This is an account of day 11 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 11 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to pick one habit to quit. Epictetus said, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”, and today’s task reinforces that notion – that we should always be making progress toward the person we want to be, leaving behind the parts of the person we don’t want to be.
Quoting Sharon Lebell’s The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, today’s instructional email from the Daily Stoic urges self-scrutiny in order to do away with our dubious life choices:
Today, we’re getting rid of a dubious life choice that is unworthy of us. Maybe it’s drinking. Maybe it’s complaining. Maybe it’s watching pornography or smoking or an emotional affair you’ve been having. Maybe it’s biting your nails or watching too much TV or checking your Twitter account or eating sugar. Only you know which of these things is carrying further from the person you see yourself as…just as only you know how truly miserable this habit is making you.
Whatever it is, we’re going to take one bad belief, one bad habit or preference, and give it up. That’s your task for today: to quit a vice. It can be for a day, or for the challenge, or for life—that’s up to you. The important thing is the quitting. Why? Epictetus put it so plainly and brilliantly:
Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running…therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead…If you don’t want to be cantankerous, don’t feed your temper, or multiply incidents of anger. Suppress the first impulse to be angry, then begin to count the days on which you don’t get mad…the vice begins to weaken from day one, until it is wiped out altogether.
When I think of habits I could do without, that have more of a negative effect than a positive one, a few come to mind. Scrolling Facebook, using a smartphone first thing in the morning and last thing at night, eating sugar, the list goes on. I hope to address those ones in the near future, but for now the habit I want to quit is checking the latest news, which includes reading news sites and watching bulletins on TV.
We’re living in an age when even the most trivial of stories are being sensationalised and presented as “BREAKING NEWS”, when in fact it’s just a way to steal our attention and siphon away our free time. A lot of news, particularly from politically biased channels, is simply created to provoke outrage and reaction. That has to be bad for stress and anxiety levels, but, more than anything, it’s an investment of time for which we get little back. I want to break the habit of consuming too much news and do something better with that time.
All this noise. All this news. We are afraid of the silence. We are afraid of looking stupid. We’re willing to drive ourselves insane—miserable—to avoid that.
And what would happen if we stopped?
We could live. We could get real clarity. And with it, maybe we could be the little bit of change that we want to see in the world.https://ryanholiday.net/stop-watching-the-news/
So for this challenge and beyond I’m going to try to cut out reading and watching the ephemeral-in-nature news and replace that with reading something more enduring that I can get real value from – books. No scrolling news on the phone, no browsing on the computer, no watching on television. I hope the extra time means I can get through more books on wide and varied topics, improving my knowledge and perspective more than I would if I kept reading news.
In the challenge’s group Slack channel, a lot of participants, like Maxime, were also looking to regain their freedom from unproductive distractions that try to steal our time:
Day 11: Removed the few remaining games and social media apps I had left on my mobile phone. These apps were distractions I used when I was bored and used my cell phone to pass time. Been intending to do it for a while so today’s challenge is the perfect reason to do it.
Some concept of current affairs, of what’s going on in the world, is useful, but there’s a very low threshold to news consumption becoming excessive. Always needing to know the latest is a pathway to anxiety. The next time you hear, read, or watch a news story ask yourself if what you’re being fed will still be relevant in a week. Chances are it wont and you could’ve been doing something more productive, which is motivation to kick the habit.