How much time do you spend on your phone every day?
Statistics show us that most people spend about 50 minutes every day on Facebook or other social media sites like Twitter and Instagram. As a culture, we’re constantly hungry for the next “like,” the next retweet, the next comment. Our technology is like processed food — it tastes sugary and sweet in the moment, but in the long run, it’s terrible for our ability to grow, perform, and succeed.
But that addiction can have some pretty serious consequences. We experience this constant flow of information and stimulus, and as a result, we don’t know how to be alone with our thoughts. We forget how to engage in authentic relationships with other people. We lose our ability to focus and be creative.
It’s time for a digital detox.
My guest today famously has never had a social media account. His name is Cal Newport, and he’s an expert on digital media and how it affects us. He’s in the studio with me today to share some of his research about how our phones affect us. He’s also bringing the wisdom to teach us how to detox from our addiction to social media and learn how to be more focused, intentional, and confident in every area of our lives.
In our interview, Cal and I discuss some specifics of our addiction to our phones. We talk about the power of actually turning off your phone and being alone with your thoughts. Cal even gives us a 30-day detox plan we can follow to reevaluate our relationships with our phones and turn off the digital content that turns out to be more harmful than helpful.
And for you business owners and entrepreneurs who use social media to reach your audience and grow your impact — don’t worry, Cal’s got some excellent advice for you too! He’s going to help us all learn how to use social media as a tool without letting it stifle our creativity and happiness.
This episode is fantastic, guys. Cal’s insight and advice were super helpful for me, and I know he’ll help you too! Let’s dive in!
Cal Newport is a Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and the author of the Study Hacks blog, which receives more than 3 million visits a year. He’s an expert in the ways technology has shaped and changed the way we think, and he’s passionate about sharing his knowledge with the world and helping people to be more focused and efficient.
He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. His most recent book, Digital Minimalism, is full of brilliant insight into ways we can all turn off the digital noise and choose to live more focused lives. Cal is all about using digital technology in a minimalist way — it’s about knowing how much is too much and using it just enough. Digital Minimalism teaches readers how to develop that awareness and treat technology with more intention.
Cal’s work has been translated into 25 different languages and features in publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the New Yorker. He’s also made several appearances on NPR, and he hosts his own podcast called Deep Questions. Cal is truly dedicated to sharing his wisdom and message with as many people as possible.
I’m so happy I got the opportunity to have him on The School of Greatness. Cal is an incredibly smart guy, and I learned a lot from him! I know you will as well, so let’s dive in and see just how we can take control of our digital lives.
One of the main ideas in Cal’s book Deep Work is that focus is the new IQ in the modern workplace. With all our abundance of digital technology and social media, we’re more distracted than ever, and that’s a real problem in our professional lives.
“Well, there are two forces going on. So focus is becoming more valuable just because our economy is shifting to high-level work. We sort of automate the low-level work, and [we can’t automate] the stuff that really requires some creativity or … original thought. So if you can focus, it really helps you produce this type of value, but at the same time — sort of unrelated to that trend — we’re getting worse at concentrating because we’ve got [social media] going on all the time. … We’ve forgotten how valuable focus is, and we’ve forgotten what it takes to be good at it.” – Cal Newport
And not only do all our digital devices affect our ability to focus at work, they seriously impair our relationships. Cal explained that many of his readers say that “something is going on with our personal life with tech.” Psychologists and therapists are seeing dramatic increases in depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and it all started just a few years ago when smartphones and social media became huge.
So how can we digitally declutter our lives? How can we learn how to focus again? How can we take back our ability to focus and be creative? And how can we develop real, fulfilling relationships with other people? Stay tuned, because Cal’s got the answers!
Cal says we have to develop “cognitive fitness.”
“So cognitive fitness means, among other things, [that] your brain needs to be comfortable with being bored. I mean, if it’s been trained [that] every time you get bored, you get a treat stimuli … when it actually comes time to focus, which is boring in a technical sense, … your brain is going to say, ‘no way.’ I’ve learned when I’m bored, I’m going to get a treat.” – Cal Newport
How many times a day do you grab your phone and quickly check Twitter while you’re at work? As soon as you feel a little bit bored, do you check your texts and spend a few minutes messaging with your friends?
We’ve got to get better about letting our minds experience boredom without needing to reach for our phones. Cal suggests doing what he calls “productive meditation.” Instead of sitting still and meditating, he suggests going for a long walk and making an effort to stay focused on one productive thought the whole time. Maybe you think about your presentation in the next board meeting or on your upcoming campaign launch. Whatever you choose to think about, focus only on that, and push away all other distractions. If you do this regularly, your brain will eventually get used to the feeling of boredom, and you’ll find yourself much more able to focus for longer periods of time.
Cal says this kind of productive meditation is “essentially cognitive push-ups.” It’s so healthy for our brains to get away from social media stimuli and remember how to focus again! Take a few minutes today to walk around your office or neighborhood and focus on one particular thing. Isn’t that a more productive use of your time than scrolling through your Facebook again?
Many of us use social media simply as a way to be social. We connect with old friends, and we engage with other like-minded people. But here’s the problem: likes, follows, and retweets are not real forms of friendship. Our brains don’t process those things the way they process real interactions with other people. In fact, using social media to feel less lonely actually makes us feel worse in the long run.
