Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 1 Results

One week into my social media/news diet, here’s how it’s gone so far: pretty well, and a bit eye-opening…

pattys-lemon-pie-tgiving-16A lemon pie my sister Patricia made for Thanksgiving —
one-and-a-half of the seven pieces I had this past weekend…

A week ago, I resolved to do a holiday diet — not a food and drink diet, but a social media/news diet — for reasons I explained here.  The main elements of the diet plan were these:

– Keep a running, daily tally of each time I look at social media or news;
– Keep a tally of each time I have the urge to look but resist that impulse;
Try to limit my number of social media/news “meals” to three per day, and no snacking if I can help it.
Keep a list of the social media/news triggers I encounter along the way.

Here’s how it went for the first week — first, the tally of views and resisted urges:

T 11/22 = 9/12 (= 9 looks, 12 ‘resisted urges’)
W 11/23 = 6/11
Th 11/24 = 4/1
F 11/25 = 8/2
Sa 11/26 = 4/3
Su 11/27 = 3/8
M 11/28 = 3/7 (as of mid-afternoon)

I didn’t try to limit myself too much the first day because I wanted to get a sense of what my everyday baseline had become. And that was an eye opener — the urge to look at social media and/or news struck me almost two dozen times in one day!  That is one ingrained habit. The first day’s number may be inflated a bit by my son’s arrival back in the States after 4 1/2 months abroad (which of course I had to report on Facebook, right?).  But even so: the second day was 17 times (six indulged, 11 resisted).  Thursday was probably artificially low because it was Thanksgiving Day; after that, the instances ranged from 7-11 times per day — a distinct improvement, but still a lot if you ask me.  Except for Friday, I was able to keep my views down to three or four per day, so that’s encouraging.

So what’s triggering this behavior in me? The list of my triggers is long, varied, and sobering. Here’s the list from the first day which I posted previously:

– Seeing a blank “New Tab” open in my browser window.
– Transition to a new task on my computer. (Task doesn’t matter, whether it’s work or creative or something else.)
– Reaching for the “F” key (hint: “F” doesn’t stand for “Ford Motor Company” anymore!) when opening a new browser window.
— Taking a break from a task (e.g., writing).
– Needing a break from a task (e.g., writing).
– Internal dialogue, e.g., some imaginary conversation with someone whom I disagree with (on Facebook or elsewhere).
– Seeing that red dot with a number in it on an app icon on my iPhone

Here are more triggers I’ve found during the first week:
•    While walking toward my home office
•    While doing yoga (I use my smartphone as a timer, but there’s that red dot again…)
•    While checking email
•    While on a Meetup web page
•    After leaving another web page
•    Seeing the web page thumbnails when I open a new tab in my web browser
•    Getting out of bed/waking up
•    As a ‘take a break’ signal (similar to transitioning to a new task, but not the same)
•    After having completed a task

There were also a couple of others I noticed but forgot (for now) before I could record them.

What patterns do there seem to be? Here’s what I saw during this first week:

The computer is a major trigger source. No real surprise there, but: I had no idea there were so many triggers embedded into my computer usage habits — changing pages, checking email, stopping or ending a task while on the computer. Deeply, deeply embedded triggers. An infestation of triggers. Some of them are downright unnerving in how deeply they are embedded.
Being around people and having things to do away from the computer helped.
Not taking my smartphone with me everywhere helped. I allowed myself to rely on other people’s phones for things like time, information, and the like.
Removing myself from trigger sources reduced the demand, but it didn’t completely eliminate it.

Now that I’m back home working in my home office, it’s harder to avoid the triggers because I spend so much of my time on the computer mostly out of necessity. Previous good habits like taking breaks and getting away from the computer only worked with conscious effort, rather than just taking a quick look at social media/news first (which, as you know, all too often “quick” becomes 10 minutes, or 20, or a half-hour or more).

Here was the big takeaway: what did I do instead?

I used the triggers to start a new habit: language learning on Duolingo. I’d started using their phone app a year ago to brush up on my Spanish, but I’d stopped doing it. So, using my computer instead (a useful and necessary strategy since so many of my triggers were computer-induced), I resumed the Spanish lessons and started French lessons as well. Whenever I was on my computer and felt the urge to check social media or news, I did Duolingo lessons instead. It helped that my sister Patricia also got involved in a little friendly competition to catch up with me in French. (She’s studied French in the past, so it didn’t take her long to catch up.)

