5 Reasons Why I Left Social Media (and 4 Things to Consider)

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My jar ain’t big enough. 

There’s a classic story told by Stephen Covey in his book First Things First entitled “The Big Rocks of Life.” In this story, a person speaking to a class of business students uses a gallon-sized jar to symbolize their schedule. He also uses various items to represent time on their calendar.

  • He first placed several fist-sized rocks in the jar till they reached the lip. He asked the class if the jar was full, to which they said yes. 
  • He then dumped in as much gravel as he could into the jar, shaking the jar, causing the gravel to fill the space between the rocks. He asked them again if it was full, to which they replied yes. 
  • He then poured in as much sand as he could into the jar — again, shaking it until it settled around the rocks. He asked the class if it was full. They said yes. 
  • He then poured as much water as he could into the jar. He didn’t even have to shake the jar to get it to settle. This time he agreed that it was, in fact, full. 

He asked if anyone understood the point of this illustration. 

“…no matter how full your schedule is,” one student shouted from the back, “if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!” 

“‘No,’ the speaker replied, ‘that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”’

As a husband, family man, employee, and just a human being in need of routine maintenance, I’ve come to realize that my jar is only so big. The more I’ve tried to cram into it, the more my big rocks have remained teetering above the lip—if not rolling out and landing on my foot with a thud. 

It’s for this reason that I was forced to take careful note of how I spent my time and compare that to how I wanted to spend it — as well as optimizing my own mental and emotional bandwidth.

Upon analyzing how I not only spent my time but also my mental energy, the total impact of social media seemed to clog up inordinate amounts of my attention and energy. Discovering this was akin to finding a minimized web browser loaded to the hilt with active tabs. 

So, what did I do? Over the past 2 years, I closed those mental tabs. I started by shutting down my personal Facebook account, then Instagram, and just a few weeks back — Twitter.

The following are a number of reasons why I quit using 98% of the social media platforms I had previously utilized, how I feel now, and four items to consider for those contemplating making the leap from the social media train.

Reason #1. I’m no match for the machine.

“Why do you make such a big deal out of social media? Why can’t you just treat it like a nice little escape and stash it the rest of the time?” 

Man, I wish I were one of those social media users who could just take a peek every Sunday afternoon for 10 minutes and then stow it away — not just physically but also mentally. But I’m not. 

I’m not sure why but whenever I use social media, my mind gives it permission to run in the background like a memory-hungry computer application. I find myself thinking about it and checking it as though I’d invested my life savings on a single tumultuous stock.

“I wonder if anyone has interacted with my post.”

“I wonder what so-and-so said about xyz.”

“I’m bored but I know where to get a dopamine bump…”

“Why did I automatically type in ‘twitter.com’ once I opened that web browser?” 

And was I ever fulfilled in my checking? Hmm…not really. 

Anytime I took the plunge down any feed, it felt like opening my own refrigerator in hopes that someone else had stocked it with ice-cold Hefeweizen and disembodied thumbs up. Ok, that last part sounded a little weird

I’m a simple dude. I’m no match for Silicon Valley’s algorithm-driven “advertainment” spoon perched atop the cigarette lighter of my own insecurities. As long as I’m logged on, they got me.

Reason #2. Acquaintances don’t matter. Like, at all. 

Some relationships are worthy of your attention and they should be preserved at all cost. Others should be allowed to wither, die, and decompose in order to nurture new and existing relationships.

If you asked me 15 years ago to describe my present self, such a reckless shot in the dark would have been investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. While many aspects of my personality and interests have remained consistent over the years, much about me has also changed. And with these changes comes a shift in those who matter most to me. 

While I have preserved many important relationships and even fostered new ones, I likely could not tell you which members of my graduating class from high school are still capable of fogging a mirror. 

And if that sounds harsh, it’s really not. Why? Well, the reality is that those people don’t matter. To me — I mean. They don’t matter to me. My daily life. And they don’t have to. Why? Because I probably don’t matter to them. And that’s fine. 

According to acclaimed anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the cognitive limit of the human brain to adequately maintain social relationships is about up to 150 people. Called “Dunbar’s Number,” 150 relationships is where we, as a species, max out — or as he put it, “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”

I’m not precisely sure why, but learning about Dunbar’s Number brought me immense comfort — as though someone relieved a pressure valve so as to say, “no, you’re not crazy. You’re just not built for this.”

In addition to not being able to maintain healthy relationships with so many people, I always feel my own sense of self begin to erode when held up to the scrutiny of the masses rather than how I perceive myself. I found myself attempting to impress people far outside my 150 relationships. Even worse, I was failing to impress the only person worthy of impressing — me. 

Over the years, I found that social media kept me beholden to a particular group of people — most of whom were acquaintances, lapsed friendships, or distant relatives. Though I initially tried to fashion the online version of myself to be consistent with reality, the continued preservation of that antiquated version of me started to hold me back from progressing into my perpetually changing, authentic self. Even worse, this avatar I constructed had deviated so much from whom I wanted to be now that I grew to question my own identity. 

Does my Instagram or Twitter self symbolize who I am or vice versa? Do I even know who I am anymore? 

The more I would strive to construct a social media manifestation of myself, the less I felt I knew about who I was. I feel that this was partially because I was aiming to impress or at least preserve a consistent image for those who matter very little to me now. Social media kept me believing that, like a company, I was a brand. But I am not a brand. I am a living organism — terms and conditions subject to change, some restrictions apply. See me for details.

Reason #3. Half-baked thoughts don’t need a venue

When I left Twitter, I saved all of my tweets. Looking back at them is, well, embarrassing. While I stand by much of the things I said, there are several examples of instances where posting a half-baked thought was likely not warranted. 

Why do we feel ok about saying things on our social media feeds that we would never utter in public? Social media accounts are virtual jumbotrons, yet little responsibility or consideration is made for quality assurance. We belch randomness into a box that then clogs the minds of anyone unfortunate to have it illuminate their face. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m going to continue belching my nonsense into blog articles, essays, and even books for the rest of my life — but I’ll at least give you, the audience, the decency of mulling the contents over before hitting the “publish” button. 

Reason #4. Having my impulses continually prodded was exhausting. 

