Reclaiming Your Life from The Phone: Drastic Measures

You know the feeling when you’ve been vegged out in social media land for an hour and finally look up to realize you just wasted an entire hour of your life and now you feel physically sick and mentally fatigued and really want to take a nap?

 Digital addiction is a real phenomenon. Everyone has their phone as their constant pocket companion. Studies on cell phone addiction show that around 66% to 75% of people are addicted to their phones. I am no different. I got my first smartphone in December of 2018 during my first semester at Lake Area Tech. I was a flip phone guy in high school and kind of felt superior to my friends, who all were very endeared to their phones. I figured since I was a few years older than they were when they got their phones, I would have more self control and wouldn’t succumb to the intoxicant that was my smartphone. I was very wrong to feel that way.

Within weeks I was watching YouTube for hours and mindlessly going back and forth between Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook; which is not out of the norm by any means. Still, it was an extreme distraction and didn’t help me one bit with the difficult process of getting through college.

Life continued on in this way, with me occasionally making half-hearted attempts to use my phone less, until I moved back to Watertown for my post-graduation internship in June of 2020.

Living on my own for the first time, I realized that sitting on my phone for hours in an empty house drained all of the vitality from my soul. I loathed this feeling. The feeling of helplessly being sucked into another 20 minute block of absolute time waste.

I started looking into the terrible ways that constant exposure to screens can change our brains and how we view the world; how unnatural and superficial and manipulating social media can be. A real sense of urgency came over me. I made a concerted effort that I was going to change my phone habits drastically.

I had to make this lifestyle change a huge deal in my head, otherwise it wouldn’t stick. I had tried the app timers but I would end up changing the time allowed. I had tried just deleting social media for a few days, but when I reintroduced it the problems would ramp right back up again. A large change was necessary, I had to change my attitude towards my phone. There were some steps I needed to take to curb my phone use: 

First, I deleted all social media and superfluous apps off of my phone. I probably got rid of 20 to 30 apps. The reason for this is that the second I opened my phone, I was instantly mobbed by a screen full of all these colorful apps that were vying for my attention. And there’s a dopamine hit in each one of those. So, I decluttered my home screen, which made opening the phone a less bewildering experience. The beautiful thing about this part is that I haven’t added any of those apps back onto my phone, almost a full year later. Most of them were completely useless. 

I made sure to tell those closest to me that I was getting off social media. There wasn’t any negative reaction. Most people are encouraging of that, because most people have a problem with their own social media use.

Then, I made it a habit to not randomly check my phone for notifications. That was one of the hardest ones, because at this point, we’re all hardwired to check our phones throughout the day whenever there’s a lull in the action. I would still find myself unconsciously picking it up, but getting rid of all the social medias and apps helped because I would get a fraction of the notifications after that, and it taught my brain that you aren’t going to get a shot of happy Everytime you check it because there’s a very small chance that there’s anything there.

I would leave my phone at the house for long periods and go for walks, get groceries or go workout. I lived alone so this may not be suitable for everybody. Find a part of your day where you can leave your phone at the house and go.

Drastic measures, but what did they lead to?

I started actually TRYING new things. I tried my hand at painting, doing breathing exercises, I learned how to sew, I started disc golfing, and went camping. I got back into writing and reading more, I would get absorbed in playing guitar and creating music like I used to in high school, before I had a smartphone. I would get into awesome conversations with strangers just because I was actually in the real world, and wouldn’t let myself revert to phone-face mode because I was in a new or uncomfortable situation. I also strengthened my spiritual life. Without so many interruptions, it was much easier to pray and simply sit with my thoughts in contemplation. It brought a real peace of mind that I haven’t felt since.

A newfound love for nature was what really took hold of me throughout this period. When I would go on my walks to the parks in town, I was totally enveloped in the natural world around me. I began to notice and really appreciate the detail that God put into creation. The particularity of this leaf compared to that leaf, the tiny details of a little bug on a tree, the stillness of sitting in the grass with no one around and the calming effects of the woods around me. I felt as though I lived in a poem.

Over time, I started noticing changes with how I perceived phones.

On a bright Sunday morning In September, I visited Sioux Falls Park. I was taking in the sound of the falls and the rocks and all that. I had left my phone in the car, for the purpose of really enjoying the scenery. Looking up from the water, I felt as if everyone around me was in a simulation. I’m sure you’ve noticed this as well. All the people were either taking selfies, taking pictures for other groups, or looking down at their phones tapping away. I (ashamedly) felt disgusted and very self righteous. All these people were merely using the setting for a photo-op instead of being there to see the beauty and feel the power of the Falls. I, on the other hand, was there to truly experience it. There was one older gentleman I spotted who had his hands on the railing, looking out at the water with a contented look on his face. Good for that guy.

I used the word ashamedly earlier because I realized that on countless occasions I had been just like everyone else at the Falls, and probably would be again. Phones are going to be utilized to capture a moment and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this depends: You may be really in the moment and enjoying yourself, catching a few shots here and there for memory’s sake; compared to snapping all the pictures you can, only to throw them up for your followers in social media land.

Another instance: One day, a few weeks after putting these practices in place, I got home from work and was not sure what to do next, so I sat down and started scrolling my Google news feed. I did this for approximately one minute before realizing with horror what I was doing. My thought process was something like, “I’m surprised that this feels as bad as it does, I’m really betraying myself and wasting my time right now. I can’t do this anymore.” I had such a visceral reaction because up until then, I had been so deliberate with how I spent my time, that this minute wasted was truly a betrayal. There was much more that I could be doing.

Those two points illustrate how my attitude towards my phone had changed and that phone use was now a huge deal in my head. It would be difficult to fall back into its clutches as easily.

For the month of October, 2020, I culminated my efforts into a full scale offensive on my phone dependence, a phone fast, let’s say. Not entirely necessary, but it was a test. Mostly a test to help my spiritual life strengthen and grow.

I eliminated even more phone habits. No social media was a no brainer, and easy for me at that point. But I also loved watching philosophical or motivational videos on YouTube, and I listened to podcasts when I would cook or do chores as well. I cut both those out entirely. (Reason being that I sometimes found myself agitatedly looking for something to listen to on YouTube before I would do the dishes or even take a shower, which I didn’t like.) I only allowed myself to listen to sermons. Contemporary music was also cut out, I only listened to classical music during certain parts of the day. I had a few friends that I would still consistently text, so I let them know what the plan was, why I was doing it and that I wouldn’t be texting them at all that month, just an occasional phone call. They were all understanding.

This was about as close as I’ve gotten to basically shutting the phone up in a safe and acting like it didn’t exist. It really did help me focus more on prayer, my work and enjoying basic tasks such as doing the dishes and taking a shower. I could put my attention fully towards one thing and not have the nagging feeling of needing to check my phone, or anxiously waiting for the notification ding. It was freeing to take the phone out of the question and not even have to think about it.

Now, how could someone apply some of these practices (Getting rid of social media, deleting all your apps, leaving your phone at home or taking a phone fast) without having a panic attack? Because that does happen to some people when they go phone free. The sudden lack of instant stimulation can bring about a vague sense of anxiety and dread.

If you’re going to try this, the most important thing is to have a plan for how you’re going to spend your day now that the phone is out of the picture. Is there a project that has been on the backburner? A love for drawing that you haven’t been nurturing since you were a teenager? If you don’t fill the time with productivity, it is going to be very jarring and uncomfortable. Well, it will undoubtedly be uncomfortable for a bit, but if you have some different hobbies or ideas you want to work on, it will make the transition a lot smoother.

Now, there is a bit of a caveat that I will insert here. This was my first experience living on my own, and it was truly a period of discovery about myself. I got a grasp on what I really enjoyed doing and really started implementing some crucial changes to my behavior. I also had lots of downtime to do whatever I wanted and had no extra burdens besides what I chose to take on. I didn’t live with anyone so I didn’t have to deal with anyone else’s particularities or their reliance on me. It was truly the best environment for me to try this phone experiment. 

That doesn’t mean that it won’t have immense benefits for your life. Having a single minded approach to a task with no diversions; the quiet calmness of actually being bored and not anxiously rushing to fill it with an app; the high of having a great conversation with a total stranger somewhere; or the unconsciousness of being in the zone, totally immersed in an activity you love doing. Something where you don’t even know how much time has passed. Something that truly gives you a deep sense of meaning in your life.

I’ve been slipping up recently. I haven’t been as disciplined with my phone, and I can feel the negative consequences. Lack of focus, purpose and execution to name a few. Thinking back on how I used to make use of my phone compared to how I am currently using it has been a wake up call. Hopefully it’ll help me get back on the path.

Phones can be a great tool for us. Sadly, they have taken over our personal lives and are in fact, dictating how we live. If you don’t like what you’re seeing with the people close to you, and how they use their phone, then you need to start by fixing how you utilize your phone. You can be an example for someone else and maybe lead to them changing their behavior. Thus we begin a healthier relationship with our pocket companions, and can become a healthier people.

I highly recommend listening to The Art of Manliness Podcast #479 with Cal Newport. Most of what I implemented came from Cal. He realized quite a while ago all the weird, terrible effects that constant phone use and social media can have on our brains. How it can shorten our attention span, kill original and creative thought, and ruin relationships with people close to us. He’s an advocate for digital minimalism. He doesn’t advocate for a ban of digital devices, only a more concentrated and purposeful approach to using our devices in a truly helpful way, without all the negative impacts.

An Epic Cinematic Experience

There will be no spoilers here…

Avengers: Endgame had me on a rollercoaster that I am still recovering from. Some parts absolutely devastated me, and some were amazing. It was a wickedly long 3 hours, but I was so engulfed in the story that it didn’t feel like it. It made me laugh, made me cry, and made me do what all good movies do: Sit there and think about it for the next few hours and try to comprehend what I just watched and how it made me feel. There were some things that surprised the heck out of me, some things I didn’t exactly like, and some things that made me nerd out HARD. The film seemed to wrap up every story line and teased moments so perfectly that I would get chills during some of the scenes. What a damn movie.

Overall, the Russo brothers did an EXCELLENT job of bringing home over a decade of movies and 22 different films for the ultimate finale. If you haven’t seen it yet, and if you have somehow avoided spoilers up until this point, go see it now and prepare to be wrecked emotionally.

PSA to the Internet

With Avengers: Endgame coming out this Friday, the internet, specifically meme community, is going to have a great time with spoiling this extremely hyped film.

I’m just here to say, don’t freaking do that. If you are the type of person who spoils movies just to be a troll, you are worthless. Even the Russo brothers, directors of Avengers 4, sent out a letter to make sure that it doesn’t get spoiled for everyone who hasn’t watched yet. It was a big problem for Avengers: Infinity War, and I’m assuming it will be just as much if not more of a nuisance this time around.

Just please, let us figure out who dies, on our own. I’m being proactive with this issue, and have already uninstalled Instagram until I watch it, and I suggest you do the same.

Someone in this picture isn’t going to make it, just saying.

Current Events (4/15/19)

Here’s some main events from the last few days.

Just this morning, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, almost burned completely down. I was at the rec center watching the spire topple live on television. While the building is saved from being completely destroyed, and with there already being talk of rebuilding, it is still sad to see such an iconic cathedral be burnt up. It is still burning as I type this.

In less sad news, Tiger Woods won the Masters on Sunday. Which marks his 15th major win, and his first major win since 2005.

The 8th and final season of Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday and drew 17.4 million streamers. Winter is here!

and THAT is the news.

(Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd)

The kings of southern rock

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album, which is the title above, I will not be retyping that, was probably one of the most badass debut albums ever. A lot of people say that Boston had one of the best debut albums because they had already found their sound and whatever.

No. Skynyrd knew what the hell they were doing instantly, considering some of their greatest songs ever came out of this one. Let me name a few. Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, and of course, Free Biiiird!

Wow. There are only 8 songs on the album and to have 4 of them be some of the band’s greatest hits is just impressive. They already had such a grip on who they wanted to be. Ronnie Van Zant had a gift for writing down to earth, relatable music. Not to mention Gary Rossington giving that trademark slide guitar sound to most of the tracks, and Allen Collins and Ed King rounding out the guitar trifecta. That’s right, they had three guitarists. That is just the essence of rock.

Needless to say, “Pronounced” launched the group into stardom and made them one of the most well known bands in the country. My personal opinion is, if not for the plane crash in 1977, which killed Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines, Skynyrd would be right up there with Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. But we’ll just have to enjoy the music they gave us.

March, but Mostly Zion, Madness

“Bummer… can’t wait to get my shoe deal”

Well, there you have it. After squeaking out wins against UCF and VT, Duke was handed a 67-68 loss to Michigan State. The transcendent college star that is Zion Williamson, had his March Madness journey ended on Sunday. And sports heads couldn’t be more crestfallen. The day after the game, all the articles I saw were just lamenting the fact that we wouldn’t be able to see any more of Zion and his freshman phenom teammates Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett. It went on and on and on. Only as an afterthought would they mention Tom Izzo’s great coaching or Cash Winston’s leadership abilities. Let’s give credit where credit is due, folks. Michigan State beat Duke. They were the better team.

Yes, Zion had one of the best rookie seasons ever, (22.6, 9 and 2). He also shot an amazing 68% from the field. Yes, Zion is a freak of an athlete, one of the most impressive specimens to ever have walked this planet. Yes, Zion is one of the best college players to ever grace the floor. He may be the last true college superstar (with the one and done rule changing, high school players will be eligible for the draft right after graduating.) But you eventually have to move on from Duke. Izzo and his boys earned this one.

He is now 2-11 against Coach K, let him enjoy it.

Now everyone is worried for CBS. Since the Final Four won’t have the “blue bloods” that would be ideal for viewer ratings, apparently no one’s going to watch the remainder of the games. Now, it is true that there are a lot of Duke, UNC and Kentucky fans out there, but this isn’t just about ratings, people. It’s about basketball! These young guys are living their dreams going this far into the big dance, and I’m not going to be upset that Duke or Kansas isn’t playing. Now, if the Final Four is going to be Mich. State vs Texas Tech and Virginia vs Auburn, then that is who it is going to be. True, having two #5 seeds (Auburn and Texas Tech) may not be great for ratings, but I would much rather have some upsets than the whole thing going chalk. That’s the magic of this month. March Madness exemplifies the saying, “anything can happen.” A whole lot of luck goes into March and hopefully your squad comes out with the most of it.

No, Zion won’t be playing in Minneapolis this week, and we won’t get to see him win a chip before heading to the big time. But he had a hell of a run and made college hoops more fun to watch. Duke will keep bringing in 5 star recruits and Mr. Williamson will be making millions off his rookie shoe deal. Let’s move on. These remaining programs have worked hard to be on this stage and I don’t really think it matters who is here, because you will be seeing the best of the best.

Jordan Peele Is a Master

Welcome to the second edition of “So and so is ____”, with the first being “Tom Brady Is Immortal”.

You may have known Jordan Peele for this:

Key and Peele was a show I loved and it was sad to see end. However, Mr. Peele has quickly, and kind of surprisingly, made a name for himself in the horror/thriller genre. He has written, produced and directed two films of this kind so far. With “Get Out” in 2017, and his most recent film, “Us”.

NOICE!

I will try to keep this from being a movie review and focus on Peele’s film making style. As an avid horror and thriller consumer, Jordan is a breath of fresh air in what has become a very stale genre. I am in no way a movie critic and don’t know enough about the film making industry to really give an in-depth look at what he does right. However, simply as a movie watcher I can say that these two movies of his are some of the most entertaining scary movies I have ever seen.

Jordan Peele has been pretty transparent about what his movies symbolize, the struggles of being a black person in America. His movies are some of the first to have the main characters be black people, which I think is a great way to see horror through a different point of view. It isn’t just straight horror anymore, it has more of a social commentary going on behind the main scares. Which I can appreciate, and one of the reasons why his movies are so great. He has said that he wants his movies to start conversations, and that’s what movies should do.

Critics have stated Peele as the “Mastermind of modern horror”, which I would say is accurate (hence the title). These movies are not, in any way, regular horror movies. There isn’t just a demon or monster chasing you around. Sometimes it’s the people you trust, or even yourself. And that’s why they make you think, because you feel conflicted about what is happening and at some points don’t know who to root for. There’s no stupid protagonist running in the woods until she trips and then gets stabbed. There are too many movies of this kind that have senseless violence and all of the tired horror tropes… Jump Scare! It’s not that.

It’s just… unsettling

Both of his movies do a great job of building a sense of discomfort and dread, until it all hits the fan. You also have to pay attention to every shot because he relies heavily on imagery to tell the story, which is great, because there are too many films that like to spell it out for you. That fact just begs you watch them again, to catch every detail that will ultimately help you figure out the mystery. He is also great at sprinkling in funny bits without being gratuitous. Some movies just suck at trying to fit in comical parts and you roll your eyes instead of laugh. But considering that Peele is obviously a funny guy, he seamlessly fits it into the story. The scores in both movies are composed by Michael Abels, and they are freaky as hell. That’s all I’ll say about that.

If you haven’t watched Us yet, go right now, and then go the next night and rewatch it. You’ll want to. Then go buy Get Out and watch that. These movies are just to good to miss, guys. Mr. Peele is imaginative, has terrifying vision and straight up knows how to craft some freaky movies.

Winter Is Good For The Soul

This won’t be a “Chicken Soup For The Soul” type blog, just so you know.

This week (so far) has been the best one for me in a long time, and why is that? Well, the sun was actually out, and it was 30 degrees. 30! Which to me felt like T-shirt and shorts weather, which is what I wore. I was more motivated to work out, get school work done and clean my trashy apartment. It has been great to say the least.

And I was thinking, I wouldn’t have been feeling this good if I lived in California or Arizona, they don’t have to deal with extreme cold like us. And I know this isn’t a new idea, you see all sorts of quotes like this:

I just never truly noticed how big of a difference it makes when spring finally arrives, (which is speaking too soon, because more snow is inevitable.)