“So it’s this irony that you’re doing this because I want to feel accepted and connected to people, but by doing this all the time, you’re actually feeling less connected and less accepted because our social brain … doesn’t really know what to make of a number next to a thumbs up icon. … What makes people feel connected — it’s the strong relationships with sacrifice and time and attention for taking out responsibility on behalf of family, close friends, [and] community.” – Cal Newport
Think about ways you can engage with your family, close friends, and community that don’t involve using a phone. Could you grab coffee with your mom? Could you ask a friend to come over and cook dinner with you? Why not see if there’s a local rec league you could play your favorite sport with? The relationships you build face-to-face are going to be so much more fulfilling than ones built on social media.
And don’t underestimate the power of the digital detox to grow your self-confidence, too. Remember what we talked about earlier about the relationship between digital distraction and creativity? When you’re constantly scrolling through social media, your brain forgets how to focus, and you end up losing a lot of time that would otherwise be spent productively.
It turns out, our digital consumption has implications for our self-confidence outside the professional world. Just as we find it harder and harder to focus at work, we’re also unable to focus on developing the skills we want to have. And beyond that, when we spend all our time on social media, we don’t have enough time for anything else.
“When you’re doing something like learning how to play a guitar … it’s completely unyielding. … But we used to be more comfortable doing these things because what else are you going to do [with your spare time]?” – Cal Newport
Think of what you could do with the extra time you’d have if you decluttered your digital life and retrained your brain to focus. What new skills would you pick up? Would you learn to play the guitar? That’s something I’ve been working on, and it’s a lot of fun!
When you choose to do a digital detox, you take control of your time. And when you do that, you get to fill each day with the activities and relationships you find truly fulfilling. When you feel fulfilled, you feel confident and happy — and who doesn’t want that?
For those of you who are entrepreneurs, influencers, and business owners who use social media — don’t worry! As I promised, Cal’s got some great advice for you too. For people who use social media as a tool for their business, Cal says you need to focus on using those platforms in just that way — as tools.
“And so what I typically advise is if you think social media is very important for your business, treat it as something important. Actually get after it and understand, ‘Where am I really getting the value?’ Treat it like any other tool. Then, once you really figure it out — ‘These are ways that social media is helping me professionally’ — then use it as a professional, so there’s no reason to be on your phone.” – Cal Newport
If you’re running a business through social media, it’s essential to think of social media as a business tool. See exactly what value you’re getting out of it, and then set boundaries for yourself.
If you find that you bring in viewers or clients on Instagram, that’s great! Keep using Instagram for that purpose. But don’t allow that tool to consume your personal life, because it will start to eat away at your time and make you less effective as a business person.
If this wisdom is resonating with you and you’re ready to take the leap and do a digital detox, Cal has outlined a plan to help you! He recommends a 30-day detox that you can do at any time to reset your digital consumption habits and start rebuilding your focus and fulfillment.
“So, one, it takes about seven to ten days just to sort of detox from the need to compulsively use the phone. Until you get rid of that feeling … it’s very hard to make decisions about what’s important or not.” – Cal Newport
I’m not going to lie, those first few days without a phone are hard. I experienced this myself when I took a trip to Hawaii and intentionally left my phone at home. Eventually, it was amazing, and I didn’t miss the constant distraction. But in the beginning, it was stressful! I remember having to stop at a gas station and ask for directions like it was 1995 because I couldn’t just pull up a GPS in the car. But it was so worth it!
“… But more importantly, 30 days is enough time to actually do the hard self-reflection on this key question: ‘What am I all about? What do I care about?’ You can experiment and try things out and can talk to mentors and read inspiring books. It takes quite a bit of self-work to figure out, ‘What do I really care about?’ And once you know that, when you get to the end of 30 days, you have a foundation.” – Cal Newport
So step one is to get away from your devices. Step two is to start asking yourself the tough questions. Who are you? What do you really want to do? How can you get the maximum value from your time in this life? You only have one life to live, so it’s important to consider how you want to spend it.
Once you’ve taken a few weeks to consider those questions and work on yourself, you’ve got a pretty good foundation. You’re clearer on the way you want to live your life, and you’re ready to decide what aspects of digital and social media you want to bring back in and which you want to leave out.
Cal Newport is here to help humans learn how to thrive. In our digital culture, we all need some tips and advice to help us use tools like social media so that they benefit us instead of adding to our stress, and Cal is the expert to talk to. I’m so glad I got to have him on the show today!
Here’s Cal’s definition of greatness:
“[Greatness is] rising to your potential. We all have a potential, like what we could be doing. And so fighting … for that, that’s greatness.” – Cal Newport
What potential do you have that you haven’t yet risen to? Do you need to do a digital detox to get there?
Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of The School of Greatness, everybody! If you enjoyed this episode, definitely check out Cal’s website (of course, he’s not on social media!). There, you can check out his Study Hacks blog and his podcast, Deep Questions, to learn more about how to maximize the value of your time and live up to your fullest potential.
I wish I could have talked about more of Cal’s great advice and perspective here, but there was just way too much good stuff! If you’re ready to get even more great advice about the power of digital detox, make sure to listen to Episode 770 with Cal Newport.
Lewis: This is episode number 770 with New York Times best-selling author Cal Newport. Welcome to the school of greatness my name is Lewis Howes a former athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today, now let the class begin.