Now that I’ve covered how the social media version of myself was likely a confused, exaggerated, and vain attempt at presenting an interesting fellow to the world, the following statement is likely not very controversial — most information acquired via social media is…well, off

To keep people scrolling, the competition for eyeballs is fierce. The more outrageous the content, the more irresistible it is to consume. To maximize engagement, content creators frequently tap into our base impulses — fear, anxiety, outrage, sex, excitement, inclusion, insecurity — generally speaking, FOMO —  the fear of missing out

Reason #5. I discovered that I really don’t want to be famous. 

I don’t know if I’m just getting older but the idea of becoming famous sounds 10,000% more terrible than it used to than when I was younger. 

I used to imagine that being well known for something would make me feel more whole — that the idea of being recognized for a talent or accomplishment would be a delightful sensation. As a writer and a musician, attaining notoriety just seemed like something I should seek…right?

Then, something happened: I received acclaim from people I did not know…and I did not know how to handle it. 

In that moment, I discovered that I’m really not good at receiving praise or compliments. When I receive a glowing review, I experience sensations of what some call “imposter syndrome” — doubting that I am deserving of whatever praise is being showered upon me. I clam up and feel like saying, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy.” 

Imagine that you’ve been told you’ve definitely just won a Nobel Prize, but that your entire acceptance speech was just you murmuring, “I’m almost certain this is intended for someone with my same name. Have you confirmed our birth dates, social security numbers, fingerprints, and dental records?” 

A big reason why I was so active on social media before was the vain pursuit of some form of notoriety for a creative thought or idea. The moment I received a bit of it, my pupils dilated like a fugitive caught in a searchlight, and I dove into the safe embrace of obscurity. 

So, why do I still make art? Why do I write, record, or publish? Why do I make stuff? Well, mostly because I enjoy every step of the craft — of the process of sculpting an idea into a consumable piece for someone to enjoy. But when it comes to impressing anyone, the only person I work to impress these days is myself. 

And though I still scurry from the limelight, I am still filled with immense warmth whenever I discover that anything I’ve done or created has genuinely helped another person. The difference between this sensation and fame-seeking is that the created thing did the heavy lifting, not so much me as a person. In fact, the piece of my writing of which I am proudest — one that was published in a highly syndicated publication and that I’ve heard has touched many people deeply — was published anonymously. And I love that — it’s my little secret with anyone who has ever read it. And you’re just going to have to hope you come across it one day.

A Few Things to Consider Upon Leaving Social Media 

If you, like I was, are feeling overwhelmed by the size, speed, and recklessness of social media and feel like leaping off of this runaway train, there are a few new concepts to consider. 

A. You need to have replacement activity ready to go. 

For most social media users, scrolling timelines and newsfeeds is not something one blocks off an afternoon to accomplish. This activity is typically the sand and water in your metaphorical jar of time — slipping between the spaces in other activities. 

Because of this, if you disconnect yourself from social media access, you may feel a twitch — sometimes an actual physical sensation — to reach for your phone’s social media applications or to navigate to a particular website to bridge activities. Standing in line at the store, sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room, or waiting for leftovers to heat up — these are all twitch-inducers. For this reason, it’s important to look at how you will replace social media even before you ever do. 

My favorite social media replacements include: 

  • Reading books — digital or physical. My favorite device these days is my Kindle Paperwhite. It is a blissful escape from my phone or computer. It’s waterproof, contains my entire digital library, can receive articles I’ve previously sent to it, and has a battery that lasts for weeks on end. When I’m out and about, I can pick up reading a book or article right where I left off with the Kindle app. Also, did you know you can connect your Kindle account to your public library account and check out books digitally? And of course, there are always, you know, physical books as well. 
  • Journaling. Think of journaling like updating your social media feeds without ever hitting the “publish” button. It’s actually even better because you can also say everything you’d never say to your “friends” and followers. And with a digital journal, this feels damn-near like social media. Personally, I prefer an app-based service called Daybook that I can write to from my phone or computer, but any password-protected note-taking app will more than suffice.
  • Educational apps. Right now, I’m trying to learning Spanish with Duolingo so I can better communicate with my Hispanic neighbors. Mi objetivo es cambiar cervezas por lecciones de español … y amistad.
  • Arranging physical hangouts with friends. Increased vaccinations mean we no longer have any excuse not to hang out. If you have time to scroll a timeline or update a profile, you have time to arrange an in-person hangout — no phones allowed…unless you’re showing each other pictures of babies, dogs, or cats.
  • My favorite — consciously doing nothing. When was the last time you had a few minutes to kill and you didn’t fill them with anything? The next time you feel the twitch of boredom approaching, just place your hands in your lap and do nothing. Maybe close your eyes and feel your breath enter and exit your nostrils. Think about the wonderful people in your life. Daydream about an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Listen to the birds or watch the way sunlight reflects off leaves. Simply observe the present moment. It’s just about the most underrated activity. 

B. You’re going to be seen as a weirdo. 

Are you going to miss out on some stuff by leaving social media? Eh, that depends. While you may miss out on a joke here and there or some breaking news as it unfolds, if there’s something you were meant to see or know, you will eventually. I personally found, though I did miss out on all kinds of information about aquaintances, news that mattered about people that matter to me eventually trickled into my orbit. I’ve yet to miss a substantial event or bit of news due to my absence from social media platforms. 

“Oh, I forgot — you’re not on social media” is something I hear on a regular basis whenever news of friends is discussed, but guess what? It’s discussed in person eventually — only I get to hear it in person for the first time rather than chew on a regurgitated version of it like everyone else who is living through the reruns. This leads to the next item…

C. You’ll find that in-person conversation is night-and-day better. 

One of the areas of my life that has improved immensely since leaving social media is one you wouldn’t imagine — socializing. Why? Because as briefly mentioned before — regurgitating timelines in person is about as agonizing as discussing the weather. 

“Hey, I saw that picture of your kid that you posted. He’s getting big.” 

“He sure is. Hey, I’m glad to see that your mom is doing better.” 

