The Low Novelty Diet

The past few months I have actively disengaged from Social Media, in an attempt to be more selective with how I spend my free time.

The goal was to cultivate a better sense awareness as to where my attention was being drawn to, and to direct that toward more meaningful activities.

I didn’t eliminate Social Media completely, I still use social networks to stay in touch with friends, and every now and then I’ll hop on to check notifications, just so that people know I’m alive.

First off — what even is a low-novelty diet?

In a world where we are surrounded with highly engaging, attention drawing stimulus from all corners, the ability to think for one’s self and give space to the kind of higher-order thinking that produces meaning and value, is greatly threatened. What I call a low-novelty diet is an attempt to filter out the noise we get from the background hum of social media, news sources, traditional media, and the internet at large. The idea isn’t necessarily to eliminate information, but to be highly selective; to focus on consuming information from value-rich, fat-free sources, that are more directly aligned with your goals and interests. Think thought-provoking books over mind-numbing tweets, for example.

What does that actually mean?

It means you take care of where you place your attention. It’s a valuable thing, and it’s highly valuable, not just to you. Your attention is the largest source of capital driving these large enterprise media networks. Taking charge of it, and directing it toward your actual wants and needs, and not the immediate tingles instilled by the novel sources that we all indulge in will help you move closer to realising your dreams and aspirations.

Its about adapting your mind to employ its God given focus to pursue more meaningful endeavours in your life, so that you can spend less time scrolling through Facebook, and more time getting closer to the version of yourself that you’ve not even had the space to envision yet.

What I learnt

It is absolutely possible to get more done, a lot more.

You feel a sense of purpose at first, and the friction that you experience in trying to quit is a signal that you’re improving yourself for the better. There is an awakening beast on the other side of the pain.

Less anxiety. Your brain isn’t receiving all the high volumes of information it once was. People talk of the quietening of a pervasive ‘background hum’. You feel like you are experience the remission of this as well. You’re less in the loop with what is happening around you, so you feel like you aren’t missing out as much. The confidence you gain from the knowledge you’re inching closer to your goals is enough to achieve this on its own.

Willpower. Filtering information, being selective, and cutting down on something as stimulating and addictive as social media takes willpower, and actively making the decision to cut down helps to cultivate the mystical force, which carries over into other aspects of life. Things don’t get easier, you get better at being harder.

You can focus. Razor-sharp focus. Tasks that demand your attention start disintegrating at the mere thought you may have to employ your focus, it starts feeling more like a weapon than a tool.

Your will is no longer the limitation, but the body, and its ability to replenish energy after extended periods of time. This is an interesting one, but evolving and cultivating your ability to focus, coupled with drive and discipline helps you realise your actual physical limits — and push past them. You will no longer be limited by lack of will, motivation, or even the desire to turn on your phone and escape. Your limits will arise when your brain physically slows down from the stress you place on it. I experience this often when working, but It’s almost like a burning sensation that grows until you have to give it a rest.

It’s not all upsides.

After some time, the lack of novelty starts getting to you.

You’re out of the loop, all the time.

You’re not as interesting. Once a beacon of interesting novelty and pop culture, you are now a dry empty pit of routine and ‘hard’ work. It affects your sense of self-confidence and esteem, because you don’t see yourself as cool as you once were.

You’re not as funny. Novel information is crucial to maintaining an up to date bank of jokes, funny comments and wit that you can carry with you into any social situation. Think of all the friends you may have made with simple (even dumb) ploys or jokes that seem intriguing at the time.

It’s a paradox. Acquiring the knowledge to adopt a low novelty diet in itself contradicts the notion of a low novelty diet in itself (did you find this by surfing around?). Once on a low novelty diet, it makes you wonder whether or not similar lifestyle changes and wisdom once within possible reach have been excluded from your vicinity of knowledge acquisition because of the restrictions you impose on collecting new information. Personally, this has been quite a significant change for me. It makes you wonder if there are other philosophies out there, which can offer the same kind of change that this has, but I fear that I won’t be able to discover them having held so true to this one.

You may start to lose purpose. The low novelty diet fails to enrich certain aspects of the self that may have given you the energy to adopt its practices in the first place. Discovery, learning, and play are immense activities that lead to the development and growth of the self. Without these activities, its easy to lose track of what you want in life, and to lose purpose all together. How are you supposed to know what you want if you don’t know what there is to want? The issue I have found is that adopting this lifestyle is great for when things are nicely defined, for when you have a clear vision of what you want, who you want to be, and where you want to go. Here’s the thing though; when you start getting closer to that ideal, you might start wondering about the next set of challenges you’ll want to face, that next mountain. Without the same sources of novelty that pointed you in the direction you are heading in right now, its hard to tell where to go next, and this, to me, is scary. I want to be able to set a trajectory for my next destination, while also maintaining the standards of willpower, discipline, and ultimately, personal progress that I’ve spent so much effort trying to cultivate.

Photo by Warren Wong