Friday, October 27, 2017

This is your brain on...(Part 2)

The digital distraction edition.

You guys know my new thing is binge-listening to podcasts and in late summer I was on "Note to Self" with Manoush Zomorodi. I was intrigued by the concept of "Bored and Brilliant"---of needing some distraction free time to let your mind roam in order to facilitate creative thinking. I realized, somewhat ironically, that I had lost a lot of that much-needed empty brain space to...podcasts.

I always used my walking commute to think things over, process, brainstorm, problem-solve, and write blog posts in my mind. It also served as a nice transition between the dueling demands of work and family life. While having soothing voices imparting wisdom or humor into my ears is pleasant, it also ends up with me feeling unprepared to take on the tasks that await at the other end of the commute. I resented having to turn off the podcast to see a patient or pick up the kids and interact with them (they are real pills in the evening, in my defense).

So I decided to reinstate quiet into my commute and the blank space is back! Plus I get to save up the podcasts to add some joy to the truly uninspiring moments of life, like laundry-folding and kitchen-cleaning.

Of course there is more to discuss here, because like many, I struggle with the role of technology in my life and specifically the negative effects of constant pull of social media and other online distractions on my productivity and mindset.

I'll admit this here---I'm back on facebook (I put the app back on my phone when they d/c the Groups app in September) and I'm OK with it. I thought about it seriously (on one of my "boring" commutes) and realize that there are definitely more positives than negatives at this point. I  only check briefly 1-2X a day to make sure I haven't missed anyone giving away a Sodastream on BuyNothing (this has happened twice this month), to note/share any school/PTA related posts, and to keep up with book club and other neighborhood events. I've removed myself from any non-local super-large groups that  allow/encourage endless scrolling and toxicity.

I rarely check other social media accounts---I have to remember to check WhatsApp and realized my cousin had a baby 3 weeks ago when my mom told me (we have a huge extended family/international group chat going) and I joined instagram so L could browse Lego updates while on the bus.

I have whittled my blog reader feed down considerably. I follow people I feel personally invested in (i.e. all of you!). I usually do my blog-reading on my phone while I have my morning coffee (its so exciting to see bunches of new posts like today!) so I don't comment as much as I'd like, but I am definitely reading and feeling everything you guys post.

I do have one guilty blog pleasure that I am trying to eliminate--shopping-enabling fashion blogs. I just get filled with longing & wanting and I honestly don't need any more clothes right now so I took those out of my reader and am trying not to even check in (I am so tempted because one of the bloggers I followed lives in my neighborhood and always posts cool local stuff that I am not hip enough to have been aware of on my own).

Funny that the one thing that was a supposedly better alternatives has turned out to have a downside for me---reading books on my phone. I have books on the overdrive and kindle app and I definitely end up reading more if I pick up my phone in spare minutes and get little chunks read. The problem is that when its a really good book, I resent the interruptions from my family, which lead to an annoyed and impatient mindset, waiting for the next minute no one freaking needs anything and I can get back to my book god dammit!  I'm calmer if I just give myself over to family time and use a larger block of uninterrupted time to do my reading.

And last but not least...the games. Basically if I have a game I'm playing I'm apt to want to play constantly so I don't play at all in daily life, but will sometimes intentionally decide to play unlimited amounts of a game when I'm traveling. When I find myself WANTING to play, its a tell that I'm anxious. I was really intrigued by the Note to Self episode with Jane McGonagell about purposefully USING games, in pre-prescribed doses, for stress reduction or mood boost. I've been trying that this week. I'm about to give up on my current book, and we don't have a show to watch, so I've been playing a game for 15-20 minutes before I go to bed to unwind. So far its working, but if I feel pulled to play at other times, I'm going to delete it.

I think I've found a good balance for now. This is obviously something that I'm going to regularly revisit with evolving technology and changing demands on my life. The next challenge is finding time to blog regularly, I really have so much to say, but when I have the time & energy I feel compelled to use if for getting caught up on so many other things.


  1. glad you are finding a balance :) and funny about realizing podcasts were messing with you . . . by listening to Note to Self! blank space really is essential for me too, at least in some daily dose.

  2. This was a really interesting post. I definitely feel myself reaching for my phone sometimes as stress relief. There are days when I need it, and days when it just doesn’t help and results in constant phone use.

    I have a long commute, and there are days when I can’t wait to them on my podcasts, and also days when I need the quiet to think. Usually I know which is which, but there are also days I turn on a podcast and realize after 20 minutes that I’m not listening. It’s nice to have the scenarios put into words for me.

  3. Sometimes I wonder if you're my secret twin. Yes to shutting off podcasts to leave space in my brain. (Didn't realize I had unconsciously done that until I read this.) Yes to the games, too. I know I play more when I'm nervous, but I figure it's better than eating chocolate. Not much better, mind you, but... somewhat better?

  4. I am inclined to agree. Sometimes podcasts are a welcome distraction to a boring walk home. But sometimes a walk in silence is what is really needed. And sometimes the podcasts just aren't interesting enough to keep listening. Going for walks is one of the reasons I like having a dog.

  5. For me it wasn't podcasts, but NPR that I had to close down on my drive. The news has been doing nothing but ratcheting up my anxiety and free-floating anger at the state of the world. I was also really sad when they killed Groups and I had to reinstall the entire app :( I hate getting sucked in when all I want to do is see who in my running group is going to meet up for lunch. -- sharah

  6. I definitely have to limit social media. I use Facebook for mindless distraction time, so it would be hard to completely eliminate it. I don’t use any other social media though. Blogs are more serious and interesting and more suited to my personality so I feel like those are well worth the time. I have also listened to podcasts / online lectures while folding laundry etc but my most frequent time to hear them nowadays is if I can’t sleep lol.

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