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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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Would You Rather Be Right, or Kind?

It’s a question that’s been attacking me from several angles this week.

It started, I suppose, with a Facebook post from Grammarly called “25 Common Phrases That You’re Saying Wrong”. It was an interesting post, listing commonly misused phrases and the correct versions. Go have a look, I’ll wait.

Fun, right? I’ve been saying all of them correctly except for number four, but I found the (repeated) explanations in the comments section very interesting. I also realized that I don’t use the phrase “you’ve got another thing/think coming,” because I can’t think of a situation when using that wouldn’t be rude or condescending. But that’s not the point.

The comments were enlightening in another way. Many of the comments were of the “I didn’t know that, thanks!” variety,  some were debating the correctness of numbers four and 24, and seemingly hundreds were of the “It’s WRONGLY, not WRONG, dumbass” variety. But a number of comments ran in the self-righteous, “I’ve never used any of these phrases incorrectly, and anyone who has is an idiot. Why bother speaking English if you can’t do it properly?” vein.

As I was reading through the comments, a realization bit me on the nose. Are you ready for it?

These people sound like assholes, and I don’t want to be one of them.

Yes, it bothers me when people use the wrong form of “your/you’re” in anything more formal than a Facebook status, because I think clarity in expression is important, and glaring errors distract me from the message a person is trying to convey or the story they’re trying to tell.  I have been tempted to carry post-it notes and a black Sharpie in my purse so I can correct errors on signs without actually committing vandalism. I think it’s ridiculous that “irregardless” is in the dictionary, and that “literally” is now literally defined as “figuratively.”

I love English, messy pawn-shop of a language that it is, and I cringe when it’s (not its) abused.

But I’ll tell you something: I don’t love it enough to think that it’s more important than being kind. I don’t ever want to be one of those small-minded jerks who reads someone’s tweet about their dog dying and corrects the message’s grammar instead of offering sympathy.

Perfect example of what I mean: In the comments on that Grammarly post, several people said that when they ask someone, “How are you?” and the person says “Good,” they want to walk away from the conversation.

Did you catch that? Because someone said “good” instead of “well,” these self-proclaimed grammar nazis* consider that person beneath them, not worthy of notice or care. They’re more concerned with a correct response than with the fact that maybe that person said “good” with a tear in her eye or a dishonest wobble in his voice.

No, they’d rather be right than be kind.

I don’t want to be like that. I also don’t want to deal with people like that, so I think from now on I’m going to say “good” whenever someone asks me how I’m doing.  That should weed a few of them out.

This issue goes far beyond grammar, of course. That was just the first incandescent brain-flash I got this week. It applies to so many things in life. Take Batfleck (or whatever people are calling this “issue”). I understand thinking that someone made a bad casting decision for a movie. I also understand that this is important to many people. Discussing these things can be interesting, and expressing passion is important.

But when you look at the comments on Twitter and the posts on Facebook, something becomes apparent very quickly. People are more concerned with seeming clever than with the fact that they’re ripping an actual human being apart with their personal insults. “I think _______ would have been a better choice for Batman” is an opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with it. “Dare-Douche can’t be batman” is also an opinion, but it’s attempting to be hurtful to a real person. It’s also not particularly clever, and there are a lot out there that are far crueler, but you get my point. People are going for laughs, for “look how clever and wonderful I am” rather than trying to actually add something relevant and useful to the discussion.

Again, they’d rather be right (or funny, or admired by their Twitter followers) than be kind.

Have you looked at reviews of popular books on Goodreads lately? Scandals and kerfuffles aside, there are a whole lot of negative reviews that consist entirely of GIFs and statements like “_________ is the worst writer ever and should give up now” and “nice try, sweetie, better luck next time.”

I can’t and won’t claim that I’m innocent in this. I’ve made fun of celebrities who I won’t name here. I get frustrated when people are famous for being famous, or for apparently being pregnant for two years, or for spreading glitter and bad decisions like confetti. I’ve wondered out loud how people can enjoy certain books that are either badly-written or that make pre-teen girls swoon over stalkers. And there’s a place for honest criticism, for talking about the larger issues that these things bring to light, for sharing concerns over young women flocking to Twitter to beg a certain singer to beat them up because he’s OMG SO HAWT. But when it comes to the balance of being right or kind, I’m going to be making some changes. I’m going to make sure that when I share my opinions I’m focusing on my concerns or on the issues– not on insulting the celebrity/author/politician in a personal way, and certainly not on insulting the people who love their work.

This isn’t about pretending everything is sunshine and rainbows, or wanting to buy the world a Coke, or why can’t we all just get along, guys? There’s a place for honest criticism, for fans expressing their opinions on casting decisions in movies, and for defending the integrity of our language (b3caws engush is gr8, guise). There are issues that need to be discussed, even if there are people who are going to have their feelings hurt because they have different opinions. I’m not saying that I’m going to hold in my thoughts and opinions until I explode, just because I think someone won’t like what I say.

This is about me (just me) trying to make a small change. Before I open my mouth or set fingers to keyboard, I’m going to take a minute to ask, “why am I saying this?” If I’m adding to a discussion in a productive way, or if I’m offering gentle correction because I want to help someone or improve a situation, I’ll go ahead. If I’m just talking for the sake of talking, if I’m trying to sound clever or make myself feel smart because I’m right and someone else is wrong, or if I’m saying something that’s hurtful to someone on a personal level, I’m going to back off.

I’ve decided that for me, being kind is more important than being right. It’s not going to be easy to let go of my snarkiness over celebrities; I suspect I’ll be a work in progress for quite some time.

But there you go. I’m going to try.

(Please forgive me if none of this made sense. There’s an invisible troll trying to drive a foot-long section of rebar through the right side of my cranium this morning, and it’s throwing me off a bit.)

*Yes, a phrase with its own significant problems, but we’ll leave that for another time. This is dragging on as it is.


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