When I decided to sell my gaming console and TV, I didn’t do it because I had a problem.
Deleting cheap distractions is an easy way to reclaim the superpower of boredom.
I’ve done a lot to improve my mind — from meditation to sleep biohacking. I’ve tried supplements, gear, and tactics galore.
Yet it often seems the biggest improvements come from removing things from my life rather than adding them.
In the words of Meister Eckhart: “God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction.”
And while I’m not here to find my religion, the statement certainly strikes a chord.
I stopped using my phone in the bedroom and set guidelines for myself that electronics aren’t allowed after 9:30 p.m. I frequently practice social media fasting and device-free weekends.
Yet even within that, I always felt the real benefit would come from a more dramatic change. Social media can keep me up, sure, but it’s small potatoes compared to certain other personal obsessions.
Video games? Television? Movies? Now we’re talking.
One month ago, I sold my television and my gaming console and made it so my only media access is through my laptop or phone.
Unshackled, the results have been astounding.
My Great Video Game Exodus
I grew up in the shooter–video game generation. At age seven, my dad brought home an Xbox along with the then-new game “Halo: Combat Evolved.” For the next decade of my life, gaming became my best skill, main hobby, and number one social activity.
Sure, I also loved going to the park, and I became much more active when I began martial arts at age 14, but I’ve always loved video games.
However, I also don’t have any true need for video games. They’ve become one of the lowest ROI activities in my life, for years.
If I were to describe what I love about gaming, I’d list three things:
- Amazing stories rendered in an interactive space
- Just plain fun
- A way to hang out with friends across vast distances
Of these, only hanging out with friends over a long distance is something valuable and unique. Experiencing a great story is incredible, but there are enough books out there to last a lifetime. And sure, fun is important, but when something is too fun, it can become addictive.
I am not an obsessive person by nature, but I can think of hundreds, if not thousands, of times I’ve felt obsessed with a video game. It’d be one thing if these games were also providing me essential life skills or earning me a living, but mostly they’re just a fun time-suck.
Not a gamer? No problem. How much TV do you watch? And how much value do you get from it? Really? Unless you watch the tube exclusively with friends or very rarely, I’ll bet your ROI is similarly low.
It’s the little things
Here’s where things get really interesting. When I decided to sell my gaming console (and TV), I didn’t do it because I had a problem. In fact, I’ve been gaming alongside my business for years without an issue. Most days I’d work in the morning and game in the afternoon. Sure I’d binge here and there, but my deadlines or need for income would always get me back on track.
So why did I decide to cut ‘em loose?
It’s the little things.
Though my work/gaming balance was, well, balanced, I still knew two crucial things:
- I was getting no value from gaming beyond simple fun
- I wouldn’t miss it if I didn’t have access
That second point is key: I knew I wouldn’t miss it when it was gone! How many things do you feel resistance to removing from your life that you’re also aware you wouldn’t miss once they were gone? More on this later.
I also knew that all those times I got online due to boredom or not wanting to work would disappear. Sure, sometimes you just don’t have the energy to work, but often all you need is 10 minutes with nothing to do, and voila! A little more time for being productive sounded nice.
That’s the first hint at why I cut the cord.
I believe if you have a driven life, strong goals, and a desire for improvement, you won’t miss the distractions once they’re gone. Furthermore, in the time you’d normally start a show, will instead be filled with a productive activity.
The hardest part is getting rid of the option.
Boredom Became My Superpower
OK, OK, Keenan, this all sounds well and good, but what actually happened?
To put it bluntly? Everything!
It feels like literally EVERYTHING in my life improved after I got rid of my games and TV.
The most obvious has just been my workflow. Now I work pretty much all day long, taking breaks only when I’m burnt out but staying on the horse ‘til day’s end.
But what has really blown my mind is how much better my energy has become. It seems like every day, I’m a little more awake, a little more vibrant, and a little more, well, alive!
I think the reason for this is because, without television or games, boredom has become an asset. When before I would’ve jumped online, now I do something beneficial for my mind, body, or soul.
Lacking the option for cheap distraction, boredom results in long walks with the dogs, doing my daily workout early, etc. The laziest recharge activity I do is to hop in my car and listen to audiobooks or great music, often while taking care of errands.
Why didn’t I do these things before? Because they require effort. Tiny, minuscule, barely-even-an-issue levels of effort. But nonetheless: effort. And when you’re bored, you look for the least-effort-possible solution, like TV.