Socrates said “The secret of happiness you see is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” Welcome to this interview I’m super excited because we have Cal Newport in the house, who is a professor of computer science in Georgetown University and writes the study hacks blog focused on academic and career success. His work has been published in over 20 languages and he’s been featured in many publications and he’s never had a social media account. In this interview we talked about the 3 powerful benefits of getting out in nature to explore our thoughts, also how to build stronger connections in person rather than only online. We discussed how our phones and social media can be a big scape in life in a mentally unhealthy way. The power of social media detoxing and what you can do 30 days to get started. And we discussed the true definition of minimalism and some miss people have about the lifestyle. Now, this is gonna be an interesting one because if you’re an entrepreneur who uses social media all the time you may think this may go against the grain of you growing your business, but Cal gives some practical strategic advice on how to be on social media less and make more and be happier.
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I’m excited about this one all about how to use social media responsibly, how do we take a digital detox and a digital minimalism approach to life so we can do deeper more meaningful more valuable work that resonates with the world with the one and only Cal Newport.
Welcome everyone back to the school of greatness podcast we’ve got Cal Newport in the house, good to see you man.
Cal: My pleasure.
Lewis: You had a book come out a few years ago when did that come out?
Lewis: Called deep work and it argues that focus is the new IQ in the modern workplace because we have so much social media distracting and focus is something that kind of lost commodity I guess.
Cal: Well, there is 2 forces going on so focus is becoming more valuable just because our economy is shifting to high level work. We sort of automate the low level work and stuff that really requires some creativity or some thinking original thought. So if you can focus it really helps you produce this type of value but at the same time sort of unrelated to that trend we’re getting worse at concentrating because we this going on all the time. So it’s sort of the supply and demand that focus becoming more valuable at the exact same time that it is becoming rarer.
Lewis: You’re gonna be like the wealthy of value because there’s so many few people that actually able to focus and write a book that’s got deep work in it and make a movie or do something that takes a year or 2 years. The time and energy that goes to something piece of work to make it magical is so much harder to do.
Cal: That is very valuable but is practice as well. So book was sort of about we forgotten how valuable focus is and we forgotten what it takes to be good at it.
Lewis: What does it take to be good at focus?
Cal: Think about it like a habit everyone’s like “I know how to focus the problem is I’m not doing it enough.” If you practice like playing a guitar you practice it you can better if you don’t practice it you’re not gonna be very good at it, even if you put aside the time and you lock away all your devices if you’re not gonna practice it it’s not gonna go very well. So, there’s sort of cognitive athletics you can actually go in there and train this capability, you kind of have to.
Lewis: The training focus? What’s someone who’s obsess with social media who checks emails 20 times a day, who always feel like they’re behind and working till 8 to 9 at night because they haven’t done focus during the day, what are some steps that they could start with?
Cal: Well, it sorts of like with athletics there’s general fitness and then the skill. So cognitive fitness means among other things your brain needs to be comfortable with being bored, I mean if it’s been train every time you get bored you get a shiny a treat stimuli. So, then when it actually comes time to focus which is boring in technical sense right? Because there’s not a lot of different stimuli.
Lewis: It’s not exciting.
Cal: Your brain is gonna say ‘no way’ like I’ve learned it when I’m bored I’m gonna get a treat. So in that sense if you’re constantly doing this it’s like junk food eating if you’re an athlete right, your fitness is gonna be bad.
Lewis: It taste good in the moment.
Cal: It taste good on the moment but then you get on the field and you feel like crap. And there’s the training the specific things that you can do to sort of acute training. And so one of the things I write about is called productive meditation which is essentially cognitive pull-ups. The idea there is you go for a walk and you try to hold one professional thought in your head and you try to make progress on that thought while you’re walking, and just like in mindfulness meditation when you notice your concentration drifts as you will do, you come back. It’s really hard at first but if you keep practicing this you get better and better at it and the results can actually be pretty radical, you do this for a month and you find your ability to sit down and go laser really improved.
Lewis: You do this a lot to yourself? You take walks and start thinking?
Cal: So, I write in my head like when I’m trying to figure out a chapter or an essay or something like this, I work out the structure and then I actually work out a lot of the wording and that’s mainly practice. And that’s literally moving the variables of the equations. In my hometown I’m considered an eccentric because I’m always walking the loops and people are talking to my wife “Where is your husband going?” But you I like wandering and something about walking that shuts off some non-cerebral parts of your mind that makes it easier to take the thinking aspect to really focus it.
Lewis: You take your phone with you when you’re walking?
Lewis: What about texting and email? Because you don’t have social media you never had an account and you and I were born around the same time, you’re a year older than me and we were in college, I guess your last year in college my junior year was when Facebook came out. It was like a big deal when it came out in my college and we were some of the first people to have it and I’m sure you are as well but you never sign up for an account and you never had an account.
Cal: I think what happen was sort of accidental. So Facebook came around and people are excited about it and I wasn’t interested in signing up and I don’t know quite why, in part I had a failed tech company in the first boom so Zuckerberg is a contemporary of ours. And also my memory is, see I’ve always hated listy things. I’m really bad at like listing favorites and then that’s what Facebook was in 2004. It sort of accidental I didn’t sign up but once you enter that path I sort of objected distance where I can kind of observe as a change.
Lewis: I think that stats almost 50 minutes’ people are on Facebook or social media. An hour a day of your life.
Cal: Just for those services.
Lewis: So you wander around you do this every day you take a walk?
Cal: It depends on the day.
Lewis: It’s interesting because when I was 10 or 11 years ago I had a mentor, every day he would take a walk and just brainstorm. He was an inventor and he always have crazy ideas and he said “My best ideas come from walking.” And I think we lose the art of getting out in nature and having space to be bored, and when we are bored that’s when some of our best ideas come to us.
