Delete App/Remove from Home Screen/Cancel

In ridding ourselves of the courthouse and marketplace we do not rid ourselves of the principal worries of our life. Ambition, covetousness, indecisiveness, fear, and desires hardly abandon us just because we change address. They pursue us into the monasteries and schools of philosophy themselves. Neither deserts nor caves nor hair shirts nor penance can extricate us from them. That is why it is not enough to remove oneself from people, not enough to go somewhere else. We have to remove ourselves from the habits of the populace that are within us. We have to isolate our own self and return it to our possession. We carry our chains within us. We are not entirely free. We keep returning our gaze to the things we left behind.

Stephen Batchelor reading Michel de Montaigne for the Tricycle podcast

Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be transferred or transformed from one form to another.

The first law of thermodynamics

Sometimes I’ll delete Instagram from my phone for a while. Or set up blockers to keep me from looking at the web version of Twitter (since Tweetbot does a pretty good job of keeping me from falling down rabbit holes).

The other day I put Instagram back on my phone for a moment to check a message someone had sent me there, and within a few taps I inadvertently opened a video with spoilers for the new season of The Owl House.

At which point my brain kicked over to “In for a penny, in for a pound” and I fell down a rabbit hole with the app for several minutes.

The little lifehacks and quick fixes don’t work for me. There are plenty of others who feel the same:

Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.)

Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.

James Clear

I haven’t found the right replacement for some of the habits that don’t actually bring me any real joy (even if they bring me dopamine). Maybe that’s because I haven’t adequately figured out what need they’re trying to fulfill.

An app or a social network isn’t designed for an individual, but for a broad sense of what humans need and desire. When I let idle moments default to distraction, I lose definition.

I’m no longer here, in this space, doing and thinking and being. Instead I’m riding a current of other people’s decisions and thoughts. Surrendering to it.

And it’s not enough to try to run and hide from it.

Re-starting the chain

I try to meditate every day. Sometimes I don’t. The other day I had reasons for why it just didn’t happen, and I broke a 90 day streak.

I’m supposed to feel bad, right? That’s what a lot of people tell you — That if something is important to you and you don’t do it every day, without fail, then maybe it’s not actually important to you and you’re bad at it.

But look at what one missed day really means.

Here’s one week.

You see the missing day, and that 1/7 (or 14%) looks meaningful.

It’s not a majority. It’s not even a plurality of my week.

But it looks like something to take note of.

Until you look at the view from one month and three months back.

At one month, it looks like a big dip. Remember how I said I had a 90 day chain going?

Now pull back to three months, and you can barely tell where the dip is. It’s just one small curve on a fairly smooth line.

Then look at six months of records.

That dip furthest to the right? That’s the missing day.

It’s nowhere near the biggest dip on this chart. It’s not significant in any real way.

Now look at a full year of keeping track of my meditation:

That single missed day? That’s nothing. Barely worth noticing.

Thinking back to how even the best professional baseball players have “low” batting averages, this looks like further evidence toward the point that there’s value in being gentle to yourself and setting realistic expectations.

Discipline for the sake of discipline isn’t a virtue.

A single bad day or bad portion of a day comes out in the wash.

Executing on the purpose of the habit can be just as meaningful on executing on the habit itself. I don’t meditate to unlock a trophy in my meditation app. I do it because it helps ground me, and it’s part of how I do the work of surviving with depression. The product of the habit is a better version of me.

There’s a world of difference between giving up on a habit and its benefits versus letting go of the compulsion to keep up a habit at any cost when you have a need to give yourself space for other things.

It’s part of why I like James Clear’s take on missing days from a habit:

Whenever this happens to me, I try to remind myself of a simple rule: never miss twice.

The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.

Atomic Habits

I woke up feeling congested. When I sat down to meditate, my nostril whistled like a kettle begging for attention.