“Thanks, she’s just had — ”

“ — hip surgery. Yeah, I saw that. You know, I’m going in for —”

“ — knee surgery, yeah, I saw that you posted about that. Let me know if you’ll be well enough to go to that —”

“—weekend street fair? Yeah, I saw that you discussed wanting to get a group of friends together to go to that. I know that Rick can’t go because he’s —”

“—moving to Canada. You saw that post, too? Sheesh, I mean, it’s cool that he scored that new—”

“—job with the solar panel technology firm. You saw post that, too?” 

If you’ve had a conversation with a friend who is also in your social media sphere, you know that this conversation isn’t that exaggerated, but is as equally soul-crushing.  

D. You’re going to feel great no longer being a product. 

Social media would have us all believe that we’re their target demographic. We’re not — or else they’d call us “members.” What do they call us? Users. Social media is not designed to connect long-lost friends, help maintain relationships or people explore new interests. It is a funnel used by advertisers to bypass our gag reflex. It uses psychological manipulation at every turn to get you to scroll, to react, to doubt yourself, and to believe that you need to buy more stuff. It’s not an accident that your timeline is referred to as your “feed.”

Believe it or not, there are ways to be just as informed and connected as those on social media — become a member instead of a user. Seek out products and services not funded by advertisers. While this means that you may have to start paying for certain things, you’ll find that paid memberships lack much of the addictiveness and psychological manipulation of ad-driven content. Because of this, you’ll also find that once you become a member and begin paying for services you once received for free, you’ll likely spend less because your experiences are much less controlled by advertisers. 

My challenge to you is not to terminate all of your social media accounts, but simply to gauge your dependence on them and how they actually make you feel. Maybe it’s time for a break…before you break.


Your Clothing Code: A Guide to Owning Only Your Favorite Clothes

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“I don’t own a lot of clothes now, but all the clothes I do own are my favorite clothes.”

-Joshua Fields Milburn, The Minimalists

This piece is not necessarily about Minimalism, but about simplifying one area of life that most of us think we don’t think about while subconsciously obsessing over and spending too much time and money—clothes

“I don’t have anything to wear.” 

How many times have you peered into your closet—possibly at a metal rod as long as your height, completely covered in clothes…and don’t feel like wearing any of them? 

Wouldn’t it be nice if every single item in your closet was your favorite version of that thing? Just imagine—no more settling for your second, third, fourth, or even fifth favorite version of that item of clothing.

This is totally possible. How? By creating your clothing code. 

In this piece, we’re going to examine 

(a) what the heck is a clothing code

(b) why you should have one

(c) what it should contain

(d) how to make your own, 

and as a bonus, I’ll show you my own clothing code. 

So, let’s get started. 

What is a clothing code? 

A clothing code (more specifically, your clothing code) is a personal guide to only possessing and obtaining clothing items that most consistently conform to your personal preferences and needs. Your clothing code is your personal best practices guide to increasing the likelihood of only wearing your favorite clothes every single day.

Why is a clothing code necessary?

Life is too short to wear anything other than your favorite clothes. Your clothing code is designed to guard your time, money, preferences, closet space, and, yes, your mental health. All items in your wardrobe should abide by your clothing code’s specifications to ensure the highest quality of life possible. Your clothing code is designed to eliminate those “I have nothing to wear” moments and provide a clear guide regarding what item or outfit suits which situations.  

How to Create Your Clothing Code

Determining Your Criteria

To create your clothing code, you must possess a clear understanding of your clothing preferences and needs. To do this, you must carefully analyze your existing favorite clothing items—not to determine which you prefer, but why. Doing so is incredibly simple.

Step 1: Go to your closet, dresser, wardrobe, etc. 

Step 2: Find your very favorite single items of clothing for each seasonal weather condition by temperature (in Fahrenheit, that’s 0-to-30s, the 40s-60s, 70s-90s, etc.) and application (indoor work, outdoor work, casual, dress-casual, formal, exercise, outdoor leisure, etc.). 

Step 3: Write down each item, leaving about a paragraph’s worth of space beneath each item in your physical or digital document. 

Step 4: Document in detail what physical qualities you like the most about these items —things like cut, texture, weight, flexibility, color, style, comfort, etc. 

With this list, you now possess the start of your own personal clothing code. This code will help you to maintain and obtain clothing items that will only be your favorite. 

How to Flesh Out Your Code

Even more than listing out what clothes you should possess or obtain, your clothing code should state which of your favorite qualities each should have and which qualities would be deal-breakers. Specify fabric types, design cuts, social setting applications, or even environmental sustainability. 

A clothing code is not a uniform shopping list for your personal army, but rather your path to only owning clothing that fits your body but also your character. Because tastes change, only mention specifications of the items, not the items themselves. 

Must-Have/Be & Cannot Have/Be

Per each style of item, provide must-haves and cannot-haves. If you’re tired of buttons coming loose from pants, perhaps your pants must have rivet buttons. If you’re an advocate for animal welfare, perhaps items cannot incorporate genuine leathers. If you’re tired of uncomfortable shoes, perhaps all shoes must be of a certain comfort level. All of these criteria should abide by what you like most and least about clothing items. 

Conditions of Replacement, Updating, or Duplicates

Within your clothing code, decide upon and document the conditions for which an item may be replaced, updated, or duplicates are justified. 

  • A hole in the knee or toe of a more formal pair of pants or shoes may necessitate a replacement version. A similar hole may be perfectly tolerable or mendable in a more casual or utilitarian piece of clothing. 
  • Before buying an upgraded version, carefully assess your present version of said item’s function and if this adequately meets your current needs.
  • Before purchasing additional versions of a favorite item, consider how many (if any) duplicate versions are necessary and when. Ten pairs of an undergarment may be justified, but four jackets of the same warmth or protection level may not be.  

Setting these criteria will ensure that you’re not prematurely buying unnecessary replacements, upgrades, or duplicates of still usable items. 

Where to Keep Your Clothing Code

Even if you choose to physically write down your clothing code, it’s not a bad idea to also create a digital, amendable version of it somewhere that is very accessible. Consider keeping your clothing code within a note-taking application on your mobile device for ease of reference. Resist the urge to make any amendments to your clothing code that may adversely impact your willingness to don an item. After all, this code is meant to keep all of your clothes your favorites. 

