7 Days Without Recreational Media

If I didn’t write this today—right now even—I’d never do it.

Over that last 7 days I’ve been going on a “recreational media hiatus”—meaning not reading, listening to, or watching anything that is not directly applicable to the work at hand.

While there is a current trend to ignore specific social networks for a while, this included every single leisurely used[1] information source, such as:

  • Books not concerned with the current day’s task
  • Any Blogs, News Site, Aggregators (“push” content)
  • Podcasts and Audio Books
  • E-Mail Newsletters[2]
  • TV, Movies, and Radio when alone

The only two exceptions I allowed myself was using the Calm app’s sleep stories, and the Pema Chödrön meditations collection. I anticipated that I wouldn’t want to spent every minute alone doing work or nothing at all, so getting deeper into meditation seemed like a worthwhile endeavor, one that would hopefully further unclutter and calm my mind.

I made the decision to try this for a week, while sitting on a train and skipping into the third audiobook on 1 hour ride. I somehow felt that something must be wrong when I couldn’t even keep my attention on an audiobook that I chose myself and wanted to, or at least aspired to, listen to.

Similarly I noticed that while taking a break during work (🍅), I would often get lost on a tangent like some interesting but obscure technology or some new open source project, which would then far exceed the 5 minute goal time.
While getting input from outside my immediate area of work and interest is generally an inspiring source, oftentimes nothing sticks out and I wouldn’t have been able to recite half of the topics I scratched that day when asked about it before bedtime.

Here are some unordered observations I made throughout the week:

  • As there were much less inputs, every single one of them left way more of an impression, and got more time and thorough thought than in any previous week
  • The meditation felt much easier, more fruitful as my mind was not cluttered with technical trivia. Instead I was able to better listen to the teachings and myself
  • A lot of times at night I had neither energy to work on anything specific nor the willingness to listen to mediations, so I just ended up doing nothing—just sitting and thinking
  • In the course of the week, snacking emerged as an alternative distraction/feel good mechanism. Apparently there were some voids to fill
  • Every bit of personal interaction got more valuable. Before I was often so focused on my reading etc. that I would view everyone else nearby as a distraction. Now I was grateful for conversations
  • The insights I gained during meditation and the “just sitting” times were profunder than anything I have ever experienced. Instead of just hearing the teachers opinions/experiences/facts, I had some very deep insights emerge from within[3]

If I ever get to do this again (who knows, maybe by this time tomorrow I am so exhausted from my “cheat day”, that I’ll plan doing this regularly), I will definitely prepare myself to not fall into the next trap, i.e. stock up on healthy, boring food.

Other than that I appreciated the change this week, and how it allowed me to reevaluate my day-to-day behavior and see this media consumption in a more honest light: it’s primarily distractions and rewards, which I was voluntarily seeking out–craving even. Only secondarily were they are source of information, often neither actionable or acted upon.

  1. This is an important distinction to make. While often those media are deeply technical in some field, aspirational, or otherwise of importance to some, I often would just read them for recreational purposes: satisfaction and distraction. ↩︎

  2. Yep, it’s not enough these days to ignore specific apps and not visiting specific sites, somehow I justified for a while now to clutter my inbox with non-critical information. If some site only offers e-mail updates, I will not subscribe to them anymore. The overall downside just outweighs any single of those sources. Side-note: Feedbin has a great service where you can have newsletters/mails shown alongside your RSS subscriptions. ↩︎

  3. I think this stems from a mix of the longer time spent doing meditation as well as the different style used on the above mentioned audio collection. It’s meditation practices framed by teachings into hour-long sessions. This additional time compared to the short 5-15 minute sessions others offer might’ve been a major contributor to this. ↩︎