How being an info junkie fucks up your life
Photo credit: Andres Musta
Your mind is drowning in information.
It’s screaming for help, but you can’t hear it. You get a sense that something isn’t right, but you don’t know what. So you search for what might be the problem and feed your mind even more information in the process.
You tell yourself that you’re very selective about the information you consume. You’ve long quit watching TV. The stuff you watch on Youtube is strictly educational. The blogs you read are for inspiration only. You’ve even curbed the nonsense of social media. But every now and then you feel you need to give yourself a break. So you read just a few headlines, a couple of articles or watch some short videos.
You have issues resisting your cravings. You tell yourself (and others) that if there is any sweets in your house, you’ll eat it all up at once. So you religiously keep sweets out of your home. But you go out and binge.
At work, you jump from one task to another and end up spending hours on stuff you didn’t plan to. You often forget what it is you’re just about to do, let alone why. If you think about it, you realize that you operate on autopilot most of the time. You rarely act, and mostly react.
There is this task you’ve been putting off. You’d need to get out of your comfort zone to get it done. So you watch some videos that talk about how to get out of your comfort zone.
You don’t sleep well. When you close your eyes, your mind gets into a thinking frenzy and you are powerless to stop it. You are a compulsive thinker.
In your conversations with people you often catch yourself regurgitating whole sentences you read or saw somewhere. You don’t have a lot of conversations in the first place, but when you do, you sometimes feel like your opinion depends on who you are talking to. You feel like your personality is made of plasticine and you are not sure who you are anymore.
You avoid confrontation whenever possible. You catch yourself regretting not saying what you were about to say. You realize you need to grow thicker skin and a spine to go with it.
You are quick to pass judgement on people, but slow to realize when your judgement is wrong. You seem to get an obscene pleasure out of categorizing people. You walk around tagging people with labels as you pass them.
You are dishonest with the people you care about because YOU can’t bear the burden of making them miserable by telling them the truth.
You are very efficient with your time. You listen to podcasts while cooking, cleaning and brushing your teeth. Not a single moment goes to waste. In the shower you don’t sing, but listen to music to elevate your mood. In the car you listen to some high brow radio program that talks about the impact of the government’s latest policies on the housing market or how the rise of oil prices will affect the economy. It’s all good information, you need it to stay informed and make good choices in life. You are interested in art, too. Sometimes the radio talks about poets who lived and wrote a few hundred years ago. They go to the house the poet lived in and tell stories about the bits and bobs of his daily life that shaped his character and work. You cling on every word they say and look for the lessons you can take away.
The only time you are left alone with your thoughts (apart from failing to fall asleep) is when you go for a bike ride in the woods. You keep wondering why thoughts about work and the people you may have hurt keep haunting you even then.
At one point you realize that you spend pretty much every waking moment consuming or processing information or simply lost in thought. The cries of your drowning mind begin to filter through the cracks in the thick wall of information you built and your consciousness starts hearing them.
It finally dawns on you that you are an info junkie.
The diagnosis is painful. You are having withdrawal symptoms minutes after not consuming information. You decide to go cold turkey.
No youtube, no news, no blogs, no radio, no social media, not even books or music.
Just you and silence.
Your mind jumps around desperately trying to keep busy. You think of everything you can possibly think of 10 times at least. In the end everything your mind can come up with feels like bones with no meat left on them. There is nothing new to think about so you begin to pay attention to how your thoughts arise. You watch one thought lead to another and start to feel a gap developing between them and yourself. You get glimpses of thoughtlessness. You spend hours sitting in a chair doing just that.
At one point you get it. The real you was buried way down under all that noise and the only way you can be it is by silencing your mind. You realize that your awareness was sedated by all the information you stuffed it with, and all that thinking you were doing all the time. You were trying to fill the void inside you with all that mental masturbation, but now you see that you are the void itself and it doesn’t need to be filled.
That realization calms you down. You sleep well that night.
The next day you feel different. In a good way. You feel present. You notice your breathing. You feel your lungs expand and contract. You catch yourself touching your face for no reason and begin to notice all sorts of things you were not aware of.
You avoid excess information like plague, but you don’t feel the need for it either. The craving for the next quick fix is gone. And it’s not just information.
You realize you can pass by the cakes in the canteen without turning an eye and you remember the effort you used to have to make to resist the temptation every time you saw them.
You find time you didn’t know you had. You write and connect the dots.
Your mind does wonder still, but you keep catching yourself and return to the center of your being: emptiness
You work with more deliberation. The autopilot is off. You don’t jump from one task to another, but insert little breaks in between tasks and you pick the one that’s the highest priority, not the easiest or most urgent.
You do one thing at a time. When you do the dishes, you just do the dishes. When you eat, you eat. And when you think, you think. You decide to think about something, it doesn’t just happen.
Now you have a chance to savour the flavours and textures of food. Now you realize that the most mundane of tasks isn’t boring if you pay enough attention to it.
You are less hesitant in conversation. You speak with authenticity because what you say comes from the core of your being.
You see how people are doing whatever it is they are doing to fill the void within them. But you just do whatever it is you do because you can and because you like to play the game called life.
The difference leaves you flabbergasted. You realize your mind never stood a chance against the flood of information you kept pouring over it day in day out. A couple of days pass and you write it all down so you still remember what it was like to not know what you know now.
Now you know that doing is the mind’s favourite thing and just being is its worst enemy. Now you know that the mind needs to prove its reason for existence by constant rumination. Now you know that your true nature is being, not doing. Now you can do without identifying with the doing and return to being when you feel like it. Now you know that if you don’t control your mind, it will control you.
You comprehend that being an info junkie is only a symptom and treating it will not bring you salvation. But it will create the possibility for awareness, which is the first step to solving any issue in your life and to self actualization.
You also know that like the solution for an eating disorder is not never eating again, the solution to your information addiction is not never watching another youtube video or never reading another blog post either. So you think about how to reintroduce some of these things into your life without becoming an info junkie once again.
And that’s hard. Because you need to function in an environment where incentives encourage the consumption of more and more information (as well as other stuff). Information has been turned into just another consumer good. The game is rigged and you can’t stop playing. So you need a smart strategy.
- You consciously abandon the belief that idleness is a waste. When you have nothing to do, you do nothing. You don’t even think. Especially don’t think.
- Before you consume any information, you ask yourself: do I need this to make myself feel better or because it will help me solve a real problem.
- You stay away from any kind of multitasking and dedicate your full attention to the one thing you are doing.
- Some of the time you let your mind wander freely. And you stay conscious of it wandering.
- You dedicate time to thinking about stuff that requires conscious thought. When you catch yourself ruminating over the same thing at times you didn’t plan to, you gently bring your awareness back to the thing you were doing (or not doing).
- You limit information intake for entertainment purposes.
- You also limit information intake for educational purposes.
- If you find yourself in a thinking frenzy and can’t fall asleep, you don’t try to feed your mind with more information. Instead, you’ll sit still and watch your thoughts until your mind calms down even if it takes all night.
- You spend at least 20 minutes every day just being, not doing or thinking anything – meditating if you want to call it that.
- You reread this post monthly, because you know that the impact of this realization wears off and you would gravitate back towards information overload and compulsive thinking.