How to Apply Your Clothing Code

Once you’ve formulated your clothing code, the easiest place to apply it is within your own closet. Pull everything out and pile it on your bed or a clean space on the floor. Armed with your clothing code, take each item in hand and assess if it meets the code. If it doesn’t, this likely means your willingness to wear this item has waned or will wane in the future, making it safe to discard most appropriately. 

How to Handle Clothing Discard Remorse

Getting rid of items that do not meet your personal criteria can be difficult. You may be holding onto certain items simply out of nostalgia, sentimentality, or because it reminds you of a goal you once had (i.e., clothes you hoped to fit into one day). It can feel like a waste to get rid of perfectly good clothes. There are, however, a few ways to manage such emotions. 

  • Thought 1. Try to recall the last time you wore this item. It was likely quite a while ago, or else it would have met the criteria of your clothing code. 
  • Thought 2. Consider the people who would enthusiastically don the item the very next day. It would serve them more than this item has likely served you.
  • Thought 3. Remember that this item is probably diluting your wardrobe and keeping you that much further away from only possessing your very favorite clothes.
  • Thought 4. Discarding gifts can be fraught with emotional hardship. However, remember that discarding or donating a gift does not mean you do not value the thought process and effort behind the giver’s intent. Simply treat the gift with the same emotion as though you were given the wrong size. If the item does not meet your clothing code’s criteria, it isn’t the right “size” for you in other ways but does not subtract from the giver’s generosity. 

Isn’t this a little obsessive? 

Some of you may be thinking that the idea of constructing a clothing code may be a little weird or too detail-oriented. In all honesty, it’s not very common and downright bizarre. However, I feel it is quite necessary. Why? Because I only want to possess my very favorite clothing items. This seems simple enough, but because I live in the United States — a country whose fashion industry spends over $20 billion a year on advertising apparel to us, most of which none of us need or end up liking in the long run — I feel that guarding my attention while preserving my closet is important. And if that means spending 20-30 minutes putting together a clothing code in order to do that, I feel like that is a small price to pay.  

Bonus: My Own Clothing Code

The following is my own clothing code. It is not to be duplicated unless, for some odd reason, you were tasked with portraying my appearance at a costume party or something as equally bizarre. 

Ken Lane’s Clothing Code

Overview

For the gist of my clothing code, the majority of my clothes fit the following attributes: 

  • Practical: All clothing items must be of practical use that can suit a very wide variety of social, formal, and weather implications. 
  • Timeless: All clothing items must, for the most part, not reflect time-sensitive fashions. The designs of the shirts, pants, shoes, hats, and the like should aim to exist in virtually every decade and, at the same time, no decade.
  • Comfortable: Most every item of clothing should remain on a level of comfort deemed “nappable” — that is, capable of achieving comfortable sleep without having to remove any item, outside of temperature variation. This means that they should allow for a full range of motion, ventilation, and be of a texture that is soft to the touch. This commonly means a preference for bamboo or cotton fibers. Also, no item of clothing should constrain the body, such as overly tight items or belts. Suspenders should always be substituted for belts for this reason.
  • Sturdy: Button-down shirts and pants should favor an industrial or outdoors level of sturdiness. This means a preference for work shirts/pants or outdoors shirts/pants over dress shirts/pants while maintaining comfort. 
  • Vegan: Though not a vegan in my diet, I do not believe any animal should be harmed for my clothing or accessories — especially not when polyurethane (PU) leather has become on par with genuine leather in terms of quality and realism
  • Replaceable: The model/product numbers of preferred clothing items should be saved on a log sheet so that replacement versions can be ordered in the event of unmendable wear
  • Exceptions to all the above

Formalwear is the sole exception to clothing code policies in the rest of this document. Formalwear allows for various levels of discomfort but is typically allocated to one black suit or any required formal clothing  (i.e. tuxedo, etc.)

Pants

  • No jeans
  • Work pants or lightweight straight-leg twill pants 
  • Must have steel clasps or rivet buttons
  • Belt loops should be positioned at around 2, 5, 7, and 10 o’clock to support suspender clasps 
  • Black or grey in color
  • Held up by belt-loop-hooking X-style suspenders

Shirts

  • Darker long-sleeve button-down workshirt for cooler climates
  • Vented lightweight and light-colored hiking/fishing shirt for warmer climates
  • T-shirts —preferably soft with few to no graphics
  • Dress shirts — Standard dress shirts with soft, wrinkle-resistant material, white, off-white, or grey

Shoes

  • With the exception of inclement weather boots, all shoes must be barefoot-style in construction (zero-drop heel, wide toe box, no cushioning, rollable sole)
  • One pair for formal and dress-casual occasions (black vegan leather)
  • One pair for leisure and exercise (no color constraints)
  • Older retired exercise pair for yard work
  • One pair for aquatic activities
  • House slippers and sandals optional

Formalwear

  • For weddings, funerals, religious services, and job interviews, you have one black suit, belt, white shirt, and black tie
  • Will eventually incorporate suspenders into suit pants

Undergarments

  • All undergarments must be majority bamboo fiber
  • Black or dark color

Headwear

  • Daily-use casual hats should be correctly sized and of a timeless fashion — preferably a canvas button-top gatsby cap
  • Exercise or outdoor caps should follow their specific function (shade, breathability, warmth, etc.)

Coats & Jackets

  • Large coat for extended periods in freezing temperatures
  • Insulated jacket for temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)
  • Uninsulated jacket for temperatures from the 40s to low 60s (F) 
  • 2-3 hooded sweatshirts for outdoor exercises in temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)

Exercise wear

  • 4 polyester, moisture-wicking t-shirts (no color specifications)
  • 4 pairs of athletic shorts

Conditions for Replacing, Upgrading, or Duplicates

  • Of all damaged, worn, or stained pants or shirts, the best two may be kept for messier work or lengthy outdoor activities — all others damaged outerwear is to be discarded
  • Athletic/leisure shoes may only be replaced when the intended function is compromised
  • Any damaged or visually worn formalwear that cannot be mended may be replaced
  • Upgrades are only justified when multiple replacements have failed or worn in specific places fortified within upgraded versions (i.e. for work pants that wear in a specific pocket, an upgraded model may be sought)
  • Approved duplications to maintain wardrobe: 6 pairs of pants, 6 longsleeved shirts, 6 t-shirts, 10 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of socks — only to be replaced upon unmendable wear

A Great Little Life

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The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.

