balance · simplifying

How I Want To Use Facebook

I don’t hate Facebook. In fact, I like it a lot.

During March 2019, I took a step back from all social media. And for me, social media is mostly Facebook. I don’t use Twitter; I have an Instagram account, but I rarely use it.

It felt good to take a step back from Facebook. While I enjoy aspects of it, I really don’t like the mindless scrolling. Also, I am definitely one of those people who gets jealous and anxious when I compare my life to the news feed version of other people’s lives, and I don’t like that part of Facebook at all.

I’ve written about this in a few other posts, but in case you’re a new reader – I decided to step back from social media in March 2019 after hearing Cal Newport, the author of Digital Minimalism and Deep Work, talk on a podcast. His advice is to only use social media and apps that support your values. After some careful contemplation, I’ve decided that occasional Facebook usage supports several of my values: family, friendship, connection + community, creativity, and (sometimes) books + reading + writing.

It’s pretty obvious how Facebook helps with family and friendships, right? My family uses Facebook a LOT, and so do many (though not all) of my friends and colleagues. 

While I dislike scrolling mindlessly, I enjoy the times when I use Facebook intentionally. I like it when I am really and truly paying attention to what I’m reading. And I enjoy writing comments on things my friends have shared. ACTUAL COMMENTS – not just the like button!

I like using Facebook to share my blog posts, and I follow lots of people and pages about writing. I’m also in a couple of really fun Facebook groups that are focused on books + reading; I get and give a lot of good book recommendations via these groups. 

But my most favorite reason for using Facebook is events. I am ALWAYS *interested* in events happening in my community, especially since having kids. I like to know if there are kid-friendly activities going on that I can bring the boys to, and I like to support and attend events thrown by my friends.

I learned a lot by stepping back from Facebook. I learned the role I want social media to play in my life. Here are the ways I want to use social media:

  1. Connect with my community by getting info about events my family can attend.
  2. Celebrate and share life’s moments with words and photos.
  3. Interact with people I care about, through Messenger or posts, with intention.
  4. Engage in communication that supports things I value, like books + reading or blogging/writing.

And, finally – here are the limits I’d like to put in place regarding my social media diet:

1. Only use social media on the iPad. (This one might be hard to follow, so we’ll see how it goes!)

2. Hide or unfollow anything that is uninteresting or causes me to feel bad.

3. Share blog posts, whenever I want.

4. Mostly focus on just checking my notifications – the little red number that tells me when someone is interacting with me directly. (I’ll still scroll occasionally, but I’m going to try to limit my scrolling to 1 or 2 times a week.)

I really loved taking this time away; it helped me appreciate social media for what it brings to my life, instead of drowning in the negative feelings it sometimes inspires.

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balance · recovery

10th Step FTW

I’ve been trying to limit my time on my phone. To do so, I have deleted a lot of the apps that were cluttering up my life. The idea is, I delete as many apps as possible for 30 days, and then at the end of that period, I only add back in the apps that support my values.

I love this, but I haven’t been perfect at it. I have a tendency to download several apps on a whim. I’ll think, I need to meditate more often, and then I’ll download 3 or 4 meditation apps so I can try them all out and see which one is best.

I had a moment like that early in the month, related to my sobriety. I’m six years sober, and I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for AA and the 12 steps. I recently have been trying to step up my program – attend more meetings, increase my service to others, keep sobriety more present in my daily life. So I found myself in the App Store on my phone, searching for an app that might play some audio AA literature.

I didn’t find that – BUT I found an app that is absolutely rocking my world, and helping me to keep recovery at the forefront.

It’s called simply 10th Step, and to understand how helpful it is to me, you have to understand what the 10th Step is in the 12 Step Universe. This explanation is going to be crude and brief – there’s no way I can explain it eloquently in just a few sentences.

But, here’s my attempt: There are 12 steps. (Duh.) The first 9 steps are all about the work – and it is work! – of getting sober, turning your life around, and cleaning up the messes you made while you were drinking or using. Then, you get to the 10th Step, which is about taking a daily inventory of how you’re living your life.

So the 10th Step is a check-in. You’ve done a bunch of work, and you’ve cleaned up your life. And then you keep going, keep living your life – and the 10th Step is about checking in with yourself every single day to see if you’re keeping yourself on the path of happiness, peace, and sobriety.

The first 9 steps are about WORK. The 10th step is about MAINTENANCE. Which explains why I suck at it. I am FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC at doing something that is hard work for a brief period of time. I can give up coffee. I can train for a race. I can do a crash diet. But I have a really, really, really hard time making a habit out of doing something that’s good for me on a daily basis – meditation, for example, or yoga, or the 10th Step.

So I’m cruising the app store, downloading a bunch of apps related to AA literature that all turn out to be useless to me, and then I find the 10th Step app. And it’s super basic. I open the app, and I click Tenth Step Nightly Inventory, and I answer a series of questions about my day. Such as, did I have any resentments toward anyone? Was I kind to others today? Was I dishonest at all? Is there anything I need to discuss with someone, right now, at once?  I click yes or no, and I add a comment if I want, and then I close out the app.

