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Distractions and Doom Scrolling (Podcast)

Season 1, Episode 13 Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity

Hello everybody. It is me, Blake Reichenbach, the host of this podcast and the owner and managing editor of SelfHimprovement.com. I am back again with another podcast episode. We are finally at the point in this season where episodes are coming out really soon after I record them.

The first 10 or so episodes of this podcast, I recorded well in advance so that I would have time to edit them, and then I published them. First in a batch– I think the first five– and then weekly after that. And now we're at the point where I have pretty much caught up with my recording schedule, and I'm recording this on a Thursday and the Saturday immediately after this, we'll go live, assuming I don't completely forget how to edit and lose track and all of that.

I'm still a little bit late getting things onto YouTube because editing those videos and preparing those files just takes a little bit more time out of my day. Whereas the actual podcast episode and the transcript I've got that down to an art. Not a good art. But I do have it down decently well.

So, if you are watching this on YouTube, it is coming out a little bit later. Some of the references that I make might feel dated by the time that you watch this. It also might look a little weird in terms of the aspect ratio of the video. My camera on my phone is much higher resolution than the one on my computer, which is what I normally use to record.

I also have a large DSLR, but I can't really connect that to my microphone as easily. So weirdly enough, it's easier for me to sync up video files from my phone with audio that I recorded here on this lovely Blu Snowball mic. If the aspect ratio is weird, that's what's up. If you are watching this on YouTube, I also have to apologize for the way that I look.

It's a little rough, I'm aware. I went to the gym just like an hour ago and got back and… Yeah, I figured I would go ahead and record this episode while everything was clear in my mind and not take the time to like bathe. So be glad that this isn't like a multi-sensory experience, because if you could smell me right it wouldn't be the best. It's not the best I've ever smelled.

All of that said, I recognize that I'm getting a little bit off topic, but weirdly enough, that’s kind of on brand with tonight's topic, which is distraction and distractedness.

I'm recording this the day after an attempted coup at the Capitol of the United States of America. Congress was convening to certify the results of the election, and a lot of far right extremists and conspiracy theorist decided to storm the Capitol. And. I… Jesus.

The last two days, trying to focus on my job. Trying to do my day job with all of that going on in the collective background was really a challenge. It's been a big challenge. You know, I will sit down to work. And start to dig into task, but then I see a notification from Twitter.

And I end up doom scrolling for half an hour and just feeling angry and frustrated and, you know, to an extent confused.

Next thing you know, I'm halfway through the Workday. I haven't accomplished nearly as much as I want to. And I have to figure out a way to regain my focus, shift gears, and get back on track, but then the process repeats. There's so much going on right now in terms of global politics, the pandemic, and US politics that it's super hard to stay focused. And one of the topics that I'm really invested in and which I've been exploring more and more recently is the idea of focus, productivity, creativity within digital environments.

There's something really unique about being online and being connected to the internet that changes the way we think and operate.

And if I can plug a quick spoiler: season two of this podcast is going to explore that in so much more depth. I'm really excited to record those episodes. Can't wait to get there. But before we do. I want to look at distractedness right now and not exclusively within the context of digital environments.

So in general, being distracted at work is a fairly common occurrence. You know, most of us are pivoting between tasks. And maybe other tasks, maybe just distractions. One of the things that I'm really bad about doing while I'm at work is: I will start to work on something, and then as I'm investigating that particular issue, if something takes a while to load, if I get stumped, if I feel like I've been reading the same lines of code over and over and over again for an hour, I will look away from what I'm working on and look at Slack.

My company uses Slack to communicate and really just transmit so much data constantly that there's always something new in Slack. So there's always that degree of novelty. And I know that if something's loading, if I'm annoyed, whatever, I can look at Slack and there's going to be something new, something else, something different.

Beyond that, I also have a strong tendency– and it's something that I've been having conversations with people about recently so I know I'm not alone in doing this at all, but same thing where if something's taking too long, if I'm feeling impatient, if I'm feeling frustrated, if I'm feeling stressed – it’s really easy to open a new tab, go to Twitter. Go to Instagram. I’ve got TikTok on my phone.

Side note: So recently I've become semi addicted to TikTok, and I'm not really proud to admit that, but I also am like this much (*motioning with fingers*) proud to admit that… maybe this much even. It helps me feel young because I am a grandpa on Tik TOK.

