“All of humanity’s problems stem from (people)’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” — Pascal, 1654
This quote hit me very hard when I first read it. It’s even more relevant now than ever. It seems we cannot just sit with our thoughts in the modern age. Everyone I see out has their headphones in. I even saw an app that simulated birdsong in someone’s ears — why can’t we just listen to the actual birds? With the future of AI, simulated conversations, and (eventually) simulated relationships, I think we need to take a hard look at what is real.
I should own up — I am terrible at stimulation addiction. I typically watch Netflix on my phone whilst I am washing the dishes or cooking. When I am home alone, I often have a podcast or an episode of Suits running in the background. I used to have to fall asleep listening to something, a history documentary or ASMR. My mind never had any respite from this stimulation and it took its toll on me.
I’ve managed to reduce my reliance on audio / visual stimulus, but I still have a long way to go. They aren’t all bad, but it’s simply the amount of distractions I fill my head with the creates problems. When I finally unplug and lay down my head (even after an hour of reading) my brain is sometimes spinning. Poor sleep just leads to a lot of poor habits the next day.
The only time I truly enter the flow state these days is when I am running. I’m not saying we should all run, but you must find a way to break away from the distractions and the world for 30ms-1hr a day (minimum!). Mediation or a long-pensive walk can also be good. When I am running, I sometimes take headphones and sometimes go without. When I go without I often come back into the house with such a hyper focus that I don’t even want to stop running. I don’t want to break that magical feeling.
Think about your day, think about your happiness. Do you finish your day feeling burnt out or feeling content? How much time do you spend on your screen? Could you stop and enjoy the small things around you?
This has become my end-of-day audit and, so far, I have seen a marked improvement in my mental health. However, what I notice is that when one habit slips, the rest fall with them. Eating clean is easy when I’m in this state, but as soon as I distract myself my work ethic goes and I want to eat all the carbs in the world. Therefore, it is important to set achievable habits that build into bigger habits. Don’t worry about their size, worry about how consistently you can do them.
Do you agree, is this a problem? And will it get worse or better? Are the kids managing it better? I really hope so, otherwise, the mental health crisis will continue.