THIS IS AMAZING. These kinds of questions – asking myself, am I on track, am I working my program of recovery – this is EXACTLY what I need to every evening to maintain my sobriety and keep myself on the right track./ But I’ve never been able to do it via journalling or a podcast or a prayer book.

It definitely helps that I’ve deleted so many apps from my phone, and that I’m trying to limit my phone time overall. Sometimes I absent-mindedly pick up my phone, and Facebook’s not there, nor Goodreads or Instagram or anything else distracting. But then I remember that I can do a 10th step inventory – a productive and spiritual use of phone time.

I really hope that this app continues to be useful; sometimes the novelty wears off and I slip back into old habits. But, I know how important this daily inventory is, and I feel committed to keeping it up. 10th Step app FTW!

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balance · simplifying

My Month As A Digital Minimalist

This month has been educational and eye-opening. I really have enjoyed taking a step back from my phone, and I’ve learned a lot about my digital habits.

I’ve written in previous posts about my March 2019 experiment. Inspired by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, I’ve spent this past month striving to maintain a digital minimalist diet. Now, since “digital minimalist diet” is probably not a helpful term for anyone who’s not familiar with Newport’s work, here are the basics of what “digital minimalist diet” meant for me during March 2019:

  1. I tried to use my phone less.
  2. I avoided all social media. (Exceptions did apply.)
  3. I tried to limit my screen time overall.
  4. I used the Screen Time feature on my iPhone to check in and see how often I was using my phone, how many times per day I picked it up, and which apps were consuming the most of my time.
  5. I transitioned to using my iPad and my laptop for a lot of online tasks.

I took a lot of notes throughout the month. The following are my lessons learned, in no particular order:

I pick up my phone a LOT. Seriously, I cannot believe how often I pick up my phone. I used the Screen Time Feature on my iPhone to track this, and the number was often over 100.  OVER A HUNDRED TIMES A DAY! I’m sure that it was over 200 on many days as well. That seems insane!

When I think about it, though, it’s accurate. It accounts for every time I pick up my phone to do anything, and it all adds up. The number of pick ups definitely went down this month, especially once I started tracking it. I’d reach for my phone, and then decide – This can wait. It made me want to be more efficient with my pick ups, too – like, if I’m going to use the phone in ten minutes to start Google mapping somewhere, then I can wait until then to see if I have any text messages.

I made a couple of adjustments to help me pick up my phone less. First, I changed my phone to grayscale. I don’t know how much this helped; I’ve definitely been using my phone less, but I’m not sure how much grayscale would help if I wasn’t working so hard to limit my phone usage in general. And secondly, I changed my lock screen – and this adjustment was DEFINITELY helpful! Now, when I absent-mindedly pick up my phone, the screen has a visually appealing image that says WHAT DO YOU WANT TO PAY ATTENTION TO? in all caps. This is especially helpful to me when I pick up the phone absent-mindedly while I’m with the boys. I mean, what do I want to pay attention to? My kids, or my phone?

This kind of critical, mindful thinking about my phone usage is brand-new to me, and it’s definitely made a positive impact on my life. I’ve been learning to pause and say to myself, Do I really need to do this right now? Maybe I’m driving. Maybe in a few minutes I’ll be using the phone for something different and I should consolidate my screen time. I’ve also been able to zero in on many of the reasons WHY I reach for my phone so often; I’ll write about that more in a different post!

Even if all I do is check in on my screen time usage using the Screen Time function, it makes my overall numbers better. My phone keeps track of how many times I pick it up each day, as well as how many minutes I spend using the phone and how much time I spend using each individual app. Sometimes, over the course of the month, I would find myself reaching for my phone, and then I’d stop, simply because I didn’t want to add an additional “pick up” to my numbers. I also would take note if I had a lot of screen time for the day; if I was using the phone more than usual, it would encourage me to put the phone away for a while and try to focus on being present in my actual day. So really, just the tracking itself helped to decrease my overall time on my phone.

Using the iPad is helping to decrease my screen time. For March 2019, I decided that I could watch as much Amazon Prime as I wanted, no limits – except that I had to use the iPad for all my TV time. I didn’t really track this, but I think it decreased my TV time a lot! Just the simple inconvenience of having to reach for the iPad instead of the phone, which is usually in my pocket or my hand, helped me to watch TV less.

I tried to also use the iPad rather than my phone for Internet and apps like Goodreads. Again this helped me to decrease my screen time, just from the inconvenience of reaching for the iPad as opposed to the phone.

I like Facebook. I did allow for several exceptions to my “no social media” rule this month. I posted on Facebook on Edgar’s adoption day, Tamara’s birthday, and my dad’s birthday. (See my dad’s birthday post here!) I also looked on Facebook once to check on a message from a friend, and once to look up fun events happening in my area for the weekend. I’ll write more about this in a later post, but I feel like the way I used Facebook this month is the way I’d like to use it always.

I definitely could use some more solitude. The definition of solitude, according to Newport, is time when you’re not receiving any input from other minds. And I didn’t have a lot of solitude this month – I still am inclined to listen to a podcast, an audiobook, or a TV show in the car or while I’m doing the dishes. However, I definitely had more solitude than usual this month, and baby steps are better than standing still.

