5 Ways to Manage Your Email & Social Media Addiction

Addiction? That seems harsh. It feels like I’m equating a person who has his phone in hand several times every hour with a heroin junky or a nymphomaniac. But, the difference is in the word “Manage.” I wouldn’t write a post entitled “How to Manage your Heroin Addition.” I’d write one called, “Quit that Shit Before it Kills You.”  I’m not suggesting that one needs to do away with checking email and social media. These are great tools that allow us to be much more productive (potentially.)

 

Still, if we’re honest about it, most of us at some point get caught up in the compulsive checking of emails, social media, internet feeds, click-bait sites, sale pages for online retailers, and stats pages. There’s no denying it. A pile of evidence has accumulated about the extent to which people are dismayed by their own e-world activities. I just started reading Kotler and Wheal’s “Stealing Fire” (out February 21, 2017) and they site a study that found that about 2/3rds of those surveyed admitted checking their status page when they woke up in the middle of the night. It might seem off topic for book about altered states of consciousness to report on such matters, but its not because it’s all about the pursuit of a neurochemical bump. (Also, as I’ll discuss, a major problem of this addiction is in keeping one from slipping into the Flow with one’s work, family, or hobby activities.)

 

So, below are five methods I’ve found useful in my own on-going struggle with this addiction.

 

5.) Set a timer:  The problem with this addiction is that when one falls into habitually checking one’s status, one isn’t able to stay on task, and that means that one won’t achieve that elusive state of optimal performance called Flow. One needs time to immerse oneself in a task.

 

When I’m writing and editing, I set a timer, and until it beeps I do nothing off topic. I don’t make it some Herculean effort. I use 60 and 90 minute intervals. After the alarm rings, I can check email, do Tai Chi, get a cup of coffee, or work on my handstands. A longer time period may be more–or less–beneficial for you. (Isaac Asimov was said to only take a break after 5,000 words, but few writers have that in them.) The point is to make it long enough that one can get into a focused state of mind, but not so long that you become distracted and run down.

 

 

4.) Know your high energy period: This point relates to the last because it’s about blocking one’s productive time, and putting the more Flow-demanding activities when one is at one’s best. e.g. Are you a lark or an owl? (i.e. morning person or evening person.)

 

For example, I’m a morning person. This creates a potential problem. While I find it easy to get up with the sun, I’m at risk of saying, “Oh, I’ll just check emails, Facebook, my blog stats, a couple YouTube channels, and then I’ll get to work.” Then it’s noon, and the hours in which my mind was at its very best are gone. From 7pm until I go to sleep is when I should check these feeds because by that time my mind isn’t good for editing or writing tasks that require a high level of attention to detail.

 

 

3.) Go Cold Turkey [for a few days]: Sometimes it’s easier to make changes when one is forced by circumstance to quit. Then one can be more conscientious in resumption of the activity in question. (Moving to India helped me break a lot of bad habits.) If nothing else, this will help to give you confidence that the Earth won’t roll off it’s axis just because you aren’t checking on it twice an hour.

 

I can offer two examples from my own life. Every year my wife and I go on an extended trek in a place where there are no bars and saving batteries is essential. The past couple years, this has been in the Himalayas because we’ve been living in India, but anywhere remote will work. I also did the Vipassana Meditation Course last year. (If you’re interested in the latter, you can read my account of it here.)

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2.) Meditate: Why? Because when you start meditating regularly, you tend to do less and less out of mindless habit. You become conscious of what you’re doing, and that’s the first step to making changes. You also start to become attuned to those very subtle dopamine bumps, and in that way you  aren’t fighting it the impulse blindly. The high of the click is infinitesimally more subtle than taking mind altering substances, and so it’s easy for this all to take place below the waterline (analogizing the mind to an iceberg but instead of the majority of the mass of ice below the waterline, it’s the conscious mind above and the subconscious below.)

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1.) Substitute: In the immortal word of the rock band “The Who.” If your problem is so extensive that it does more than block your attempts to hit the Flow, you may need to find a healthier alternative to wean yourself away.

 

What does one look for in a substitute? If it’s going to fill the same space, it requires immediate feedback and a mix of “fails” mixed in with “successes.” These are the components that make the e-world so addictive. We know immediately whether we got something or not, and that keeps us clicking–not unlike the famous rats that would keep pressing a button for pleasure even to the point of forgetting to eat.