DIY Distraction Demolition
So how do you get all this for yourself? I have good news and bad news. It’s easy. That’s the good news. It can also be really freaking hard.
All you have to do is get rid of all your access to distracting media. Sell your TV, and gaming sets. Switch to a flip phone, and work on a computer at a public library where you’ll never be tempted to open NSFW sites. Also, delete your social media.
Physically, this is easy right! You can accomplish it in a day.
Mentally? Professionally? That’s a different story.
Getting rid of all your media access would be ideal, but, unfortunately, many of the distracting platforms we use are also relevant for business. Plus, even without a smartphone, you probably at least need a laptop. You’ll still have access distracting sites whenever you want.
So instead of giving you some my-way-or-the-highway approach, I’m going to instead detail the guidelines I used for deciding what to cut and what to keep with regard to my digital life.
Guideline #1: Follow Your Resistance
The first guideline I followed was my own resistance. It’s my opinion that the decisions that feel the most difficult are often the most lucrative. When it came to the distractions in my life, this inner sense made it abundantly clear I should get rid of my access to video games, specifically.
When I consider deleting my Instagram, cutting off all of my TV subscriptions, or hiring someone to manage my social media so I don’t have to, I’m pretty relaxed about it. At the end of the day, I don’t have much issue managing these things. They rarely block my work unless I’m just massively burned out.
But when I considered selling my video games, my brain immediately became tense. If you consider getting rid of something, and you immediately start rationalizing why you should keep it, that’s a sign. It means it’s got its claws in you. There is an emotional tie-in here.
What I want you to do is train yourself to use that resistance as a compass. Go through the following list, and ask yourself honestly how you feel about taking these actions:
- Install software to block all porn websites from your computer
- Sell your television today
- Sell all your video games and gaming consoles, and uninstall all games from your phone, laptop, and other devices
- Unsubscribe from Netflix, Hulu, and all streaming services
- Delete your Facebook account permanently
- Delete your Instagram, Twitter, and all social media accounts permanently
- Replace your smartphone with a flip phone with a keyboard — basically have a phone that’s for calling and messaging only
Now, as you go through this list, pay attention to your emotional responses. Do you feel resistance in your gut while reading any of these? Do you respond to this internal resistance by immediately rationalizing with professional reasons why you should keep these in your life?
That’s a sign.
On the other hand, some of these things are relevant for professional life. I’d personally prefer to use a text-capable flip phone instead of a smartphone, but I don’t really get distracted by it that much, and it has business relevance (like writing on Medium.) For now, I’m keeping my smartphone.
However, if I felt heavy resistance to the idea of deleting my social media or going to a flip phone with text, then this is the kind of action I’d need to seriously consider taking.
With social media, if your excuses are that it lets you connect with friends or that it’s useful for business, I’d ask you this:
How many people do you really need to have contact with who aren’t already contacts in your phone? How often does Facebook really help your life from a value perspective? Could you get this value by simply creating a no-friends account? Could you get this value elsewhere from a less addictive source?
Furthermore, if it does help, is your Facebook optimized for business and professional purposes? If you feel resistance to deleting Facebook, then it’s likely you have a level of emotional attachment to it.
If you choose to keep it anyway, how can you optimize it for the least amount of distraction? How can you make it only a tool? More on this in Guideline 3.
Guideline 2: Analyze the True ROI
We hinted at this a bit earlier in the article, but another factor in deleting your distractions is understanding the true return on investment (ROI).
TV, video games, porn, and, for many, social media all have very low ROI. These things don’t help you in your personal life or your career. They’re largely, if not entirely, used for alleviating boredom.
Sure, you can use TV for more powerful purposes. I love watching a great movie with friends or witnessing awesome stories, but in my opinion, this is only worth it if I know I’m not using such things to kill time.
For me, TV, video games, and porn have the lowest ROI. Video games also cause me to feel strong emotional resistance when I consider removing them from my life. This is why they were the first thing that I cut. TV doesn’t cause me the same resistance. I’m just not a big TV guy, but because it’s also so low ROI, I sold my TV too.
As you can tell, figuring this all out for yourself can be a bit of a process. I think it’s simple, though. Be honest with yourself, and then take decisive action.
Guideline 3: Use Tools, Rules, and Tactics to Manage the Digital Distractions You Decide to Keep in Your Life
By this point, you can probably identify which distractions to eliminate from your life entirely. Still, this can be difficult to put to action. Even if you get rid of one distraction, you may leave others that are more addictive than you realize or are ready to admit. Furthermore, some of your distractions may be small now but grow in the future.
