Happy New Year: it is a new year and this means for many of us a new year’s resolution to change something about our life. Here is a suggestion: instead of looking for something to add to our life, look at what we can cut out or reduce in our life.
Simplifying our life can be the solution. Most of what annoys or troubles us usually leads us to feel that we cannot fit it all in, never get anything done, or not sure which way to turn next.
The premise that we have too much of everything* leads us first to the technology which when first introduced some years ago was believed to make our lives more manageable and save so much time, but instead our time is being sucked away by these very gadgets and machines we have grown used to.
(* A short note: “too much of everything” refers to what is commonly called the modern western countries)
We have too much social media to browse through, too many websites to look at, too many shopping platforms to spend our money on, too many games to choose from, and too many TV and film channels and platforms to choose from… I could go on, but I am sure you get my point. Just think of the number of hours we spend looking at a screen… whether it’s browsing, playing or watching. It is simply more than we need.
But we are now addicts: we cannot stop using them, or, can we? Like anything addictive we can cut down and even stop, but we first need to admit to ourselves what we are doing every day; next is to set the intention to cut back or stop XYZ; and then the hard part, take action to change our habits and do this every day.
Last week I was interested to read a newspaper article about two sisters who are the folk group, Ward Thomas, who have decided for their New Year’s resolution to cut back all their social media activity to more manageable levels, including a “no scroll Sundays” where they avoid their gadgets all day, and in their case they said they realised that by doing this they might write a new song instead of wasting so many hours looking at their screens.
In the same interview the 24-year-old twins talked about how social media has caused problems for many their age: “It can’t be a coincidence that anxiety levels among girls and suicide levels among boys are so high when you see so many people projecting this perfect life online. It makes us lazy socially too and stops us living in the moment,” says Lizzy Ward Thomas.
So the sisters are doing what they can to retrain their behaviour, and urge others to do the same, “I use my phone as an alarm clock in my bedroom, so it never leaves me, although I should put it downstairs and get an alarm clock,” says Lizzy.
Catherine added: “I used to roll over and start scrolling on Instagram. Now I have set a reminder that it is time to meditate for a few minutes. We should not turn to the phone when we feel low, like others turn to the bottle.”
Instead of using gadgets or chasing your tail with too many shores devote some time to meditation or some yoga exercises… then, see how you feel. Recharge. Use time to regain some quiet time. Use your practice as a safety valve, reducing bad habits by breaking the habitual routine which is not helping your state of mind and health.
A few years ago social media was seen as a wonderful feature of our lives, offering connections and community (to quote a phrase often used by a certain company) but now the tide is turning as many of us have realised just how addictive and bad for our health these addictive things can be. Lizzy says: “Let’s hope that, like smoking, people will realise so much social media is bad for your health.”
Catherine adds: “I enjoy all the information out there, but it affects me. I need to pause for my own mental stability. It is only a small window into someone’s life, but we are all chasing a quick fix from something that can never, ever fix us.”
I wanted to mention the thoughts of these 24-year-olds because it is so easy for fans of social media to say people of my age (let’s say I am nearer 100 than 0) just don’t understand how good social media is, but here we have 20-somethings adjusting their lives to make them better. And this is the key here, adjustments is where we start, because we might find it too hard to simply stop because firstly, social media and all those other platforms are not bad in themselves, but we need to learn how to use them in a balanced and beneficial way.
Secondly, we are likely to be more successful if we start with smaller and more manageable goals. Like smokers who tried to stop, they might have started by delaying their first smoke to for example after lunchtime, and then, evenings only, and in the end weekends only before quitting altogether.
When it comes to social media, TV and films, games and so forth we cannot expect to stop altogether, because we still want to stay in touch with our friends, aware of what is in the news, watch films and programmes, and play games, but is learning that we have more than enough, so learning to cut back.
If you do not believe me: try this exercise, for one week write down how long you are looking at a screen whether it is your phone, computer, tablet, TV programmes on a normal TV screen or computer… basically, if it has a screen, count it. Each day add up the total and then at the end of the week see the total. You might be shocked! Then see how this can be cut back.
Time is a precious resource but it is one we do not understand judging by our behaviour. Years ago we thought that the emerging technologies were going to free up our time and give us more leisure time, but has it? In many ways we are like young kids let loose in a sweet shop, unable to exercise self-control we stuff our bags full of sweets, similarly, we fill up our waking hours with activity usually devoted to keeping ourselves busy – and I was going to say screen time, but it can be other activities, but the end result is often the same: we end the week feeling exhausted, or frustrated that we did not get everything done, or overwhelmed by our list of to-do activities. The one factor that has not changed and will never change is that time has not changed, because there has always been 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, but our behaviour seems to indicate that we think there is more time.
So my New Year’s resolution is directed to towards making the hours that I have more efficient and effective, less wasteful and distracted, more beneficial and balancing, so that I feel by the end of the week a sense that a good week just ended.
If we want to start the New Year with the idea that “I want to get more from 2019” why not cut back to free up more time for activities which might be better for you!?
Happy New Year.
Ward Thomas sisters interview, Observer December 30, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/dec/30/ward-thomas-country-music-singers-digital-detox
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