Cal: It’s crucial.
Lewis: It’s crucial but very few of us have the courage to be alone.
Cal: It’s scary for a lot of people. So being alone with your own thoughts is scary but it does 3 things. 1 its self-insight, so if you want to develop as a human figure out what you’re about, grow into a new face of life, become an adult and you start to ask the questions. You have to grapple with your own thoughts you have to process your experiences and make sense of it. That’s requires time, ask the tough questions and you what are you upset about and happy about. You can’t do this while you’re in input processing mode. So, if there is something in your ear and your hand you can’t be doing this type of reflection so you don’t develop [?]. Creativity requires you to take in all this input that you’ve been receiving you got to think about it. So like someone listening to this podcast right now is an input processing mode, so their brain is in a very particular mode. Finally, there’s like a maintenance aspect to it, it’s a big deal to be process input from another brain because again we take that very seriously if you’re doing it all the time. So every time you have a down moment you’re looking at social media for example which is you know all input from other frames. So, I think this sort of low grade of anxiety that so many people feel today, a lot of that is actually lack of solitude.
Lewis: So more people are actually alone they’d be more happy?
Cal: Not all the time. So I get this quote from the book I found it in Ben Franklin’s journal when he did his first transatlantic cross when he went to London for the first time. So, he was really thinking about solitude, so you just found it in his journals and he was talking about how, well the great sages talked the value of solitude but I suspect if you made the great sages be alone long enough they would start to regret it, like you can’t have too much solitude that’s just as bad. So if you’re alone all the time it’s terrible like the worst thing you can do to someone is put them in solitary confinement. But if you get rid of every moment of solitude it can be sort of bad in some instance.
Lewis: So what do you recommend for someone who’s on social media all day? They never have any downtime because when they get home they turn the TV on and stimulating constantly, do you recommend take a 30 minute walk?
Cal: Do something without your phone once a day, that’s the easiest way just to get comfortable.
Lewis: So many people walking looking down their phone everywhere you go. It’s funny because 2 years ago maybe it was 2 and a half years ago I have my realization that for 15 years I have my phone on my every single day for 15 years. The year 2000 I got my first cellphone I was in junior high school and I realized that there was not a day gone by that I didn’t have my phone on me at some point. And I thought to myself that was wrong, I was like this is horrible.
Cal: What a radicle change too in terms of human history.
Lewis: Before that never device on me maybe a Gameboy once in a while or something, but 15 years of my life I had this on me. So, 2 years ago I made a commitment and said “I’m going to Hawaii alone and leaving my phone at home.” So, I went to Hawaii 4 or 5 days and the 1st day it was terrifying because I rented a car and I forgot like my confirmation number and I forgot which car rental service I got it from. I finally got the car and now I need directions to my hotel, I started asking people where is this? And stop at a gas station like in 1995 or whatever and I was like “Wow, this is actually scary.” I remember on day 2 I was at the beach and I was thinking to myself I was laying in the ocean and just looking up at the sky and hearing like the birds and nature and I had 0 anxiety because I wasn’t worried about where my phone was. I remember at the end of this 4 or 5 days I felt so much peace and calm, 0 anxiety it’s almost like I didn’t want to go back home to the phone.
Cal: And that’s just getting back to our baseline. We underestimate how artificial it is to have a constant companion, it’s incredibly artificial. Nowhere in our evolutionary past where we are in a context or we had this sort of constant connection to other people ideas and their thoughts. The stuff that makes people worried about not having the phone with them.
Lewis: This is how we used to live and I was fine.
Cal: In the book I talked about this story it’s a sub-genre online of people who lose their phones or have their phones stolen and then decide ‘I’m not gonna replace it right away’ and then they write about this experience you can find all of this online and they often have a similar.
Lewis: Transforms of life.
Cal: Convenience but not as many as they thought. But that’s one of the things I push back on, so I mean you had your phone on you for 15 years, but actually more recently is when we shifted towards not just having a phone on us but looking at it all the time that’s like 6 or 7 years old.
Lewis: Yeah, because the first 8 years there was no smartphones, it was just like you’re texting and you’re calling. And then there was social media there was wifi and everything else.
Cal: Social media’s what change it. And not just social media it was the Facebook IPO. So, if you go back to the beginning of the consumer phase in smartphone era like the iPhone in 2007, I went back and talked to the original development lead for the first iPhone. What he confirmed is there was nothing about this tech that meant for you to look at it all the time. Steve Jobs was a minimalist his whole thing was ‘I want to take something that’s really important to you and I want to make the experience beautiful.’ And so for him it was plain music, music was incredibly important.
Lewis: Huge, big.
Cal: And everyone was listening to iPods and so the iPhone has a touch screen and he was offended by the interfaces on the cellphones at that time. And that was like from 2007-2012 that was smartphones, it was this beautiful tool that you brought out occasionally to do specific things. Around 2011, 2012 the social media companies where now past the stage of just trying to grow and we actually have the revenue up. And so they completely reengineered the experience to be not about posting and reading other people’s post but instead about social approval indicators. So, now every time you hit this app you can see some indications, are people approving of me? Are people thinking of me? And that’s what change our relationship with the phones from this jobs you envision this is a beautiful object that does a few things really well into I have to look at this one I am walking the dog. There is nothing fundamental about the tech that said we need to be looking at this all the time. That was essentially a business model that was proved very effective.
