Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Final Results

Weeks 5, 6:  Taking hold of a new habit…

duolingo-achievements-010317                                                  My Duolingo achievements as of today…

Two weeks ago, I decided to focus on doing what I could to enable my new social media/news consuming habits to take hold.  And take hold they did!  Here’s the tally of views and resisted urges for weeks 5 and 6:

Week 5:
T 12/20 = 2/2 (= 2 looks, 2 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/21 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1
Total: 19/13

Week 6:
T 12/27 = 2/2 (= 2 looks, 2 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/28 = 1/0
Th 12/29 = 0/2
F 12/30 = 1/2
Sa 12/31 = 0/2
Su 1/1 = 0/1
M 1/2 = 1/1
Total: 5/10

The Week 5 numbers dropped a little from Week 4, but they were very similar. The frequency of my habit in Weeks 4 and 5 could be labeled ‘meal mode,’ where I allow myself limited but more or less regular social media and news ‘meals’ each day.

Week 6 was a very different story. The main reason was that I decided to take a vacation from Facebook — no visits to Facebook since December 27th. Week 6 went beyond ‘meal mode’ (if I did this with meals, I would starve). It was more like giving up meat or sugar or some other major diet item, one that could be consumed sparingly or even not at all.

The result? I have to say, I didn’t miss FB that much. I don’t plan to give it up entirely (at least not for now), but I do plan to limit my future visits a lot, including at least a few days each week where I don’t visit at all.

The other big takeaway was that it’s time now for me to treat social media and news separately.  I lumped them together for this project for two reasons: one, they were both means for me to indulge in my worst habits of looking for news that fed my sense of outrage and righteous indignation; and two, I had allowed Facebook to become my primary source of news through its news feed feature.  Although I also looked at other sources, I had used the Facebook news feed feature first as a news source.  As a result, my social media and news habits had become joined.

Thanks to this project, I rediscovered how ‘Catching up with what’s happening in the larger world’ is different from ‘catching up with what’s happening with my FB friends.’ FB makes it convenient to do both at the same time — too easy to become too much of a compulsion. Using this project to reshape the frequency and purpose. As a result, my social media and news consumption have become different habits again. The easiest way to keep this is going is to stop using Facebook as a primary news source.  As a result, I am going to build my own news feed away from Facebook once I return to viewing news online on a more regular basis.

All in all, it feels like this new habit has taken hold. The urges are much less frequent, and I don’t feel any sense of loss. I’ll keep an eye out for slippage, but I’m going to declare this habit as officially reformed!

I also now have another new habit to maintain: language learning.  I’ve continue to practice on Duolingo every day, and my streak is now 42 days and counting. Just reached level 13 in Spanish (54% “fluent”) and am now at level 11 in French (46% “fluent”). I’ve amassed over 8,000 XPs (experience points) and have learned how to use timed practice to accelerate XP accumulation.

Not only that, I have a process now which I’m going to apply to reforming 10-12 habits in the new year (and yes, that is officially a New Year’s Resolution). Next habit on tap: email! I’m also going to see if I can reduce the formation time from six weeks to four weeks, and then maybe even less than that if I can. I’ll report on that once it’s underway…


Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 4 Results

Week 4: A healthy social media and news diet, or habit, or both?


                                   My Duolingo XP Results for Week 4…

Last week, I said I wanted to focus on consolidating my new habits and starting to write up a summary of what I’ve learned about changing this habit.  Here’s how Week 4 went:

The urge has stabilized as shown by my running tally of views and resisted urges:

T 12/13 = 3/4 (= 3 looks, 4 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/14 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1

The total number of views stayed about the same this week (21 vs. 23 last week) but the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped another 30 percent from 22 to 15. As a result, the total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped again to around five per day.

Weekend numbers were again good but not exceptional, because weekend days didn’t look that different from my weekday days, so I did not spend a lot of time during the weekend doing engaging activities which took me away from my computer and other devices.

The triggers are under control — Only one new trigger in Week 4, and I almost hesitate to call it that. I had an urge to check on a Facebook friend I hadn’t heard from for a while to see what was up (turned out that this person had deactivated their FB account for reasons I don’t know). To me, this is different from a reflexive trigger, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

I also found that the red dot message notification/counter on my iPhone Twitter icon was just as much a trigger as the one on my Facebook icon. That doesn’t seem like a new trigger to me, though, just the same one in a different place, so I’m not counting that one as a new trigger.

