Don’t should on yourself

Confession: I have been spending way too much time online lately. It happened over time. I would give in a little bit here, a little bit there, and it adds up. There are the excuses, of course, and the accidental discoveries that stop the old tricks from working, and the exhaustion from letting myself down. I should know better, I should do better, but life keeps getting in the way.

First went the dumb smartphone. I discovered I could easily change the passcode to block the apps that waste so much of my time. It was no use asking around people to put in a passcode. It became easy to allow” Safari, you know just to look up a recipe, look up events happening on a Friday, etc. But mostly, as it usually is with these things, I would fall into the trap of mindless scrolling. It’s easy to avoid the trap most of the day, but when the night time rolls around, and I am lonely, it becomes harder to resist. There is no harm in a little escape right?; a chuckle here, some online validation over there. I tried to be okay with it. Night time is the toughest. But soon enough, I was also waking up to my phone most mornings. I open my eyes and the first thing I reach for is my phone, and into the digital noise I go. I got used to waking up unplugged for so long that it sent alarm bells. Naturally, I felt bad. I had spent a long time building better digital habits. I should know better. I should do better.

A while ago, a lovely human said to me “don’t should on yourself.” It is easy to fall for the should-trap: I should block Safari on my phone, I should read a book before bed, I should wake up unplugged; these are my shoulds lately. I know what is good for me, and I know I would feel better, and my life would improve in small but important ways, if I do those things, but is it worth should-ing on myself? The shoulds impose perfection that we must attain with each night spent with a book and each morning without devices- at least an hour, the experts recommend, but real life is complex, messy, full of shit.

The shoulds also take away from all the progress I have made so far to spend less time online. I am so focused on what is not working at the moment that I forget the changes that have become automatic and make my life so much better. For one, I’m not on social media. It’s a choice that greatly improves my life, but it’s not without certain losses too. I rarely go on my phone if I am around people. I make the effort to spend time with family and friends as much as I can, and that in turn translates to less time spent online. It’s actually pretty simple; you reach out, you make plans, you commit, and you enjoy the company of others in real time. I am also constantly doing things out of my comfort zone, and naturally that gets me offline too. My morning still usually includes a book, some journaling, and I often do it outside: no phone, no devices. These are very good things worth noticing. Even though I’m not where I want to be with my unplugging journey, I am so ahead of where I used to be and I do like where I am right now.

We all know what we should do, at some level at least. And when we do what we should do, it feels great. But there are times when it feels impossible to put the phone down and face reality head on. Instead of should-ing on ourselves, it is better to accept that unplugging is a journey; a process, of learning, unlearning, understanding, misunderstanding, failing sometimes, and getting it right other times. Don’t miss the trees for the forest: so concerned with the small things that are not going well, you forget to look at the situation as a whole, and the small positive changes that have made all the difference.

Take it as a journey. All in due time. Ebb and flow. You lose some, but you do, in fact, win some. Perfection is the enemy of perfectly adequate. Don’t should on yourself.

Until next time,

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