A few months ago, one of my wise and gentle friends asked me to start sending her a gratitude list every day. Every day, at some point during the day, I text her a list of three things I’m grateful for.
It wasn’t very hard to get this habit going, though it’s been a little hard to maintain it. This is pretty typical for me – awesome at getting things started, not-so-awesome at maintaining the practice. Yet, it’s been over a month, and while I miss a day now and then, I rarely go two days without getting back on track.
I’ve been shocked at how much this practice has helped me. It’s simple and it’s powerful. Sometimes, I find myself feeling negative or just generally riding the struggle bus, and just experiencing those moments of negativity reminds me that I haven’t sent my gratitude list yet. When I write it, it forces me to zoom in on the things that have been making me happy. It can be so easy to slip into focusing on the negative; this gratitude practice prompts me to pay attention to all of my blessings.
Yesterday was the first time in a while that I’ve missed my regularly scheduled blogging day. Eek!
I am chalking it up to springtime. Life has gotten a little busier, and I’ve had a fairly social April, which was really different from my cozy hygge January. There’s been lots of good quality time with friends.
This week will be busy, too – we have our adoption finalization day in court for Baby J.J. on Friday! There will be family in town and celebration and general merriment. And then on Sunday, I am hoping, there will be quiet time for our little family to relax and reboot. I am grateful.
I’ve known for a while that I am tiny bit addicted to my phone.
I mean, aren’t we all? Or don’t we all wonder if we are? We walk around with tiny computers in our pockets that hold the answers to everything. They’re our connection to our families and friends. They’re our way of looking cool and together when we feel awkward or board. They’re our road maps, our alarm clocks, our cameras, our planners, our entertainment.
Also we can call people. (Though I try to avoid doing that AT ALL COSTS.)
This month, I’ve been trying to reduce my phone time. I’ve learned a lot about my digital life. One of the things I’ve been contemplating is the WHEN of it all – when do I reach for my phone?
This is what I came up with so far:
I reach for my phone when I am doing something unpleasant. The first time I noticed this, it was a moment when Jonas had just started crying. I remember thinking that I would need to hold him and walk around with him for a while to help him fall asleep, and I immediately reached for my phone, so that I could put on a TV show or a podcast to listen to while I walked the floor.
This isn’t exclusive to baby tasks. I do the same thing if I’m about to do any chore I don’t like; I reach for my phone if I’m about to do the dishes, too.
I reach for my phone when I am tired. Or SICK! Ugh, anytime something physical is going on with me, I reach straight for whatever coping skill I can grasp. Sometimes it’s a diet Coke, or candy – and it is almost always my phone.
I reach for my phone when I’m bored. Yep. This one was no surprise.
I reach for my phone when I want to remember something or am afraid I’ll forget something. Sometimes, this is productive. My list of things to do is on my phone (using the Clear app), or I’ll set an alarm so I remember to do something later in the day. But I’m really trying to work on not feeling so compelled to immediately write down whatever it is I need to get done. I want to try to trust my memory more. I think I really will remember to do things, and I think feeling less compulsive about recording things on my phone will help me to feel happier and more peaceful.
I reach for my phone when I’m planning to use a specific app. Writing this list, I notice that some of these tendencies are things I want to stop (like scrolling when I’m bored) and some are more neutral. This one’s pretty neutral – I pick up my phone if there’s an app I want to use. Sometimes it’s practical (Google Maps, alarms) and sometimes it’s for entertainment or pleasure (Goodreads, Word Press, Audible, iBooks, Podcasts, texting). I do want to be mindful of which apps I want to have on my phone, but the pick-ups that occur when I’m planning to use Google Maps are not the ones I find problematic.
I reach for my phone when I’m looking for entertainment or background noise. This one is HUGE. I’m really working on using the iPad for entertainment purposes, just to decrease my overall screen time.
I reach for my phone when I’m experiencing social anxiety. This is the one I’m trying to be the most mindful of. When I’m in a group and feeling uncomfortable, I automatically find myself reaching for my phone. This past month, my consciousness of this habit grew. It’s a work in progress. Progress not perfection is my goal!
The first step in changing habits is identifying what you want to change. I can already feel a shift in my phone habits, just from understanding the reasons why I pick up my phone.
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:
Connect with my community by getting info about events my family can attend.
Celebrate and share life’s moments with words and photos.
Interact with people I care about, through Messenger or posts, with intention.
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.
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!
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:
I tried to use my phone less.
I avoided all social media. (Exceptions did apply.)
I tried to limit my screen time overall.
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.
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.
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 –
Kindness. I want to embody kindness in all areas of my life.
Laughter + joy. I want life to be fun and enjoyable.
Books, reading, and writing. Writing and reading are two of my fundamental hobbies and joys; I value them immensely.
The outdoors. I believe fresh air and physical engagement with the outside world keep me healthy and sane.
Family. My family is the most important thing in the world to me.
Friendship. My friends, too!
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.
Peace of mind. I want to feel peaceful and on top of things as much as possible.
Creativity. I am at my best when I have a creative outlet and ongoing creative projects.
Presence. It’s important to me to be fully present in my life.
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.
Positivity. I value a positive attitude and optimism whenever possible.
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.
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.