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7 Powerful Cal Newport Inspired Ways to Reduce Anxiety

With personal tweaks for practicality

Amardeep Parmar
Feb 5, 2020 · 8 min read

you’re reading this, you’re probably like me. I constantly chase new goals whilst on the brink of burnout. It can be a tiring cycle but it doesn’t have to be.

I’m in a great place mentally at the moment and have read dozens of authors for advice.

Cal Newport stands out from the crowd because of his experiment backed approach. His most famous work is “Deep Work” yet I think “Digital Minimalism” is best for mental health. I’m not providing affiliate links, these are recommendations from the heart not for the bank balance.

I don’t agree with all of his advice and I’ve tweaked his recommendations for what works for me.

I believe these methods could help you too!

1. Delete social media apps

From Digital Minimalism

We’ve all heard this one before but I don’t quite do it how all the books tell you to.

Cal Newport tells people to go cold turkey for 30 days and completely cut out social media. At the end of this period then reassess whether or not you missed it.

I don’t know about you but I could not handle the fear of missing out for that long.

So I deleted the social media apps but still used the websites. If you’ve used social media web versions, you’ll know that they suck. It’s much harder to get your dopamine fix on them.

This means you can check your notifications and messages but not have all the features designed to keep you there for longer.

I have done this and found it a great stepping stone to reducing my overall usage. When you realize that it’s not the content that is keeping you engaged but all the crazy things the developers do for your attention, social media loses it’s appeal somewhat.

I naturally used social media less when relying on the website because the experience was not as enjoyable.

ACTION: Delete social media apps but allow yourself to use mobile websites.

2. Question the value of what you input to your life

From Digital Minimalism

This is your life, often you have more control over what you include in it than what you let yourself believe.

Cal Newport cites the Amish when giving this advice in “Digital Minimalism”. There are many activities we think we need in our lives but we don’t.

If you’re watching Netflix until late every night and feeling lethargic in the morning, you can live without it. Chances are an extra hour sleep is more valuable to you than a show you’ll forget in a few weeks anyway.

I go further and apply this to people as well as technology. We can be too quick to say yes to everything.

When invited by friends, ask yourself if that will make you happier or there’s something else you would rather do instead.

For me, this manifests itself in a long list of people I felt obliged to reply to every day. They were all friends and I did care but I simply spent too much time staring at my phone and replying to messages rather than with my head up and living my life.

There is a massive number of interesting people in the world but if you accept everyone as a friend then it leaves you with little time for yourself. A lot of low-quality interaction doesn’t add up to a small number of high-quality interactions.

ACTION: Step back and don’t fill time with low-quality interactions.

3. Go for long walks

From Digital Minimalism

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People living in cities spend a high proportion of their time indoors surrounded by walls staring at a screen.

Walk somewhere you feel safe and where you know you can take a few spontaneous turns and not get lost. You’ll be leaving your phone at home so no using Google Maps to bail you out!

Going for a stroll after dinner can help clear the mind and allow your brain to process its day.

Cal highlights the phenomenon of solitude deprivation where even when we are alone, we are often not alone with our thoughts. We use technology to overload our systems yet don’t give it the time to process.

We often curtail sleep as well, the body’s natural mechanism for coping. Is it any wonder that rates of anxiety seem so high when people are not allowing their brains time to rest?

If I have a day when I haven’t got much on, I like to create reasons to do multiple walking trips. Instead of running multiple errands in one long trip, I will break it up.

I might go to the barbershop and get a haircut then come back then several hours later pop to the shops to grab something. I could have done it on one trip but I’ve doubled my walking by doing it in two.

ACTION: Find excuses to go on multiple walking trips rather than taking the shortest route.

4. Strenuous hobbies

From Digital Minimalism

Based on the Aristotlean school of philosophy, Cal Newport divides leisure into high-quality leisure and low-quality. Our brain enjoys challenges that have relatively low stakes as if it’s been taken to a playground.

“The more effort you put into your leisure activities, the more you’ll be rewarded with satisfaction and even come away feeling energised” — Arthur Bennett

Over the years, some of my hobbies have been karate, bhangra (an energetic form of Indian dance), obstacle course racing and power yoga. All of these are difficult but afterward, I have an incredible lightness.

You don’t need to have the same hobbies as me.

Choose whatever sparks your interest but commit to that activity for at least a few months. It will always be hard at the beginning and it might not be fun but the experience curve will mean that you get better. This feeling of improvement and competency will lift your mood.

A great way I’ve found to keep these routines going is by becoming acquainted with people in the community.