The biggest takeaway for me here is that my social media/news behavior is starting look like a food diet now, at least in terms of frequency. Being proactive and planning my consumption has made a big difference; I have learned to decide when I will look at social media or news. Urges have become thoughts now. I almost never access it now reflexively or thoughtlessly, and when I do, it’s been because of some useful purpose for which social media is secondary. For instance, I looked at Facebook once without thinking to access an FB Messenger conversation from a professional colleague about an article I’ll be writing.

For me, this highlights an important distinction between social media as addiction or time suck and social media as appliance. I had the same problem when I tried to enforce screen-free days a few years ago. It was difficult not because of some sort of media addiction, but because I relied on my phone’s other functions — watch, calendar, weather report, timer, alarm clock, et al. In other words, my phone is now an appliance, just like my refrigerator is, and I don’t try to have ‘refrigerator-free days’ where I turn the refrigerator off, so why should I turn off my phone and try to have a phone-free day? A total usage ban is silly; it makes a lot more sense to try to shape intelligent, thoughtful usage of appliances, including our smartphones, computers, and similar devices.  I suppose one could argue that I’m addicted to my refrigerator, for that matter to my water service or to reading. Highly dependent? Sure. But calling them addictions is stretching it.

Better, I think, to call them habits — “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” They’re hard to give up because we need them; we make them a “regular tendency or practice” because they are useful (e.g., the habit of using a refrigerator). There is an element of dependency which is worth acknowledging and maybe even playing with every now and then. But dependencies are not necessarily evils; they can involve being “influenced or determined by or subject to another“, but they can also refer to reliance and trust. So for me, I’ll call it both diet and habit.

What’s not working (yet)?

Since my social media/news holiday diet appears to be successful, it occurred to me to question myself for possible bias here. Am I painting too rosy a picture of my success? Am I deluding myself into thinking that I’m being more successful than I really am?  So I decided to consider the question, what’s not working (yet)?  Some thoughts:

Duration — I haven’t paid much attention to portion control, that is, how long I look at one time. This is not entirely bad; if I’m spending a lot of time doing healthy things, that’s like eating a lot of veggies to me, although I’m not sure that social media/news consumption has effective satiety triggers the way that filling up on veggies does.

Is three times a day every day too much?  What if the meal/diet metaphor really isn’t appropriate? What if it’s really a sign of habituated addiction?  I’ll consider this one over the next two weeks since the holiday season will give me more chances to look at social media/news less.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food diet is OK, not great. I stayed about the same as last week, and so I am still not close to where I was in August.

Language learning is doing fine.  I amassed 790 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week, much lower than last week, but I did practice every day and kept my streak going (now 27 days and counting!). Progress looks slow in terms of level and fluency score — still level 11 in Spanish (53% “fluent”) and level 9 in French (45% “fluent”), but scores on my progress tests indicate gains in both languages. (More details on this below for anyone who’s interested.)

New examples of (less) healthy social media/news choices? Not so much. It turns out that I made a pretty good list after all, and making that list longer wasn’t important to me this week. Same with examples of less healthy social media/news choices.

In addition, the holidays have now snuck up on me, so I’ll probably wait another two weeks before my next posting. By then, I’ll have a good sense of whether this habit has truly taken hold or whether I need to do something else to make that happen.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

More on my Duolingo language progress: I learned that Duolingo’s fluency score scale only goes up to 50-60% , which explains why my progress on that measure seems to be slowing down: I’m reaching the maximum possible. They also have an interesting proficiency scale rubric which is helpful but not that accurate in my opinion. For instance, it rates my 45% French proficiency as “intermediate,” but I can’t do most of the things listed on their rubric. I’d say that my French is still at the beginner to elementary stage. Duolingo also has progress tests which to me give more accurate reflections of proficiency.  I’ve taken the Spanish test twice (once three weeks ago, once this past week) and progressed from 4.21 to 4.84 out of 5 (again, keeping in mind that 50-60% fluency is the ceiling on this assessment).  I also took a French test this week and got a 2.01 out of 5 (which puts me at more like at 20% fluency, and that sounds more accurate to me).

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!…

Time to Retire an Old “Friend” (?)