Lewis: very effective, very addictive. You know as that expands and grows the more likes you get it feels like you feel less worthy of yourself, it’s like you have less self-worth because you constantly need to be reminded that your like and what you posted was cool or interesting. So, we have to constantly remind ourselves like I am worthy, I am enough.
Cal: I need the likes except for when you’re hunting the like then what you’re not doing is actually sacrificing your time and energy to be with a close friend, or family or community.
Lewis: Or create something meaningful.
Cal: Like the things we actually evolved to crave. So it’s this irony that you’re doing this because I want to feel accepted and connected to people, but by doing this all the time you’re actually feeling less connected and less accepted because our social brain it doesn’t really know what to make of and number next to a thumbs up icon.
Lewis: So how do we build stronger connections?
Cal: Well, I mean when it comes to social life we kind of know, we’ve known for a long time what makes people feel connected it’s the strong relationships with sacrifice and time and attention for taking our responsibility on behalf of family, close friends, and community.
Lewis: It’s not a deep work of relationships, it’s the small attention that’s not meaningful by showing up. Even a phone call is better than just a like or congrats. I try to go even a step further with people I am deeply connected to and send them a video message and they’re always in shock because they are so used to someone saying text.
Cal: The thing about it when you do it, it probably feels something about it feels more real.
Lewis: More attention and time, it’s more peace of quality I guess communication right. But showing up is really the key. So do you feel like our quality of life is diminishing because of social media or because of the lack of our attention to deeper work and our relationships?
Cal: This is what I’ve been hearing. So, I wrote ‘deep work’ really about tech and its impact on the professional world. And what I kept hearing when I was on the road was [?] but what about tech and our personal lives?
Lewis: So tech in the worklife meaning?
Cal: Like the distractions and emails and how that’s keeping people away from doing highly concentrated work and this is probably a mistake.
Lewis: Just doing meetings all day and communicating but not actually creating work.
Cal: Really bad at knowledge work, so that was deep work. So, a lot of the readers saying ‘something is going on with our personal life with tech.’ And so you look into this and you see there is unease maybe around 2 years ago, people really started to shift from this sort of self-deprecating mode to like wait a second there is a problem. But if you talk to people it’s not utility so it’s not that they say this is useless, I hate what I’m doing when I’m on my phone. So people are feeling like ‘I am losing control over my life and that’s why I am upset.’ The argument is I’m losing my autonomy as a human being.
Lewis: Especially when you now in the iPhone you can try to see how many hours you spent on an app or social media account. It’s like what you could have done with those time.
Cal: Split that 20 hours some like strong interaction with people, self-reflection and let’s say some skill building or creation.
Lewis: Or working out or nature.
Cal: and multiply that by 5 or 6 weeks even and yet it’s a vastly different outcome. If you think about the compounding return now you take those 20 hours and you repurpose it week after week.
Lewis: Completely different and people who complain about wanting to write a book but never have the time or wanting to learn a new language or new skill, just look at the amount of time you spend on social media or your email or nonsense.
Cal: And this is why people get so upset on social media, again it’s not that they think it’s what they’re actually doing is evil or what they do when they’re on these screens you know. So like this isn’t bad but not learning the language, not learning the skill, not taking the responsibility like becoming a figure in my community the people respect. There’s all of the stuff over here that instinctually [?] and I’m just distracting myself with this so much that there’s nothing left over for me to do that. And the fact that why am I so distracted on this is because they tweak it so that I would do this a lot.
Lewis: And you said before we jump on here about deeper conversation of what’s the void we’re trying to fill, what’s the thing that people aren’t willing to look at within themselves that makes them so distracted?
Cal: This is a lot of what surprise me. When I was working on the book I did this experiment where I put on a [?] and like experimenting on this idea of a digital clutter where 30 days you step away. Almost everything you do in your personal life in tech.
Lewis: It’s like movies and TV.
Cal: So different people have different rules for that, like one of the rules I like is people said no streaming media by yourself. The idea was you do this 30 days and when it’s over you rebuild your digital life from scratch.
Lewis: And what brings you joy.
Cal: And figure it out and then you rebuild it from scratch but I kept getting this reports from people, especially younger people who did not have an adult life before social media that it was terrifying. Taking this away that first day was really terrifying for him and I had underestimated the degree to which for a lot of people that this is a serious escape.
Lewis: Like what?
Cal: Well it can be a lot of things, I mean for some people there’s questions about their life like what am I supposed to be doing? Am I really living up to my potential? Am I really happy with the type of person you know who I am? It’s incredibly uncomfortable to confront and for other people just they don’t have high quality analogue leisure option in their life, which is another thing I learned about it seems sort of superficial but it’s actually really important.
Lewis: Like what are the examples?
Cal: Like things you do in your time outside of work that is require skills, something you can get better at and something that maybe connects you to other people as you do it. It could be like athletics for a lot of people even like their pickup basketball game or something like this but also skilled hobbies. And so getting back into that if you’ve never been before is difficult.
Lewis: I think you said in your Ted video that you like read a book every night and you relax like kind of rocking chair.
Cal: Such an old man and I read the news on newspaper on the table.
Lewis: That was like my dad, my dad read the newspaper either in the morning but after work you come home and just read the newspaper and just sitting in the room with us while watching TV or playing video games, he was reading the newspaper. Almost every night he would like fall asleep in his chair, reading the newspaper or book and just pass out.
