I’ve never been too into New Year’s Resolutions, but I have come to acknowledge that January 1st is a good opportunity to take stock of the year behind me, and see where I can make changes that I will be happy with for the next year. 2017 was a hell of a year, especially on the scale of events beyond my control, but it was also an important transitional time for me personally. I’m happy with some specific behavioral modifications that I intend to expand upon in 2018, which is kind of the reason I’m writing this… blog post. My hope is that the exercise of writing out my thoughts will give them some clarity and focus (a novel concept I know).
Backing Up A Bit
Let’s start with some context. About two and a half years ago, I came to a startling and somewhat embarrassing realization; it had almost entirely stopped reading books. From 2010-2015, my diet of books had declined considerably, down to only one or two a year. At that time, the film “The Martian” was about to drop, and I wanted to read the book prior to seeing the movie. I read the whole book in a couple weeks, and enjoyed it a great deal. More than just the story or the characters, but the act of immersing in the reading. I couldn’t easily recall the last time I had done so.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it was surprising to me because reading had always been an important pastime of mine. And, most significantly, I hadn’t at any point DECIDED to cut back on reading. I just gradually stopped doing something that I loved. What was the cause? I’m not sure, but I’m fairly confident that the change in my habits came largely from a single source: my phone. I’m confident in this assessment because I’ve tested it.
In 2017 I made two deliberate (and relatively minor) tweaks to my own behavior:
- I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, and
- I stopped using my phone in bed at night.
The impact of these two small changes has been more significant than I expected. I’ve drastically reduced the amount of time I spend interacting on Facebook, especially when I’m at home, by forcing myself to physically move to my computer in order to do so. And I don’t miss it one bit. Not having the distractions available on my phone once I climb into bed at night has opened up a time each evening for me to read books. I tend to fall asleep faster, and I don’t find myself scrolling through feeds for hours that I instead intend for sleeping.
While the changes were small, there is an underlying shift in how I think about my time and attention. By acknowledging that I am vulnerable to distraction, and changing habits to avoid some particularly frequent sources of distraction, I’m giving myself a better chance to spend my time the way I intend. This lead me to reading a lot more this year.
So where am I going with all this (you, the imagined audience, might ask)? I’m hoping to spend 2018 building on the changes I made in 2017. But now it’s time to move from tactics (like no phone in bed) to strategy. I’ve spent a few years gradually clawing back some of my attention, but this is the first time I’m taking a real proactive role in defining what I will devote my efforts towards.
In the long ago time of “before-Facebook” I spent a decent amount of my time and energy on one form of “content-creation” or another. I made a few short films with friends through high school and into college. I built and designed websites. I wrote a fair amount of songs, poems, and “humor.” I’m sure that if I read most of that stuff today I would absolutely hate it (most of it has been lost with various hard drives or account deletions, fortunately). But, as with reading, the act of doing was itself very enjoyable.
So I am going to start writing again. Even if it is a rambling, bumbling blog post with no clear message or audience. Even if no one reads it. Write with the goal of putting thoughts down in words and needing to find some order out of chaos. Write for the sake of writing. And do it here, on my website, rather than in the void of social media. At least that way I’ll end up with a record to reflect upon, maybe next year.