“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh. 

“I know. I like it.” 

“And a great little family.” 

“I like them, too.” 

After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street. 

“You seem to just have a great little life.” 

“I like to think so.” 

Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means. 

Not me. 

Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living.
It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.” 

What does it mean to live a big life? 

Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous? 

Why would someone want to live a big life?

Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like? 

I’ll take a little life over a big life. 

What does it mean to live a little life? 

Living little means a simpler existence.
Fewer plates to spin.
Fewer people to impress.
Less to lose.
Shorter heights from which to fall.
Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter. 

Why would someone want to live a little life?

The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question.
Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances.
 You have fewer, but higher quality friends. 

Where does greatness come into play? 

I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life.
Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me.
Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist.
Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me. 

It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself, 

“I sure have lived a great little life.”


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The Broken Autopilot

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Let me know if this sounds familiar:

You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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Living 25 Minutes at a Time

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A little news before we begin: For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, I’ve started recording audio versions of my articles going forward and reaching back. Also, look for “TheKenLane.com” on your favorite podcast player to subscribe. Thanks! – Ken


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When was the last time you needed to keep your focus on a particular task for more than 30 minutes? 

Sounds agonizing, right? Even as you read this sentence, your mind is likely conjuring up what you could be doing at the same time or what you need to do later. Most of us can’t even enjoy a favorite television show or movie on the couch without also scrolling through social media, news, or emails from a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Multitasking, or rather the illusion of it, has trained our brains to constantly seek up-to-the-second stimulation.

But what if you were told you’d be free to multitask to your heart’s content in return for just 25 minutes of focus? Everyone’s got 25 minutes, right?

Why is 25 minutes such an effective length of time for focus?

My fascination with 25-minute spans of focus started with the Pomodoro Technique—a strategy for productivity that could be explained to a 2nd grader. It goes like this:

Focus on a performing single task with intense concentration for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes in which you can do whatever you want. After you’ve completed four 25-minute concentration sessions, you take a 15-minute break. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 5 off. 25 on, 15 off. Rinse and repeat.

But this piece isn’t about the Pomodoro Technique—I’ve already written about that. What I’m talking about now is the beauty, the simplicity, the elegance, the congeniality of 25 minutes.

We can stand almost anything for 25 minutes.

25 minutes is the maximum amount of time most can focus without approaching the red-line of brain sizzle or scroll-twitch. It’s also just enough time to feel like we’ve accomplished, well, anything. Though we can put dents in a task after 10 or even 5 minutes, 25 minutes is the amount of time that most begin to feel the momentum of our focus and actions. Even if we struggle to initiate an arduous task, after 25 minutes, the sediment in our once-murky waters of focus will begin to settle and we’ll gain immense clarity not possible after a mere 5 or 10 minutes.

Also, when 25 minutes is presented with the promise of 5 or more minutes of aimless reprieve, focus comes easier. Don’t worry—in 25 minutes, you can be back to watching cat videos and checking your social media feeds. Is any reward more appealing than guilt-free time-wasting?

Most things can be segmented into 25-minute blocks.

After a few weeks of using the Pomodoro Technique during my workday, I began to notice how so many of my other daily activities could be segmented into 25-minute blocks. In fact, for most tasks, 25 minutes became their optimum time for focus.

  • 25-minute journaling sessions
  • 25-minute meditations sittings
  • 25-minute workouts
  • 25-minute prayer times
  • 25-minute book-reading periods

Despite all of these being daily habits that I cherish, I’ll admit it — there are times when I don’t want to do them. Maybe I don’t want to sit still that long for meditation or work myself into a panting, sweaty mess with a jump rope. It’s days these that I tell myself, “You don’t have to enjoy this today. All you have to do is put in the 25 minutes. That’s it.” And it doesn’t even have to be the best 25 minutes as long as it’s 25 minutes.

And I remember after all— it’s just 25 minutes.


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Free eBook Download—The Cosmic Mulligan: And Other Ideas on Living a Skosh More Intentionally

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“We write the books we need.”
Unknown

The Cosmic Mulligan is a collection of essays I wrote between May of 2019 and January 2021 on the subject of living with intention—happening to life rather than life happening to you. I didn’t write these chapters because I am an expert on intentional living. On the contrary, I wrote the contents of this book after both researching and soul-searching to scrape together the wisdom I did not possess.

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How to Upload MOBI or PDF Files to Your Kindle Via Email

  • A PDF will work, but you’ll prefer the MOBI file
  • Right-click or hold down the link to download the MOBI or PDF file to your computer or device.
  • Navigate to Amazon, login, and click this Manage Your Content and Devices link
  • Click “Preferences” in the upper middle section between “Devices” and “Privacy Settings”
  • Once on the “Preferences” page, scroll down and click on “Personal Document Settings”
  • Here, you will see “@kindle.com” email addresses for your Kindle-enabled devices. Copy the one corresponding to the device you wish to use.
  • Compose a new email to that address, attaching the downloaded MOBI or PDF files to the email, and send.
  • Open your Kindle device or Kindle app to check to see if the files are there. If they aren’t, you may need to wait a bit while they load.

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How to Make Self-Improvement Suck Dramatically Less

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They don’t know you, but you know you.

One of the reasons why most lifestyle enhancement plans and products fail is that they were not designed with you in mind. These influencers and plan developers don’t know you. They have no clue about what lifestyle changes would be sustainable for you. They don’t know what activities you hate doing and which you enjoy. But do you know who does know? You do, that’s who! 

What do you enjoy doing?

To design a growth-oriented lifestyle tailored to your specifications, the process itself must be enjoyable—or at the least, potentially enjoyable.

Step 1. Jot Down What You Like to Do

Bring to mind all of the things you currently enjoy doing as well as the activities you once enjoyed—regardless of their positive or negative implications. Physically jotting these down on a piece of paper or typing them into a document may prove to be helpful.

Step 2. Strikethrough the Destructive Habits

Recall or look through these activities and strikethrough all of the activities that are bad for you. These can range from unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking to compulsive social media checking, maintaining toxic relationships, and the like. 

