I don’t know about you, but somewhere along the line, my creative spark, the twinkle in my eye and the ability to see a great idea through a mess of bad ones got lost a blizzard of Kim Kardashian, snow-storm breaking news and too much time on the road. I felt like a creative zombie. A few weeks ago, I spotted a copy of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron on my bookshelf from years ago. It’s a 12-week “course” designed to help you rediscover your creativity.
What the hell I figured. So I get started that day, some 4 weeks ago. Last week, Cameron drops a big bomb and says that it’s time to cold turkey on reading. Updated and translated from when it was first published, this now means no books, magazines, news, TV or social media. After a few minute freakout, I resolved to give it ago. After all isn’t giving up social media a thing these days? I had read about a few people doing this sort of experiment and had some good laughs at their futile efforts. Baratunde did it why can’t I?
From January 18–24 I committed to going all in and wrote the following rules for myself like Morgan Spurlock.
- Check personal email infrequently (ideally 1x in AM, 1x at night) and scan for bills, job hunting replies or personal emails from friends only)
- Check work email as needed
- No social media
- No TV/Movies outside family TV time
- No newspapers, magazines
- No reading research papers, articles etc. unless it’s critical for work reasons only
At first, my week was littered with launching social media apps on my phone as if I was Pavlov’s Dog looking for a Scooby snack.. Side note, what was the dog named anyway? In any case, if my iPhone could talk it would tell me that the first few days I launched Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at least 20x each, then quickly double tapped and closed it. Turning off notifications helped a lot but what I noticed was an almost automatic response to my phone. Pick up. Unlock. Open work email. Scan for important stuff. Reply if needed. Back to home screen, open personal email. Scan for important stuff. Home screen — Facebook. Quickly close it, damn, think “damn, I’m not doing social media that week.” Involuntarily repeat for Instagram. Put phone down, remind myself I’m on a media diet. This happened at least 3 or 4x the first day exactly as I’ve just written! Addicted to my phone much?
If Siri was a therapist she’d clearly think I was ADHD.
After a few days though, all that stopped and I suddenly had a new problem. As the hours of not reading the news, checking social media and watching TV piled up, I needed to do something.
So what did I do with all the time then?
The book recommended a few things and within a few hours I was already peeking at the list, seeing things like exercise, shopping, cleaning and meditation as options. I had recently heard on the Tim Ferriss podcast about Tara Brach’s guided meditations and had started doing those a few weeks earlier. So Tara and I spent a few hours together last week. I learned about mindfulness, presence and practiced meditation. A lot. I estimate I spent 3–4 hours last week meditating.
I work out pretty regularly and this week provided ample time to exercise. I spent some quality time with the new U2 album and Spotify and got to running. I ran 5x, for about 30 minutes each session plus 2 cross-training body weight workouts for a total of about 4 hours give or take.
I had wanted to write a short story or a novel and sure enough, that very first day I was joking around with my daughter about a silly idea that I promptly turned into an outline for a novel. I completed all the character sketches and the basic outline and started writing the first few chapters. Total time 4 hours at least, but maybe more since I wasn’t really keeping track.
I have been cooking family dinners on Sundays and continued that by stepping up my game and trying some new recipes. Nice! 1 hour.
I offered to hit the mall to do returns and pick up a few things. I also needed a new pair of shoes. While I was out, I took myself to lunch at Panera. 2 hours.
I cleaned out 5 or 6 boxes of old computer junk. If anyone needs a mouse, a keyboard or an old 4-port Ethernet router let me know. I have more wires that I don’t know what they connect to than any one person should have in their basement. 1.5 hours at least, maybe more. Now I just need to find time to go to the dump and get rid of all this junk.
Sleep, and more writing
I went sleep each night without my iPad to read and found myself falling asleep almost immediately. That’s a good thing because I had set an alarm for 5:30 am each morning to do my “morning pages” which is a part of the Artist’s Way. I did that every day, 20–25 minutes each time — close to 3 hours if I did the math right.
That’s something like 15–20 hours I invested in myself in just one week!
So now that my week of deprivation is over, what is it that I learned?
I found that I really did have more time than I knew what to do with. As the week wore on, I slipped a bit — a few episodes of Helix may have slipped in. We may have gone to see American Sniper and Whiplash. But we also sat at dinner and had some of the best discussions in a long time. I found that after a few days, I wasn’t compulsively reaching for social media. I found that practicing mindfulness is hard — clearly that’s why you have to practice it.
The time I spent not reading, not checking social media, not reading the news kept me focused all week and really did unleash creativity that has been hiding for far too long. It has opened up my brain, and reminded me that while getting lost in a TV Show or a great book is terrific fun, it’s fundamentally not exercising my creativity. I need to remember to feed that beast more often and for longer periods of time.
You will see me less on social media, and my nose will be buried in books less and more in creating my own worlds in the future.
So how did I do… my report card
- Check personal email infrequently (ideally 1x in AM, 1x at night) and scan for bills, job hunting replies or personal emails from friends only — Grade: C- I wasn’t able to untether from email very well. Part of the problem is during the day while working it’s just too easy to check personal email at the same time.
- No social media — Grade A After a few days of reaching for it, I just stopped. Easier to give up than I thought. LinkedIn was the exception, but even on that platform I didn’t post and only checked for messages.
- No TV/Movies outside family TV time — Grade B- I slipped towards the end of the week with Helix & HBO’s new and most excellent Togetherness. Managed to avoid 12 Monkeys.
- No newspapers, magazines — Grade A+
- No reading research papers, articles etc. unless it’s critical for work reasons only — Grade A+
Originally published at www.mindnumbingthoughts.com on January 27, 2015.