The Cleanse How I plan to make my life better by disconnecting.

Ever feel like you want to turn off your mobile phone, log off social networks, shut down your computer, ditch the iPod & kindle, and take a complete vacation to a land without wifi, far, far, away? If so, read on.

When is the last time you shut down your computer or your smartphone? All the way down. Not on sleep. Not in airplane mode but SWITCH OFF. Try it with me now. Take your phone out, if you’re not already fiddling with it, and turn it off until you finish this article (unless you’re reading this on your mobile. In which case you probably have a bigger problem to fix). Fair warning, you will experience a short stint of anxiety and emptiness. These mobile withdrawals are unpleasant (and slightly pathetic) but the sobering and liberating experience is worth more than your 50th tweet or 100th WhatsApp message today. I promise.

I’ve been reading a lot about John Mayer’s digital cleanse. The internet threw a mixed response as usual. But I could highly relate to it. In fact this article is heavily inspired by some of the posts I read on the same topic. Nearly everyone I follow is trying to minimise their use of social networks, which is mostly just Facebook, and devices, both handheld & desktops. More and more people are believing them to be time wasters, which is true. I realised that I don’t have time for anything or anyone anymore. I’m fiddling with my phone almost every moment of the day. When I’m not, I’m either sleeping (with sleep monitoring apps), taking a shower or using a computer. I stay unaware of the little things around me. Most of the time the conversations with friends and family would start with “do you have a charger?”. Sickness.

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

What makes matters worse is the fact that I’m 100x more sarcastic, & probably arrogant, on the internet than I’m in real life. I have some really good friends who will vouch for it. I no longer reply because I want to, I reply because I can. And that’s a terrible thing. On the other hand, I’m more worried about losing my online reputation (& the hundreds of thousands of social media followers) than being what I am.

Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.

I’m embarrassed I let it get to the point where if I wasn’t tinkering on my phone, I was thinking about it. I bet if you start paying closer attention to your mobile habits, you’ll notice it too. We’ve trained ourselves to constantly seek refuge from boring, everyday life through our phones. We’ve grown so accustomed to this behavior that we can’t shut it out, even during truly exciting or beautiful times in our lives.

There is no 9-to-5 anymore.I’ve accepted that. What I haven’t accepted is after receiving an email at 10pm I’m expected to respond within 10 minutes. The line between work and home is static.

I lost respect for my friends’ time and being punctual wasn’t a priority because updating them with an ETA became passive and far too easy. I arrive late to my meetings (even with friends) and that’s “completely okay” because I texted them that I’ll be late just before the meeting started. How convenient. How pathetic.

The problem

  1. I’ve been living in hotels, doing almost no physical work for last 6 months. Gained 7 kilos.
  2. My family thinks I spend too much time on the internet.
  3. I’m not my real self when I’m on the internet.
  4. I’m always worried about my online reputation. And always in the pressure of catching up with what’s happening on the internet. The memes, the motivational posters, terrorism, trends and what not.
  5. I am feeling less productive overall.

Now I want to change things. Every single day I want to wake up and commit myself to becoming a better person. But then I let a 2.3 x 4.5 inch piece of glass, metal, and plastic get in the way of that. I made a few small changes that compounded into a better prescription than any anxiety medication. I went as far as making it inconvenient to use apps I didn’t actually NEED. Here’s how it works –

The Smartphone Cleanse

  • Avoid holding the phone in hands. Keep it in your pocket as much as possible.
  • Don’t take more than 3 photos in any event, unless NO ONE ELSE has a camera.
  • Keep it on silent unless you’re travelling or you’re in a noisy environment.
  • Delete the apps which you don’t need. (Keep 1-2 games just in case)
  • Carry a notepad at all times. Sketch.
  • Dont’ google unless you absolutely need to.
  • Turn off ALL push notifications. Just calls & texts.
  • No phone in the bathroom or on the bed.

The Internet Cleanse

  • Cut down heavily on online shopping.
  • Read physical books.
  • Watch news on TV, research on internet if required, but not on social networks.
  • If there’s something interesting, your friends will tell you.
  • Unsubscribe from all the newsletters you don’t read immediately. No more hoarding.

The Social Cleanse

  • Delete twitter, facebook & other social network apps from mobile.
  • Unfollow/unfriend people you don’t know in real life.
  • Call up friends more often. Wish everyone on their birthdays by calling them.
  • Visit family more often.
  • Talk to people more. Start having casual conversations with neighbours & colleagues. Catch up with them after work or on weekends.
  • Limit social network usage to 30 minutes a day or less.

Everything else

  • Go to gym at least 3 days a week.
  • A 30 minutes walk daily, without using the internet. No streaming music, just itunes.
  • Don’t order food if it’s within 2 KMs or it’s raining. Same for booking movie tickets.
  • Meet a friend every week.
  • Travel more.
  • Learn to swim.
  • Be a better person than what you are, even for a little bit (see the 1% logic below).
  • Learn to play guitar.
  • Do some cycling, at least once a week.
  • Become a better friend, son, and whatever you want to become.
  • Cancel your unused credit cards. It’s going to be a long & painful process [remember the Comcast disconnection nightmare?].
  • Eat healthy. Never skip breakfast.
  • Sleep better. Get at least 6 hours of undisturbed sleep.

I understand that it’s easier said than done. My work (I am a UX designer for web startups) forces me to spend a lot of time on the computer and the sketch boards. And I have A LOT of friends. It’s extremely hard to stay in touch with friends without the internet. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth it in the end.

The Challenges

  • My work is 100% internet based.
  • I have studied in 4 different places & worked in 5 cities, which means my friends are scattered across the country.
  • I don’t booze. I don’t party. I don’t really have a life outside of the internet.
  • My friends are pretty much social network addicts.
  • My followers *might* feel cheated.
  • I’m building some personal projects and I don’t have a marketing budget.
  • I contact support from online services mostly via twitter.

It’s hard. And it’s harder than just putting down the phone and taking a vacation. So I looked around for inspiration. I needed solid support from my close friends & family to overcome the sudden disconnect.

The Motivation

  1. Most of my family members don’t use Facebook or Twitter.
  2. I have a pretty distributed family with siblings living in different cities. Which means a couple of phone calls everyday to keep me from feeling isolated.
  3. My pet rabbit. And the hope of owning a dog one day.
  4. I want to fit in my favorite clothes.
  5. My bucket list is 5 years old and has barely seen any activity.

“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

It probably looks like a lot but it is not. Just a few little lifestyle changes. By improving by just 1% everyday it will compound on itself and in 365 days you will have had an increase of 3778%. Simple mathematics. I want to do this for 3 months. If I make it, I’ll go for the whole 365 days cleanse.

I spent my last week in Nepal and I’m taking a long vacation for another 4 weeks, with limited connectivity, to force myself into the cleanse. Hopefully that will give me a good headstart.

Meanwhile, if you know me, help me do this. If you’re a friend, let’s do this together!

Written by Arun Pattnaik