Why I Traded My TV for a Turntable

A few weeks ago my wife and I sold our TV. I told a friend and he asked if we were trading it for a better one. Nope. It was perfectly adequate. In fact we watched it all the time. Which is why it had to go.

It was a radical move several years in the making. I’d already taken breaks from TV and other forms of entertainment in the past, even journaling through my most recent streak:

Day 2—of having quit, that is. Quit TV. Quit Reddit. Quit the news. Quit anything that resembles any of these things.

So how am I doing? Not bad, I’ll say. I thought it would be worse by now. There’s something helpful about quitting completely. No questions. I don’t do any of it, under any circumstance.

Day 2 and I already thought it would be bad? That surprised me when I reread it. If you don’t think you can quit something for 2 days and be cool then you know you’ve got a problem.

Day 4—Today was the worse yet. I left work early and had a lot of time to fill at home. I laid down for a while. Still, I was able to stay busy. I finished a book, completed a task I’d been procrastinating on, and had a great talk with [my wife].

Most notable is I feel more social. I want to talk to people. Probably for lack of having something else to do. Perhaps television and Reddit comments were satiating my social needs.

After just 4 days I felt more social. This is a trend that continued throughout the cleanse. It’s of particular interest to me because I consider myself introverted. Needing to see and talk to people was unusual. Now I wonder how much of it is personality vs environment.

Day 6—What if this becomes an alienating experience because the rest of the world has changed? What if I make time for social connections that can’t happen, because there’s nobody left to connect to?

There’s a new thing happening at my workplace where men use their phones while at the urinal. Not just while they wait for their turn, mind you. They pull their phone out as they’re peeing, for however many precious seconds that lasts… I’ve even seen the urinal used as a phone stand. One particular maverick held his phone with both hands as he punished the porcelain.

Not that urinals are a great place to socialize. But it’s a striking barometer for how hooked we’re all becoming.

Day 20—It’s a paradox. I often want to help the time pass. But I also know that I won’t have enough time. I’ll run out and regret not having more, or not having spent it better.

Why desire time if I also desire to waste it away? Why waste time if it really is precious?

My mind is trained to continuously jump forward. Look for the next activity, the next distraction. That’s no way to live. That’s not the way I want to live.

Pretty intense! But I gotta agree with myself there. Time and time again I am reminded that living in the moment, being present, mindful, whatever you want to call it… is key to a balanced life.

And so I kept going. On day 33, after beating my original 30-day goal, I wrote, “it was easier than I thought it would be. Very few moments of boredom. No real cravings.” It didn’t feel the way I imagine quitting a hard drug does, but it was clearly beneficial.

Day 41—My quitting of TV and all is going very well. It feels natural now not to do those things. They’ve been replaced with going out, spending more time with [my wife] and/or friends, and reading.

I kept journaling regularly—a habit I had picked up prior to this experiment—but mostly about other things. And then:

Day 48—I started watching the 2nd season of Master of None.

Don’t worry, I was just making an exception, not giving up… then a couple more weeks went by… the new season of Better Call Saul was out… you know where this is going. Soon my experiment was officially over. I was back to my old habits, making up for “lost time”—that’s the thing with taking a break from TV, there’ll always be a queue of excellent shows awaiting your return.

And yet I was more convinced than ever that I would be better off without those distractions in my life. Not just as a matter of freeing up time for creative or social endeavors, but also to reduce stress, and to feel more connected to the world around me.

But it’s so hard to give up those things when they’re so readily available. Between my TV, my laptop and my phone, my next dopamine hit is never more than a few taps away. The movies, the shows, the apps, the websites, the Facebook, the Twitter, the Netflix… they’re engineered to be as easy, as fast, and as addictive as possible.

You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep, on the margin.
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO

This quote blows my mind. To give you some context, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is explaining why he’s not concerned about Amazon or HBO as competitors. So basically, “don’t worry about other companies eating into our profits because there’s still sleep to deprive people of.” That’s not something to brag about, Reed. Sleep is a crucial component of good health, you parasite.

But there you have it plain as day. Multi-billion dollar companies are competing as hard as they can for our attention. They’re using technology, biology, psychology… anything at their disposal to make sure we spend as much time as possible using their service, consuming their content.

