The past six months I got interested in minimalism. I cleaned out my room at my parents’, I got rid of a lot of clutter in my student house and brought the number of possessions way down. I am not the kind of person to count all my items and bring the number under the hundred or anything, but I like the lifestyle. Living a more meaningful life by focusing my attention on things what really matters works for me. Uncluttering, thinking twice before buying something and focusing on activities instead of stuff is helping me in becoming a better person.

There are a ton of resources when you are interested in minimalism, one of the best would be The Minimalists. Recently I got the book of Joshua Millburn Fields (the founder of the website), ‘a Day in the Life of a Minimalist.’

The book is very simple. Joshua describes in a bunch of essays how he changed from a 70 hour workweek to a more meaningful life with less. It reads easy and the insights are bountiful.

One of the most interesting things I came across was what Joshua called ‘the Twitch.’ The Twitch is the urge to check your smartphone/email/messages all the time, everywhere. When you are waiting at the counter at a store, when your friends leaves for the toilet and, yes, even at the urinal.

Reading this I could totally resonate. I have exactly the same problem, checking all the time if there are new messages, if there is any news. Yes, I even check it at the urinal as well. Seriously, is it that important? Probably not.

To elaborate a little bit more, here is my standard ‘check-schedule':

  1. Whatsapp/messages/email. Any important messages? Nope, let’s go on.
  2. Facebook/Reddit? Any interesting posts? Nope, still the same as 2 minutes ago.
  3. Twitter. So, any new interesting tweets? Ah, yeah. Well, not that interesting, let’s move on.
  4. Nu.nl (a Dutch news website). Today I busted myself checking out something about a reality tv star. I am doing bad with this smartphone thing.
  5. Bank account. Any updates on my finances? Well, no it is still the same as 5 minutes ago (and actually the same as 2 days ago..)

This is bad, seriously

Looking at my ‘check-schedule’ I know this is bad, of course. I want to break down the problem of the Twitch at two moments. First of all when you are working on something. We all know the importance of focus. The Pomodoro technique can help big time with this. Still, when you are not on a pomodoro schedule, checking your phone breaks your flow and breaks your concentration.

Studying is such a task. Studying requires focus, when you start studying you will need a couple of minutes to get into the flow and really get a grasp on the material you are trying to study. If the Twitch breaks you out of that concentration for every six minutes, you won’t really get any work done and you are not productive at all.

Another task like this is having a conversation. People are often disturbed by their phone while trying to engage in an actual face-to-face conversation. Really? You need to check whatsapp now? You really need to see if there are new Facebook posts?

Second the Twitch comes around on other moments. For instance, when you are bored while waiting. This can be at the checkout counter, or when you are walking somewhere or, well, if you are at the urinal. These moments were always reserved for meaningless thoughts. For daydreaming. For putting every piece of the puzzle together, to give all the input a place.

How to Stop Yourself Twitching

Twitching is a problem, last week I kept notice of when I am twitching and it is very often. Even more interesting is noticing when other people are twitching. Standing in a bar I checked and people are twitching a lot. Walking on the street, a lot of people are focused on their phone. Sitting in a library, almost everybody is on their phone.

Once we’ve accepted the problem it is time to change. Twitching is a habit and we can change habits. In this day and age it is not easy to stop twitching, but possible. The most effective solution, as Joshua did, is getting rid of your phone for a while. Not something I would do or even recommend, but an option.

I want to suggest something else. Pay attention to when you are twitching. There is no need yet to stop yourself or even track it, but notice the Twitch. Do this for a couple of days. Start paying attention to other people twitching as well.

Now, stop yourself. After a couple of days you can stop yourself from twitching. Begin with the moments where you are bored. Less twitching while working on something is of course important, but it gets frustrating if you are failing, so focus on what is easy. If you are stopping yourself when twitching while you are bored anyway it will be easier.

At the checkout counter? Look around, watch people. Walking somewhere? Focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Taking a piss? TRY TO AIM.

Keep on noticing and keep on stopping yourself. Habits are not formed overnight. You need to pay attention as much as possible and eventually you will find yourself twitching less.

It won’t be easy. The hardest part might be not being able to respond directly all the time. When people are accustomed to you responding within minutes all the time they need to change as well. You need to change their expectations.

Relieving yourself from the Twitch results in less clutter in your daily life and allows you to focus more on what is important. Your current task and even more important: your life.

Try it. Test it. Think about it. Will this work for you?

TL;DR the continuous urge to check your phone for new messages (the Twitch) is affecting both your productivity and your ability to daydream and make room for creativity. Start noticing when you are twitching, pay attention to it. Now stop it. Keep your phone in your pocket. Reap the benefits.

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