Chill, Monkey Brain

 

Distraction.

We’ve talked about it here before, specifically in terms of me craving it. I can’t help it, you know? My brain doesn’t like to focus. Even when I’m working on something I’m excited about, it’s irresistably tempting to click over to Facebook every five minutes (no exaggeration), or to answer the ping of the e-mail notification just in case it’s a message that will grant me a hit of some feel-good brain chemical, or perhaps give me a novel (ha) distraction.

It’s not just a will-power issue, either. People joke about internet and social media addiction, but it’s not far off. I get anxious and irritable when I’m disconnected, even though I know on a rational level that I’m missing absolutely nothing of consequence.

Seriously, the pictures of my mom’s kitten can wait. He’s adorable… but will still be adorable after I finish working.

But even though giving in to temptation isn’t rewarding 99% of the time, I keep doing it, like it’s a compulsion. An addiction. I scroll through Facebook posts I’ve seen three times already, waiting to see whether something new will pop up. I read Cracked articles that are interesting or amusing, but make absolutely no difference to me in any practical way. My life is not better for looking.

It’s all distraction.

Well, I’m done complaining about it.

This morning I picked up a book called The Distraction Addiction [insert REALLY long subtitle here], by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. $14.99, more than I’ve ever spent on an e-book before, but as of 50% through the book, I think it was money well-spent.

It talks about a lot of things, in a semi-Gladwellian tone: Multitasking (good) vs. stitch-tasking (not at all good), the ways technology shapes culture, mindfulness, meditation, using technology instead of being used by it…

…and Monkey Brain.

From the introduction, emphasis mine:

The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of consciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.

 

Sound like anyone you know? Not a flattering comparison, but an unfortunately accurate one for me.

So as I read, I’m making some decisions. I want to chill my monkey brain. I want to use social media as a tool, not let it capture more of my attention than is healthy.

I want to change the way my mind works, not just fight distraction.

I want to use e-mail as a way to communicate with people who are important to me, not as a means to be fed more distractions.

I want Facebook to allow me to catch up with everyone… maybe twice a day, not every five minutes or when I’m in line at the grocery store.

I want to focus on my work for hours at a time, not in ten-minute bursts.

It’s not going to be easy, but here’s the plan as I see it so far:

  • Remove Facebook app from my phone. I can still access it via the internet, but it’ll be a little more difficult, and I’ll have time to think about why I’m looking. (Also, I can access my pages here and messages without a separate app. HA.)
  • Turn off the WiFi when I’m working.
  • I’m going to *deep breaths* not check e-mails until lunch time, giving me a chance to work without being side-tracked before I even get started. And no Facebook before getting out of bed.
  • Turn off e-mail and WordPress notifications on my phone. I’ll respond to them, but on my time, not my phone’s.
  • Get up early every day and try meditation. I expect I’ll be horrible at it, but it sounds like even a little practice at it really helps calm the need for distraction and helps with focus on practical and creative tasks. Ding ding! Just what I need, and this might be the key to the whole problem. And wasn’t mindfulness one of my goals for this round of ROW80? Hmm.
  • Stop carrying the phone around the house with me.
  • Stop notifications on Facebook groups that are just distracting me or (occasionally) stressing me out.
  • Put the phone/computer away when I’m with my family… and take a full break from the internet on Sundays.

 

  • And… okay, this might take a while. I’m going to break my habit of checking for reviews on Amazon, and I’m going to not check sales numbers every day. I’m turning my focus back on the work, on bringing my visions to life and putting my stories out in the best way I can, and I’m going to try to let go of the world’s reactions to it.

Whew. That’s going to be rough.

That’s not to say I don’t care whether readers are happy. I do, and I love it when readers are happy. It’s kind of why I publish, and why I do silly things like having an editor. But I don’t think basing my mood or my self-esteem on how people feel about my work (a thing that is not me) is healthy. Sure, good reviews make me feel good, but I can’t accept that boost without also allowing bad ones to make me feel crappy. I’d rather have good feelings come from flow, from focusing on something challenging and overcoming those challenges, from creating something worthwhile and beautiful, and then letting it go.

And also, it’s just another distraction from my actual work and life.

Know what this means for you guys? Nothing, unless you care to join me.

Okay, that’s a lie. It might mean a few, hopefully interesting posts here on how things are going with this. It might mean less angst from me over not being able to focus for crap (YAY!).

It will mean that when you e-mail me with a question, or comment on a post here, or say something wicked on my Facebook page (I do love when you do those things), that it might be a few hours before I respond.

And I hope (God willing) that it will make me a happier, less-distracted, more productive person. I hope it will mean better blog posts and better stories for you all. I hope it will mean a nicer, more focused mom for my kids, and my husband getting a wife whose mind is actually in the same room as him.

Because I’m going to be the boss of my technological extensions*, not the other way around.

Big dreams.

Let the experiment begin.

 

—-

*You’ll have to read the book for more on that.

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

11 responses to “Chill, Monkey Brain

  • Emily Witt

    Oh, man, this is me as well. And I always make the excuse that I can’t turn off the wifi because then I can’t listen to cool new music on Spotify while I work. Which is a terrible excuse and I should just buy the albums I like and then have them in iTunes while I’m writing.

    Good luck!

    • Kate Sparkes

      Thanks! I’ll keep you all updated on how sparkly and happy and TOTALLY NOT TEARING MY HAIR OUT by next Sunday when I turn the internet off entirely…

      • Tompa

        That is quite a program you set for yourself. I trust it will work for you. I don’t use the smart phone much so I do not have a constant urge there. However, between my iPad and television I can waste a lot of time. I do really appreciate being able to keep up on your writing and on your family fun.

        Keep working but keep us informed. Love,Tompa

  • madlaura

    Yeah – good luck. I’m totally that minkey brain. I had to turn off all notifications on my phone, except the actual phone and text. I know my life isn’t going to change cuz I read the latest reply on fb, but I still need to know what it was. Turning off notifications made it much easier. 🙂

  • Nagzilla

    You are so much braver than I am. I’ll admit I’m addicted too, but (with the exception of NaNoWriMo) I haven’t had success in disconnecting. Getting an iPhone has made it worse. I wish you luck and make sure to give updates on how the experiment goes.

    • Kate Sparkes

      My iPhone has made it exponentially worse. I’ve had it for 2 years, don’t even have a lot of apps… but being able to access social media anywhere makes me feel like I need it. I don’t blame the technology, but it certainly doesn’t help.

      And yet I wouldn’t give it up.

      • Nagzilla

        We have a joke in my office. I was talking about how Jason (my husband) has played with the idea of homesteading and “going off the grid.” I was saying how I might be willing to try it. One of my coworkers retorted, “I can see it in my Twitter feed now. ‘I’m going off the grid #technologybad’. That is so not happening.”

        • Kate Sparkes

          I could definitely not do it. HOW WOULD WE BLOG?!

          I do admire people who can do it, or who homestead but keep blogs because they can limit themselves to an hour on the computer three times a week. I like their pretty pictures.

          I would go insane, personally, but I aspire to be just a little more like them.

          Especially in the “having chickens” department. That’d be cool.

  • Amos M. Carpenter

    Do not respond to this funny and friendly comment until you’ve gotten a lot of work done. (Just testing to see if you’ll stick to your goals. Good luck!)

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