Disconnect

It’s a friendly silence.

The silence that lets you think. That lets you create. That lets you enjoy peace.

In the journey of trying to design an enjoyable life, I started thinking back to some of the times that I’ve felt most satisfied or happiest.

I noticed, as did Derek Sivers, that they are the times when I’m not consumed by needless distractions. During these times of peace, I am completely engaged with whatever I’m doing. I allow myself the privilege of not dividing my attention all over the place because I want to focus completely on one task.

You can pick out these moments in your days too.

When your friend tells a joke, do you stop laughing to check your phone? Or when you’re writing an essay and you feel everything just fall into place, do you want to go onto twitter or continue working?

Peace is valuable

The peace found from disconnecting from social media, from people, from mindless consumption simply gives us a mental break and allows us to spend more time focusing on single things.

Given that we have a limited amount of time and energy each day, why not spend that time trying our best to become immersed in things that we truly enjoy. An example of what not to become immersed in is social media.

While Twitter and Facebook can be enjoyable, I’ve found in my own experience, talking to friends, and researching why we should spend less time on things like the news, spending too long on them is rarely satisfying. I see as something that stops us from being bored instead of keeping us engaged.

This is not my crusade against social media (you’ll understand why at the end). What is important here is to understand the problem with living with distractions all throughout the day.

The solution is to disconnect.

 

How to disconnect

Thankfully this is quite simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy given how tempting distractions are.

  1. Be mindful

Throughout the day, be aware of the times that you’re entering a distraction-rich environment. This can be as simple as sitting down and having all your social media profiles open at the same time to being at work and finding yourself just talking to coworkers and friends throughout the day.

Being aware that you’re simply floating on the surface of something engaging rather than diving in is the first step to removing needless distractions from your day. It’s easy to become consumed by distractions without realising you’re doing so until you’ve already wasted valuable energy and time.

Ask yourself, is what you’re doing actually increasing your well-being? Does it bring you any joy?

  1. Retreat

Sometimes it’s best to completely cut off from social media, other people and whatever takes you away from what you’re enjoying. This doesn’t mean tell all your friends you’re never talking to them again. Well, if you do, that wasn’t inspired by me.

Set times for when you’re going to enter states of complete focus or for when you will not check distraction heavy places like twitter and emails. 

If you want, you can choose to go into complete solace where there is no internet, no other people. There’s just you and your desire to live an engaging day. These “internet-free” retreats have become more popular but you can just design your environment that way by turning off your internet and disabling data on your phone.

 

Screenshot (13)

  1. Find engaging things to do.

The newfound peace is helpful without anything else added to it. Simply sitting in the park or going for a calm walk has benefits when they’re distraction free. However, it might be difficult to maintain if your free time involves a lot of nothing. That’s why it’s helpful to use this calm to engage your creativity.

Spend time creating. Whether that is through writing, drawing, singing, gaming, whatever. Let go of the useless idea that you’re “not creative”.

You cannot get better at creating without creating. Nor does anyone start their day as the perfect creator. You practice. You suck at first. Then you suck a bit less. Then you start to think “Well, I’m not terrible”. Then you build more confidence and continue.

It’s more difficult to create than it is to consume. Thankfully, creating comes with much more intense benefits than mindless consumption does.

Creating is not the only way to be mindfully engaged with your days. You can watch films, read good books or go for a run. All without distraction. A time when you can enter the flow.

 

The friendly silence…

… is found through disconnecting from distractions and mindless noise that takes you away from being engaged with your own day. It might expose difficulties you purposefully chose to avoid but at least you can now confront the fear and defeat it.

It’s rare to focus but it gives much better rewards.


Thanks to Derek Sivers for the blog post on disconnecting. It reminded me how valuable it can be.

Similar reading:

The Low Information Diet

A very Short Guide to Meditation

Ok, this is probably quite ironic but I have some social media you can follow me on. Please don’t hate me. I just heard it’s a good thing. Still, don’t spend all day on it. Not even mine.

Like me on facebook and follow me on twitter. Here are my mascots:

twitter and facebook mascots :D

How to be happily unproductive

I’ve noticed that I don’t do all that much with my free time. I do mindless things like browse the internet and watch videos. I always link free time with relaxation so I disassociate myself from anything I perceive as work.

