One of my goals this year is to disengage from my phone more. Late last year, my phone completely broke down and black-screened, falling into an inescapable boot-reboot cycle. Customer service quickly threw (okay, diligently packaged and carefully sent) a phone in the mail for me (incidentally, Project Fi is awesome – that’s my referral link if you’re interested), but there was still a weekend’s worth of lag time. I didn’t realize how tethered my habits had become to my phone until I didn’t have it anymore. I couldn’t roll over in the morning and silence my alarm and then immediately check email or my RSS feed. I couldn’t watch Netflix while I was cooking or listen to podcasts while I was getting ready. I couldn’t text people throughout the day. It was jarring to realize how often I reached for a phone that wasn’t there. And then it quickly became liberating because I was actually able to focus on what I was doing without buzzy notifications diverting my attention. It was a pretty great weekend actually.
Now, to be clear, I’m not planning to divorce my phone. But I’ve realized that I’m in a pretty unhealthy co-dependent relationship with it. I feed it electricity (and personal information, let’s be honest), and it gives me the internet and dopamine drips. Overall, I think carrying a computer around that has all the information is amazing. BUT. The pattern of my phone use needed changing. So I uninstalled Facebook and Twitter, I turned off most of my notifications, and I set up specific silence times where my phone doesn’t transmit ANY notifications so that I can have regular uninterrupted stretches of time.
Even then, I was still surfing reddit before bed. I was still watching YouTube videos to fill the silence. I was still reading Twitter (via browser now, of course) for the outrage and righteous indignation as much as for any useful info. It was a visit to my childhood home that prompted me to go even further. During that visit, instead of having face to face conversations and reconnecting as, you know, people, my family mostly sat around on devices (sometimes two devices at once) and ignored each other. It was baffling. Then it quickly became frustrating and infuriating. Sure, sometimes they were reading news or responding to urgent emails. But most of the time, it seemed like they were surfing Facebook or scrolling through various text convos instead of having actual conversations with the people sitting in front of them. (This is apparently called “phubbing,” which is a word I hate almost as much as the act itself.)
Week three check-in time!
This week has gone by with much more ease than the previous one. Which is not to say that it is easy. It’s still definitely work. But I’ve managed to put some systems into place that have been helpful in making it not feel so much like a struggle.
The main change-up that I did for my workflow is implementing a modified Pomodoro Technique to break down how I was writing. This was something that was suggested under the “Week Three Tips” section of No Plot, No Problem as a way to put in some 6,000 word days to make up for any word deficit that was accumulated by the end of week two. Instead of doing that, I worked the system into my usual writing routine.
Week two check-in, and actually at the two week mark. Week two is the notoriously difficult week. When enthusiasm wanes and you’re left with a bit of a slog. A disastrous half-conceived plot. Characters that once raced to get things done, now going through the motions aimlessly. Disenchantment with the whole thing.
It’s been harder and harder to not listen to the inner editor (aka brain weasels, aka jerkbrain). I kept thinking about how terrible my writing was and how boring it was. I still didn’t know how some key pieces were going to work. I had lost faith in the process. Everything just felt wrong. I found myself glancing at the word count every page and then every paragraph and then every sentence. Did I hit the goal yet? Could I stop for the day? Disheartening to say the least.
In No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty points out that this is the week to remind yourself, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” But even when I told myself that, I just had a hard time getting words out on the page. It was like pulling teeth, but slower and without anesthesia.
But I still did it.
Week one NaNoWriMo check-in! Well, sort of. It’s only been five days at this point. Week one is fun because everyone’s energy is high, the community is strong, and the enthusiasm is boundless. Watching everyone hit the goals and cheer each other on is so great. Affirms that good things can still happen in internet communities. I’m involved in a few Discord servers for people who are participating, and the advice and encouragement being so easily and freely given is gratifying (and if I’m going to be sentimental about it, heart-warming) to see.
The biggest tips I’ve seen floating around about week one are basically thus:
It’s almost the end of October, so now is a good time to pause and reflect on the month. This October has been particularly meaningful to me because I re-focused on my personal goals and admitted some personal truths to myself. It was a month where I was more conscious of my jerkbrain (the part of my brain that’s terribly mean to me and tells me I can’t do things) and the various ways that I (used to) set myself up to fail. One of the most insidious ways is how I used the word “try.”
I imagine this is how pretty much all of us are raised. I use it liberally, sprinkled into the promises I make myself and the promises I make other people. And it seems like such a small, harmless little word. So easily inserted into something to prove how earnest you are. We’re all taught not to make powerful statements for fear of falling short, so we add in this small verbal tic to make things sound sweeter and more gentle.
How little we realize that we are semantically encoding failure into our thought processes.
What do you do when the processes (read: habits, roughly) that you’ve set up in your life thus far do nothing but help you waste time?
Let’s back up a moment. One thing that I’ve found to be largely, anecdotally true (as far as those things go) is the idea that all humans, all of us, tend towards laziness. A lazy sort of entropy if you will. And the battle against wasting time is constant and never-ending. More so even now, when the mechanisms for wasting time are ever-present and so deliciously immediate. I mean, who doesn’t want that hit of dopamine, giving you the sense of pleasure and bliss. The trick is that, of course, that feeling is brief, fleeting, and addictive. So you go from one moment to the next (one YouTube video to the next, one reddit post to the next – you get the gist) looking for that sweet, sweet high. Coming down from a day-long YouTube or Netflix or whatever binge is rough – for me, I feel shame, disappointment, not a small amount of anger. Why the hell was I doing those useless things when I could be doing something, anything more productive? Because it’s easy, it’s available, it’s easy, it’s tempting, and did I mention that it’s so, so fucking easy?
The reasons for this are many, but it breaks down into roughly three things – context, consistency, and process. We all think that we make thoughtful, measured decisions. But in reality, the decisions that we make are largely influenced by underlying mental calculations that tend towards the path of least resistance. And the paths of least resistance are the ones that we have tread over and over and over again – the habits that we’ve developed.
Conceptually, this is what this looks like for me: