Quitting Social Media

The first time I gave up Facebook, I installed a url blocker so I couldn’t reach the site.

“Access denied.”

40 times a day I would find myself blinking at the url blocking site. Wait, how did I get here? I didn’t consciously decide to check Facebook.

It was like a habit loop had been installed into my brain at some primal level. It was like a nervous tick.

I checked Facebook when I was confused. Anxious. Bored. Lonely.

Or for seemingly no reason at all. Except that checking Facebook was easier than focusing on the task at hand.

Eventually, the urge to check it died down. I enjoyed focusing. I enjoyed my emotions staying tied to my thoughts, the events in my life.

I called up friends. “No, I didn’t hear about your promotion. I’m not on Facebook.”

But then I needed to check events. And I disabled the plugin.

Oooh lots of red notifications. I’m missed. Dopamine.

Maybe I should post something. I’ve thought of something clever while I’ve been away.

Immediate likes. People thought it was funny. People commented.

Red notifications piling up. I felt smart. I felt loved.

But that feeling went away. And so I had to think up something else clever. Post that.

Not many people liked it this time.

I felt sad.

And I disabled my Facebook account.

And got hooked on Instagram.

Hey I’m on a hike. Hey, that’s pretty. I should take a photo. I need hearts.

Hey, take a photo of me. I look good. I need hearts from people I will never hug.

Social media would be fine for me, except I’m trying to do something with my life.

I’m trying to learn and grow and, hopefully, be of use to the world.

I don’t need the likes. I don’t need the hearts.

I need the hours of my day and the focus of my mind.


Grit by Angela Duckworth

I expected Grit to be a pop-psychology book that reiterates one point (persist and succeed) over and over. While that is an apt summary of Grit, I was delighted to find the book entertaining, inspiring, and insightful.

Duckworth convincingly argues that everyone loves the idea of a “genius” or someone with “inborn talent,” but what actually makes up the amazing skill and achievement of remarkable people ultimately comes down to tons of hard work.

My biggest takeaway is that, according to Duckworth, someone of average talent who persists in their goal over time will achieve far greater accomplishments than someone of great talent who gives up more quickly or who diverts their energy to other pursuits. As you can see in Duckworth’s formulas, effort is a far greater predictor of achievement than talent:

Talent x effort = skill
Skill x effort = achievement

Deep Work

deep-work-cal-newport Though I had heard most of the ideas in Deep Work before (e.g., distractions destroy your ability to do anything of consequence, Facebook notifications are rewiring your brain to mush), Newport presented the ideas in a way where doing the deep work and cutting out the distractions and focusing for long stretches of time became the shiny toy.

The general idea is that deep work (that is, work of significant consequence or value) requires periods of deep concentration and no distractions. Newport says it requires about 90 minutes to fully become engaged in the level of focus required. The reason why there can’t be any distractions (e.g., text messages, email notifications) is that, to think deeply, neural networks need to make new deep connections–and if you use more surface, habitual neural networks (say, to reply to an email), you will block yourself from being able to forge the deeper connections.

One of the reasons I was excited about Deep Work was because I was finding I would work long weeks, feeling ultra-busy and doing a seeming mountain of tasks, but in the end would feel dissatisfied with the lasting significance of what I had accomplished. Here Newport offers a lot of advice for saying no to trivial tasks and commitments, as they won’t amount to much. He quotes Neal Stephenson, who says:

If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly. What replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time, and that will, with luck, be read by many people, there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons, and a few speeches given at various conferences.

Obviously, not everyone is a novelist who can shut out the world, but for those whose work inherently needs both deep work and shallow work (e.g., correspondence, meetings), Newport suggests the following methods to integrate regular periods of deep work into your life:

  • Taking a day or longer to dive completely in. He references Bill Gates and his famous “think weeks” where he would spend a week in a cabin in the woods, just reading and contemplating
  • A rhythmic approach, such as a daily routine to do 2 hours of deep work at 7am every weekday.
  • The “journalist approach,” where you do deep work whenever you can find it. Newport says he uses this approach because his schedule is so unpredictable, but he tries to plan out his week for when he will have deep work time and schedule it

What I have also found is that, although I love the idea of deep work, getting myself to do it consistently is harder than reading a book extolling its virtues. Here Newport also offers helpful advice–he tracks his hours of deep work by logging a tick for every deep work hour each week, and circles the ticks when he makes a breakthrough (photo and blog about this). This helps him gauge how much deep work it takes to reach goals, and motivates him to be consistent in getting the hours in.

Deep Work TL;DR:

High quality work produced = (time spent) x (intensity of focus)

And if you’re a nerd like me, you may be interested in a desktop background of the formula.

All Marketers Are Liars

All Marketers Are Liars“All Marketers Are Liars” extrapolates the idea that a story of a product adds value to it. For example, a company who produces wine glasses claims that wine tastes better in their pricey glasses. Their customers who believe it really do think that the wine tastes better in those glasses. So the pricey glasses become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Godin argues that consumers want to be told stories so that they can use them to tell themselves the same stories. For instance, SUVs are far more dangerous than minivans, yet consumers prefer choosing to tell themselves stories that they’re safer.

Godin pleads that marketers must not use stories destructively, like when producers of infant formula told mothers that their formula was better than breastmilk.

“All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better–and look cooler–than $20 no names. . . and believing it makes it true.”

One of my favorite parts of the books is when Godin shows the value of story in the book itself. He jokes that the book is actually being written by a ghostwriter. Now how does that make you feel about the value of the book? It’s still the same content, but the story of Seth Godin as a prominent thought leader is no longer associated with that content.

“All Marketers Are Liars” also gives clues to how to deconstruct the worlds that marketers have created:

While marketers tell us the story that we need a new car to impress our fellows, we can believe the story that our clunker car has endearing character.

While marketers tell us the story that we need to appear more attractive to be accepted, we can believe the story that our appearance has always been enough for the relationships we cherish.

While marketers tell us that we need their gizmo, training, or service to be happy, we can tell ourselves the story that happiness comes from our own thought habits.

Let’s audit the stories that are told to us, and tell our customers stories that create a better world.