Week 2/52 – Practical implementation guidelines

Becoming a digital minimalist is hard. If you are reading this, chances are you are pretty convinced of its benefits, but struggling with implementing it in your life. Here are some practical tips from my experience so far:

1. Identify yourself as a “digital minimalist”.

There is a good amount of research demonstrating that our behaviour is strongly linked to our self-identity. Someone who self-indentifies as an ‘athlete’, is less likely to on-a-whim eat a handful of donuts compared to someone that does not. When we give ourselves a label, it becomes in the self-interest of our egos to uphold that narrative.

“I have chosen to be a digital minimalist, and digital minimalists do not spend evenings scrolling Twitter or Facebook. Therefore, I shall not scroll Facebook or Twitter.”

You would be surprised how many times I have said that to myself over the last couple of weeks, and how effective it has been in curbing the urge for novel, distracting stimuli.

2. View your smartphone as a tool, and assign it a dedicated place.

My smartphone now has a defined place at work, and at home. At work, I leave it in my locker. I can look at it during my lunch hour, and when I finish work. At home, it goes straight into a drawer in the living room. I can look at it after 8 PM, for a short while, before it goes back in the drawer, where it stays overnight. It does not come into the bedroom.

3. Implementation intentions are important. Write a digital minimalism manifesto/guideline for yourself.

Sit down with a nice cup of coffee, and run a thought experiment – in an ideal world with no limitations, how would you like to spend your time online? How much of your mental bandwidth do you wish to dedicate to Facebook, Twitter, or keeping up to date on the rumours and developments of your favourite sports team? Think broadly, and assume unlimited time, energy and attention for implementation. Aim high, and then follow tip #4.

Then work backwards, and engineer implementation intentions. An implementation intention is a specific plan that defines a pre-determined action to a given situation.

"When situation X arises and I want to do Y, I shall do Z".

An example:

  • “When I am bored, and I want to scroll Twitter, I shall note my desire, and then not proceed.”

4. Be kind to yourself and play the long game.

Habit change is hard. Staying away from your phone sounds simple and trivial, but I have found it a harder challenge than my previous efforts to go to the gym regularly or improve my diet. The key difference is how effortless, mindless and easy it is to look at our phones. It is so ridiculously easy to slip and fall into our old ways. Our current mental models, routines, and habits have been moulded by years of unconscious, repeated action. Of course it will be hard to change things.

The aim is not to be perfect. The aim is to be better than you were yesterday, without any implementation intentions. This applies to all kinds of habit change. It is so easy to give up because we “broke” and ate a cookie-pizza spent 40 minutes watching cute dog videos on Instagram.

Failing, and falling into old routines are is a part of the game. Instead of viewing it as a single entity and seeing it as an abject, abhorrent failure, look at the bigger picture. Yes, you might have ‘failed’ and spent that last hour mindlessly browsing your phone this one time, but what about the bigger picture? Turns out, on the whole this week, you only did that on one day. Whereas previously you did that every evening. Therefore, you were successful six out of seven (85%) times. That is pretty phenomenal achievement early, and deserves celebration on the whole, not derision because of one apparent failure.

PS: I am writing this on a Monday evening, after my second weekend of digital minimalism. I went on long walks, read uninterrupted for hours and did a ludicrous amount of laundry. This morning, I felt genuinely refreshed from the weekend and found myself having an inordinate amount of energy for a Monday morning. The experiment feels good.

Week 1/52 – Mental bandwidth

There is a figure in Greg McKeon’s Essentialism that I keep coming back to:

Even though I conceptually comprehend the benefits of focusing on one vs trying to accomplish a dozen, the magnitude of the difference in output always surprises me. The first time I saw this graph I thought the difference was exaggerated for dramatic effect, and couldn’t believe the ‘focused’ line truly was just the cumulative total of all the little ones.

‘Mental bandwidth’, for me, is a concept that defines my ability to deal with situations. Over time, I have learnt there are broadly three main components to it:

  1. Time
  2. Energy
  3. Attention

I need to have all three; the lack of one derails the system. All the time and energy in the world is no use if I cannot focus at a task at hand, and all the energy and attention in the world is but unfulfilled potential without time to apply it.

