I am lazy, bored, and more often than not, demotivated to act upon a perceived obligation to create something meaningful.
Instead, I wander.
If you are like me; that is, in a pursuit of a better, more productive and fulfilled life, you have unquestionably found yourself navigating through blogs, videos, and other formats of information which claim to have the solutions that you seek. There is a plethora of such information on the internet, and we, in our pursuit for change, devour it without limitations.
Imagine this. One day, you read an article about hacking and tracking your habits. "Wow," you exclaim, for you have just learnt something important that has the potential to elevate your lifestyle. You feel it in your veins. You just had an epiphany. You immediately proceed to implement what you just learnt, and at a first glance, it seems to work. But hours, or days later, you lose interest and you quickly re-induldge into the world of personal development, perhaps never having left in the first place, overstimulating yourself with an abundance of information that makes you feel good about yourself, yet its purpose being mostly that of entertainment, and you know that because nothing significant changes in your life, and hours pass while you remain fixated on your screen, and then the next day begins, chasing your next hit.
Insight porn1. That's what your productive distractions are. Like the name suggests, it is made to satisfy without requiring mental exertion. And for that reason one can become addicted to it, chasing new fixations and pleasures. Instead of wasting your time scrolling on social media or playing games, you waste it on the veiled novelty of new productivity systems, personal development articles, and inspiring content.
Don’t get me wrong: within the vast market of personal development, consisting of hundreds of thousands of books, videos, blog posts, and other formats, there exists an immense amount of knowledge with both practical and philosophical applications, but, within this vast oasis of information, we tend to forget that less is more and more is, in fact, and very often, less—significantly less.
You are currently failing to improve upon an aspect of your life because, among other reasons, you are continually encountering conflicting advice, each more appealing than the previous, chasing an ambiguous goal that seems never-ending. You are a tool in a war whose target is your increasingly smaller attention spam; you read for entertainment, feeding your dopamine levels, instead of embracing meaningful learning, and while knavishly convincing yourself that you are doing the right thing.
Bore yourself and gain the world
If you and I have learnt anything during our pursuit for self development it is that ambitious goals and habit change don’t materialize overnight: they involve an intricate process requiring discipline, motivation, and a lot of patience.
Without a purpose in place, a solid conviction to propel us forward, navigating the personal development space from the comfort of our screens can feel like traipsing a minefield.
Most of us are old enough to remember a life without, or with minimal, screens—life without smartphones and the internet. A life with a more constrained information environment. When video games, smartphones, and social media eventually became available, a new type of internet age emerged, one that initially held promise, but which was soon hijacked by today's digital monopolies. You might also remember the myriad warnings about the adverse mental and physical effects of excessive screen time reported by researchers, doctors, and, subsequently, parents. Whatever happened to those concerns? Have we just come to accept the risks?
Dr. Kowalski, a psychiatrist writes:
Research has linked excessive screen time to school problems, aggression and other behavioral issues. The “sensory overload” causes kids to have poor focus and depletes their mental energy, which often leads to anger and explosive behavior. She further states that, although such effects are primarily observed in kids because of their high brain plasticity—i.e., the ability of the brain to change continuously and absorb information—adults who expose themselves to excessive screen time develop the same behavioral issues.
Perhaps, the most important side-effect of screens is their ability to strain and permanently change the anatomy of our eyes and brains, causing us to suffer from attention deficit, losing the ability to concentrate on tasks of importance, in a world that embraces distractions and over-stimulation.
We can stop that. I know, it's hard. I am addicted, too, but there are true, potent benefits in forgoing screens, even for short intervals. It is the hardest and most reward change one can initiate, and, for once, it doesn't involve a new app, a YouTube video, or a new promising product. It involves immediately getting rid of most of your most destructive habits, which, if you are the average person, I suspect, involve technology—the screen itself.
The decision to unplug
I was fed up with myself; I was angry; I was helpless; my eyes were in pain—until, one day, I decided to unplug, cut my internet connection, buy a Nokia 3310 3G dumb phone, and spend my vacation week without screens, television access, or social media. I’m not going to recount the dreadful experience in detail, I’m sure you can sympathize; instead, I will tell you what I gained, and what you can gain, too, by ditching technology for one week (except when work requires it) and forcing your brain to partake in the wonders of the analog world.
The first step is to go cold turkey. It will come off as a shock—instant boredom at best; paralyzing thoughts at worst—but you should let everything go (inform your favorite people, perhaps) and brace yourself for a shaky ride. Now, the benefits:
Time becomes just an illusion—and books your best friends
I remember coming home from school, now work, and immediately opening my laptop, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, occasionally getting lost on YouTube, for hours. I worked from nine to five, so, social media and aimless scrolling was the ultimate time-waster. I never felt content with my days, I was effectively a walking zombie. Now, however, without these useless interruptions, time seems to work in my favor: I have more time to spend with my family, work on my creative projects, and read all the books that I had once bought but never got to. In the course of one week, I effectively read two books, finding time where there previously was none—during my daily commute, before bed, and during my lunch breaks—and now I always keep a book or a notebook by my side, for when boredom or free time present themselves.
