I can’t stop smiling. A gitty smile. The smile of a small child who hasn’t yet experienced the world.
20 minutes ago I received my first ever quarterly bonus. The money will come in handy. But that’s not what’s making me smile. It’s the appreciation. The validation. I work for a company that loves me almost as much as I love me. A satisfying feeling.
Now I’m on my commute home. I have the windows rolled down. My speakers are blasting “Shake it off, shake it off.” And I’m singing “My ex-man brought his new girlfriend…”
I don’t care. I’m happy.
As my vocal chords tire I sing a little less and think a little more. I think about my job and my future. About my happiness and my thankfulness. Quickly, my thoughts shift to my family. I think about how excited I am to spend the evening with Sarah (my wife) and Moonshine (our dog). To share the good news with them. To celebrate with them.
In my head I make a promise to Moonshine that we’ll go for a long walk as soon as I get home. And I make a promise that Sarah and I will go to our favorite brewpub the second she gets home.
Three hours later we’re all sitting in the family room. I’m browsing reddit on my laptop. Sarah is accross the room scrolling Facebook on her phone. Moonshine is sulking, never having gotten that walk. Sarah and I never went out for food and drinks.
As I get ready for bed I’m not so happy anymore. This night – a night that I swore was going to be special – turned out just like every other night.
After I fall asleep a nightmare festers in my head. I dream that I’m an old man filled with regret as I look back on my life. The dream lingers with me for the first several hours of the next day. It’s painful. All I want to do is forget it. Get it out of my head. But I can’t.
The day goes on and I still can’t shake this pain. I never realized that a dream could make me hurt this badly. I resolve that I must do something about it. So I do.
Here’s how you can do the same:
1. Dumb Down Your Phone
Willpower is overrated. Yes, you could vow to look at your phone less. But that requires more mental energy. And is more prone to failure.
Instead, turn your phone into something that doesn’t guzzle your attention. Something that doesn’t tempt you to interrupt your otherwise meaningful life.
Get rid of social media apps. Get rid of your web browser and your email client. And still keep the benefits of a smartphone. Still have maps, weather and a calendar. Still have podcasts, an audiobook player and anything else you’re into.
You can either uninstall/hide these apps and trust yourself not to reinstall/find them. Or you can follow this tutorial to lock down your phone and prevent yourself from cheating.
You’ll still twitch for your phone at first. But it’ll go away.
2. Restrict Your Computer
Install an app like Focus or Self Control for Mac, or one of many similar apps for Windows.
These apps are like parental controls for yourself. Again, willpower is overrated. If you want to jump on the computer to do some writing or some coding, remove your distractions. And remove your temptations.
I chose Focus because it allows you to set up infinite flexible, automatic schedules. And when you’re inside of a scheduled time it can’t be disabled. So I can block reddit and iTunes from 7am-2pm every day, and again from 4pm-9pm, without having to permanently block anything.
3. Intentionalize Your Social Feeds
Are your social media feeds making you happy? Tweak them so they do.
So many times I’ve heard people say “Well I would delete my Facebook account, but I want to keep events and messaging.” If you catch yourself saying that, put your money where your mouth is.
You can go through your friend list and unfollow every one of them without defriending any of them. You’ll still be able to message them. You’ll still get their invites. And you’ll still get the other perks of a Facebook membership. You’ll also get this beautiful home page:
The same can be done with Twitter. I’d argue that there’s no point in following people on Twitter that you don’t want to engage with. But that’s just me. The mute option comes in handy for those who disagree with me.
Go through your Twitter feed and keep pressing mute/unfollow until your feed is slow enough that you can keep up with it. Until you recognize all of the faces. Until you can regularly interact with each of those faces. Because 12 loyal followers is more fun than 12,000 strangers.
4. Turn off the Radio
Instead, try one of these three things during your commutes:
1. Silence. No, it’s not a perfect meditation session. But it’s a great way to turn that 30-minute commute into productive time. You have some of your best thoughts in the shower and on the toilet, right? Driving in silence is no different. It creates some space for your brain to work.
2. Podcasts. Whether it’s a self-help podcast or a business podcast or a comedy podcast doesn’t much matter. The mere fact that you picked it makes it more intentional than the radio. If you choose wisely you can do the majority of your supplemental learning this way. So you won’t need to rush home from your desk job to hop right back on the computer.
3. Audiobooks. Same general logic as podcasts.
Notice that these are all mild steps. Steps that you can take today without stepping on anybody’s toes.
When you’re living with a partner you can’t just cancel your Internet service, sell your TV and move into a tiny house. You have to compromise. But you can still be a little creative in improving your life without going nuts.
I don’t hate technology. I appreciate it. But I recognize its power. I still struggle, and still falter, but I’m so much happier than I’ve ever been. And so is Sarah. And so is Moonshine.