work day.
Meaning, I launch into my day by continuing on with whatever project or client work that I have been working on.
When I start my day by checking my email, I end up wasting an hour reacting to whatever’s landed in my inbox. It means I waste that burst of fresh, brand-new-day energy on admin stuff and mere trifles… Not the most strategic use of that precious energy.
One straight-up banned hour, first thing in the morning, has increased my productivity drastically.
2. I now take meaningful breaks during my work day.
It took me a while to realize that when my brain was reaching its concentration limit, I was automatically flicking over to social media. What I was really craving was a few minutes of proper rest, but what I was giving myself was a needless topping up of irrelevant information.
Now, when I’m working and notice that the desire to start randomly web-browsing or status-checking is creeping up on me, I just step away from the computer. Sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for an hour. But the essence of what I really need is a proper, quality break. Preferably involving fresh air, a downward dog and a cup of tea.
That’s what I was craving all along, but I wasn’t aware enough to realize it. And a deliberate, meaningful break is far more refreshing to my mind and my wellspring of creativity than Tweeting or Linking or Facing.
3. I have trained myself to become aware.
I’m now better able to catch myself in that moment when I reach for my phone or tablet to check on all those feeds and updates. Just like I am now aware enough to catch myself opening the fridge when I’m not hungry. Doesn’t mean I always succeed, but awareness is an excellent first step.
The more aware you are in such moments, the greater the gap becomes. You know, that sacred, blessed gap where you are actually conscious in the moment and can choose your course of action.
In that gap lies the power to transform everything – your relationships, your work, how you react to everything… and yes, how you use social media.
+ + +
I would love to run away to the woods and write, just like Mr. Thoreau did so many years ago. But now, with these few little tweaks, that log cabin can have WiFi and I can still find peace and quiet.