Quitting These 3 Things is a Life Hack for the Easily Distracted
I take it back. I do like music, TV shows, and video games.
They just distracted me from things I like even more. So I quit.
I could concentrate as a kid. Then my mental self-control dwindled as I grew. I got consumed in online games, Desperate Housewives reruns, and, ahem, Miley Cyrus songs. (There was something about her voice that did it for me!)
What about moderation? My moderation attempts fell flat for over 10 years. I tried to ration how much Netflix I’d watch or how many hours I’d spend on Neopets. Instead, intrusive thoughts bothered me throughout the day. Time and time again, I binged despite my better intentions.
Remember, for most of human history, we couldn’t put on music or movies at the press of a button. Not every brain adjusts seamlessly to the new technology.
If music, TV shows, video games, or something else leaves you chronically distracted from your higher goals, you do not have to tolerate that.
Just because many people like it or do it, doesn’t mean you have to. You’re allowed to set your own boundaries. Reclaim your mind, time, and life.
With mine, I’m writing. I’m enjoying richer relationships than ever. Here’s my story of the 3 things I quit.
1. I quit playing online games
Online game worlds were the best — and the worst.
All-consuming, they replaced every aspect of life with an instant-rewarding reality. In RuneScape, you could walk around a new world map and even be a wizard! Neopets had hundreds of smaller games within the larger game, and I wanted to master them all!
I found these games when my life was in an icky place. Picked on at school, I couldn’t come out as queer/trans. I was upset about suffering in the world; I didn’t know yet how to manage my emotions and be an effective activist.
Boy did I escape. I stuck mainly with Neopets and I couldn’t stop. I tried to blend the solace of that virtual pet land with my real-life pursuits, but focus evaded me. It was as if a 1,000-pound anchor was tied to my ankle.
Like Cam Adair who founded GameQuitters, I was truly a gaming addict.
3.5 years ago, I quit for good. 3.5 years later, I still miss the memories, but I haven’t looked back.
My friend recently invited me to a new web game. I had to decline. It’s sad how COVID-19 ended our tradition of playing tabletop games in person. Yet given my history, I have more peace of mind if I steer clear of computer games altogether. It’s not worth the risk.
Plus, there are a thousand other ways to have fun and connect!
If I miss Neopets, I’ll buy a cool new card game. I’ll make a game of my writing. I’ll pretend my life is a video game. Maybe I’ll try an online improv class. Quitting gaming didn’t make me less playful, but more.
2. I quit listening to music
Saying no to video games is one thing. “Boycotting” music must seem even more obscene.
When in life have you heard someone say, “I don’t like music?”
Indeed, soundtracks strummed my soul. Lights Poxleitner-Bokan kept me company when I was blue. Upbeat techno gave me heavenly emotions!
But do I need songs on the radio to be happy? Is my health compromised because I no longer let myself turn on music whenever I feel?
No, not in the slightest. If I were a musician, things would be different. I understand how someone would suffer from missing out on what’s been a huge part of their personality, talent, and legacy.
As someone who loved music, but only to an average degree, here’s why I’ve distanced myself:
- I kept getting picky and dependent on songs. I’d procrastinate taking a shower because I wanted to find the perfect tunes to wash my hair to.
- I wanted to tune in with my body when I exercised. Instead, workout music divided my attention.
- I have a terrible ear worm! Hooray to not getting songs stuck in my head.
If I want music, I’ll listen to the birds. I’ll attend a drum circle. I’ll sing. Music is playing everywhere anyway. When the grocery store forces me to listen to it, I savor the special treat without becoming hooked.
3. I quit movies and TV (when I’m alone at least)
Movies are amazing. Some of my favorites have been…
Wait, what am I doing? I’m just perpetuating the idea that movies are the highlight of our existence.
In the past, I was more excited about my favorite characters than about real people in my life… Weaning myself off darker TV shows was one battle. Even episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender was as addicting as they were uplifting.
I wasted energy fantasizing about my next Netflix binge… trying to control myself… losing days at a time to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (Ha, could you have guessed? I miss you, Pinkie Pie!)
TV binges got my eating, sleep, and other habits out of whack as well. I’d go in thinking I had a plan to stay on track. Before I knew it though, I’d pass a “point of no return.” I’d be in full-on Zombie Mode for the rest of the weekend.
This February, I finally set a boundary. I promised my future boyfriend (it’s a long story) that I wouldn’t watch TV & film anymore until I met him. We’d share a conscious life of creative service. We’d watch movies or shows only occasionally if it seemed to add genuine value to our time together.
Now that I’m back living with family, I can’t escape the TV’s presence, but it’s not that bad. My folks don’t watch my old favorite genres so I’m not tempted. We’re watching as a family so it’s less insular and more of a social experience.
Still, when the parents are off running errands, I walk by that silent big black screen and I can’t help but smile in sweet serenity.
My writer friend opened up about her TV procrastination struggles. She’s the most stunningly brilliant autobiographer I’ve ever met. It breaks my heart that she — and so many others — have struggled to get their words on the page for more years than I have.
I recognized right then how lucky I was to have quit TV shows back in February. If I hadn’t, I’d be binge-watching Carmen Sandiego as we speak.
Quitting TV might or might not help my friend. What’s best for you, only you can say. My bottom line is this…
If I want to watch movies, I’ll call my best friend. I’ll imagine scenes in my head as she tells me about her day. Or I’ll read a book. Not watching TV only enriches my imagination.
You have the power of choice
There are many more tempting pleasures, often tech-based, which have ruled many a modern human life:
- Celebrity gossip.
- Social media feeds.
- Junk food.
- Staying up late on our devices. After 9pm, I turn everything off.
- Adult content. (Taxes can be so addictive.)
For those at high risk for technology addiction, giving up something like video games can be the most freeing thing we ever do!
For those of us who can manage, breaks are nice.
3.5 years “sober” from Neopets, I’ve kept adding to my list of things I quit. No need to even think about them anymore. The more my real-life goals and relationships take the main stage, the less I care about instant entertainment.
In 2020, I went from being terrified to post my opinions online, to publishing over 100 articles. I went from having few friends to a tight-knit sisterhood of fellow creatives.
That’s the power of removing what stops your focus. Eventually, you suffer through those growing pains you’ve been avoiding. You learn the meaning of concentration.
If “moderation” has failed you for years, consider that you have the option to quit. You can go a week TV-free. You can forgo turning on music for 30 days. If you want, you can even go 3.5 years without video games and make it a lifelong commitment.
You are a beautiful and talented human being. The world is a better place when you can concentrate, love your relationships, and deliver your best work.
Quitting what distracts you is a life hack you’ll always have. Use it.