I don’t know about you, but I think seasonal depression is a legit thing. Everyone’s felt the effects. As I mentioned in my previous blog, “The Struggles of Fitness During Winter”, you’re lethargic, don’t wanna get up, you’re getting fat, don’t wanna do anything about it. It sucks. Spring is the best time of year. It’s is all about LYYYYFE. Renewal of life, which is especially true when your will to live was at almost zero.

Winter makes us tough. Especially us Midwestern folk; getting up 20 minutes earlier, running outside in shorts during a blizzard to warm up the car, its tough. We have traits that our southern neighbors just can’t possess. They can hardly deal with an inch of snow, while we have been trucking through snow and wind storms almost weekly. We’re basically different breeds at this point, and we’ll use it to our advantage when the sixth Ice Age hits.

In conclusion, next time you’re stuck in the ditch on highway 212 waiting for your dad to come pull you out of the snow, just think about how nice that winter wheat is gonna look in a few months.

The Struggles of Fitness During Winter

First of all, how ranchy is that?

I think everyone knows what I’m talking about. It is very hard to be motivated when it is extremely cold outside and you just want to stay on the couch and binge Black Mirror and eat Pop Tarts. Them winter blues are a real thing.

I myself struggle with this. Its rather chilly out, ya know? I don’t even do anything fitness related outside. Which makes it funnier when the only images that appeared on google when I searched “winter fitness” were women running in blizzards.

Amy, can’t we wait until it stops snowing?
You’re being weak, Janice!

But just going outside for 5 seconds to warm up my car is pretty rough when you about get blown down the sidewalk. So here are some things that I’ve learned to do in order to keep my workouts consistent and not totally awful.

  1. Plan ahead: Make sure you schedule when you want to workout the day before, it will make you more ready to get up a bit earlier to fit it into your schedule. For me, its much easier to do it in the morning when I am full of energy but not everyone can make that work.
  2. Stretch properly: Its cold as balls outside, so you have to treat your body with extra care and make sure all of your muscles are ready for the beat down that is about to ensue.
  3. Water, water, water: You are much more inclined to drink water when its 94 degrees outside and you feel a stroke coming on, but its just as important during the winter. Keep a water bottle on you at all times and remember to stay hydrated all throughout the day.
  4. Switch it up: Especially when you can’t go outside, play football or throw a baseball around, you get pretty bored with your same old workout regimen. Make sure you have some alternative workouts to switch in and out to keep things fresh, and not get into the same mundane routine.

That is pretty much my advice. While I certainly am not the best at working out consistently, (for example, I was going to do chest today but my 6 hours of sleep kinda ruined that for me) you just have to be mentally strong enough to work through all of the external factors and go get jacked.

The New Generation of Country Music

This is the real outlaw country stuff, not what you hear on the radio.

Two artists I have discovered just recently are Tyler Childers and Colter Wall. These guys are in their twenties and have just recently started getting noticed in the country scene. Their voices are almost exact opposites, but they both portray that feel of genuine, classic country music like no one else, well besides Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson

At 27, Tyler Childers has already gotten some attention with his album “Purgatory” from 2017. He has an emotionally charged, raspy voice. the type that kind of haunts me when I listen to some of his songs, especially “Hard Times”, which describes the tough living in the Appalachians of Kentucky, which is where he is from. His lyricism reminds me of the classic tunes from Willie and Waylon. You’ll rarely hear him singing about the cliche trucks and beer, as he tends to focus on what seem to be personal experiences; such as “Oneida”, which is about “loving older ladies”, or “Feathered Indians”, which is a kind of explicit love song. He just tells the truth about what it was like growing up where he did and doesn’t mince words. It’s a fresh new, well not really new sounding, but much more real sound of what country music should be.

Colter Wall is a whole different animal then Mr. Childers. The almost baby-faced singer is a 23 year old from Saskatchewan. He sounds almost exactly like a Johnny Cash, except maybe even more gravelly? If that’s even possible. I absolutely love this guy’s stuff. His lyrics paint such a vivid picture in the mind that it feels like you’re watching a movie. He grew up in Saskatchewan, and he enjoys singing about the rugged nature of the great Canada, and his rumbling growl of a voice just freaking gets me, man. Some of his darker songs, such as “Devil Wears a Suit and Tie” and “Sleeping On The Black Top”, are my favorite because of the way he plucks those strings while delivering those nasty, depressing lines.

These two boys are the future of country in my opinion. And not the Kane Brown type of country, I mean the real stuff. I pray to God they don’t sell out to Nashville. It’s awesome, classic, outlaw country at its best, the type to make the Florida Georgia Line boys shit themselves. Not to be crass, but its true.