Friday, January 29, 2021

Learning to be "Indistractable" and a Found Poem

Happy Poetry Friday! I share a found poem I created at the end of this post.

As Mary Ann mentioned last week, we've kicked off this year with the topic "What did I learn in 2020 that will help me in 2021." As frustrating as 2020 was, I learned some things about myself that are helping me create a happier, healthier, more productive life.   

It all started with one new habit. To cope with the stress brought on by events of 2020, I decided to start meditating regularly. I have meditated off and on for years. In April 2020, I committed to making it a regular habit, initially, for just 8 minutes a day--up from the 5 minutes/day I'd dabbled in earlier in the year. And I decided to motivate myself by using the "Don't break the chain" strategy. The strategy involves using a calendar to cross off each day when you accomplish your goal. After a few days, you have a chain of successes, and the idea is to keep up the habit so you don't break the chain. You can read how this approach helped Jerry Seinfeld's career here

When I meditate, I use the free version of the Insight Timer app to sound a chime at the beginning and end of my meditation time. The math geek in me loves graphs, so I really appreciate the app's graphs and charts representing meditation activity. The app also rewards you with "stars" for accomplishing certain milestones, such as meditating for ten consecutive days. So, instead of using a physical calendar for the "Don't break the chain" strategy, I used the app. Before April 2020, the longest meditation streak I had was ten days. That changed on April 27. I watched the chain grow to 20, 30, 40, 50 straight days, and beyond. I also gradually increased my time to 10, 12, and 15 minutes a day. Early this month, I revised my goal to 20 minutes per day. As of this morning, I've meditated 288 straight days--something I wouldn't have imagined possible a year ago. My goals is to hit 365 days!

Interestingly, this new habit did more than simply ease my stress. It also proved to me that I am capable of real habit change. I began to think about how I can create new habits in other areas of my life, especially my writing. In particular, I wanted to find a way to overcome distractions. Recently, I'd been struggling more and more with the urge to read email or check social media during my designated writing time. Then I read about the book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (Benbella Books) by Nir Eyal.

Becoming "Indistractable"
I learned of Eyal's book when I came across Gretchen Rubin's 2019 interview with him. In it, he says: 

Truly, distraction starts from within and it is our never ending search for an escape from psychological discomfort that is the root cause of distraction. We check Facebook because we’re lonely, email because we’re stressed, Google because we’re uncertain, and Instagram because we’re bored. We like to blame the technology, but these companies are powerless to change our habits if we don’t give them an emotional trigger to latch onto.  

If you subscribe to my Creativity Newsletter, these words may sound familiar, since I shared them in my December 2020 issue. But the idea that psychological discomfort causes distraction feels important enough to discuss here, too. The emotional triggers that distract me from my writing aren't typically loneliness or boredom. Instead, my discomfort is triggered by anxiety and self-doubt--the internal critic whispering in my ear that I'm not a good-enough writer or my idea isn't marketable enough. 

One strategy Eyal recommends for overcoming distraction is "time-boxing," something I've been doing for years, though I'd never heard of this term for it. I set aside specific time for writing, usually first thing in the morning. But I often found myself "taking a quick break" to check email or social media during that time, only to have that "quick" break stretch to an hour or more. So I decided to combine Eyal's time-boxing idea with the "Don't break the chain" strategy. I created a schedule for checking email and social media and committed to only doing it at those times. 

To track this chain, I'm using a physical calendar, marking off each day I stick with my goal. Below is a picture of my results through yesterday. (The box for Sunday, 1/24, looks odd because the same square also holds Sunday, 1/31.)

I'm again amazed at how motivating such a simple strategy has been for me. I've been able to sit and work for long stretches without distraction. And when I check email or social media during the designated time, I don't feel guilty about it!

The Strategy of Monitoring
I believe this success is tied to an idea I learned from Gretchen Rubin: The Strategy of Monitoring. (I've mentioned here before how I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's podcast and books.) One of my goals for 2021 is to write more poetry. To be more specific: my goal is to draft at least one new poem a week, and I'm keeping a record of my results. (So far, so good.) This week, I've drafted a found poem* from Rubin's blog post summarizing the Strategy of Monitoring:

            You Manage What You Measure
        To get more of something good
                   or less of something bad,
        figure out a concrete way
                   to measure and track it.
        By counting the things that count,
        you make sure
                                they’re part of your life.

Found poem by Carmela Martino taken from Gretchen Rubin blog post of April 22, 2013. 

In an interesting coincidence, just a few days ago, Rubin shared on Instagram the same picture she included in that blog post, which I've copied above. 

