After removing social media from my life during the last two years, I’m slowly but surely reducing anxiety and my distractability. It used to be that I would read a paragraph or two in a book… my mind would wander and I’d realise I’d read several more paragraphs without a clue what it said. That doesn’t happen all that much any more. Result.
Looking for alternative dopamine hits
I still get bored and want to get rid of that boredom, and I’ve found myself recently clicking through YouTube and some other forum sites. I get a little hit of dopamine and a false sense of community and connection (I’m still a lurker – I don’t really engage in commenting as my inner critic will happily continue to assert that what I have to say is neither useful, witty nor pithy – what a bitch!); I can feel that old, familiar, background lure that I used to get with the big three (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) so I’m not out of the woods yet.
I find that my iPad is the worst culprit. My phone’s screen is too small for me to comfortably watch or read anything on it for any great length of time, and though I love it in the studio I really don’t want to be spending my free time on the system in there: that space is for working. The iPad is just the right size for reading and it’s so convenient of an evening if I’m a little bored or impatient with what I’m watching on TV or reading in a book. So I’ve given said iPad to John to hide! When I’ve done this before (and I’ve done it several times now to try and ditch this unconscious YouTube et al compulsion) it’s worked in the short term. I’ve come to the conclusion I might need a long term strategy though.
Mental Health Apps
To deal with the anxiety directly and the pretty annoying (and mostly unhelpful) Inner Critic, I’m trialling two apps on my phone (it’s an Android but there’ll be iOS versions or similar apps for other platforms). Pacifica is an all round mental health assistant, meditation app and habit tracker, and Unthink deals with the Inner Critic through a very simple CBT interface. I haven’t paid for either.
I like them both. If I’m feeling antsy or bored or anxious or stressed or even a little euphoric (it happens occasionally when the anxiety dissipates of its own accord), I can check in with Pacifica to log how I’m feeling and it’ll suggest meditations or actions I can take to help me make progress. Alternatively, for a super-quick fix, Unthink can help me take a more objective perspective on an unhelpful thought-chain and bring it around to a more realistic interpretation.
no technology either good or bad, but design that makes it so
I don’t think the internet, gadgets or even social media is inherently bad. I think platforms and applications deliberately built on addicting us to their dopamine hits in order to harvest our attention and data to sell to the highest bidder, and to convince us that we’re incomplete and faulty so we’ll buy things we don’t need or even want and get us to do things (like voting for certain things) that aren’t in our best interests are bad. I don’t want any part of that.
There’s nothing inherent in technology that precludes it helping us to be our best selves. To make our short existences on this planet more bearable. I choose emphatically not to use technology that isn’t in my best interest but to embrace wholeheartedly that technology which has been designed to treat us all in a compassionate manner.
My Inner Critic and her constant chatter
As an incredibly useful aside of using these helpful technologies, I’ve started to note how my inner critic is constantly commenting on what I’m working on, my writing, my work processes, how I analyse and make work decisions. It’s not just every now and then, during those times when I’m conscious of it and can happily ignore it; it’s all the fricking time. This is bad for business.
I would (understandably) prefer to be as objective and have an interpretation of events that is only ever helpful and, hopefully, accurate. When I interpret the worse, my reaction becomes fight or flight. Once we’re in flight or flight mode, our creative options decrease as the ancient parts of our brains attempt to get us out of danger as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A more meandering and experimental option for dealing with the situation just isn’t on the table – unfortunate, since this is exactly what’s most effective in my line of work. It’s also this meandering, experimental part I enjoy the most.
The option to fail is possibly the most essential tenet of creativity. Without the option of failure, we play small, safe and certain. Or we can be risk-takers, fail and yet still survive to play another day, to learn from these mistakes and as a result go off on unexpected and wild creative tangents (and ironically, these experiences lead to more dramatic and exciting dopamine-hits than receiving any number of likes on Facebook or Instagram).
I need my Inner Critic to stop equating the failure of my first draft to fit the brief with certain death! Silly thing. I can see her do this and ignore her, or I can work to reason with her. Eventually she might start to chill her beans and allow me to live my life without having to compartmentalise and suppress anxious reactions. I just won’t have them all that much. That’s the idea, anyway. We’ll see how it works in practise.
There are times I don’t realise that the Inner Critic is presenting an unhelpful or downright incorrect interpretation of events. However, these apps are helping me to recognise those feelings and associated thoughts and to continuously challenge them. It’s quite hard work, to be honest. Nevertheless, the difference in both how I feel, and how effective I am in the world, makes it worth it.
It’s nice to feel ok more often than not, and to feel empowered to do something about making it so.