If you’ve read this blog much in the past, you’ll know that a recurring theme of mine is owning your own life. In other words, prioritizing the things you care about and allocating your time and money accordingly – living intentionally.
For me, one of the things that meant was getting rid of a bunch of stuff that wasn’t adding much value in my life, at least compared to the things that I could have been doing otherwise. And I have to say, although sometimes it has been really hard to get rid of things, I have truly come to love cutting shit out of my life… very liberating.
It is one thing to acknowledge at an intellectual level that much of our lives revolve around stuff we don’t really need to be happy (or worse, things that actually lower our happiness), but it is something far greater to experience the joy of prioritization and ruthless simplification first hand.
So today, I’m going to tell you about my recent implementation of this CUT-IT-OUT philosophy via the low information diet.
What is the low-information diet
I have to give some credit to Mr. Money Mustache for writing about this topic, but I want to point out that I’ve dabbled in low-information / low-distraction lifestyles even before the MMM thing ever happened.
Back in college, I gave up using my computer for a whole year and read books like Better Off, about flipping the switch on technology (my views are much more mature and nuanced today, of course). I also haven’t watched cable TV in years, “news” programs in particular.
But anyway, having acknowledged some level of prior affinity for the concept, I’m still going to borrow from and paraphrase MMM on the low information diet. Basically, the low information diet is really just about making irrelevant information the enemy. I would also say that it is about consuming even relevant information on your own terms as well.
I really like what MMM says towards the end of his blog post on the subject:
“I often tell people that the biggest benefit to early retirement has been “getting my own mind back”. Without the demands of 8 hours of software design every day, I’ve been amazed at the fun things I have had the energy to learn in these past 8 years. But a job really only takes about 50% of your mind. The other half is generally burned by email, television, Facebook, Reddit, video games, researching potential products and other unnecessary things. If you can eliminate these, you’re halfway to retirement already.
With this 50% down-payment on the most powerful asset of a free mind, you can then start getting other things done. You’ll be able to better organize your time, get a better job, learn skills, learn about happiness itself, get in shape, be less exhausted, and much more.”
This is all true and consistent with my experience on a low-information diet. I have become, without a doubt, much happier, more serene, and more productive since I started on it a few months ago.
How my life has changed on the low-information diet
1. Improvements by inclusion
Here are some of the things that add significant value to my life that I’ve been able to do more of since starting:
- Learned how to program
- Finished more than 2 books per week (favorites of the year so far: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Annihilation, & 10:04)
- Started exercising more
- Spent more quality time with my spouse, family, friends, and dog
- Become more effective at work
- Accomplished effective altruism goals
- Learned more about topics that I care about right now, such as birth, raising kids, and animal consciousness
- Gotten better at figuring out life and being the person I want to be
2. Improvements by exclusion
Here are some of the ways I’ve reduced irrelevant information and low priority activities:
- No more politics at all (except for just before my civic duty)
- Once a month social media check-ins (versus multiple times a day, with exceptions for Strava & Goodreads)
- Once a month internet surfing / blogs / news articles (versus multiple times a day)
- Ruthlessly pruning dvd and reading queues
- Not feeling bad for quitting a movie or book or whatever if it isn’t interesting / valuable
Why I made these changes
To borrow from T.I., I made these changes because, you know, big shit poppin and little shit stoppin. The concept is very straightforward, and I don’t want to analyze it to death… its simply that we’ve got limited time here so spend it on the things with the highest ROI, the big shit (YOLO!).
For me, mainlining social media, politics, news, and life-hack / think pieces was generating a low ROI, for a variety of reasons you could probably guess. I’m already pretty well-informed (some might say annoyingly so), so the marginal benefit of this daily stream of incremental information was pretty small (low ROI).
For example, I know who I’m going to vote for, what issues I care about, the ways to fix those issues (in an ideal world), that it is pretty impossible to change people’s minds, that there are a lot of problems in the world I have little control over (and some I do), generally what’s going on (from water cooler talk and the occasional NPR newscast on the local jazz radio station), the best ways to optimize my life, that my friends are cool, attractive, go on some neat vacations, get married, and have babies, take interesting pictures, occasionally make funny jokes and so on.
Rather than passively let other people set the agenda of my life and influence my interpretation of the world, I’m doing it for myself.
And the thing is, I still check in on this lower ROI stuff once a month to make sure I didn’t miss any gems, but I let the Facebook news feed algorithm and new york times most emailed articles do a lot of the work for me. Problem solved.
When I really want to learn about something I can do a deep dive, reading books, watching videos, and conducting thorough, topical internet research. Otherwise, I get to spend my days doing the things I love the most like spending time with the people that are closest to me, learning new skills, pursuing hobbies, killing it at work, reading tons of books, etc.
There are also very real benefits to upping engagement and experiencing the real world through my own eyes rather than through the eyes of others. Irony aside, there is something fundamental about this as a human being that I didn’t realize I was missing so much in the digital world. Having the opportunity to be more fully myself and interpret and experience the world as such has resulted in a lot more self-growth and actualization.
But that’s starting to get a little too personal / touchy-feely. I’ll just brush that under the rug, pretend it didn’t happen, and finish with a more characteristic closing:
BIG SHIT POPPIN AND LITTLE SHIT STOPPIN, MY FRIENDS
or alternatively, and because I don’t even really like T.I. that much, how about
POP IT LIKE ITS HOT(?)
or a jazz cat might even be feeling this:
STOP, POP, and ROLL.
however you wanna say it, you know what I mean…