Step 3. Highlight the Activities That Are Good For You

Regardless of how unhealthy your favorite activities are, there are likely a few that aren’t bad for you. Heck, some may even be good for you. There are probably even some that are extremely good for you that you haven’t thought about in decades. Even still, there are likely some activities you enjoy that share an unlikely component with something that is good for you. 

Let’s use some examples to get the wheels turning. 

Activities You Currently Enjoy That Are Good For You

Ok, maybe you’re not a total loaf of soggy bread. Maybe you genuinely enjoy the occasional walk around town. Perhaps you enjoy learning from historical documentaries. Consider the things you do every day that aren’t actively hastening your demise.

Activities You Once Enjoyed But Hadn’t Thought About Since

Did you play sports in high school? Middle school? Elementary school? Did you enjoy writing stories as a kid? How about painting? Have you stopped playing a musical instrument because life got too busy? 

Activities Your Enjoy That Could Correspond to Something Good For You

Do you enjoy sitting still? Look at you—you potential meditator, you. 

Do you tend to doodle during inconsequential meetings? Is that a budding illustrator I see?

What are your personal goals? 

We all have positive goals in life. Maybe you want to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness. Perhaps you’d like to get more sleep. Maybe you want to become an avid reader. Bring these specific goals to mind and jot them down—the more specific, the better. 

And finally—use your favorite activities as tools in your growth.

Whether you physically wrote down your goals and favorite activities or just have them at the forefront of your mind, begin to draw lines between the two. 

  • Which of your favorite activities can you leverage toward your goals?
  • Which of your past favorite activities could you revisit to aid your progress? 
  • Which of your favorite activities are negatively inhibiting your goals?
  • How can you replace these harmful-yet-enjoyable activities with positive activities you enjoy? 

Stuff You Enjoy + Stuff That’s Good For You = Stuff You Should Do

venn diagram of stuff you enjoy and stuff that is good for you

When you leverage your favorite activities that also happen to align with your goals, you can begin to craft a growth-oriented lifestyle you enjoy. This Venn diagram should summarize the point of this article as well as anything. 

I jump rope because it’s fun. Fitness is a side effect. 

When I was in elementary school in the early-to-mid ‘90s, Jump Rope For Heart was on a crusade to get kids jumping rope. I remember enjoying the experience thoroughly. However, once I moved into middle school, where gym class was optional, I didn’t touch a jump rope again until I was into my 30’s. 

Why did I pick up jump rope again? Was it because I was at my heaviest weight of 235 pounds? Was it because I was researching various forms of exercise and found jump rope to be one of the most underrated forms of cardio? 

Nope. It just looked fun. And it was. 

Beginning again as an easily-winded sack of flab means it wasn’t necessarily easy, but even as an utterly sedentary desk jockey, I enjoyed the challenge. 

Every week, my stamina increased, and my body began to change. I had no specific weight-loss goal in mind, aside from possibly dipping below 200 pounds for the first time in about five years. That happened rather uneventfully because, though the process was challenging, it didn’t suck. I enjoyed pushing myself to my limits and leaving puddles of sweat in my driveway. I would look forward to my next jump rope session with anticipation rather than dread.  

At the time I write this, I jump rope six days a week, regardless of the weather, for 15-30 minutes, striving to keep an average heart rate of above 145 bpm. 

Is it hard some mornings? Yes. 

Is it challenging to push through when I feel like giving up? Definitely. 

Does it suck? Absolutely not. 

Leverage what you consider fun. Lean into what you consider challenging. 

Whether you’re looking to run a faster mile, lose and keep off a certain amount of weight, or develop a useful meditation habit, utilizing the activities you already enjoy will help you not only tolerate the growth process but crave it. When you use enjoyable activities to push your journey towards achievement, you pour rocket fuel on your progress.

The Importance of Determining How Much is Enough & Why

Reading Time: 4 minutes

How are you determining what is enough for you?

Most of us are probably familiar with the “rock bottom” scene from 1979’s comedy classic, “The Jerk.” If you’re not, Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, has lost all of his wealth and his relationship with love interest Maria (played by Bernadette Peters) is on the rocks. In an attempt to prove that he hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, he walks out of his mansion, only taking “all I need.” As he scoots out of the house in his bathrobe, pants around his ankles, he grabs random items as he passes them. Cradling them in his arms, he bellows out that these few items are all he needs.

“The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine, and the chair.”

What started out as an act of defiance against the universe’s attempt to crush his spirit turns into a hilarious joke about just how dependant on petty materialism he really is. 

The joke is on us.

We laugh at this scene—partially because of its absurdity, but also because of its relevance to our own lives. Not only do we not know how much is enough, but we also don’t know how we should decide how much is enough for our lives. However, determining how much is enough and why is absolutely crucial—not only for the sake of our own contentment but also so we can understand our role as conduits for giving in the world. 

“How much is enough?” vs. “How much can I afford?”

Most of us have never taken the time to really consider what kind of stuff and how much of it is necessary for us to be content. For most of us, the question is answered by “how much can I afford?” Cheaper goods and open lines of credit have made this method of thinking immensely problematic. Suddenly, even once we no longer have enough money to keep our bills paid, we’re still allowed to feel like we don’t have enough stuff to feel satisfied. 

Really, though—how much is enough to make you “happy”?

We’ve been conditioned to always seek out more without really taking the time to assess if accumulating more material goods is really worth the sacrifices we make to attain them. We’re simply never expected to ask ourselves certain contentment-determining “how much is enough” questions. 

“How much (insert item here) is enough?” 

  • How much house is enough?
  • How much car is enough?
  • How much consumer technology is enough?
  • How much wardrobe is enough?
  • etc.

Getting to the Root with “But Why?” 

For anyone who has been in the presence of an inquisitive child, the question of “but why?” may seem annoying, if not maddening. However, asking ourselves “why?” we want anything is an effective practice in cutting away motivations that do not result in a contented spirit. 

  • Why do I need this much house? 
  • Why do I need this much car? 
  • Why do I need this much consumer technology?
  • Why do I need this much of a wardrobe?

