I am someone who likes self-improvement.
Not that I always take the advice, but show me a “how to improve…” article or blog post or podcast or book and I’m in.
And nowadays, we all have devices that can constantly feed us a stream of articles, voices and images that promise that, somewhere, someone is living a better life than you…and you are just seven steps from having it all too.
It seems harmless enough, but in moments when my schedule is already stretched thin, I can find myself stressing out over unread blogs. I start striving to “keep up” with Words With Friends and who’s posted what on Facebook as if they are on par with everything else on my to-do list.
It’s kind of crazy.
I’m no rookie. I’d turned off most notifications on my phone ages ago and had even gone through a season with no social media. I purge apps and thin out play lists all the time, but I still found myself compulsively reaching for my phone too many times during the day, looking for the dopamine hit of a notification or update.
For years, the only thing I’ve listened to in the car or when exercising are podcasts and audiobooks (most of them are focused on business or self-improvement).
While I was filling my mind with all this “improving” content, I was also giving myself the constant message that I’m not good enough. That if I can only be better, hack this or optimize that, things will work out.
A dangerous message for a perfectionist people pleaser to hear. Plus, if one is only reading good ideas and never really working with them, can we have said we actually learned anything?
By constantly reaching for my phone, I was trying to escape the moment – escape whatever was hard or hurtful – for something easy and rewarding. A like. A retweet. My turn to play. As I work to become more mindful, this became glaringly obvious and discouraging.
For one week, I decided to detox from the distraction machine, and cut myself off from all “improving” content. In essence, I employed the Seinfeld Rule: “Nobody hugs. Nobody learns.” I took away the easy lessons and feel-goods and instead let my phone simply be a direct communication device.
What did I discover?
- I’m way more addicted to my phone than I realized. I lost count of how many times a day I picked up my phone and then stared at it blankly. I wasn’t about to make a call or send a text or email… I just picked it up expecting that something would be there. And something used to be, but now there isn’t. It’s kind of sad and, frankly, makes me a little leery of my phone.
- And why did I pick the phone up in the first place? Because something about this moment made me uncomfortable and I wanted out. I wanted to escape waiting in line, or the indecision I felt over the next sentence or the overwhelm I felt at all I had to do. Instead of staying with that discomfort (large or small), I reached for my phone and felt productive and loved by making one of those little red notification signals go away.
- Take away all the blogs and podcasts and I actually have time to read fiction or use the phone to call someone and have a conversation.
- Silence is presence. I don’t drive much these days (and this experiment would definitely be more challenging if I had a long drive to do this week), but when I do, I’m leaving the radio off and just trying to focus on driving and paying attention to my new home town.
A phone is just a tool and advice is only a suggestion. Neither should run the show.
I’m tired of being a dopamine junky, enslaved to the drip of the notification. And I’m beginning to think that too much self-improvement is just narcissism in modesty’s clothing.
So perhaps I learned something in spite of myself.
But I will not be hugged.