Cal: It sounds superficial but we go all the way back to Aristotle and you see that it’s crucial to visit you just for the intrinsic quality. That’s crucial for making it inevitable for the ups and downs in life, that you have activities that you do just because you appreciate quality, if you have that it’s kind of a buffer against ups and down. It all seems superficial but it’s an important buffer and.
Lewis: The in between times.
Cal: So maybe having a hard time in life at the moment, having this sort of anchor there’s things I do just appreciate them for the intrinsic quality is deeply human. We take it for granted but having the screen, I mean you can avoid all of this because it’s easier at the moment.
Lewis: And more rewarding.
Cal: More rewarding this optimize content.
Lewis: You want more and you’re never satisfied.
Cal: Never satisfied but if you eat away from a culture like McDonalds like you’re not gonna be happy in the long term.
Lewis: So this void that we’re trying to fill you’re saying that when we have hobbies or other things that we can do that add value to us buffer time as opposed to on the phone to try and fill the void. What would that do for us emotionally, mentally? You also talked about how a lot of professors or maybe therapist on college campuses or professors in mental health or saying that mental health is rising because of social media anxiety. So do you think if we were able to eliminate some of that we can do more arts & crafts, music and other buffer type experiences that anxiety would go down?
Cal: It would definitely go down. So for young people, so generation Z which is the first generation to have [?] access to smartphone on social media as they enter their young adolescents, this generation that’s where anxiety and anxiety disorders were literally off the charts. So the demographers measure different traits change from generation to generation had never seen something change that severely. So it was off their charts and looking at anxiety and anxiety related disorders and the turning point from this, if you were born just late enough to have social media and smartphones like when you enter junior high.
Lewis: When you’re like 10.
Cal: And so this is off the charts. I have been hearing this informally from mental health experts on college. They used to have the standard array of mental health issues sort of a cross-section of what you would expect like country as a whole and then just shifted overnight. And they would say that the students who started arriving on campus with smartphones it was that year, because we’re not wired for it right? So, what do we need to flourish as human beings? You take on responsibility for family, close friends. You do activity that has intrinsic quality, so you go out there and I want to do things with my time that itself is high quality and there’s value in just doing that. And then in your professional life you look to make impact. You do these things it’s not a secret formula, this is what we’ve always needed the nutriment of human flourish. And so this is the issue with the phone and again like the social media companies wanted it to be utilities, it’s not uselss to be on Facebook but it’s not the issue. This has become so compulsive that it’s taken us away from these things that we absolutely need to flourish. So you take those all away and you just do this and that.
Lewis: You’re gonna get dumber.
Cal: It’s gonna impede professional progress and then life gets really hard and then you need this more and more to escape. I mean when things become dangerous in our life is when you start using them to escape other things you don’t want to confront and so it becomes a cycle. So then you know I’m probably not doing what I should be doing with my life.
Lewis: When you feel guilty.
Cal: Like going back to this it’s a cycle.
Lewis: What’s more addictive social media or smoking?
Cal: it’s an interesting question I talked to a psychologist about this it’s a different type of addiction. Smoking is a substance addiction, there’s actual nicotine that can get to the blood and can mess around directly with your neurons. That’s really strong when you have a substance addiction you can really feel strong physical withdrawal symptoms is you stop using it. Phone addiction psychologist tend to categorize a modern behavior addiction, which means like if I take away your phone it might be difficult but you’re not gonna have the same type of withdrawal if you’re like an alcoholic. But modern behavioral addictions lead you to using something much more than you know is healthy if you have access. So it’s just like if I put a bowl of potato chips in front of you every day you’re gonna eat probably way too many potato chips, but if I don’t you’re not gonna sneak out at night to go buy it. So that’s where we are with probably phones is that if we have it with us we’re gonna use it more than we think is healthy.
Lewis: On the phone? Okay, so let’s make this scenario, there’s a lot of entrepreneurs that listen a lot of people that have products and services and companies and try to build their brands and get exposure. What would you say to the people that their business is mostly online and is evolved around building communities on social networking platforms, how would you suggest they manage their time on social media?
Cal: All those are possible. So, I definitely recognize in the professional context there’s certain things that social media enables that’s really powerful, I mean there’s a reason for example why Facebook is worth 500 billion dollars because let’s say you try to advertise, it’s crazy this thing can pinpoint exact human beings you try to sell to and I see why they’re making lots of money and understand why people use to advertise. I also understand having some sort of presence and social media is useful in certain industries. And so what I typically advise is if you think social media is very important for your business treat it as something important, like actually get after it and understand where am I really getting value? Treat it like any other tool, then once you really figure it out this are ways that social media is helping me professionally than use it as a professional so there’s no reason to be on your phone.
Lewis: Email on your phone?
Cal: I’ve deleted it. So once you identified X, Y, and Z on social media a big ROI. I interviewed some social media brand managers for major companies on the book, how do professionals use it? They’ve got tools, schedules, systems they often have staffs that helps and it’s a completely different interaction than I’m [?]. So a lot of people sort of tell themselves story that allows professional use to completely change outside of life of work. And so there’s 2 things that happens sometimes people just generically see professional social media, I don’t want to think about it more than just in general being on here and using a lot, I think we got to think a lot sharper than that. And then 2 they let it infect over. But if a friend of mine is running a business and we’re out at dinner and he’s doing quick books.
So when I talk to professionals like if you need social media if you’re using it professionally use it like a professional and should have very little to do with your personal life.
Lewis: What are the non-negotiables for you every day?