If you see someone a few times, maybe you’ll both feel comfortable smiling and acknowledging each other and this could eventually turn to friendship. Even if it stays relatively surface level, it’s a good feeling inside to meet people who greet you with a smile!

ACTION: Choose a challenging activity and you’ll find the community is often welcoming.

5. Learn to love what you do

From Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

This may be the most controversial on this list. We are constantly told to follow our passions and often when this advice is followed, enlightenment doesn’t immediately follow.

Every job is pretty much a job. Take anyone who says they have the perfect career while they are working for someone else with a pinch of salt.

Stick it out, if you keep chopping and changing then you don’t reach the stage where you feel comfortable and gain the competency to be good.

My greatest lesson was from training in Japan with masters who had practiced for over 60 years. My only cost was a monthly fee to help them maintain the dojo. None of the instructors would accept any payment and had full careers outside.

How could true masters refuse money for their exceptional quality?

They answered that if they did this for money it would taint their love for the art. They would be motivated by increasing class sizes and incomes rather than focusing on individual students and supporting them to blossom.

I didn’t plan to be in my current career yet I have many passions outside of work.

These passions give me balance in my life.

If you turn your passion into a career, you may dilute it as the grass isn’t always greener.

ACTION: Focus on being the best at your job and use passions to bring balance to your life.

6. Stop Multitasking

From Deep Work

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Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash

Yes, you have heard this one before but are you still multitasking? Are you doing something else right now while reading this article?

We know the evidence shows that multitasking affects performance yet we believe we are the exception. I’m also a chronic multitasker.

Cal Newport references a great study by Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota where after switching tasks, participants were only 50% focused because parts of their brain were still on the first issue.

This isn’t about performance though, this is about peace of mind. Our performance drops because of the stress we put on our brains.

I think very few of our happiest memories are from multitasking. When we allow ourselves to be fully present that’s when the magic happens.

I’m a millennial and I find this difficult. I am guilty of having about 50 tabs open at the moment.

I have simple rules that give me this single track time and keeps me present.

If I’m out with friends or family then I only check my phone when I go to the bathroom.

When traveling by train, I read a physical book rather than scrolling through my phone.

If I’m relaxing by watching sport then my phone is in the other room.

I think strenuous hobbies keep me sane as it is time when I can’t possibly think of anything else. I do not advise thinking about work when attempting to do a handstand!

ACTION: Carve out time doing something you enjoy and reject anything that could disturb it.

7. Write Down Your Reasoning

From How to Become a Straight-A Student

This is the only item on this list that I do not currently do. Cal Newport describes it as writing down your excuses for why you didn’t complete the tasks you wanted to do.

On first reading, I thought I would rather punch myself in the face than write down excuses for my failures at the end of a hard day.

Despite my initial hesitation, I will try this because I do think the logic is sound. I choose to call it “reasoning” rather than “excuses” because of the negative associations that “excuses” brings.

To-do lists were all the rage from self-help articles yet hands up if you keep moving the same tasks to tomorrow over and over again!

The idea is to write down a reason for why each task wasn’t completed before moving it to the next day. You are forced to rationalize and you may find your reason wanting.

Alternatively and perhaps more likely, you’ll realize that in reality, you prioritize other tasks above it consistently. Then the healthy approach is to stop putting it on your list and stressing out about a task that isn’t important to you.

While I do not write excuses yet, I do have a to-do backlog of things I’ll do someday.

I rarely look at this list unless I’m bored and then I can bring it to today’s list. Try this rather than overloading yourself every day!

ACTION: Split out the immediate to-dos from the longer-term to-dos by writing out why you haven’t done it yet.

Summary

The most useful methods for me are outlined below:

  1. Delete social media apps (Digital Minimalism)
  2. Question the value of what you input to your life (Digital Minimalism)
  3. Go for long walks (Digital Minimalism)
  4. Maintain strenuous hobbies (Digital Minimalism)
  5. Learn to love what you do (Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You)
  6. Stop multi-tasking (Deep Work)
  7. Write down your reasoning (How to Become a Straight-A Student)

I hope you enjoyed reading and can apply some of these to your life to reduce stress.

I hope you have a wonderful day!

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Amardeep Parmar

Written by

Rethinking self-improvement with mindfulness╰☆╮My short newsletter: https://amardeep.substack.com ╰☆╮Writing advice: https://writeyourfuture.substack.com/

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Amardeep Parmar

Written by

Rethinking self-improvement with mindfulness╰☆╮My short newsletter: https://amardeep.substack.com ╰☆╮Writing advice: https://writeyourfuture.substack.com/

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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