11. Stay grounded in old truth.
Thousands of years of profound thinking have generated a body of wisdom that cannot be snacked on. It must studied diligently to be absorbed. I highly recommend starting the day with at least 15 minutes of a hearty breakfast: religious texts, classic literature, etc.
The pull of my phone is strong when I wake up in the morning, but when I deliberately grab truth before I grab what’s new, I reinforce to myself what I value. It’s a subtle but real willpower boost for me to stick with this habit.
(I have lots of young kids and there have been many days and weeks straight where I wake up to a child and what I do first in the morning is change a diaper or change a bed. However, I commit to reading truth before reading anything else, when the opportunity to read does present itself.)
Dietary corollary: Fill up on vegetables and everything else will be less of a problem. Cauliflower shouldn’t have to compete with candy. Candy might be alluring but cauliflower saves lives.
12. Decide already.
When starting to research something online, be it a microwave or a flight, begin with deciding on how much of your time the decision is actually worth. Then set a timer. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve spent over an hour making a $10 decision on many occasions.
Dietary corollary: Decide before you go to a restaurant or party how much you will eat and stick with it instead of agonizing over the possibility of a second (and third) helping.
13. Put your device to bed.
When screens have an earlier bedtime than I do, I suddenly have time to do many of the things I “wish I had time for”: drawing, exercising, writing a handwritten thank you note, getting lost in a good book, etc. These are all things I value but they would get squeezed out of my life if I didn’t set conscious limit on screens.
I heard a psychologist recently describe a “flow” state of mind, which includes losing track of time doing something you enjoy and coming away at the end refreshed. She pointed out that when we watch television or scroll social media, we experience “sham flow.” We get swept up in it and lose track of time, but we end up feeling depleted afterwards. If we’re losing sleep and time, that’s a triple whammy.
Dietary corollary: After dinner, clean your kitchen and clean your teeth. Late night snacking loses its appeal after you’ve flossed and infrequent are the times I snack late and don’t regret it.
14. Timewarp it.
I installed a free plugin (Timewarp, but I’m sure there are many) that puts a stopwatch on my screen anytime I visit certain sites. So far I only have it on for Facebook but I might add gmail to the list. This is an antidote to sham flow (see #13) because it makes it impossible to lose track of time. I can see right there that though I got on Facebook to send an important message, I’ve slipped into mindlessly scrolling for 17 minutes and counting…
Dietary corollary: Write down what you eat in a food diary. The increased awareness will automatically reduce mindless calorie consumption.
15. Build in stillness
I think we’ve all heard that we need to be comfortable in our own skin, and I would add that we need to be comfortable in our own heads. Whipping out a device seems to have become a reflex, a knee-jerk reaction to a momentary pause in conversation or a pause in life. But if we want to increase in wisdom and understanding, we need to stem the flow of information and start grappling with what we have already heard and seen. Look up from your device. Look around yourself. Look inside yourself. Be deliberately still. Be the only parent at swim practice who’s not glued to a screen. Schedule thinking time on a regular basis if needed, and bring a pencil and a paper if it helps you clear your mind.
Dietary corollary: Commit to experiencing hunger between meals. Hunger is the best sauce, yet we tend to seek food as soon as we feel the first twinge of discomfort from an emptying stomach.
16. Savor it.
This is a simple habit but a powerful one. When you watch a beautiful video or read something fascinating online, pause. Instead of instantly looking for the next funny video, witty remark or piece of news, just sit with what you just experienced for a moment. It will be more funny, more thought-provoking, more useful if you take a moment to let it sink in. There’s a better chance you’ll be able to recall it and use it later if you savor it a bit now.
Dietary corollary: Savor it. And, eat things that are worth savoring rather than larger quantities of lower-quality food.
17. Work for it.
When a topic interests you, resist jumping right to wikipedia to skim the gist of it. Instead, sometimes seek out a well-written book by someone who is passionate about the topic. We value things we work for and doing the hard work of reading an engaging book rather than just blistering through a summary article online will give you both a more lasting knowledge of the topic and the pleasure of entering into someone else’s experience.
As a bonus, you side step some of the inherent danger in the way information is conveyed online – the line between factual and vetted vs. persuasive has been blurred to the point where the relative merits of the information are hard to gauge. You can read in an encyclopedia that lemurs are long-tailed marsupials. You can read on a blog that lemurs are dumb. Google will dump both of those on the first page of search results.
An observation: Google favors what’s recent, and wisdom favors what endures.
My opinion: People who read great books tend to be more interesting and have a richer thought life than people who acquire information solely from flitting about online.
Dietary corollary: People who cook food from scratch tend to be thinner than those who grab convenience foods.
Wrapping it Up
I use multiple devices every single day. I stream great music, read fascinating and uplifting content, and connect with people I care about online. There are so many good and beautiful things technology brings to my life.
The 17 ideas in this series continue to help me as I seek a healthy relationship with technology and its accompanying glut of information. What helps you?