I sat with it for a minute, thinking about Pema Chödrön’s words on removing discomfort:

“Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy. It’s like changing the position of our legs in meditation. Our legs hurt from sitting cross-legged, so we move them. And then we feel, “Phew! What a relief!” But two and a half minutes later, we want to move them again. We keep moving around seeking pleasure, seeking comfort, and the satisfaction that we get is very short-lived.”
― Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

I tried to focus on the air getting through instead of the force required; the air in my lungs and not the blockage in my nostril.

Then I asked the question: “How is blowing my nose not the dharma?” How is removing this impediment any different than labeling a thought as “thinking” and letting it pass?

I got up, blew my nose, and sat back on the cushion.

I’m not sure if it was the correct response, but I made the decision and moved on.

And isn’t a point of mindful attention to not dwell on things, but to try and see them as they are?

Sometimes a booger is an invitation to practice patience, and sometimes it’s snot.

Looking for better instead of making better

Yesterday, someone who just met me answered a question by asking “Have been told you overthink things?” It was a pretty spot-on reading.

This morning, I came across this passage:

From the point of view of Samaya, we could say that looking for alternatives is the only thing that keeps us from realizing that we’re already in a sacred world. Looking for alternatives—better sights than we see, better sounds than we hear, a better mind than we have—keeps us from realizing that we could stand with pride in the middle of our life and realize it’s a sacred mandala. We have such a deep tendency to want to squirm out of it, like a beetle on a pin: we squirm and try to get away from just being on the dot.

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

This really clicks when you’re the kind of person who has a setup for managing your to-dos, but keep Googling ways you might optimize or refine it with one more trick.

Or you’ve been stuck trying to finish a draft of something you’re writing, because you think it could be better if you spent a little more time on the thinking about the writing instead of the writing.

That pernicious idea that you must keep looking and contemplating for a better way to do things before the doing, instead of treating the doing as the path to better. That the doing is good enough.

It’s something I remind students of, and have to remind myself of frequently: You can’t revise what you haven’t written. Searching for better and ruminating is like trying to write the third draft of a blank page.

I must remind myself of this more often.

What gets done first gets done.

Since the stay at home order started in my state, the first thing I do after my alarm goes off is come downstairs before everyone else is awake, pour myself a cup of coffee, and sit down to meditate.

It’s not starting out with the most urgent or overdue task on my list, setting me up to think about the pile of deadlines hanging over my shoulder. It’s not just faffing about, using the time to “just wake up.”

It’s a choice to remind myself that I can greet the day with intention.

I’ve noticed that since I’ve adjusted my mornings to start this way, I’m less likely to do those “just checks” on my phone first thing. Or second thing.

It’s not necessarily a concrete form of habit stacking, but it does set the tone for the rest of the day. I’m more likely to move from meditation to something else that feels important, instead of getting sucked in to an endless scroll on the internet.

It’s a choice to remind myself to greet what comes during the day on its terms instead of mine.

I don’t have complete control over how (or when) my kids wake up, or what mood they wake up in, but I can choose to accept it without feeling like they’re supposed to behave in some predetermined way that lets me keep powering through my to-do list.

That’s a feeling that I’ve had to fight with since being required to do all my work from home. They’re not my co-workers. They’re not in my office. I’m trying to do work in their home, and I need to respect that difference.

And it’s a choice that helps me feel confident in my priorities.

I’m choosing to start the day focused on what’s going on directly around me and inside me. Instead of steeping my brain in fresh memes or outrage fuel from the moment I wake up, I’m taking stock of what I have direct influence over at this moment.

And I can see results from this.

I can do more good in a day if I start focused on what I have influence over instead of reminding myself about all the things that feel overwhelming, or create a sense of powerlessness.

Because while those bigger picture things can’t be ignored, that doesn’t mean they need my full attention before I’ve put on real pants or finished a cup of coffee.

I don’t always know how much I can do in a day, but I know that if I wake up on time and get started on one thing, that one thing is 99.9% likely to get done.

Starting my day with meditation isn’t just empty navel gazing. It’s a way to try and get in touch with things as they are, separate from my thoughts or feelings about them. It’s a way to make sure that the first thing that gets done in the morning is something that helps me focus on what I value most and what I have influence over.