I ended up doing a lot of lessons — so many that I’m now at Duolingo’s level 8 in Spanish (36% “fluent”) and level 7 in French (22% “fluent”). No, it’s not the best way to learn a language. But it’s a good way to develop some helpful language skills that could be integrated with other language learning activities. And it’s a great way to break the social media/news habit — or at least it’s a promising way so far, after one week. Imagine if I did this for a month, or six months, or even longer:  surely I would make some noticeable, tangible progress. Well, that’s what I’m imagining — and I actually think it could work if I use the trigger power of my social media/news viewing habits to fuel this new habit. But how well will it really work? I’ll keep you posted.

Oh yes, and I ate a lot of pie — eight pieces overall in four days (1 1/2 pieces of lemon; 2 1/2 pieces of pumpkin; 3 pieces of apple; one piece of shoo-fly).  I had two pieces for dessert Thanksgiving dinner; I had pie for breakfast Friday morning; I had pie for lunch Saturday afternoon. I did not hold back on the pie, in other words. I gained a pound and a half, but I’ll do my best to work it off this week; there’s no pie in the house, and fond memories remain of my Thanksgiving indulgence — that should tide me over through a week at least. It was well worth it to help support this new habit I’ve gained and resolve to sustain — call it an early New Year’s resolution.

One other curious thing started happening: when I did check Facebook, it seemed even more toxic than ever. Lots of wonderful stuff there too, but so much junk. I saw a posting from someone who’d I always appreciated and admired which insulted me — not directly or even intentionally, but it was unmistakably insulting. It used a word intended as a pejorative which is a word I use to self-identify. So I hid her postings. I also began to wonder if some of the postings from even my most trusted FB posters were from trolls. At the very least, I felt the urge to track them down to see if they were. What is that about? It started getting me thinking if I should leave Facebook altogether. All this after just one week of my social media/news diet; can’t wait to see what Week 2 brings!…


What, A Holiday Diet?!?!? Yes, A Holiday Social Media/News Diet…

pecan-pie-613    no-social-media-icon-1116      nonews-icon-1116
[photo credits below]

Name a word that we use on Thanksgiving Day more than any other day of the year. Yes, it would be nice if that word were “giving” or “thankful” or even “thanks,” but let’s be real for a moment. I’m going with the word “stuffing” or “stuffed.”

There’s a reason for associating the word “stuffing” with Thanksgiving, and it’s not just what we put inside the turkey. I’m sure that we use the verb “stuffed” more often on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year, because that’s what we do to ourselves; it’s not just a widespread practice anymore — it’s tradition.

Thanksgiving is thus a good time to consider what else we’ve been stuffing ourselves with lately. Let me answer that for you (or at least a lot of you, myself included): you’ve been stuffing yourself with social media.  And with news from the media, both mainstream and the fringe.

Admit it: for you, the holiday ritual of stuffing yourself silly began several weeks ago, now didn’t it? Before and during and after the election, you stuffed yourself full of mainstream media articles and Facebook news and goodness knows what else. Maybe even some of that “alt-“ crap. Stuffed. Yourself. Silly. Now you remember why they call them “news feeds,” right?

So, so what? ’Tis the season after all, right? If we stuff ourselves with food, we might as well get into that holiday spirit by stuffing ourselves with information as well. Especially the kind that seems to feed us — feeds our beliefs, our righteousness, our outrage. Ah, it tastes so good I can’t stop! Yum yum yum yum (snort, snarf, slop…).

“Well, if you put it that way” — well yes, I do put it that way, because of this: Consuming way too much information will hurt you at least as much as consuming way too much food. Gluttony is not limited to food and drink, and it is called a “deadly” sin for a reason.  At least with food and drink, the loosened belt and bellyache and hangover will only last a short time; you can always go on a diet after the holidays, even after having an extra piece of pie or three. (Because who stops at two pieces? Well, I usually don’t.) That information you’ve been feeding your head stays around much longer — maybe not the specific content so much, but the reverberations of it, the endless electrical impulses and elevated hormone levels, the muscular tension held in your jaw and neck and shoulders and on downward, the pained look on your face that becomes chronic and then a hard freeze.

Maybe you like this way of being, but it’s not working for me. So I’m cutting down on my social media and news intake for the holidays — a lot. It’s not a social media/news “vacation” or “holiday” because I still plan to check in every now and then. More like a social media/news diet — maybe even two or three squares a day — so it’s not even an austere diet. But it’s not the social media/news glutton fest which I’d been feasting on either. Besides, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to go cold turkey (saving that for the day after Thanksgiving — heh heh). I simply want to curb my consumption to a healthy level, one that helps me maintain a sense of space and perspective instead of feeling perpetually stuffed in mind and spirit.