Asking “Why?” About Your Whys

To truly chip away at weak motivations, repeatedly and honestly asking “why?” about our answers to “why?” can expose flimsy reasons for wanting certain things.

“XYZ is enough car because I want a modern SUV from a luxury brand.” 

Why?

“Well, because I want my car to reflect my success.” 

Why?

“Appearing successful, even to strangers, is important to me.”

Why?

“Because I need outward affirmation to convince myself that I am successful.” 

Not all “why” roots will be negative truths that require deeply psychological remedies. Some will be legitimate reasons, even if they seem a bit superfluous initially. Eventually, your answer to “why?” may start to become repetitive once it has begun to hit its root and may feel like a semi-compelling argument. While this is possible, it’s important to not attempt to rationalize every superfluous material desire. 

You are a conduit for others. 

Most of us have more than enough. We convince ourselves of the need to upgrade perfectly adequate items. We buy several versions of the same thing that differ slightly in ways only we could ever perceive. We purchase more of something than we could ever consume—from channels to data plans and beyond. Is this really the best use of our excess? 

There are people, believe it or not, who do not have enough. Through unfortunate events or even as a result of systemic oppression, there those who lack even the most basic of essentials. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for determining our levels of “enoughness” is so we can be activated as a conduit for blessing in their lives. By determining what is enough for you, you will be in a more comfortable position to give. Instead of buying yet another version of that thing that still works for you, perhaps consider donating to a food bank, picking up someone’s groceries, or paying the rent for someone who has lost their job.

Once you realize what is enough for you, this is an opportunity to be a blessing for others without enough.

Contentment is a choice.

Happiness is an “inside job.” If we build our joy with the approval of others as its foundation, the moment their attention shifts or wanes, this structure will collapse. That’s why it is imperative that we choose to perpetually cultivate self-sustaining happiness and do our best to avoid conditional “hits” of happiness.

Happiness through material possession is unquenchable.

Happiness through social approval is fickle. 

Happiness through accomplishment is untenable.

Happiness generated via chosen contentment within the present moment is abiding. 

The only truthful answer to “I’ll be happy when…” is “…when I decide to allow myself to be happy.”

Putting Enough Into Practice

Answer the following question about all material possessions you have or feel you need. 

  • What do you feel is enough (house, vehicle, technology, wardrobe, etc.) for you? 

 

  • Why do you feel that this is so?

 

  • Could the resources you’ve invested in this item or service be better utilized for others while leaving you feeling like you have enough? How? 

You Owe It To Yourself to Give Your Craft the Focus It Deserves

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Disclaimer: I mostly wrote this article to myself, but felt that it may be helpful to others.

The Scattered-Focus Life

With information and global networking more attainable than ever, there’s no reason why, with a little focused effort, any of us can’t become world-class specialists in our craft. From graphic designers, developers, writers, videographers, and photographers to business managers, financial professionals, and educators, with the proper focus, we can continue to sharpen our craft every day. But many of us choose not to. Why? Because we prefer the easier, scatterbrained life.

Multi-tasking vs. Fragmented Focus

Yes, listening to a podcast while folding the laundry or watching a TV show while riding a stationary bicycle are both within the realm of what we deem “multi-tasking.” This is due to the limited concentration required for the accompanying task. This being said, one task always has focus over another. The folding of the laundry, the riding of the bicycle—these tasks require virtually no mental bandwidth whatsoever. That means that our primary focus is on the plot of the show or the content of the podcast. And that’s perfectly fine, as long as we’re not fooling ourselves into believing that we can split our focus 50/50 between both activities simultaneously. This is a lie—a lie that we frequently tell ourselves when it comes to pursuing our craft.

Forsaking Focus On Your Craft

When we attempt to use this same logic in our working lives, the same rules apply; one takes the lion’s share of our focus. Though we can listen to repetitive music while we write about complex subjects, we can’t simultaneously watch riveting programming while claiming to provide the necessary attention to our valued specialty. 

Why not? Well, firstly, as much as you claim to be the unique person with the capacity for split focus, you simply can’t. But more importantly, because your craft deserves to be the primary focus of your conscious mind. Your concentration deserves your concentration. 

So, if you hope to sharpen your skills and create meaningful work, sign out of Netflix, close the YouTube browser, turn off the podcast episode, and give your craft what it deserves — the captain’s seat of your focus.

Related Piece: 5 Things I Really Like About the Pomodoro Technique

Waking Up: We’re Focusing On the Wrong Metric

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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Even after we’ve grown up, we still believe in superheroes. 

The “work hard, play hard” mentality has convinced a generation of “wantrepreneurs” that hard work, long hours, and a swiss-army-knife-array of lifehacks are the key to success. Those who can endure such grueling schedules are not only seen as more than successful—they’re superhuman

An obsession with the lifestyles of high-achieving entrepreneurs and personalities has led many to fixate on a popular hustle metric: what time you get up in the morning. 

And guess what? According to recent scientific research, they’d have to be superhuman for such lifestyles to be sustainable. 

The Downside of Irresponsible Early Rising

The appeal of getting up early is the goal of adding hours to one’s days. Though you stayed up late, getting up early gives you a headstart on life—providing time to exercise, tend to your wellbeing, or squeeze in an edge on the snoozing competition. However, science says that the wakefulness we steal from our mornings to pay for this edge are debts that will very likely come due. 

According to sleep scientist, Matthew Walker  and author of the acclaimed book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, forgoing the medical community’s recommended quantity of sleep is associated with a shorter, more disease-ridden life. 

“Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep,” Walker reports. “So, that classic maxim that you may [have] heard that you can sleep when you’re dead—it’s actually mortally unwise advice from a very serious standpoint.”

Sleep & Dementia

Most of us are familiar with the zombie-like walk to the bathroom after a night of bad sleep and the brain fog that looms over our day. This sensation may be a precursor to a more permanent condition. New studies have found a startling association between insufficient sleep and the likelihood of greater cognitive decline

Our waking brain has been found to maintain a build-up of metabolic waste. This beta-amyloid waste has been associated with the impairment of communication between neurons present in Alzheimer’s patients.  Though this sounds scary, there’s a bright side: like running the dishwasher overnight on pots and pans, sufficient sleep releases a flood of cerebrospinal fluid to wash this waste away. 

