I am so easily distracted these days, and I blame social media (or rather, I blame my inability to stop jumping from one social media to the next every 15 minutes). And it’s definitely affecting my writing!
I used to write for hours without feeling the need to check Facebook, peruse Instagram, send a text, catch up on Words, but now I can hardly focus for more than twenty minutes before I find myself surfing the net or checking my phone. I hit a lull in the flow of the story and instead of sitting back to reread what I’ve written, process for a moment, and figure out where my characters are going next (as I used to do when I was much more productive as a writer), I fool myself into thinking I deserve a little break to check my emails and catch up on social media. I stupidly think that this time I’m only going to spend no more than ten minutes, and then I’m going right back to writing.
But when I do go back to the writing, I have to re-emerge myself into the characters and story, figure out where I left off and where I thought I was going, then realize I didn’t know where I was going, so I sit back to imagine the next part of the story, and then find myself again wandering aimlessly through the same postings and news articles that I just looked at, hoping I’ll find something new. Before I know it, I’ve made very slow progress on my book, but I know every passing thought of every person I’ve ever friended on FaceBook.
And it’s not just my writing that’s suffering. For decades, I’ve read at night before going to bed, often for hours. Now, I read for about 15 minutes, then go through my list of sites to check on my phone for much too long. I think I’m bored, so I start looking to social media for entertainment, but come away just as bored and unsatisfied, and then frustrated for spending precious time on something so unproductive. I used to complain that my teenage son had a short attention span, but now I’m just as bad!
What will I miss if I don’t pick up my phone every 20 minutes? An email with the latest sales at Target, a meme from Mommy Needs Vodka (they are spot-on humorous, but they aren’t going to make or break my day), the pics of your family on vacation or at your child’s latest sports event (don’t get me wrong – I love these! But I’d rather see the pictures and hear the stories face to face while sharing a bottle of wine), or another news story about the Kardashians (definitely don’t need these in my life)?
FaceBook is a great way to stay in touch with loved ones who don’t live near, but by the time I scroll through all the shared articles and reposted statuses on why everyone hates cancer, there isn’t very many actual posts of personal photos or life moments left. And can a comment on a photo on FaceBook or Instagram really be considered truly staying in touch and connected? If I spent a fraction of the time I do on Facebook to make calls to those I love and actually speak to them person to person, I’d find out a lot more meaningful things than I ever could from a posting on social media.
What would happen if I took the social media apps off my phone? And WHY am I so reluctant to do it?!?!?!  I almost don’t want to post this entry to my blog, because then I’ve put it out there and the pressure is on to follow through. Is this anxious jumpiness that I’m feeling right now because of my fear of deleting social media off my phone? Or is it because it’s been about 20 minutes now since I started writing and my brain is jonesing for the next quick flash of simulation? It’s like my brain is afraid of delving too deep into any thought for too long. I’ve become a commitment-phobe when it comes to keeping my brain focused on any one topic for very long. It’s no wonder I feel like my brain is atrophied, and that I’m getting dumber by the day.
My brain is bored, but it’s too out of shape to do the hard work to get beyond this shallow pit it’s gotten stuck in! So here’s my plan to retrain my antsy brain and learn to focus my mind enough to actually think deeper than superficially:

  1. I’m going to take social media off my phone (deep, calming breath to chase away the panic!), and allow myself to check it only twice a week on my computer. That means that I won’t see everything that’s there, and I’m going to miss a lot of things, but it won’t be the end of the world.
  2. When I’m writing, my phone is going to be turned off and in another location. Out of sight, out of mind! The rest of the world will be fine without me for half a day.
  3. When I need to take a break and look away from whatever I’m doing, I’m going to just sit back, close my eyes, and let my mind wander where it may – without visual stimulation from FaceBook or Instagram. Every study out there says this is more refreshing and more restorative for the brain than constant electronic stimulation. It’s what I used to do when I was a much more productive writer than I am now, so here’s hoping I can make it work for me again with practice.

So, if you’re reading this because you saw the link to my blog on FaceBook (or any of my other social media accounts – and yes, I do see the irony in that!), you will be seeing fewer posts and fewer likes/laughing faces/wow faces/hearts from me, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t important to me. Stop over for a glass of wine anytime and let me make up for my lack of internet communication with you!

Lois Templin

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