This is how I’m doing it:  I’m keeping a running, daily tally of each time I look at social media or news, and I’m keeping a tally of each time I have the urge to look but resist that impulse. No more than three social media/news “meals” per day, and no snacking if I can help it. (I’ll save that for the pies.)  Also — and this is important — I’m keeping a list of the social media/news triggers I identify along the way. Here’s what’s on my trigger list so far (and it’s only the first day!)

– Seeing a blank “New Tab” open in my browser window.
– Transition to a new task on my computer. (Task doesn’t matter, whether it’s work or creative or something else.)
– Reaching for the “F” key (hint: “F” doesn’t stand for “Ford Motor Company” anymore!) when opening a new browser window.
= Taking a break from a task (e.g., writing).
– Needing a break from a task (e.g., writing).
– Internal dialogue, e.g., some imaginary conversation with someone whom I disagree with (on Facebook or elsewhere).
– seeing that red dot with a number in it on an app icon on my iPhone

Not a pretty picture this is painting – a bit too much Pavlov going on, isn’t there? That’s why I’ve created this trigger list and am holding myself to it (as in holding it in my face): to show me just how ingrained the habits are and how deep I have to dig to get them out.

Yes, I know this goes against the grain of holiday festive feasting, but look at it this way: if you curb your social media/news intake and overindulge on the food and drink side, at least you can tell yourself truthfully that you did show some restraint during the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond. Just as long as you leave me that extra piece of pie….

Photo credits: Pie photo by John Sener; No Social Media icon from ; No News icon from

Election Reflections #1 – #6

An interplay of light, dark, and wind evokes reflections on our recent election…

While I was doing yoga this morning, the reflections on the wall in front of me caught my attention. Coming in through the window behind me, the interplay of light, dark, and wind mirrored for me the interplay of analogous forces in our recent presidential election, so I decided to pay more attention and to record some of it.

This first reflection captures patches of darkness blocking out the light and threatening to overrun it but never quite doing so, while small patches of light remain intact:

This second reflection felt more sinister: a tornado of darkness bisecting two areas of gray, keeping one gray area from the light and threatening at any moment to convert all of the gray to darkness:

This third one seems the darkest one of all at first: swirls of darkness envelop the gray areas and almost obliterate them; and yet a glimmer of light arises from the bottom and remains steadfast throughout the chaos. (This one is short only because my iPhone 4S ran out of storage after a few seconds)

Light on the left, dark on the right — but the interplay is more complicated than that. For this one, I experimented with changing the focus and observed how it changes how we see the light and dark. When I put the focus on the light, it became blindingly bright, making it impossible to see things clearly. When I put the focus on the dark, it became even darker, dimming the light and casting an ominous pall over the entire scene. Only when I put the focus on the boundary between light and dark was I able to see both sides more clearly. I also noted that whenever I changed focus, it took a little while for things to return to focus again.

When my yoga practice was over, I turned to looking at the window itself and was surprised to realize how clouded was the view. It had been quite some time since I’d cleaned this window, and the neglect clearly showed. From this perspective at least, the view outside was very hard to see.

I decided it was time for a cleaning, even as I wondered what windows inside my mind also need a similar treatment.

Election Reflection #5:


A little cleaning can go a long way. Not a perfect or thorough cleaning — I did not go outside on the ladder to clean the storm windows that were unreachable from the inside — but I did the best I could, and what a difference it made.

Election Reflections #6:


It’s fun to explore the analogical interpretations of these images, applying them to my election experience, framed in darkness as are all of these images. There’s always a danger in being too literal, but intuitively I know that it’s informing my efforts to move toward the light…

Coping with Election Grief: Some Thoughts from a Widower

You know the feeling I’m talking about. You forget for a little while, your day passes along, life begins to feel a little — dare I even use the word? No, I cannot. Because then the moment suddenly hits you again: that jolt, that sledgehammer blow, that sharp stinging stab to the pit of your stomach. That didn’t really happen, did it? Omigod, it did really happen.

