In my previous blog, we discussed taking the smallest, sustainable steps when beginning to reclaim your life. This is all under the assumption that the dust has settled somewhat after a period of life upheaval. That said, it is of course possible to maintain a sense of stoic balance during these times — I only preface this by reminding you that if your depressions are still ongoing, your highest priority is to be gentle with yourself if (or more likely when) you slip off the horse of your goals.
Let’s begin the process of taking back your life — no matter if your trial is simply a period of laziness, or one of those life tragedies….
Step One: Taking Responsibility
Because of my previous experience in minimizing distractions I was able to maintain a relatively distraction-free life for a surprising amount of time during some of my lowest points (while allowing myself some unbridled Netflix time in the evenings).
So while I can give myself a pat on the back during that time, it all came crashing down at the beginning of the Trump child-detention camp news of summer ‘18.
I found myself increasingly fixated on the news (hypnotized?), finding different sources on YouTube, then eventually lightening the mood by watching the latest episodes from the nightly political comedy shows. Because YouTube is YouTube, I began slipping deeper into compulsive distractions like I had never before on the service — my “Watch Later” list growing faster and more addictive than I had time to watch.
So while these distractions were perhaps valid at first to take a much-needed break from the constant emotional waters I had been swimming in, eventually the bottom fell out and I was operating purely out of downward spiral (“setting sun”) habits.
While I was able to witness this process in real time, some people have never surfaced from this stage of distraction, having forgotten long ago what they were distracting themselves from.
Video games, porn, food… we all know the lists. I’m “guilty” of being, shall we say… a little too much of a socialite (I probably have said “Party Matt came way before Doctor Matt” a few too many times as an excuse…) And by definition this process has likely become unconscious to you… but I bet you might have an idea of the shadows of which I speak.
For a while I remained in a state of (deliberate) blissful ignorance of my truths (though, at this point, “functional depression” may be what I need to admit here). Eventually, I knew I would have to face the problem, and take responsibility — by any means necessary. We are adults, after all — and to me, the word adult is defined by “taking responsibility for your life and the consequences of your actions”. In my case, it was a matter of forcibly removing these distractions so all I had left was my creative work — I had to earn my distractions. Work first, play later. In the name of your inspired vision of life.
So again to stress, there are certainly times when distractions are therapeutic from the onslaught of endless emotions — it was all valid for a while for me to just spend my evenings watching Netflix instead of feeling.
The difference, and what this particular blog is about, is for those of us who have been stuck in a habitual pattern of distraction — our psychological/biological reward systems may be completely off-track, which is to say, being rewarded for “unhealthy” vs healthy, life-giving behaviours.
(I don’t want to get into semantics here — let’s just define ‘unhealthy’ as those wasted moments we end up regretting on our deathbeds.)
(… Yeah, I went there.)
As I mentioned in my first blog, I’m super prone to procrastination and scattered focus. The difference is that I have developed an ultra clear vision of how I want my day to day life to look — which is why I read & post about how to overcome/work with my obstacles and learn about my weaknesses. So while the learning never truly ends, I have learned enough. Now it’s time to integrate and act. I had been practicing distraction — and gotten very good at it. (Haven’t we all?) Now it was time to practice focus. I then had to admit that I couldn’t do it through my sheer willpower alone — these distractibility habits were too ingrained. So taking responsibility means knowing our weak spots, and holding ourselves accountable to them. And often that requires externalization.
In this regard, here are the tools I am currently using to take responsibility for this aspect of my life:
Tools I’m Currently Using:
(I receive no compensation for any of those recommendations, just sharing what works best for me after my own lengthy research [aka taking responsibility]).
(Yup, brackets in brackets with that one [he mumbled to himself.])
The trick with these apps is that they externalize the process of accountability. Like seeing a mentor or therapist. If you think “apps won’t work for me” then I challenge you — find something that monitors your progress, almost to the point of nagging. That’s the point of externalization. A calendar or personal journal may not cut it. How many well-intentioned ones have you abandoned already?
I choose apps because they add a layer of control from your higher self on your less healthy consumption habits (limiting app usage), or random check-in reminders throughout the day, like an addictions counsellor making sure you aren’t sneaking that “cookie.” I can expand much more here, but that’s another blog. The point is, do whatever it takes. And be honest with yourself. How can you trap yourself into self-exposure and ownership? These are what I call “Presence Traps”. The purpose is to make distractions inconvenient, this way we break the habitual impulsive cycle and allow a moment of presence to awaken.
As I set up these apps, especially FocusMe, I caught my shadow voice saying “Come on, do you really need to be that strict?”… To which I replied “Yes. Yes I do. How badly do I want my dream life?” So I named the profile just that: “How badly do you want it?”… That should shut up those voices. Enough is enough. What’s more important?
Feel like that wording may be too harsh? Sometimes this may be just what is needed. Other times, as I mentioned in the intro paragraph, we may be deep under our emotional waters. Wisdom is knowing when. When we need Yang medicine, and when we need Yin. This becomes very apparent when we have all these tools set up, and then — instead of being locked & settled into a state of creative workflow, we discover that behind these scattered distractions lies often powerful unresolved emotion we’ve been avoiding. No amount of “How badly do you want it” will help here, this will only serve as a self-guilt trip — we must kneel down to listen and tend instead. And sometimes, perhaps much more often than we’d like to admit, taking responsibility for our lives means admitting we simply cannot do it alone, and need help & support. We are a communal species, after all… Check back soon for steps 2 & 3.
I’ll be taking a deep dive into every aspect of this blog, in a number of future series, so keep subscribing to all my Inspired Living Community channels — the adventure has just begun. In the meantime, know that I offer one-off international Skype coaching sessions and mentoring programs if you’d like a walk-through on the ins & outs of anything discussed here (and I won’t try to upsell you). Mention this WordPress article and get $10 off your first session.