I’ve also noticed that this trend leads to more frustration that it’s meant to. I feel better when I’m making progress with work. However, it seems odd to exclaim I enjoy working instead of relaxing but that’s exactly what happens. Doing nothing constructive can be extremely boring and even tiring but I almost feel obligated to continue doing nothing with my free time because I don’t want it to become like work.

Being in the flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has produced some great research on what makes people happy. He noticed that a surprising number of people are actually happier at work than during their free time despite saying they enjoyed their free time more.  In light of this, the solution for some is to either fill up their free time with more work or do nothing about it. Neither are ideal. One just leads to burnout and a build up of resentment towards it. The other doesn’t help change your position in any way.

Csikszentmihalyi says that being in a state of flow is what makes people happy. There are a few factors present when someone is in the flow.

  1. They’re completely focused on one activity
  2. They feel in control of what they’re doing
  3. It’s intrinsically rewarding
  4. They essentially lose their sense of time

All these factors point to a situation where you’re so focused on an activity you enjoy that you don’t have time to be frustrated with yourself. You feel relaxed because you’re living in the present and very mindful of what you’re doing.

Best of all: you’re happy. 

How to be in the flow

While you’ve probably experienced this feeling before, you might not know why it happens.

This chart shows what it takes for someone to be in the state of flow.

The difficulty level of the activity should match our perceived skill set. This means  it shouldn’t be so difficult that you feel like throwing a chair through your window. Nor should it be so easy that you could fall asleep at a moments notice.

People usually feel happier while actually doing something (even if it’s at work or while studying) because of a constructive environment. You’re more likely to be completely focused on a project you want to work on, than sifting through pictures of birds with arms.

Why free time can make us unhappy 

The reason why people can feel frustrated or unhappy with their free time is mainly because they don’t do anything with it.  If you spend all day refreshing YouTube, then you’l probably feel extremely unfulfilled. Boredom will rise at an alarming rate, time will disappear and ‘damn, where did the time go?’ will be exclaimed.

Being happily unproductive 

If you don’t feel like you enjoy your free time or have even found it draining (like I have!), here’s a list of a few things you could start doing:

Learn a new skill – There’s so much out there that can help you learn things for free or a small price. Online courses offered by websites such as Coursera, edX, Codecademy and Duolingo are fun and engaging. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to complete them by a certain date.

Read a book – If you have a list of books that you’ve been meaning to get started with, actually do it. If not, there are over 800 new books published each day in the US. You’ll find something to read! Losing yourself in a good book is a perfect example of what it feels like to be in the flow.

Create something – At least try. It’s easy to dismiss this option because you’re ‘not a creative person’ but creativity is something that can be developed as well as anything else. Write, draw, make music or even build something! It doesn’t need to be a best seller but spend a small time creating something and you’ll probably find it fun and try again.

Have a hobby – That can be anything from maintaining a blog or learning something new to marking origami turtles. If you have no idea what you could do, try a variety of things and you’ll find something you’ll want to pursue more. (Try origami, it’s a lot of fun)

Do some gaming – This isn’t an excuse to game unconditionally for hours and hours on end but the reason why we can play games for so long is because of flow!

Enjoy your free time 

After reading this, you might have realised that you don’t actually care for much of what you do in your free time. Switching through TV channels in an attempt to find something interesting is boring. Instead, do something interesting.

You don’t want it to be be mentally draining or become like work but doing next to nothing might not help you feel that relaxed either.

If you want to find out more about flow and where I got my information from, I’d recommend watching Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk on the topic and reading his book called ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’.

***

Another thing you can do, if you found this post helpful, is share it. You can follow the blog too. It’ll put you in the zone if you do. (It won’t. Sorry)

1. The ‘800 books a day’ statistic was simply found by dividing the number of books published a year in the US by 365.

2. The image came from news.cnet.com

3. Birds with arms is exactly what it sounds like.

4. I can’t say Csikszentmihalyi’s name. I just stare at it. Should I feel bad? Csikszentmihalyi if you ever read this post, hi and sorry I can’t say your name.