The feeling can last for many days. That’s certainly how I’ll always remember November 9, 2015. That was the day after my neighbor and friend Matthew had called me to ask how I had coped with losing my wife when it happened 19 years before. He wanted to know because his wife, the love of his life for the past 30 years, had died that afternoon in a tragic accident. His words set off in me the first wave in a chain reaction of jolts — how could this possibly be? He and his wife Karen were legendary among their friends and acquaintances for the formidable array of recreational activities which they avidly pursued. Karen rode horses and aerial danced on silks and had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with her husband and a group of their friends just the year before. The two of them scuba dived and flew on trapezes; both of them were veteran, highly rated parasailers and hang-gliders. They pursued these activities with a verve and energy that seemed inexhaustible. How could this new reality possibly be real?

And of course, this sad news triggered memories of reverberations of my own experience of loss, the decades suddenly compressing into the present as I remembered the wave upon wave of shock and disbelief and lack of comprehension that would slam against me and then pass and then slam again.

So exactly one year later, November 9, 2016, the day after Election Day, was a grim anniversary for me with a cruel but familiar sense of deja vu — the momentary forgetting, the jolts back to this new reality with our new president-elect. (Even though I saw the collection of cars parked by Matthew’s house on election night which indicated that he was surrounded by friends to watch the results, I can’t even imagine how he got through that evening and the next day, and I haven’t had the heart to ask him yet.)

To this day I resist using the word “normal,” for there is nothing normal about such moments in time like this one. If you feel the same way, your reaction is natural, and that can be the glimmer of the beginning of finding a little comfort in our new plight.

Allow me to offer you a source of guidance: turn to your friends and acquaintances, but especially seek out those who have been widows and widowers for some time. We are practiced in handling this emotion. We are as shocked and appalled as you are, but we also have the added sensation of recognition — we have traveled through this territory before. Here are a few things I have learned from that experience which I am practicing now.

Life does goes on. There’s no getting around that. The late autumn days may be impossibly and insultingly beautiful, mocking your sense of loss with their reminder that some things haven’t changed. At the same time, don’t be fooled by the lure of “this too shall pass.” This will not pass in the sense of going back to what life was like before. Life will go on, but it will never be the same.

Life is short; grieve, but it’s time to get moving.   Some time after my wife Martha died, I read a book on grief by a widow whose husband (if I recall correctly) was a judge and a mystery writer and whose death tore her apart. She described how she would spend hours day after day doing nothing but feeling sad and falling apart. I understood her feelings, but her experience felt foreign to me since I did not have that luxury. I had my two-year son to take care of, and that kept me sane and busy. So give yourself time and space to grieve, but also get busy; there is no time to wallow in that mire.

Move toward the light. The revulsion, the temptations to flee or lash back or give up in despair are also natural. Know that they will recur as these waves continue to wash over you; accept that this is happening and feel them as part of the actions and reactions to the wave energy that is beating down upon you.

But in addition to accepting this natural reaction, resolve yourself to do something that may feel unnatural at this moment: move toward the light. In my case, this means resolving to spend much more time in nature, walk, write, create, and appreciate what I have, as well as supporting those people and organizations and causes and ideas that have evidenced to me that they are spreading light, focused on making the world a better place. Redouble your efforts — retriple and requaduple them if you can — to support the spreading of this light.

As you move toward the light, remember these crucial truths: light is defined by Otherness (that is, the dark), and it is not defined by belief or tribe. Seek to shine the light wherever it needs to go, including within yourself. Seek to expand your light by understanding others and why they chose what they did.  But don’t waste your time on trying to turn darkness into light. If the light you shine cannot penetrate through resistance to facts or insulting communication or hostility to your identity, turn your light away and shine it elsewhere where it can find more light. Keep a sharp eye out on those who seek to take your light from you if they can, but shine your light into those dark reaches every now and then to see if things have changed there.

At the same time, spend as little time as possible in the backwaters of your life.  For me, this means paying even more attention to what I consume: looking at much less mainstream media and TV; watching sports is out (except for soccer; that’ll take a longer time to work out of my system); rationing of Facebook and web surfing; and removing consumer products from my life produced by those who have expressed their active support of values in opposition to mine.

Well, one hell of a gauntlet has been thrown. This is serious now. So I’m off to an event being held by a friend who is putting into practice what I’m saying here.  Words are important, actions much more so. And remember that, if you’ve ever spent any time in the ocean bodysurfing or simply frolicking, you know something about how to handle waves. Don’t just stand there rigidly and let them knock you silly. Respect their power and respect your ability to respond to them, move within their power, even use them to propel your life in new, sometimes painful but sometimes joyful, unexpected ways.