*To create the found poem, I applied these three rules to the text of the original blog post: Words could be subtracted, but not added. Words must be kept in their original order. Tenses, plurals, punctuation and capitalization could be changed as needed.

For more poetry, don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jan at Book Seed Studio.

Posted by Carmela


Janice Scully said...

Carmela, always a good idea to limit distractions that eat up writing time. This book does sound useful and I'm glad it's helped you. Social media and checking e-mail is a distraction that can eat up valuable time and is driven by emotions. It's important to understand that.

Bridget Magee said...

Fascinating post! Congrats on your meditation success - a beautiful byproduct of 2020. I've begun reading 'Atomic Habits' by James Clear. He mentions the idea of habit stacking,similar to the idea of "don't breaking the chain". I've used this technique for my German language acquisition using the Duolingo app - 653 days and counting! (I wish it meant I was more proficient than I am though. ;) Interesting insight about 'psychological discomfort causing distraction' - hadn't thought of it that way, but totally makes sense. Love your found poem - explains the monitoring strategy perfectly! :)

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Janice. I agree!
Bridget--I'm fascinated by the habit-formation. I'll have to check out Clear's book. Congrats on your TERRIFIC Duolingo streak!

Linda B said...

I enjoyed how you explained everything, Carmela, even the poem, which takes all the info & keeps what's really important. I just got a book that we sold at the used bookstore where I work (all volunteer) & put it on my kindle, hoping I too can change some of those "distraction habits". You certainly connected with me & my challenges all this past, pandemic, year. Thank you!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for stopping by, Linda. Yes, my social media quasi-addiction was due in large part to the pandemic, so I'm working hard to cure that. Good luck to you!

Carol Varsalona said...

I found your routines to be worthwhile and I even downloaded the Insight Timer. Now for evening relaxation and pauses from a loaded day. That app will surely come in handy Carmela. I do use my STEP app to track my walking so your poem makes so much sense.

Linda Mitchell said...

What a rich and wonderful post! I love the thoughts about distraction and time boxing. And, I really appreciate your description of how you fit each of these ideas into your life. You inspire.

Ruth said...

Great post! I have been using the "don't break the chain" strategy to incorporate birdwatching into my life. The app eBird keeps track of streaks, and I'm on day 145 today. It's satisfying and kind of like meditation in some ways!

Sarah H. said...

This was really an interesting and helpful post, Carmela—thank you! Eyal's book sounds good, too. I recently finished Tiny Habits by BJ Fog, and it had some good tips as well. Continued success on your unbroken chain!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Linda Mitchell. I'm so glad to know you found it inspiring.

Carmela Martino said...

Ruth, I agree about bird watching and meditation. I've downloaded the ebird app but haven't used it much. Thanks for letting me know about its tracking feature!

Carmela Martino said...

I hadn't heard of Tiny Habits. Thanks for sharing, Sara. Glad you found the post helpful.

Kay said...

Wow! Those are some impressive chains you've got going. Thanks for sharing your strategies. I've heard some interviews with Gretchen Rubin, but haven't had a chance to read her book yet. I think I need to move it up on my list and check out her podcast, too.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thanks, Carmela, for introducing me to SEVERAL new understandings of why I am distracted - and even better, how I can regain my focus.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks much, Kay. I hope you enjoy Gretchen Rubin's work.
Esther, so glad to be of service!

Tabatha said...

Great post, Carmela! Very useful. Thanks!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Very practical post ~ thank you! I use not only social media to distract from that ‘psychological discomfort,’ but food, my many animals; the one I use most is taking out the trash and recycling (that always makes me feel productive). I, too, use InsightTimer and love it.

It’s wonderful that Ruth uses eBird to track her many ways to keep us going! And it’s funny: my word for 2021 was Courageous, but just today I changed it to Focused. So many of us are in search of the calm, still place when we are focused, I think. I would never have pegged you as someone like me in that area. You DO inspire, Carmela!

Carmela Martino said...

Tabitha, glad to know you found the post helpful.
April, I've been guilty of distracting myself with food, too, but that's a habit I'm working to break this year. Another distraction I use: watching DVDs of TV mystery shows I get from the library. (We don't subscribe to any streaming services.) :-)

jan godown annino said...

Hi Carmela,
Lots of tips to save & share here. I feel accomplished about breaking habits (the undesirable) & also about creating habits (those that boost me) so it's a spot-on
pep talk. I'm so lucky to know you via Teaching Authors.
Jan/ Bookseedstudio