Live Intentionally: The Results

Last week, I resolved to stay a day without Internet, and I said I’d let you know how it went. Well, I did as promised, and here are the results.

On how I did it technically, I just disabled Wi-Fi on all of my devices. When it comes to my phone, I disabled all apps using Screen Time, with the exception of essential communication ones (WhatsApp and Telegram) and apps that don’t use the Internet at all (like the camera).

On how I felt: throughout the day, it felt as if my brain was looking for something. It was sending a signal, but it couldn’t find an answer. Check the news it said, but that request was blocked. You’re eating, so a video on YouTube would go well with your meal. Blocked too. By the end of the day those signals were still there, of course. To eradicate them completely would need a way longer detox.

I still instinctively pulled out my phone to check for notifications all throughout the day. But of course, there weren’t, and even if I did get a message, the phone would ring, so there was actually no logical reason to check my phone. Reflexes.

One result I was expecting, and which felt particularly good, was the complete eradication of gray areas. If you didn’t read last week’s article, I call ‘gray areas’ those times when you’re just zombie-ing through online content, not fully conscious about what it is you’re doing. Well, since there is no “online content” to speak of, those times were gone too.

As a result, I was always doing someting consciously. This is the best part about the Internet-free day, and why I’m thinking about making it a weekly occurrence. Unplugging from the Internet won’t increase your productivity, it’s not about that. I still did things I’d consider a “waste of time.” But it will make you more conscious about what you’re doing.

If I was resting, it was because I chose to. Anything I was doing, I chose to do with a clear mind. I can’t say that’s true when the Internet is available to me.

Would I do it every day, or most days? Nah. I work remotely, so it’s not an option during weekdays anyway. Plus, the Internet is genuinely useful. I can’t deny, however, that being more intentional and conscious about what I do feels really good. It feels like you’re wrestling back control of the ship, after it was left to float on its own for way too long.

Overall, I’d recommend you give it a try. One day is not enough to rewire your brain, but it’s just enough to give you a glimpse of a life of intentionality. I am now making Saturdays “Internet-free” days for me, since the first went really well. If you want to join me, please do let me know how it goes for you.

Live Intentionally

If I had one thing to tell myself right now, that would be it. Live intentionally.

What do I mean?

With the advent of ubiquitous portable technology, the internet, and companies profiting off of your attention, it’s become easy to drift off in what I call the “grey area.”

You step into the grey area when you find youself doing an action you didn’t really want to do, nearly inadvertedly. In the gray area you’re conscious, but not really. You’re repeating mechanical movements, doing things with rewards that are too small to be beneficial, but big enough to keep you going.

It’s ok to rest by scrolling Reddit. But did you really want to spend half an hour doing it? It’s ok to give yourself a break by watching YouTube videos. But did you really want to spend the whole evening like this?

People will spend their entire days in the gray area now, me included. When I close my eyes to sleep at night, and I realize I spent my entire free time not doing anything intentionally, a major sense of guilt washes over me. It’s a terrible feeling. Then the next day I sit down and do it again.

Just as I was writing this very blog post, my partner was scrolling Instagram a few meters away in front of me. Before writing this paragraph, I caught myself in the gray area again, captivated by her screen.

How do we save ourselves and recapture the intentionality that we’ve lost?

Deleting apps is a possible solution, since it makes it harder for us to access gray areas. Increasing friction between us and the things we shouldn’t do is a classic trms topic. That’s great, but when it comes to solving the “gray area” problem, I feel it just covers up symptoms of a deeper issue. The body needs a shock.

This shock could be provided by disconnecting completely from what distracts us. But like I mentioned in my Quiet Tech Toolkit, that’d be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. YouTube and the Internet in general are massively useful, disconnecting completely permanently would be a net loss.

So the solution I came up for now is to shock my body with an entire day (but just one) without Internet. This Saturday is the day. I’ll let you know how it goes next week and put the link to it here.

Knowing is Nothing

Throughout the months I spent writing for trms, I realized one thing: I know a lot, but that knowing hasn’t helped.

I tell people how to maintain their habits, why they should do this and shouldn’t do that. I tell them how to get lucky, and how to get this and that done. Someone applying everything I write would be a superhuman. Yet, even I, the one writing those things, am far from that.

I myself know, yet do not always follow, what I write. Why?

I don’t exercise every day, and I forget to journal constantly. Often, I’ll refuse opportunities that my article about luck would consider to be great for me.

I truly believe what I write, and I always speak from experience, yet when it comes to sticking with them in the long term, I just don’t do it.

Clearly, knowing is not enough. I need something more. I need to have something that will turn this knowledge into long-term practice. I know that if I exercised once a day, that would be good for me, but another part of my brain shuts that thought off.

If you’ve been reading my articles, you might say: that’s resistance. But that’s just the thing: knowing about it doesn’t help. This very research into why I’m not sticking with things is a fool’s errand. I am looking for yet more knowledge that I won’t apply.

So, we determined that knowing is nothing, or close to it.

What’s the alternative then?

Wise People Have Fun

I may be wrong, but I think I have a general idea of what kind of person you are.

If you’re anything like me, you are always on the lookout for ways to improve yourself. You have heard of at least one or two productivity methods. You have a favorite to-do app. You take notes, and try to make time for reading. You value learning and are a serious tinkerer, often spending more time optimizing a thing than actually using it.

Likely, you think every minute not spent working on yourself, or your tools, or your craft, is a minute wasted. Yet there are people you look up to with curiosity: people who seem to have achieved what you wanted to, but effortlessly.