Cal: Well I don’t really need that many non-negotiables because. So, I don’t have social media accounts so I’m free from that reengineering. So when you don’t have that reengineering towards that compulsive use model the phone just goes back to the way it was in 2007. But because I’ve never been exposed to constant companion model it just, there’s never something that I worry about and then online I train myself off a web surf.
Lewis: You just hang out and throwing a baseball out the backyard or whatever it may be.
Cal: We literally do that.
Lewis: I remember after work my dad would come home he’d be on a suit he’d roll his sleeves up and get 20 minutes to go and play catch in the backyard. Simple connection it’s a memory.
Cal: It’s a memory and it’s physical and tangible and you’re taking responsibility for relationship. My oldest is only 6 but we’re working on swings as he gets better.
Lewis: Now it’s interesting when you go as a parent to see T-ball and I’m sure you’re doing activities with your kids as they get older do you see all of the parents on their phone the whole time?
Cal: There’s a lot of that, in playgrounds too. This is one of the sources I think of push back that I’ve been picking up on the last couple of years on our digital lives is that our generation, so people like us who were exposed is were starting to have families. And so it’s interesting a lot of the unease is coming from new moms and dads, because now suddenly you have to confront like it’s pretty clear this thing in front of me is so important to something I want to dedicate to and take responsibility.
Lewis: My kids is one of the important things.
Cal: Yeah, it’s one of the source growing unease is that the social media generation the first adopters is not getting old enough.
Lewis: So for people who are entrepreneurs who use social media to build their business what do you recommend?
Cal: So take it off your phone and put fences on how and when. So a lot of the digital minimalist, like a lot of the people who go through this process probably 50% added social media back to their life after the 30 days. A lot of visual artist told me that Instagram is crucial for the creativity. If you’re a visual artist you have to see other people’s work. So Instagram has been fantastic for visual artist because you don’t have to live in one or two cities anymore. So that 50% add some value to social media help, the other 50% took it off their phone and transform it into a use it on Sundays on my desktop. It takes 20 minutes I look at the things they posted that week I’m getting all the value in this tool without letting it turn me into a widget.
Lewis: So in the book digital minimalism do you have a guideline for how people can do this for 30 days? Is there a process?
Cal: The process is you figure out what are you going to step away from and the things you need to keep you actually write down the rules. So, 1 it takes about 7 to 10 days just to sort of detox from the need to compulsively use the phone, until you get rid of that feeling compulsive use it’s very hard to make decisions about what’s important or not. So the first week or 2 you’re just getting away from it but more importantly 30 days is enough time to actually do the hard self-reflection on this key question, what am I all about? What do I care about? You can experiment and try things out and can talk to mentors and read inspiring books, it takes quite a bit of self-work to figure out what do I really care about. And once you know that when you get to the end of 3 days you have a foundation.
Lewis: This is powerful. How many people do you think actually after reading this book will take on the 30 day challenge?
Cal: They seem to be doing it, I mean the whole idea of a 30 day challenge is little bit of self-healthy than I normally am. People want there to be like ask question a lot but can you give me instead of tips like 5 things or whatever. Something about this 30 days that’s declutter it does work and coming up short of that try and kind of do [?] it doesn’t seem to be as effective. So that’s why I tell people “You can do things and shape to prepare for the 30 days.”
Lewis: I really feel like when you do this 30 day challenge, I had another friend who did this couple of years ago and he wrote a whole article about fast company like what he learned about himself in 30 days.
Cal: I wrote about it but then he went back to it all.
Lewis: And now is he back?
Cal: I don’t know I remember at the time I wrote the article.
Lewis: You did like a whole article and he learn about himself, I think he was able to do the deep work on certain projects or connect with friends more.
Cal: You have to have the time. I think it’s the same, I think what’s going on here we’ve seen in health and fitness, we got highly palatable process foods.
Lewis: Get it out of your system.
Cal: And everyone got. And we tried to get the stuff right like eat less move more. They got a whole philosophy based on something they care about and so that’s why this book is not about tips.
Lewis: Interesting my [?] manages my business, he doesn’t have social media, he has a Facebook account because he got on in 2004 when we were in college but he never uses it, I don’t even know if he knows his password. He not on Instagram, twitter and he’s probably the most productive person I know. He’s my inspiration because I’m probably on too much promoting my show or whatever maybe and what I realize after this conversation I can be on desktop for an hour a day doing what I need to do on social media.
Cal: With some professional help probably too.
Lewis: Yeah, with systems and software or some team you know around that. I’ve been doing that more and more but I feel I hold onto for whatever reason and maybe I can reflect more on trying to fill.
Cal: That’s the complicated thing but you can’t figure out the [?] you have to confront it. I feel really uneasy because I don’t have the thing I normally looked at.
Lewis: I love this you know my mom who lives a few blocks away she has been kneading her whole life and she still kneads 2 to 3 hours a day. There’s a blanket a huge blanket, a scarf every week and she always shows me like her masterpiece. She focuses so much on her craft and she has that as her buffer time. It brings her a lot of peace and helps like her mind and I just continue to think what all the things we’re mastering with this buffer time.
Cal: And this primal, there’s something primal about kneading or wood working because what differentiates us makes free species like one of the things that differentiates us is that can plan, so we can have an intention and we can manifest it in the world. So we’re wired to be very fulfilled and we can take an idea and manifest it in the physical concrete world, which is why there’s a type of fulfillment when you need something or carve something or whatever it is that you don’t get on a screen.
Lewis: I always look at Jim Carrey he has a video last year the most viewed video on [?], he’s a master artist he has this huge warehouse in I think in New York City and L.A where he just goes and paint something new every single day.