What chance do we have? I’m lucky I lasted a month and a half if you ask me. Which brings me to the reason I don’t own a TV anymore. Giving any attention to these companies and their products is giving them an opportunity to get their hooks in. While it seems impossible to avoid, one thing we can reasonably control is our environment, especially at home.

The most prominent feature of my apartment used to be my TV. It was big. It was centered on the wall. It’s the first thing you’d see coming in. The most comfortable place to sit, the couch, was right in front of it. Even during my break my TV was here everyday, reminding me of the fact that I could be watching it.

Not anymore.

I still have my laptop, of course. And my phone. But that’s not quite as nice as watching something on a 49-inch TV. It’s not as comfortable. It’s not as visibly present.

Replacing it with a turntable went even further. Do you have any idea how complicated it is to play music on those things? I didn’t. Playing a record usually involves removing the dust it easily collects, as well as cleaning the stylus (the part that comes in contact with the record). Records have 2 sides, each containing a little over 20 minutes worth of music, so you have to flip them. Some albums take up 2 or even 3 records.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never become addicted to that process. But its length is what’s great about it. The time it takes to setup prompts me to pause and enjoy the experience. Now ask yourself, when’s the last time you took a breath and enjoyed the music?

You Just Need Space

Today I discovered a Chrome plugin: You just need Space. Its tagline? “You don’t really want to dump Facebook: You just need Space.” Space here comes in the form of a 3 second breathing exercise before accessing whichever website or app you find addictive.

I appreciate their effort. Truly, I do. But I can’t help and laugh. If these are really addictions, what are a few deep breaths going to accomplish? “You don’t really want to dump heroin… You just need to breathe first!” Fuck no! I need to quit heroin!

A Beginner’s Guide to Morning Routines

Every morning I wake up at 6 am. By the time I leave for work, around 9, I’ve meditated, stretched, exercised, consulted the weather, assessed my mood and state of mind, gone over my schedule, picked out a list of tasks for the day, gone through my email, read the news, watered my plants, showered, and groomed.

Depending on the day I may have worked out more, strengthened my voice with some vocal exercises, or written either in a paper journal or on this very blog, as I’m doing now.

This wasn’t always the case. My snooze button could tell you as much. For a long time my morning routine consisted of sleep, sleep, drowsily convince self doesn’t need to attend that 9 am class, sleep some more… shower and dress as fast as possible, head out.

It’s not that I didn’t aspire to do things with my free time. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it in the morning, and once freed from school, or work, I was often too tired to do much of anything. I felt like I was wasting my time.

I want to share 3 ideas that helped me break through.

Humans Require Daily Maintenance

It started with some shoulder pain. I’m a software engineer, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of computers, often with a bad posture. And so, I started experiencing shoulder pain, especially towards the end of the work day.

In looking for solutions I realized that I was going to need to stretch and do some simple exercises every single day, probably for the rest of my life. It dawned on me that there were many things that humans need to repeat every day to stay healthy and sane.

It’s a notion I had previously rejected. Chores were chores, and I wanted to spend as little time doing them as possible. Sure, I had to sleep. And eat. And clean, I guess. But the 14 leftover hours were all about freedom and exploration. I wanted to do new things and reach milestones every day. I was wrong.

I use my body and mind all day long, and so do you. It’s a complex machine. It works best with daily tune-ups. And yes, they are incredibly repetitive. But they’re also, without a doubt, the best use of my time. I am happier and more productive than ever.

Slow Progress Is Sustainable Progress

The bad news is, this isn’t a miracle solution. I don’t have a “morning routine” pill to sell you. Building a routine takes patience and dedication.

The good news is it doesn’t require bursts of painful effort either. Your best bet is to start small. Pick one thing you’d like to do every morning. Something that only takes a few minutes. Maybe you’d like to meditate. Maybe you’d like to drink water and eat a fruit. Whatever it is, figure out how much time it requires, and set your alarm clock to wake you up earlier by that amount of time.

You may not be able to wake up at 6 am, yet, but I bet you can wake up 5 minutes earlier than you normally do without too much effort.

Do that small thing for a few weeks. You might be eager to reach certain goals, but understand that the path to success is one of slow, incremental progress. Don’t pressure yourself. If you try to do too much at once you’ll deplete your willpower and give up.