In this first week of digital minimalism, with a weekend almost entirely free from the internet, its impact on my mental bandwidth has been my biggest takeaway. Digital minimalism, allows me to expand each aspect – my time, my energy, and my attention. It creates space. Space for wonderful things to happen. Those cycles of time, energy, and attention that were previously occupied by the internet were now free. Free to be put to use for wonderful things.

Instead of diving straight into a dedicated 30 day digital detox, I spent this week doing ‘mini-experiments’, such as the weekend without connectivity. I rediscovered just how much I enjoyed reading a good physical book with a nice cup of tea in my evenings, and how rejuvenating lunchtime walks were. I clearly defined my goals, such as what technologies were okay to use with limitations, and what best entirely abstained from.

I feel incredibly excited about the journey of the year ahead, and to share it with you all on here. There are already several drafts in place for upcoming posts – I intend to go deep into both the mindset (‘why to’) and application (‘how to’) of digital minimalism. Thank you to each and every one of you who was kind enough to send me a note of encouragement or to sign up to the email updates. Here is to a wonderful week ahead.

The void

Why is it so hard to stay away from our phones? Why do we excuse ourselves from social situations and go to the toilet just so we can check for likes and scroll Twitter?

For those attempting a digital detox – welcome to the analogue world! It feels surreal doesn’t it? It just you, your thoughts, and the big wide world. Does it scare you? It scares me. It apparently scares people enough that is the challenge most likely to derail a digital detox effort. How did we get to the stage where fear solitude and time away from our screens?

The 24×7 constant buzz of technology does a remarkable job of distracting us away from the “void”. The void is an ill defined existential dread we feel when we are left alone with our thoughts. It is where we are faced with our subconscious asking ourselves the big, difficult questions – what is our purpose in life, what brings us joy and meaning? Are we content with our life? Are we living an intentional life?

You see, deep down, I think we all feel something is amiss with the current status quo. We are not meant to be replying to work emails on a Saturday night, sending 😂 emojis in reaction to yet another pithy viral gif, or binging yet another series on Netflix. We were not meant to be a society in which the smartest minds of our generation spend their time on working out how to hijack our attention to click more ads.

I think deep down we have three main ‘big picture’ wants as humans:

1. Meaningful work. Work that truly makes an impact. Work that challenges us, work that we enjoy doing and work that makes our hearts sing when we are in full flow.

2. Play time. The freedom to do things just because we enjoy doing them. The freedom to go for a long walk in the mountains, to spend an afternoon reading a good book, or to spend a night pursuing our hobbies.

3. Social connection. The privilege of having a trusted group of friends and family with whom we can share our dreams, desires and aspirations.

Our addiction to our screens actively erodes our ability to enjoy each one of those. These are actions that leave us feeling truly fulfilled with a glow of satisfaction. These are not as instantaneous and fleeting as scrolling Twitter, but they are far more lasting.

Welcome to the analogue world. It is scary. But it is wonderful. I can not wait to share my journey.

A Year of Digital Minimalism

Who are you?

My name is Krit, and I am a medical doctor and an academic clinical researcher working in the UK.

Why are you doing this?

I am unhappy with my relationship with the internet and feel addicted to my phone. Perhaps more perniciously, my brain is addicted to novel stimuli in the form of distraction. There is a background buzz of anxiety that pervades my life, and I feel my internet habits are a contributing factor.

The internet in many ways is perhaps the greatest tool available to us. Unregulated, I also believe it is one of the most damaging tools in its ability to fundamentally impact our cognition.

What is this blog about?

Fundamentally, this blog documents my commitment to one year of living an intentional life with the philosophy of digital minimalism.

What is digital minimalism?

Cal Newport, in his book titled ‘Digital Minimalism’ defines it as:

A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss our on everything else.

I look at it more from the virtue of intentionalism. Am I being intentional and deliberate with how I am spending my time on the internet?

I start this experiment on the day the book is released, and it is one I encourage you to read and digest. There are few people I am indebted to as much as Cal. His ideas on his ‘Study Hacks’ blog completely redefined and changed my perspective on work nearly a decade ago when I was in medical school. I credit him and his ideas to much of my success.