Yesterday, I decided that it was time to retire one of my “beach shirts,” a short-sleeved, vertical striped button-down casual one.  I’ve had this shirt for at least 23 years; once it was a full-duty casual shirt, but eventually its main role became that of a reliable beach companion. In fact, I’ve taken it to the beach every time I go for over 20 years. I wore it at the beach just a month ago this past August.

It’s not really appropriate for social wear anymore. The collar frayed open a long, long time ago, and strings are continually popping out there and there all around the collar. Even so, the looks don’t bother me, and the frayed collar never rubs my neck or causes any discomfort, so it had remained quite suitable for “I don’t care what you think about how I look” wear on many occasions. What pushed the shirt into retirement territory was my discovering a couple of rips in the back of the shirt itself.  Maybe it’s an arbitrary line, but for me when the body of a shirt develops sizable rips, that’s means it’s become a rag.

At least that was my first impulse. But I got a few interesting suggestions after I posted a picture of the shirt on Facebook. One suggestion was to duct tape it back together. I appreciate the sentiment behind that suggestion, but I don’t need to hold onto the shirt that much. It wouldn’t feel the same (either physically and emotionally) with duct tape on it, and it would need a lot of duct tape, especially after I ripped one of the tears all the way down to the bottom of the shirt. I have other old beach shirts, and I’ve had this one such a long time that I am ready to let its beach shirt days to be over.

Another suggestion was to turn it into napkins. An intriguing idea… sounds like a lot of work though… but I decided at least to look it up on Google. It turns out that everyone from the Happy Housewife to greenworlders to Martha Stewart has instructions for how to do this (the search on the words ‘how to turn an old shirt into a napkin’ produced over 1.13 million results). However, it takes a sewing machine, which I don’t have. Still, I’ll keep the shirt at the top of the rag pile and try to remember not to use it as a rag, in case I get the ambition to borrow a machine and undertake a sewing project after all.

A third suggestion was that there was a short story in that shirt. This suggestion is the easiest for me to do, so here goes.

I’ll start with a small confession of sorts: a particular story about this shirt did not come to mind. This is not the case with some of the other beach shirts I own. There’s the one with horizontal orange and white stripes which I’ve also had forever (i.e., ~25 years or so) that has a small rip in it which I made not long after I got the shirt; it also has a couple of grease stains on it from my bicycle chain; the stains have faded but are still visible decades later.  There was a time when I considered it to be a relatively nice shirt, and I remember being mad at the time for being careless because the shirt was relatively new then but already had a rip and stains on it. Now, those are merely marks of character.


Then there are the two button-down shirts of similar vintage — one blue, one sea green — which I got at a thrift store in Pennsylvania for $4 each. I actually bought four of them at the time; one was peach-colored, the other one I don’t remember now, but those are gone. I remember being proud of having gotten such a bargain then; talk about being a bargain now (at about 15 cents per shirt per year)!

I couldn’t think of a similar story behind this striped shirt, so I cheated a little bit; I got out some old photo albums to see if I had any pictures of me wearing the shirt in the past. Sure enough, second album, first page I opened, I found a this picture of me holding my son Chris as a baby — not sure where, but it’s from September ’94. (Note how the collar was still in fine shape then.)


Finding this pic so quickly fooled me into thinking that I would easily find other pictures me with wearing this shirt, but that was not the case. Looking through albums and boxes of pictures, I encountered lots of other shirts along the way, some forgotten but now fondly remembered for a moment. There were also pictures of me wearing other shirts I still have, including the blue and sea green and peach $4 shirts at the beach and elsewhere. Surprisingly, I discovered pictures that showed I was wearing the orange and white striped shirt on the day Chris was born. (Well, it was mighty hot that day, but still: nice enough at the time for ‘expectant father at hospital’ wear, apparently…)

Eventually, I came to realize that it didn’t matter. I could make up my own stories about my shirt, even if they weren’t specific or even accurate. Walks along the ocean strolling past crowds of beachgoers or in solitude. Casual meals at outdoor cafes in the city on mild summer evenings. The mild but welcome surge of excitement as the act of packing this shirt in a suitcase signified the onset of another vacation. This shirt and I have been through a lot, good times and bad times, and it’s not too much to say that we’ve become friends of a sort after all these years. Clothes like these make it easy to tell stories about them and to understand how we form attachments to our things. Even so, it’s a friend of a different sort — one I can, if a bit reluctantly and sadly, throw away. Or perhaps repurpose — because maybe this is one of those things that deserves a better fate…