For January 2023, I’m focusing on one goal: To Declutter My Brain.
I am one of those people who has more than 10 tabs open on my laptop at all times. I’m always working on multiple projects, so I usually have separate desktop screens for each one. I swipe back and forth between Google Chrome, Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat, Slack, and Spotify. Within Chrome, I tap between researching websites for work, researching, managing, and executing any number of things that need to happen for my two kids, checking email, and doing the things that need to be done to deal with the emails. Simultaneously, I’m picking up my phone to check social media apps to laugh, love, like, and wow.
In one of my many open tabs, I read about a new book called Attention Span and learned that we spend an average of just 47 seconds on any screen before shifting our attention. It then takes 25 minutes to bring our attention back to a task after an interruption. Forty-seven seconds and 25 minutes to bring our attention back. At this rate, it will take me 8 weeks to write this blog entry. I know I need to take better care of my brain because I’m feeling more scattered. It’s getting harder to keep track of things. It’s taking longer than necessary to do what I need to do. And there’s just too much stuff in here that I don’t need.
To put it another way: In 2023, I want to have more space to think clearly and creatively. I want to be more efficient. I want to have more energy for myself and for my family.
Scrolling social media on my phone is my Achilles heel. I’m on it to connect with friends and my community. I need it for work. I learn so much from the point-of-view of others. Videos of red pandas eating grapes bring me joy! But, it’s as if I’m trying to make breakfast, and I decide to take out all the cookbooks, utensils, pots and pans, and ingredients to make pancakes, plus some berries to put on top, and some seeds to plant to grow my own berries, plus some news, and entertainment, and skincare tips. What was I saying?
Before I tried to limit my social media use, I thought about why I use it in the first place.
1) For information and entertainment
2) For connection and community – interacting with friends, getting information in local Facebook groups, keeping up with interesting parents, writers, and activists
3) To avoid doing something that’s hard (like writing), annoying (like cleaning), boring (like bathtime)
4) Because after a long day, I’m too mentally tired to do anything else
With these in mind, here’s what I’m going to focus on as I start the new year.
Limit when and how I get information and entertainment.
- Purge and minimize the number of accounts I follow: I go through and unfollow or hide accounts that are cluttering my mental space.
- I’ve signed up for newsletters to give me more information about fewer topics. I’ve also started reading selective newsletters from content creators instead of following them on social media. I’m not sure how this will go but I’m going to see if this helps keep things mentally tidier.
Focus on meaningful relationships with a few vs. superficial relationships with many.
- If I pick up my phone to feel connected, I try to reach out to friends directly instead of absorbing people’s posts, stories, and reels. Group text threads save my sanity. Sometimes I just send a screenshot of a post I saw on Instagram. The good thing is, it stops me from scrolling and leads to more connection.
- Send real mail! I have a handful of friends and family who really enjoy receiving and sending cards. I have these cute stamps of otters in the snow that need to be out in the world. They’re the motivation I need to pop a card in the mail.
Acknowledge the urge to avoid and be nice to my body instead.
- B-R-E-A-T-H-E, specifically exhale. Throughout the day, I find myself holding my breath. Before I tap over to another tab or pick up my phone, I’ve been prompting myself to release the breath I’m holding. Then I take a few more, slow deep breaths. I check to see if I need to release my jaw, shoulders, or stomach. I almost always do. Instead of hunching over my phone, I’m reminding myself to remember I have a body and to give it some care by moving and stretching just a little.
- Hydrate. Drink water, refill water bottle, repeat. I’ve found a way to use my procrastination skills for good.
Practice mindfulness aka stare out the window.
Like everyone else, I tend to grab my phone when I’m waiting—for the water to boil, the checkout line to move, my son to put on his socks. It’s fine sometimes, but I don’t like how it’s become a habit. And I don’t like what it’s doing to my attention span. I’m trying to get more comfortable doing…nothing. Let’s face it. We know meditation and mindfulness are good for us but it’s hard to make the time. For this first month of the year, at least, what if while my afternoon coffee is brewing, I just stayed present and stared out the window? What if I just let my brain unclench? Let this be our 2023 goal: More staring out the window.
When I’m done washing the dishes, wiping down the counters, sweeping up, and saying goodnight to the kids, the house is quiet. I often collapse on the couch or lay in bed with my daytime clothes still on and pop open social media. I’m tired and it’s soothing to zone out. But while I’ve just tidied my kitchen, I’ve taken out all kinds of topics from the drawers and cabinets in my brain. More news stories, more entertainment, more skincare suggestions, more videos of pandas.
I make it easier for myself to wind-down in a more restorative way by making sure I have a book to read before bed. I reserve books at the local library so I have several options at any time. It’s more satisfying to read a book that I don’t want to put down than to keep scrolling because I’m too tired to put the phone down.
I reframe showers as a treat and not a chore. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend lighting a candle and taking a shower without your overhead light on. The dim lighting makes it 10x more relaxing. There are seasons of motherhood when moisturizing your body is a treat you don’t have time for. Setting aside some time to put lotion on your legs after a shower? Amazing. Also, once a week, I watch a show while painting my nails. Essie Expressie Quick Dry polish is my go-to because it’s so easy to put on and using the brush is soothing. Plus, it dries FAST.
I don’t want to admit this, but doing one thing – like watching TV – doesn’t prevent me from mindlessly scrolling at the same time. I know some people love knitting, cross-stitch, and embroidery. Unfortunately, those don’t work for me. But I’ve discovered Zentangles and it’s basically fancy doodling with fun pens. I can watch Netflix while drawing some zentangles on notecards…then send them to friends in the mail with a snowy otter stamp. No phone required.
Tap to Tidy
In wrapping up, I want to point out that I purposely haven’t included any hyperlinks in this post. No link to a great water bottle, shower candle, Essie Expressie nail polish, or book on Zentangles. Instead, I invite you to join me. Close this tab or app, exhale, unclench, fill up a glass of water, and stare out the window for minute. I don’t think we’ll miss anything.