Once you’ve become comfortable and confident in your ability to do that small task every morning, add another one to your routine. You can see where I’m going with this. Repeat this process until you have the routine you want. Soon you’ll be amazed at the results you get from doing simple, small things consistently.

You Can’t Break a Flexible Routine

My routine is always evolving. I think about what I could add or remove. I experiment. For a while I would pick my tasks for the day as the first thing. By the time I got to the meditation part of my routine my mind was already buzzing with thoughts about what and how I would do these tasks. Now I meditate before anything else.

Think of your routine as being flexible and adaptable. Over time your needs will change. This is true of long term goals and priorities, it is also true from one day to the next. For example, I stretch every morning. I have 2 lists of stretches. One is very thorough, the other one is shorter and eliminates some of the harder stretches. Depending on my energy level I might do one or the other.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Some days you may need to skip parts of your routine. Perhaps you need to recuperate sleep, or you really don’t feel like it. That’s OK. Give yourself a break and adapt your routine to what you’re able to do that day.

Epilogue

Nowadays I couldn’t imagine not having a morning routine. My habits are ingrained and the benefits obvious. Give it a try. You’ll never look back.

Schools Should Teach Posture

Fact: you are very likely to experience a back problem at some point in your life. One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year. Tens of billions of dollars are spent on it.1

But did you know that some indigenous populations have never heard of, much less felt, back pain? That’s right. And studying their posture suggests we’re doing it all wrong. Or so The Gokhale Method argues—quite convincingly—while offering its own recommendations.

This is where schools come in. A 2007 study found that 38% of school children already had poor posture.[2] Is it any surprise? There we sit for years and hour on end. On cheap chairs. Bored out of our minds. It’s a god damn recipe for hunched backs…

But the epidemic could just as easily be reversed through awareness and simple exercises. Thanks for the history lesson teach, now can I learn to sit and stand?

1. Back Pain Facts & Statistics from the American Chiropractic Association
2. Kratenová J, Zejglicová K, Malý M, Filipová V. Prevalence and risk factors of poor posture in school children in the Czech Republic. J Sch Health. 2007 Mar; 77(3): 131-7.

Don’t Worry About Your Productivity, Worry About You

After years of roaming the Internet, its video clips, its news aggregators (I’m looking at you Reddit and Hacker News), I’ve become very familiar with a feeling of restlessness. Like I want, or need, to constantly feed information to my mind.

Now I think I’m not alone when I say this frequent need to consume content has taken a toll on my productivity. At the very least, if it hasn’t been too detrimental to my work, it might not be the best use of my free time.

But, as with all things enjoyable (and Internet seems to be in good standing with the short-term pleasure centers of our brains), it’s a very tough habit to kick. Ultimately you’ll always wonder why abandon something you enjoy, and you’ll think about going back often.

Today, I’m happy to say I have kicked this particular habit, and I don’t think I’m going back, ever. And the reason is precisely the restlessness I mentioned earlier. I realized, in fact, I was no longer enjoying the moment. I couldn’t pause anymore. I felt averse to things that didn’t hold my attention like my computer screen can.

So I stopped. I stopped using Internet as a time-filler. I stopped time-filling altogether. My overarching philosophy now is to immerse myself completely in what I’m doing at any given moment, to do only what I’ll be glad I did later, when I look back, and to always take my time.

This for me means no more Reddit and Hacker News, no more casual Youtubing, no more games for gaming’s sake. I’ve stopped using my Rapidshare account aggressively. I’ve even cut back on listening to music while I work. I already didn’t Facebook or Tweet.

Instead I read carefully selected books. I write, I exercise, I spend time with the people I love. Sometimes I do nothing, because sometimes nothing needs to be done.

I don’t plan my next entertainment fix halfway through the present one. I don’t feel guilty for squandering my time. I’m not as stressed as I used to be. The realization that this was really having an impact came to me in my car, actually. It struck me that I wasn’t paying close attention to my speed anymore, because I didn’t care about going as fast as I could. I didn’t care about passing other cars, or getting to places quickly for no particular reasons. I didn’t mind red lights or small traffic jams. I could coexist with a population of idiot drivers.

As far as I can see, cutting back on constant content consumption has been the root cause for what feels like a very refreshing change of pace. This to me holds infinitely more value than the idea of “being more productive” and it goes to show that these habits can in fact be detrimental to our mental health and to our enjoyment of life in general.