WHEW! So much to think about! I was thrilled with how much insight I gained this month. I’m going to keep this digital minimalist thing going, and I still have a few changes I want to make, adding back in apps that support my values and evaluating the whole social media thing. More posts to come.

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balance

Values

One day a few years ago, I was at a training and we were prompted write down a list of our values.

I paused, and I felt puzzled. And then I felt surprised at how puzzled I felt! For someone who reflects as often as I do, you’d think a list of my values would pop into my head immediately. But it took time, and even when I’d written my list, I didn’t feel confident that it was accurate or complete.

I started to think about this again recently when considering my digital minimalist diet. I’ve stepped back from my phone and social media and several other apps for 30 days. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, advocates taking a 30-day break from social media and then gradually adding things back to your digital life that support your values.

So that left me, once again, which a simple but complicated question: What are my values?

This is the list I developed, in no particular order –

  1. Kindness. I want to embody kindness in all areas of my life.
  2. Laughter + joy. I want life to be fun and enjoyable.
  3. Books, reading, and writing. Writing and reading are two of my fundamental hobbies and joys; I value them immensely.
  4. The outdoors. I believe fresh air and physical engagement with the outside world keep me healthy and sane.
  5. Family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me.
  6. Friendship. My friends, too!
  7. Connection + community. This is related to family + friends, but also different; I want to feel connected with my community. I don’t always feel like I have that connection – but I want it.
  8. Peace of mind. I want to feel peaceful and on top of things as much as possible.
  9. Creativity. I am at my best when I have a creative outlet and ongoing creative projects.
  10. Presence. It’s important to me to be fully present in my life.
  11. Flow. I love it when it feels like my life is in a state of flow – everything making sense and happening in a natural and smooth way.
  12. Positivity. I value a positive attitude and optimism whenever possible.
  13. Wellness + sobriety + recovery. I value my sobriety and my overall wellness above just about everything else. (Because, well, if I don’t have sobriety, then I don’t really have anything else.)

That’s my list, and I love it. I feel proud of it. It’s not fixed; it can evolve. At times, I think certain values will rise in importance and others will take a backseat.

I’m so glad I did this exercise. I think it will help me, in a few days or weeks, to be able to look at my digital life – my phone, my iPad, my laptop – and be intentional about what apps and other digital tools support these values. Stay tuned.

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balance

Slow Down

When I do an inventory of how things are going in my life, I almost always end up resolving to do one thing: slow down. 

I have a tendency to move quickly through life. I’m a fast walker. When something tough is happening, my goal is to get through it ASAP so that I can recuperate and move forward. I’m impulsive. I often start getting ready for the next event on my schedule before the current one is even over. I love getting prepared ahead of time for things, even if it means scrambling a bit.

Lately, it almost feels like I’m too busy to even remember to do all the things I want to do, let alone to actually get them done! And it gets overwhelming. When I am overwhelmed, my tendency is to move even faster than I usually do – I race around, buying things, doing things, anything to feel in control.

That’s not how I want to live my life. I want to slow down. I can feel a visceral difference when I intentionally slow my walking and my talking. For a few days in early March, I had a cold and low fever, and I found myself moving slower and more intentionally throughout the day. As bad as I felt physically, it felt lovely to be living life at a slower pace. It’s so easy to forget this; the world moves fast, and I find that the more stressed I am, the faster I go.

When I slow down, it helps my boys to feel calm and safe. When I slow down, I can think more productively. When I slow down, I can process input from the world without reacting too quickly. When I slow down, life goes better.

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balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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balance

Lower Your Expectations

I was thinking recently about the 2018 holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and everything that goes with it. I had a pretty fantastic holiday season this past year, and I think the secret was this: low expectations.

That sounded a little sad to me at first, but it’s really not.

I have always had a tendency to romanticize and fantasize. My expectations of life and love were tainted at a young age by television and movies with scripted, well-lit scenes that make you feel warm, fuzzy, and inspired.

This has gotten in my way at different moments in my life. I find that I get extremely emotional during significant life events – graduations, weddings, holidays – and it often is because my expectations for myself, for others, and for life itself have been high. I want every moment to be magical. Many moments are magical – but not all of them are. Combine high expectations with a highly sensitive person, and the result is often disappointment which almost always (in my case) involves ugly crying.

A month or so ago, my sister gave me some good advice. She told me to stop trying so hard. This was unrelated to the holidays; I was stressed about something very different. And she basically advised me to stop caring about it so much. Which is really hard for me to do, because I care about everything and I think that if I do things a certain way, then things will work out a certain way.

But, this advice sort of sounded good. So I moved into the holiday activities, reminding myself before each event: This activity might just be sort of okay. And it worked beautifully. Not every event has to be perfect; not every moment has to be life-altering. It still sounds a little sad to me, even as I write this! But I think it’s true. And I think it’s a key to happiness.

Lower your expectations. It will actually help you to squeeze as much joy out of life as you can. And isn’t that just a little bit wonderful?

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