Laziness and boredom become redefined
“Not all those who wander are lost.” — J. R. R. Tolkien
Our society and those around us want us to believe that being busy is the new social currency—that fast-pacing and multitasking somehow convey an image, a status, to those around us, effectively wiping out from the mainstream those who are outwardly idle but inwardly curious and fecund.
“Read more. Listen more. Eat more. Buy more. Upgrade more. Deplete more. Follow more. Be more.”
The above is a recipe for disaster. If you like this idea of more, and you are fine with consumerism dictating your life, I have no problem with that. If, however, you want to be someone that produces something of value, you need to embrace boredom and laziness like you have never done before. (Because of the contemporary sentiments attached to the two words, I have dubbed them as wandering sessions, for this is what they truly are.)
Consuming others’ intellectual products is a great practice, for it's the only way we can broaden our horizons and acquire new knowledge that has the potential to change our lives. Losing access to these products, though, even briefly, causes something amazing to happen: your mind begins to wander. At first, you are bombarded with thoughts, at a pace you can’t keep up with, but as you remain in that state of wander, these thoughts start to clear up, becoming more intelligible and meaningful. It is during these moments that the greatest minds that ever set foot on this earth came up with their groundbreaking ideas—from Plato and Aristotle to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, they all admitted in embracing idleness, forcing their minds to unleash their true potential without external stimuli.
Some of us might be reluctant to enter this state of mind, afraid of what we might find along the way, instead opting to use our screens for distraction due to the uncomfortable nature of our thoughts. I urge you to break your comfort boundaries, though, and explore the full potential of your mind. Wander freely and keep a notepad nearby, because you never know what you might come across!
The internet becomes a tool
When you force out technology from your daily routine, life becomes resourceful (at least, this is what I noticed). In the absence of immediate rewards, fueled by the mishandling of dopamine, you use and appreciate the internet, and social media, not as a form of entertainment, but as tools that, if utilized resourcefully, can elevate your lifestyle, instead of being a hindrance to it.
Paper becomes your “screen,” and pen becomes your “keyboard”
Pen and paper (and other variations thereof, and, therefore, in loose terms) have been advancing the human civilization for millennia. Starting with clay tablets and cave drawings, early humans took the ideas in their minds and transformed them into concrete proof of human ingenuity. During my week of darkness, as I came to call it, I realized that a writing tool and some paper (yellow legal paper because of its versatility) were all I needed to keep track of my days, ideas, books notes, and to-do lists. This limited access to note-taking allowed me to revisit the long-forgotten and ancient art of handwriting. Initially, it felt infuriating because my handwriting is almost completely ineligible, and that’s on my good days, but I soon became content with it, and now I carry pen and paper everywhere. (Pulling out pen and paper, instead of the customary phone, to jot down a to-do or an idea while shopping in the grocery store will certainly draw some very interesting gazes from those around you. Oh, where we have come as a society.)
Sleep patterns begin to normalize
It is no secret that screens have been dictating our sleep cycles. Some of us even go to sleep with our phones, establishing an unprecedented relationship that is so intimate and unique that surpasses that of human interaction. For all their glory, screens emit blue light that strains our eyes and reduces the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycles. It is estimated that sleep-related problems affect 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes. And, although, causation is difficult to be attributed to the power of screens, repeated studies show strong correlations between screen usage and disrupted sleep patterns.
Unlike my brother, who magically falls asleep within seconds of touching the bed, I have always had suffered from occasional insomnia and sleep-related anxiety—until screens were no more part of my life, albeit for a short period of time. Surprisingly, the effects were immediately noticeable: In their absence, writing and reading became my primary preoccupations, aside from work, for I had no other options to spend my time, and when it finally came time to sleep, I would pass out almost immediately. One would think that it would take time to re-establish a sound sleep cycle, but this was not the case. Your mind and its racing thoughts seem to fade into the background, and you are overtaken by a natural state of relaxation. To experience the same feeling, simply forgo of your screens a few hours before it is time to sleep. (If you still find it difficult to fall asleep, manipulate your melatonin levels by deeming the lights in your house one to two hours before bedtime; it works wonders.)
This experience—the week of darkness—and the benefits that I acquired along the way, was not part of a curious experiment, but that of a burning desire to unchain myself from a self-destructive cycle of negative habits that were hindering my life in significant ways. When you let go, and when it’s finally time to re-introduce technology to your life, you realize that what you once considered important is now nothing more than an unnecessary distraction.
I’m lazy; therefore, I wander; therefore, I create.
Insight porn is information that stimulates the mind to the point of epiphany, without actually providing any actionable benefit. If insight porn is to provide some education, however, it is through the contemplating nature that it evokes, which can indirectly influence one's view of the world.