I don’t have much issue with social media now, but it wasn’t always the case. When Facebook first got going, I was on that thing all the time. I was also an ADD brained high schooler who would’ve been better off without a smartphone, but hey.
This is why even with the distractions I feel comfortable with, I use a few key tools to form healthy habits. These range from setting alarms to signify it’s time to stop using all electronics for the night to using habit-forming sites like stickK to develop healthier routines.
We all have different habits, devices, addictions, etc., so I’m just going to list my top three tools that I think can help the broadest number of people.
stickK is a website that allows you to pledge money to a charity that you hate, and if you don’t fulfill your commitment, the money gets sent to said charity.
For example, I could set a commitment to turn off all electronics at 9:30 p.m. every day. If I fail my commitment, I could have my money sent to an anticonservation organization. As an avid backpacker, conservation is important to me, and knowing my money went to a group who is against it would sting.
You can also choose to send your money to a friend or a charity that you like, but I find it more motivating when I know failure means funding things I don’t support.
The only key factor? You have to commit to being honest with your reports. If you get in a habit of saying you completed your task even when you didn’t, this tool won’t help. You have to be prepared to actually lose money if you aren’t doing what you committed to.
That said, you can also assign a referee through the site who’ll have to approve the truthfulness of your reports. Even just knowing someone else sees it is a great motivator.
With regard to this post, I suggest using stickK commitments such as “no social media during work hours” or “no video games for a week.”
I’ve used many similar commitments in the past, and while getting rid of my distractions entirely was more effective, stickK commitments have allowed me to break bad habits and manage distractions far more effectively than I did before finding the service.
The Freedom phone app blocks your ability to access websites and certain apps of your choosing for set periods of time.
Though it doesn’t work on all apps, it does work for all websites. You can’t block the Facebook app, for example, but you can block the Facebook website. By choosing to delete your Facebook app and only using the website, you can use Freedom to prevent your access.
I don’t use Freedom much anymore, but it was very helpful three years ago when I often found myself using social media or websites to waste time.
I definitely recommend it for anyone whose phone is their biggest Achilles heel.
Turn off your phone when working on your computer
One of my favorite tactics for eliminating device distraction is to turn off my phone and leave it in another room. I’ve been doing this for years, all while running a successful business, and not once have I missed an important call. If an emergency happens, they’ll find a way to contact you or they’ll get someone else.
This has two effects. It helps me practice turning my phone off to avoid distraction, and it has trained me to use my computer as my main access point to the internet. It may seem like a small change, but something about the professional nature of using a laptop really helps me to stay on task and avoid falling into useless internet holes.
Go for long walks without your phone
Another great tactic I use is to go for long walks without my phone. You don’t realize how connected we are to the internet until you spend some true time with zero access.
I’ve found it invaluable to be able to completely cut off from the distracting world of devices for even 20 minutes while I walk my dogs. Personally, I try to bookend the day with a 30 minute+ phoneless walk, and I’ll also intersperse shorter excursions in the middle of the day.
Since I often use this tactic to recover from burnout, I try to avoid turning my phone on for another 30 minutes after my walk, and If I have work to do, I start it immediately. I don’t want to go disconnect from my phone only to come back and immediately find myself online again.
We live in a distraction-laden age. From video games to social media to porn to even just television, cheap boredom alleviators are everywhere. As an entrepreneur and a health writer, I’ve been interested in the role all this plays in our lives, and last month I decided to go cold turkey.
I sold my TV and all of my video games and have spent the last month riding an incredible wave of energy and productivity as a result.
You see, I believe we use these things to mollify our sense of boredom. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea, right? I mean, who wants to be bored?
Here’s the thing, boredom is a blessing! How many artists started their first drawing out of boredom? How many guitars have been picked up from dusty cases out of boredom? How many books have been read? It goes on and on.
During my experiment, I’ve found myself doing little productive and life-affirming activities every time I’d have instead hopped on “Call of Duty” or thrown on a TV show. As the world continues to digitalize, I think it’s so important to see the value of disconnecting.
Now, that’s not to say some things are without their uses. I completely understand and support a passionate love for movies or the use of social media as a business tool.
However, I think we often use this as an excuse when we really would be fine without such things.
I hope you can use my little self-experiment and the suggestions at the end of this guide to address your personal distractions. With any luck, you’ll love experiencing the joy I have. Identify your lowest ROI distractions, and try going without them. I think you’ll be amazed at the experience.
Thank you for reading, and good luck on your personal journeys.