Have you noticed life is no longer boring? We used to lead regular lives and get bored from time to time. Then, we would fret, fidget, and search in vain for something to do.
Now, there’s always something to do. It’s not that we all learned some secret zen wisdom about being present and enjoying the little things. Neither did this sudden lack of boredom come from growing up, having adult responsibilities, or leading a life full of passion, commitment, and meaning. Turns out, you don’t need any of that crap to eliminate boredom.
Constant pleasure is at our fingertips. It’s a swipe away on your smartphone, a few clicks away on your computer, a push of a button away on your TV remote or video game console. For those of you with virtual assistants, you don’t even have to use your fingers. You can just shout at your devices to be entertained like some King or Queen of yore.
It would be cool if it wasn’t so sad. One day I found myself alone in bed, remote in hand, phone and laptop next to me, staring at my flat-screen TV and wondering what happened to me. Constant pleasure had led to a pointless life of distraction.
Boredom and downtime, which I used to think of as enemies, turned out to be necessary elements for enjoying life and stimulating ideas. In exchange for my attention, I had given up my own mind. I heard everyone else’s voice inside my head instead of my own.
But I wasn’t alone.
Enter the Distraction Dystopia.
When I read world-renowned digital analyst and anthropologist Brian Solis’ book Lifescale, I saw myself in Solis’ story of how technology can change our life for the worse. Before Lifescale, Solis wrote about the many benefits of technology. Then he found himself unable to concentrate long enough to work on his new book. His constant use of devices had impacted his productivity, creativity, and peace of mind.
Part of the blame for our constant distraction lies with companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Apple. Their main goal, as it turns out, is not to help us lead more productive and creative lives but instead to have us constantly use their programs and devices. These companies have mastered the art of persuasive design — the same design used by casinos that keeps you playing slot machines — to develop products and services that constantly reward us. I mean, who doesn’t love that dopamine rush when you get a flashing red icon to remind you of a new like, tweet, or video?
But just like with any drug, there are side effects. Constant distraction affects your productivity, creativity, and personal relationships. How many conversations have you had with a friend or loved one who was always looking at their phone? How many have you had while you were doing the same? And how good was that interaction when you only gave it your partial attention? I’m guessing not that great.
Other side effects from constantly using our devices are stress from never getting to relax and a need for more distraction to get that dopamine fix again.
However, these companies aren’t entirely at fault. We are all complicit in our own digital distraction. No one made us buy a smartphone, sign up for Facebook, or binge-watch Netflix. No one said we had to click on every notification or share holiday food photos on Instagram.
However, if a life of digital distraction isn’t doing it for you anymore, there are a few ways to reclaim your attention on the things that really matter to you.
Exit the Digital Noise.
Positive psychology expert Shawn Achor has some good suggestions on how you can get your life back from digital devices and boost your positive emotions. His book Big Potential previously helped me decrease my media use to boost my mood. Then I read his book Before Happiness, which showed tools we can all use to cut back on digital distractions.
So, if you’re the kind of person who turns on your computer and immediately checks your email. The kind of guy who gets in a car and switches on the radio first. The kind of girl who goes to the bathroom and checks her Instagram likes. Or the type of person who can’t wait in line for five seconds without checking your phone notifications, then this might help.
Achor suggests decreasing your information intake by just 5%. He doesn’t suggest 100%, just 5%. We can all decrease our use by 5% to see a positive effect in our life. He suggests things like
- Not turning on the radio in your car for the first five minutes
- Muting commercials on your TV or Internet browser
- Listening to music without lyrics while working
- Turn off music or video when talking to people
Turn Down the Volume.
I started following the advice of Solis and Achor in December 2019. First, I stopped reading the news, especially politics and disasters. Then I stopped turning on my music when I went for a walk. Recently, I started driving my car without any music.
At work, I reduced noise in three different ways:
- I cut down the number of open tabs on my browser, something that Solis suggested. Turns out each open tab draws on your attention span, so the fewer tabs open the better.
- I increased the size of the program I was working on so that’s all I focused on. It’s hard to be distracted when you can’t see the distractions.
- I turned off all notification updates. Sure, it means people can’t reach me right away, but that’s fine. Turns out people will live if I don’t answer them right away.
In my personal life, I also cut back on the noise.
- I stopped looking at my phone while waiting in line. Contrary to how we feel, waiting in line doesn’t kill you. In its place, I rediscovered the lost art of people watching.
- I stopped going from digital device to device. When I finished watching a movie, playing a game, or a task at work, I didn’t immediately check my phone or email to see who contacted me. Turned out the world was just fine if I didn’t constantly monitor it. Who knew?
- I also took more breaks. After using a device, I might stretch, take a short walk, close my eyes for a few minutes, or talk with a friend. I found my devices were okay if I didn’t touch them every two minutes.
Reclaim Your Brain.
After I turned down the digital distraction, my life improved. I was more productive and creative during the day. I felt less tired when I no longer had the constant social and mental drains.
Without digital distractions in my personal life, I was able to concentrate 100% on the people I was with. I didn’t feel the need to turn on music or reach for my phone. Even better, I was able to hear the creative voice in my head and started filling up my notebook with new ideas for projects and stories.
We’re living in an unprecedented age of plenty in terms of access to communication, information, and entertainment. We can always be doing something if we want to. But we don’t have to. It’s our choice.
If you want to follow news 24/7, go ahead. Maybe commenting on the news is your jam. Or if you love posting on Instagram, there’s no reason to stop if photography brings you joy. But when you notice your pleasures are distracting you from life, then it’s time to turn down the volume and hear your voice again.
Kyle Crocco is the Chief Creative at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau and lead singer of Duh Professors. He’s writing a rock opera in 2020 now that he is no longer so distracted. He also regularly publishes content about business thought leaders and personal growth on Medium, Business 2 Community, and Born 2 Invest.