Failing to achieve sufficient sleep can be compared to leaving your dried peanut-butter-coated china in the dishwasher overnight and hoping a light rinse will leave them adequately ready for important company the next day. 

In Why We Sleep, Walker contributed two examples of famous high-achievers who frequently boasted their lack of a need for sufficient sleep—the U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Both of these officials were known for their almost superhuman ability to function on very little sleep. What else did they have in common? They both later suffered from severe dementia that robbed them of their mental acuity and likely shortened their lives. Though these are just two examples, the before mentioned has established associations between a lack of sleep and advanced cognitive decline.

Sufficient Sleep Recommendations

So, what is considered insufficient sleep? 3 hours a night? 4 hours a night? Think again: anything below 6 hours a night.  

In addition to cognitive decline, Walker’s research has also linked insufficient sleep to a significant increase in the likelihood of developing:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Disrupted sex hormones and infertility
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • An overall depleted immune system 

In other words, any condition that can kill you is aided by insufficient sleep. To add insult to injury, Walker pointed out in a noted TED Talk that men who only sleep five hours a night have, on average, been found to have smaller testicles. So, in case you needed any other reason to get more sleep, fellas—there you go.  

The Time You Should Be Obsessed With

What is the most important alarm for those who want to get an early start? It’s definitely not their morning alarm, but an evening alarm. Because the evening hours are notorious for slipping by us, setting evening “get ready for bed” and “lights out” alarms are your best bet to getting to bed at a time required to receive sufficient sleep—anywhere from between 7-9 hours of sleep, according to Walker. 

Powering Down in Phases

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting up early. If anything, some of the highest performing athletes also beat the dawn. However, unlike many of their peers in achievement, professional athletes carefully structure their hours of sleep. How do they do this? By regimenting and guarding their evening activities. In addition to a designated “light’s out” time, many sleep guardians are known to practice power-down phases to prepare their bodies and minds for sleep.

Noted triathlete Chris Leiferman has reported an evening schedule that he and his wife are committed to observing: 

“I follow the same bedtime routine and start getting ready for bed around 9 p.m. My wife and I turn off the TV and don’t look at our phones other than setting the alarm to have 30-45 minutes of no ‘blue’ light before we go to sleep. I then read a book to get my eyes tired, then I kiss my wife goodnight, and I’m out cold in a couple of minutes.”

Following a similar routine can ensure you receive sufficient sleep.

Bring the Lights Down

As the sun sets, you should also start to bring down the lighting in your home. Turn off unnecessary lights and soften any that you can. Increased lighting in the home has been found to suppress melatonin—a key sleep hormone.

Reduce Blue Light Sources

While turning off bright overhead lights can help you prepare for bed, your favorite devices can also be suppressing your melatonin and throwing off your circadian rhythms by emitting generous amounts of blue light. Televisions, computer monitors, and phone screens are the worst offenders. About an hour before bed, try to limit your use of such disruptive devices. Instead, opt for that book you’ve been meaning to get to, journal about what’s on your mind, or play a board game with another member of your household.

What to Avoid Before Bed

To ensure quality sleep, there are several behaviors and consumables you will want to avoid. Some of these seem fairly straightforward. Others seem counterintuitive. 

  • Alcohol: Though it can feel like the occasional glass or two of wine can help you nod off easier, its key ingredient can lead to later tossing and turning. Though the alcohol can help you drift off, the body won’t begin to fully metabolize it until later—a process that can leave your body feeling restless. The consumption of alcohol before bed has also been found to inhibit deep R.E.M. sleep.  
  • Caffeine after 5 PM: Though caffeine only spikes your energy levels for about a half-hour to an hour after consumption, its effects can linger for as much as five hours. Yes, that trip to Starbucks after work may be the reason you’re still tossing and turning at night.
  • Exercise: I’ll admit, I used to enjoy using up the last of my energy for the day with a jump rope in my driveway at 9 PM. However, the effort of intense exercise can spike levels of cortisol—your body’s main stress hormone. For this reason, keep your exercise to no more than three hours before lights out.
  • Distractions in the bed: As we’ve mentioned above, the blue light from TV, computer, and mobile devices can inhibit the production of melatonin—disrupting your brain’s circadian rhythms. While all screens should be avoided in bed, your bed should also be treated as a place reserved for two things—1. Sleep 2. Sex. Watching TV, working on a laptop, or even reading books can muddy your brain’s understanding of the purpose of your bed and result in restlessness. 
  • Sleep aids: For many, getting to bed means popping a popular sedative. There’s only one problem with that—sedation and sleep are not synonymous mental states. Natural sleep is an incredibly elaborate restorative process of the mind and body. Sedatives, on the other hand, simply induce unconsciousness without many of the other attributes of sleep. As Matthew Walker put it, “We don’t have any good pharmacological approach right now to replicate such a nuanced and complex set of biological changes.”  

In Bed ≠ Time Asleep

When running the numbers on how to achieve sufficient sleep, remember to leave a window of time to actually fall asleep. For most healthy individuals, falling asleep takes about 10 to 20 minutes on average.  For this reason, it’s important to differentiate “lights out” from “sleeping” time. 

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

There will always be occasions when, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t sleep. What to do now? Get out of bed. 

Why get out of bed? According to Walker, your brain is an extremely environmentally sensitive machine. If you spend enough time awake, staring at your ceiling in rumination, your brain will associate that activity with your bed. Instead, get out of bed, possibly even going into another room. Use that time to read a book (not on a screen), listen to soothing music, write in a journal, play solitaire with a deck of cards, or meditate until you grow tired enough for sleep. These types of relaxing activities will not only help you to grow sleepier but will also likely distract you from the anxieties that may be keeping you awake. 

In Conclusion

For its importance to absolutely every aspect of our health, the only reason we’re not asked about it more by our physicians is the timeliness of understanding its importance—thanks to the very recent strides in imaging technology. Despite these earth-shattering discoveries, neurologist Matthew Walker believes that we are, as a society, experiencing a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.” 

So, what is the best way to attempt to maximize your own potential to live the lives of your idolized superheroes? Go to bed on time. 

Because, as Walker put it in his TED Talk,

“Sleep is your superpower.” 


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