It feels like boredome has been nearly extinguished, but our resiliency to it is lower than ever. Our smartphone is always at hand, and if you pay attention you can likely find yourself checking it nearly every second of downtime – becomming a default impulse that hapens so quickly there isn’t even an opportunity to resist it.
However, I believe boredom has immense value. I find some of my most creative and enjoyable moments to be when I am otherwise largely bored. For instance, it’s hard to really enjoy music if you are not otherwise bored – as music cannot be fully appreciated while doing another task. More important, being resilient to boredom allows you to have more freedom to direct your attention to the things you value.
This blog post is not about the value of boredom in our lives, nor about the value in having freedom in how we apply our attention. It is assumed that you already see the value of those things or at least how they could be valuable. Instead, this is about some of the general strategies I employ to reduce my levels of distraction and live what I feel is a moderatly happy life. I’ve struggled with attention addiction (addiction to video games, streaming website information, etc) for most of my adult life, and have built up a large variety of methods and tricks to reduce their hold on me.
Step 1: make it very difficult to “automatically” do distracting behavior
Specifically, (1) remove apps like twitter, reddit, facebook, games etc from your phone. (2) Since these are all accessible via the web, also remove chrome/safari (and any other browser) as well. Technically on most phones you can only “disable” these things, but the point is not to make it impossible to distract yourself (you can never accomplish that) but to provide a barrier against it being an impulse. Personally, I have also disabled the App Store and the Search functionality built-into the phone, even disabling Gmail for a few weeks at a time, since I found myself impulsively using that.
Finally, (3) have a laptop/computer that is for “getting things done.” Most
likely, this is your work computer. (For linux/mac) go to
disable sites that distract you like so:
127.0.0.1 facebook.com 127.0.0.1 www.facebook.com 127.0.0.1 reddit.com 127.0.0.1 www.reddit.com # ... etc
Step 2: create consequences
Write a contract with yourself; even better a best friend or significant other. It should have:
- What (significant) behaviors you are not allowed to do.
- The consequences for doing those behaviors.
For me, since I don’t like sports, doing any of the distracting behaviors (for more than 1 minute) requires me to purchase or wear Denver Broncos memoribilia. If I do distracting behaviors 10ish times, I have to get a Denver Broncos tatoo.
For smaller behaviors, like compuslively checking my phone, I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of how often I compulively checked my phone that day. This means that if I compusively open my phone, I have an immediate consequence of needing to record it.
I found the book Atomic Habbits by James Clear useful as well. You might as well.
Step 3: Find ways to still be connected (when useful)
I have a “personal laptop” which I can only use after I put my kids to bed for about an hour and a half. This is where I do my open source work, and also where I briefly check some tech news. The news is blocked on my work computer for obvious reasons, but it is nice to be able to stay up to date. I try to stay away from most news. I find it tends to depresses me even though I have no control over it, which has limited value.
I also still listen to podcasts, audiobooks and music on my phone, especially while running or doing chores. This lets me stay connected while doing activities that I value.
For me personally, I have completely abandoned video games, reddit and (non educational) youtube. This is the nature of my own addiction, which is akin to an alcoholic not being able to “just have one drink”.
Also for me personally, I have found outlets for some of my addictions. I find (open source) programming nearly as enjoyable/distracting as playing video games, but with a much larger long-term benefit. Therefore, I do open source programming for a large chunk of my freetime. My recent project is civboot, check it out!
Come up with your own methods or mimick mine – what’s important is that you have strategies. Also, it is important that you accept failure, because you will fail alot. You have your whole life to figure out how to reduce distraction and pay attention to the things that matter, so don’t stress out about it. Don’t stress, but start right now.