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There have never been more ways to spend your time. Even if you have chosen to sit on your duff and watch a screen, the choices are endless.
Do you want to watch Netflix? Hulu? HBO? It seems like we’ll never scratch the surface of even figuring out what show to watch next.
And that’s just watching TV. If you want to listen to music, read a book, take a class, cook a meal, or anything else—the options aren’t virtually endless, they’re genuinely endless in the span of a single human lifetime. It feels like we’re on a crusade against the word “boredom”—committed to ending its use.
So, how do we determine how to spend our time?
I had been experiencing this dilemma lately. It would start with something mindless—a YouTube binge, a meme-scroll session, or something else. Then, after a while, my default mode network would flicker slightly and I’d “wake up” to the recurring question:
Is this is what I should be doing? Is this how I should be spending my time?
Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless escape into the world of entertainment with low nutritional value. But like consuming loads of empty calories, I never found myself feeling especially glad that I had done so.
That’s when I asked myself a question that has become an immensely useful litmus test for gauging whether or not I should doing something:
How will this activity make me feel after I’ve done it? Will I be glad that I did that?
I’ve come to personally refer to this sensational-gauge as the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test.
One of the first times I put this litmus test for time consumption to work was while getting back into reading great stories. I’ve been on a John Grisham kick—reading A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, A Time For Mercy, The Innocent Man, and The Rainmaker all within about the span of two or three months. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the stories but also just the act of reading.
Setting my phone in the next room and arming myself with my Kindle Paperwhite connected to my public library account, reading became effortless. I turned off all page indicators so I had no idea how far I had left to go. Hours would fly by as I got lost in the texts. I would usually only stop when life’s other obligations would arise or when my reading would take me into the night and I found myself nodding off in the early morning hours.
Usually, when I’d binge a show or fall down an hours-long YouTube wormhole, I would come out the other side exhausted—beat, but with my mind still racing. However, every time I’d close my Kindle after a hearty reading session, I would feel refreshed—almost rested. There would be a genuine feeling of whew—that was great. I’m glad I did that.
Soon after realizing this difference, I became cognizant to gauge how certain activities made me feel—what I call the “subsequent tone” of an event or activity. The following are a few experiments and their outcomes.
As a musician and a huge fan of the subgenre of Reggae known as “Dub,” within the past few months, I decided to try my hand at producing some Dub recordings of my own. Like reading, I found myself immersing myself in the process of piecing together drum sounds, recording bass lines, experimenting with chord progressions on my midi keyboard, and finding the perfect melodica melodies to tie up every “riddim” like a bow. Once I had recorded all of the instruments, I’d spend hours tweaking the recordings, effects, and molding them to my liking on my dinky laptop.
I proudly released two of those recordings as singles—accessible to most streaming platforms. You can find them on the platform of your choice on my music page.
As I completed the tracks and uploaded them for distribution, never once did I feel like I was wasting my time. Even after exhaustedly re-recording a bassline at 2 AM because the intonation on my bass guitar was off on the original recording, I felt the same sensations—man, I’m glad that I did that. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I felt full of life.
Rarely do I ever start a journaling session because I have a craving to scribble my thoughts onto a page. I usually do so because I feel like I have so many things on my mind that my own lack of clarity is starting to weigh me down. However, by the time I’ve laid out all of the “paperwork” of my mind onto the table of the page, I can begin to see what I can fix, what I should ignore, and what is holding me back. I start sketching out plans, goals, aspirations, and fixes. Then, closing my journal, I’m hit with the wave of man, I’m glad I did that.
Rarely do I leave my house in the morning anxious to break a sweat. Whether I’m going out to my deck to jump rope or to walk or run laps around the nearby park, my soft bed still calls out to me. However, after my body has warmed up, my pulse increases, and I hit my stride, I start to feel alive. Heading back inside my house with a sweat-soaked beard and clothes sticking to me, I feel great. The rest of the day seems to go easier because I got my increased pulse and sweat to blow out the morning’s cobwebs.
Like journaling and exercise, I rarely initiate my prayers pumped to be there. It can be an immense slog that requires many mindset and liturgical shifts before finding a groove. In Judaism, we have a concept referred to as “kavannah” — which most translate as “intention” but I prefer Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser’s translation, which I’ve heard is actually more accurate — “alignment.” The moments leading up to my moments of kavannah—my spiritual alignment with my Creator—can feel like a dial-up modem circa 1998 trying to log on to the internet. Like that dial-up modem, there is a lot of internal static, whirling, and sharp creaking—spiritual turbulence that accompanies such ascension. But like flying above the turbulence, there is a moment of soaring above the clouds where the connection is made.
When I have moments of immense kavannah, while it doesn’t feel like I can hear the voice of a Higher Power, it does feel as though Someone has picked up the receiver. Paraphrasing a quote from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l —“This call is being monitored for quality purposes.”
As much as I may have to wrestle to get myself to get into a place of spiritual alignment, I always walk away from prayer with the feeling in my bones of, “I’m glad I did that.”
Though I stopped using about 97% of all social media years before officially using the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test as a decision-making tool, similar feelings resulted in me deleting my accounts. I can’t think of many if any instances in which I would conclude a social media scrolling session and feel better for having partaken in the social media experience.
Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Activities
If you’re struggling to determine how you should be spending your limited time on this planet, I would urge you to apply this test to your own actions: after completing an activity, do you feel better having participated in that activity?
Do you feel elevated or deflated?
Do you feel inspired or simply tired?
Do you feel fulfilled or drained?
Applying the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test to Life
Activities aren’t the only area of life where the Subsequent Tone Litmus Test can be applied. You can also use this test to determine other decisions—career choices, people, what foods to eat, and the like.
Sometimes, making a life-changing decision simply means asking yourself — Is this going to make me feel better or worse when it’s all over?
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