Cal: I’m trying to that more on my own life.
Lewis: Like what?
Cal: So, I’m getting back to tarpaulin in flexible metal strings and a piece of wood, you sort of try to manipulate this real world thing to make it sound good.
Lewis: A big thing I like to dance. I love salsa dancing I play little guitar as well, I just started singing lessons a couple of months ago. So, I’m just trying to use more of my body to manifest like my skills and things that I am not good at, things that I am trying to get better at.
Cal: But you can get better and its skill and you can get better at it.
Lewis: It’s rewarding and I think when we do these things like guitar and whatever when we get better that’s when we build true confidence. We don’t build confidence by getting more likes on social media, it might be a false sense of confidence for a moment but we haven’t really build a skill that’s valuable and I think that’s the thing there’s like fake confidence when we’re like growing online.
Cal: My uber driver yesterday said “This was one of the shifts he saw that kind of got him out of that industry was that younger people now aren’t willing to practice.” And he’d been doing this for a long time, it’s not a random sample it’s people coming to get lessons and just a discomfort with a discomfort of practicing. But when you’re doing something like learning how to play a guitar, you probably remember when you first learn the guitar it’s like completely unyielding.
Lewis: So hard man.
Cal: But we used to be more comfortable doing these things because what else you’re gonna do?
Lewis: With all those free time.
Cal: Yeah free time what are you gonna do? Like I want to play in rock band and girls like guys in rock band as what I was told. But if you’re used to that that is confidence. Matthew Person said something like this “The competent person who has a skill is sort of quiet and easy with themselves. The non-competent person is out there yelling into the void online.” But when you know how to do something really well quiet and easy.
Lewis: What do you recommend as a parent to other parents on how they can train or teach or educate their kids to do the hard work growing up?
Cal: Well, model is important so they got to see what you’re doing, see doing the hard things. When I was growing up the other rule was you always be doing in instrument, you always have to be doing in sport. I was that’s pretty good actually because those are both things, 2 things that are unyielding trying to get a guitar to do something or trying to get a bat to hit a fastball.
Lewis: So hard. My dad tried to get me to do the piano when I was a kid and I went to a lesson and just screamed and cried about it but I was in every sport, so I was like obsessed with sports.
Cal: I mean this is part of why it is so great is because, I mean it’s hard and you want to get better and you’re connected to other people.
Lewis: You’re learning with the group, you’re getting coached.
Cal: You’re helping the team as you get better, I mean having that model. Skills matter we respect people who do something well, it’s worthwhile learn something hard. Hard things is what moves life forward, hard things is the foundation of fulfillment. The more I think that sort of modeled and talked the better.
Lewis: This is great man I love this. Make sure you guys get the book ‘digital minimalism.’ You can’t find him on social media but you can go to his website Calnewport.com. Do you have a newsletter every week?
Cal: Yeah, I blog I’m a blog nerd and it goes to newsletter.
Lewis: This question is called the 3 truths. So, I want you to imagine it’s your final day on earth whenever you want it to be, it could be hundreds of years from now or whenever. At some point you got to go and you got to take all of your work with you all of your writing and content materials got to go with you when you die. But you get to write down on a piece of 3 things you know to be true about all your experiences and leave that with the world. What would you say are your 3 truths?
Cal: So this won’t be worded elegantly but probably something about responsibility. So taking on responsibility like 4 other people to do things of value is in the end gonna be more important than happiness in the moment. Doing hard things is sort of the foundation for a good life, like push yourself push yourself to do hard things. Serve other people, serve other people. I guess all of these if I’m thinking about it all 3 of these things I guess are really about taking the focus away from yourself, what’s happening to yourself? How do you feel? Sort of shifting the focus away from that. Take on responsibility, take on hard things try to rise to it. Serve other people as opposed to worrying to much about are other people properly serving you.
Lewis: Those are great men I love those. I want to acknowledge you for a moment Cal, you set the example for what is really hard for a lot of people right now. People are so focus on life and being on social media and doing the easy things and you constantly do the hard things and set that example. So I want to acknowledge you for going against the grain, it’s not easy to do that and a lot of people are seduce with the easy out filling the void by getting likes and all these things. I appreciate and acknowledge for creating this type of work because it is the most reward things when we do the hard work and we eliminate distractions and really connect with the people and other human beings. My final question is what is your definition of greatness?
Cal: Rising to your potential. We all have a potential, like what we could be doing and so fighting the rise for that that’s greatness vs throwing the towel early.
Lewis: Appreciate it thank you man.
There you have it my friends big thank you to Cal Newport all about the deep intimate work that creates more value in the world with that more focus attention as opposed to really scatter brain all over the place never really build true relationships and true value in the world. Again if you enjoy this make sure to share with your friends lewishowes.com/770.
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I want to remind you how much you matter in the world no matter how much stress you are facing right now, how uncertain you are about your career, finances, health or that relationship or the uncertainty of finding the right person in your life. I want you to know how much you matter, I’ve been in too many dark places in my life where I didn’t think I mattered and it’s not worth it, it’s not feeling that way worth it. So I want you to remember right now how much you do matter and how important you are to this world, I hope you continue to push through the challenges you face to lean on support in your life to find friends, mentors and put yourself out there start giving back in other ways because whenever you feel like you don’t matter all you need to do is start helping someone else and remember how much of an impact you truly can make. You matter my friends I love you all so very much and you know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.
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