Do you want to know the secret to keeping New Year’s resolutions? Remove your online distractions. Anyone can do it in four simple steps. Let me show you how.
Step one is to reflect honestly on the current state of your life. This exercise will inspire the urgency you need to make important changes. What kind of person do you really want to be? What do you wish you were doing that you’re not doing now? Have you given up on cherished hopes and dreams? If you had only a year left to live, what would you spend your time doing?
Put your phone on airplane mode, grab a pencil and take some notes on each of these questions.
Step two is to make room for meaningful change by removing distractions. What are you immediately drawn to when you’re bored, tired or stressed out?
Social media, online shopping, binge-watching your favorite shows on Netflix or Hulu, playing video games, watching sports or devouring the latest political commentary — these are all mind-altering drugs that keep you pacified and distracted from achieving your dreams. They distort reality by giving you a shot of dopamine and a false sense of accomplishment.
Earlier this month, I went cold turkey on two of my biggest distractions: online news and televised sporting events. Several of my friends and family members have recently taken a 10-day break, or “fast,” from social media.
The key to removing these modern distractions is to make it more difficult to find them. Use built-in features of your favorite web browser to block news, shopping or video streaming websites. Temporarily disable or pause your Netflix account. Uninstall or disable apps on your phone. Turn off notifications and cancel subscriptions. Whatever method you decide to use, don’t rely entirely on your willpower to resist the lure of temptation. Use your device settings as a digital support system.
Step three is to commit yourself to a grand project that aligns with your personal calling in life.
Removing mind-numbing distractions creates a vacuum that needs to be filled by more worthwhile things. Write a book. Put your time and talents to work in a community organization. Make a plan for paying off your student loans within the next five years. Improve your health with a personal fitness program. Prepare yourself for a new vocation. Become fluent in another language.
Now, you might think you don’t have a personal calling. Maybe you don’t see any unique gifts or opportunities in your life that could serve as the basis for a glorious venture. If this is true, then take a step back and use your imagination. Whether you enjoy playing video games, binging on Netflix, shopping online or watching sports, you know how to imagine yourself as somebody else. So put your well-developed imagination to work on your own life. Reimagine your future self as a transformed, purpose-driven being: more courageous, more caring, more disciplined and more aware of your hidden talents.
In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.” If you’re facing a recent track record of failure, you may need to change direction a bit. But don’t ever give up on yourself. Make room for divine guidance, put your rationality to work and commit yourself to an ambitious calling.
Step four is to take small steps toward accomplishing your goals. Glorious triumphs are always achieved incrementally. You need a grand vision or project to motivate your small steps. But the key to success is to learn from your mistakes and celebrate progress, no matter how small. Small wins give you momentum, creating a snowball effect toward greatness.
A couple of years ago, as part of my desire to write and publish, I decided to start a blog. To improve my writing, I committed myself to just one blog post per month. At the end of the year, I could look back and celebrate 12 published posts.
While each post was just a small step, it gave me something to build on during the next month, something to learn from, something to refine.
Don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged by the ambitious nature of your project. Maintain the lofty vision of who you want to be and what you want to accomplish. But embrace progress in a way that scorns the all-or-nothing mindset.
In summary, here are the four steps: Take time to reflect on what’s missing in your life, remove your biggest distractions, commit yourself to a grand project, and celebrate small, imperfect steps toward your ultimate goals.
After a few distraction-free days or weeks, if you want to plug yourself back into the internet, you’ll be much more capable of balance. But you might just be too busy for some of your old diversions.
* This article was previously published as a guest opinion in the Deseret News on December 29, 2018.