Over time, I think I am figuring out how they do it. It’s because they understand the value of fun.

The conventional knowledge is that the “grind” mindset will get you there, while the “fun” mindset will keep you stuck here. But the two are actually reversed. I’ve never met someone really good at their craft who wasn’t also having fun doing it.

Back in university I was close to one of the professors there. He was outclassing nearly everyone else there in recognition, citations, and output. Yet he always made time for students, he involved them in the process, and had a completely “open” office. At a first glance, it looked to me as if he was just wasting time socializing, and tagged him as a slacker. But he was just having fun doing what he loved most: playing with ideas and turning them into papers. Others were just grinding with their doors closed.

I apologize if this comes as a bucket of cold water, but It’s unlikely you’ll ever become great at something you have to “grind” for. Because you just can’t compete against someone who is having fun doing it.

People who have fun doing their craft do it by day, and by night. They overcome obstacles that would stop us on our tracks, and endure criticism that would shatter our ego. They explore the craft’s unexplored depths, as they are driven purely by their own curiosity. They go on with or without support from people, and derive joy merely from the fact that they are doing their craft.

And much like you can’t compete against someone who has fun doing it, others can’t compete with you if you have fun doing it.

So it sounds obvious, but if you hate what you are doing, or are stuck in a “grind,” it might be a good time to rethink things over. What do you have fun doing? What can you do from morning to evening without taking a break? If I were you, I would bet double on that.

The Tool Trap

Quilters, woodworkers, programmers, writers, singers, and gamers. These people all do something different, yet there’s one thing bringing all of them, all of us, together. The one thing we can all agree on. We want more tools.

We want more tools and we want better tools. We want better computers, better cameras, better rigs. We want a new keyboard, a new display, a new pen. New wheels, new parts, new boards, new needles, and new threads. Only then we will finally get to do what we want.

After those first two paragraphs, you probably expect me to tell you tools aren’t actually that important. Or that they’re just another way we fool ourselves into unhappiness. Sorry, not today. Tools are important.

Without tools, you can’t get your craft done. Full stop. A writer without a pen can’t write, a programmer without a keyboard can’t code. Anyone telling you tools don’t matter is fooling you. You’ll usually hear it from the people who do have the tools. They don’t remember what it’s like not to have them.

If you use a keyboard 10 hours a day, it’s worth investing money into a good keyboard. If you get income, or joy, from singing, it’s worth getting that microphone. Tools enhance your work, and make a serious difference. Tools amplify your craft multiple times over.

That said, tools won’t change you. We buy shinier tools thinking they’ll help us change who we are. And this is the tool trap. They don’t. Better tools make your craft better, but they won’t make you better.

I fell for the trap many times over, and got overpriced tools for nothing. Maybe you can relate. My computer is painfully slow, for example, so I thought getting access to a new one would instantly make me stick to a weekly schedule of new YouTube videos. It didn’t. I wasn’t making videos before, and I’m not making videos now.

If I were into making videos in the first place, then yes, it would have made sense to upgrade. The new computer would have made my craft better. But if you’re not interested in something in the first place, a new tool won’t do it.

I find it useful to keep this heuristic in mind whenever I feel like buying something new: Will it help me change my craft, or am I hoping it will change me instead? If it’s the latter, then, close the tab and move on.

The Curse of Preparation

There are two kinds of people. One doesn’t start doing something unless they think they are fully prepared. Others just start doing stuff, then figure it out along the way. You should aim to be in this second group. If you are in the first, welcome. Read on.

I’m sure you know some people like that. Someone you know has done something way before they were “ready.” They opened a business, started making content, moved country. Maybe it went well, maybe it didn’t. But they did it anyway.

You see, the problem with people like us is that we overestimate the cost of failure and underestimate the cost of preparation. It’s counterintuitive, but preparing, in most cases, is more expensive than failing.

When you prepare, you are delaying the actual start of your project. And time, sadly, is a one-way road. Each day spent not working on your project is a day you could have. When time is so limited, each passing day becomes more and more expensive. You know what I’m talking about: when you were a kid, or in school, days were nothing. You probably felt no guilt wasting en entire week. Now, when work takes away your most precious hours, and the clock ticks, every minute counts. And it’s not going to get better.

The most compelling argument against preparation though is that the real preparation is in the doing. People learn how to drive a car by driving a car. They learn how to shoot an arrow by shooting an arrow. Yet, we think we can prepare for our projects by reading up on them. That’s like thinking the best way to learn to swim is to read a book about swimming.

Creating is a skill, just like driving and shooting arrows. The only rational and effective way to get good at creating is to start creating.

When you first drove a car, you weren’t good. You knew there were risks involved. Yet you did it anyway, and now it’s second nature to you. The first time you create it’s not going to be good. There are risks involved. But if you do it anyway, it too will become second nature to you. And by create I mean anything from writing a paragraph to finally starting your business.

People like us think failure is the end of the road. We think failure is a cost too heavy to burden. But to fail is to prepare. We imagine in our head Micheal Phelps just jumping in the water and being the absolute best from day one. Or we imagine Mark Zuckerberg pouring over PHP books for 20 years before starting to write a single line of Facebook. But those are constructs of our head, pushing us to prepare so we avoid doing the actual work. They are far from the truth.

If you do something then succeed, great: you got what you wanted. If you do something then fail, also great: you learned a lot so that you can succeed next time.

You don’t get ready then start. You start then get ready.