 

Some people may work on games that will help build their brain. (Warning: just don’t trade one unproductive addiction for another.) I’m an advocate of working on physical activities (e.g. trying to develop new capabilities in calisthenics or yoga), but these often involve a demoralizing amount of fails to reach the optimal level (the optimal being that one has enough fails to keep it from being boring but not so many that one is brutalized.)

DAILY PHOTO: Crossing the Street in Bangalore

Taken in September of 2013

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When I first moved to Bangalore, I would have thought the street above couldn’t be crossed. However, I’ve now learned that one has to take advantage of the speed differential between the bikes and livestock on one hand and the motorized vehicles on the other to get one’s foot in the door. Then one has to cross in stages, with vehicles whipping passed to fore and to the back. It’s like getting vaccinations with the cattle gun in the military, you take a step forward and stop precisely. Except, instead of getting a gash in one’s arm, the penalty is being pelted with a rear-view mirror. It’s the only way, really.

10 Tips for Averting Tiger Attacks

As with mean drunks, never interrupt a drinking tiger

As with mean drunks, never interrupt a drinking tiger

I was working on a short story that involved a tiger attack, and–knowing almost nothing about the subject–I did a little research. I found some fascinating factoids. Here are some important tips to keep in mind in tiger country:

1.) Avoid squatting postures as it’s thought that many tiger attack victims are cases of mistaken identity. That is, sometimes an individual crouching to do his business or whatnot is mistaken for a tastier species. Apparently, tigers don’t realize that humans are the only creatures that wear clothing. Despite attempts by missionaries to educate tigers on biblical stories such as that of Adam and Eve, tigers continue to see themselves as god’s favorites.

2.) Avoid wearing leather, it makes you smell and taste like cow. While cows are sacred in India, tigers have denied receiving that memo. Or perhaps tigers are like members of PETA and are attacking those wearing animal hides to make a bold statement… but I doubt it.

3.) Avoid carrying meat in your pockets. Enough said.

4.) If one is attacked, don’t immediately counter-attack. Some tigers are just trying to express their passionate feelings on the subject of breakfast cereal, and one would not like a needless fight to ensue. One should only partake in needless fights when one has a good shot at winning– no offense to any one who has ever fought Manny Pacquiao.

5.) Don’t leave your dead out and about. Apparently, human is an acquired taste that tigers will find a fun exotic treat once they get used to it. We are the Rocky Mountain Oysters of the tiger world.

6.)  Be aware of your surroundings, and–as with Zombies–CARDIO-CARDIO-CARDIO. Tigers can run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56km/hr.) for short bursts, but have the stamina of a pack-a-day smoker. If you can keep them from getting close to you, they’ll lose interest.

7.) Stay in the city. Tigers almost never go into the city because they tend to attract unwanted attention. The average tiger weighs about 400 pounds (180 kg.) and the orange and black stripe pattern that camouflages surprisingly well in wild sticks out everywhere except Paul Brown Stadium or the lingerie section of an inner-city K-Mart.

8.) If you are attacked, the tiger will leap up and put its fore paws on one’s shoulders to push one over onto one’s back so that the cat can leisurely crush one’s neck in his or her mouth. When the tiger rears up on its hind-legs you may either try a kick to the crotch or to engage the predator in a foxtrot. The former offers a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of success. The latter has never been tried before, and so no one can rightly speak to its likelihood of success, though it’s suggested that one not try to lead (You must recognize that–at that point– you are the tiger’s bitch.)

9.)  Because humans aren’t ideal tiger food but we are slow, weak, and are skilled in disciplines like “managerial analysis” rather than hunting or survival in the wild, man-eating tigers tend to be the old and infirm cats that find gazelle and antelope both too fast and jungle savvy. Because only the oldest of cats tend to attack, a sure strategy is to get your attacker talking about how things were back in his day and how the current generation of tigers are all misfits and hooligans.

10.)  If you’re attacked, make loud noises and violent “shooing” gestures with your arms. You’ll still be eaten, but you will appear quite brave on the video in comparison to those who go fetal and poo themselves.

Best wishes and be safe out there.