That quick diatribe aside. What I'm getting at is that it's really easy to distract ourselves. It's really easy to seek out novelty. When we start to feel frustration, impatience, stress, whatever it may be, we've conditioned ourselves to embrace novelty and distraction whenever we don't want to confront our current experiences. I think this is really true.

If you've ever had to like stand in line at a grocery store, for example, people don't want to just stand and wait their turn. They're probably gonna pull their phone out and play with it. You know, scroll through apps, check their email, whatever. I'm really bad about doing this too.

And it's, it's super fascinating how the current climate, politically, has (for me, at least) made this so much worse. And I'll say more about this in just a second, but it's kind of created this really negative cycle, this really negative feedback loop where I recognize that there is a lot going on in the world, and a part of me wants to make sure that I'm in the loop and know what's going on. So I will check Twitter. But then what I see on Twitter stresses me out even more, so I'm more susceptible to stressors than usual. Then when I try and go back to work things that normally wouldn't even be a speed bump wouldn't even really register are suddenly more stressful. And because I've trained myself to have that stress response of saying, “okay, I don't want to deal with this. Now I'm going to look at social media.”

I end up saying, “well, I'm stressed. So I'm going to look at this thing that makes me more stressed. And what do I do when I'm stressed? Oh, I will get this thing that's stressing me.” So it creates this really interesting cycle of behaviors that is not at all productive. It's not productive. It completely derails what I'm working on.

Like if we want to talk from a business productivity standpoint, it derails what I'm doing. It's lost time. It is multitasking, which, you know, I think multitasking is a sin. I'm not a fan of multitasking. I do it a lot, but I recognize that it's not a good way to work. But also, if we zoom out a little bit and don't just think about it in terms of business and productivity, it's also just not healthy.

It's subjecting yourself to increasing amounts of stress ever increasing amounts of stress. The fact that within the last year we've coined the term doom scrolling, and then that has entered the common lexicon is concerning, but it's also really descriptive of what we're actually doing when we engage in that behavior. We recognize that the more we invest, the more time we allocate to scrolling through dismaying images and information, the stronger that sense of doom is that we experience. I would say it's more of like a sense of dread or general anxiety than doom unnecessarily, but it's still, it's still a really apt descriptor.

And it's one of those things where it's difficult to describe what I think. The healthiest path forward is– and I say that in part as a life coach, but also just as someone living through the current age. I completely recognize that there is a healthy reaction here. You know, the healthy response, or, I should say, the healthiest response we can take four ourselves in those situations is to disconnect as much as possible, to stay off of social media when we are experiencing that sense of dread and that growing sense of anxiety. You know, set your phone down, go for a short walk, get some fresh air where you're completely offline, and get refocused.

That, in a very realistic way, is a healthy way to approach that sense of dread and that tendency to engage in doom scrolling. You know, if you cut it off and make it more difficult to reengage in those behaviors, that’s a healthy starting point. The reason I say that that is difficult and that it's difficult to advise what the best path forward is, is because being able to disconnect is a privilege that not everybody has.

And that is something I'm really struggling to think through right now and recognize like, okay, what, what would I advise in these situations for someone who loses their sense of safety when they step out of their house? When they don't feel safe to leave their house to go get groceries, to go, you know, walk in the park, whatever. They, they can't really disconnect because that's their life. That's the situation that they're in. It's not as simple as putting your phone down and walking away.

And often I've found that when people are in these situations, there's a sense of community in knowing that these issues are being discussed. Sometimes these online spaces that do contribute to doom scrolling also create a sense of safety or, at least, help people feel like they're not as alone.

It's it's a really sticky situation. And I don't think that this is one where you can say that everybody should do the same thing. What's best for me might be putting my phone down, staying off of Twitter, staying off of TikTok, whatever. That might not be an option for some people. And so I, I don't want to make an episode where I say, you know, “if you're feeling this sense of distractedness and anxiety, just do this, It’s super easy” because it's not easy.

In the last episode, one of the things that I talked about quite a bit was that when I listened to podcasts in the self-improvement space, one of my biggest pet peeves is that so many super privileged podcast hosts talk about difficult situations without recognizing how they’re influenced by their privilege. You know, a lot of them won't even touch on contemporary politics because they don't want to risk alienating a potential listener, someone who could give them money.

I'm not as concerned about that. Fuck Nazis. Go punch a Nazi. It's cool. But. I also just hate the lack of sincerity that comes with someone super privileged saying, “Oh, just do this. It's easy.”

This happens all the time in discussions of like weight loss and physical health. So many podcasts that talk about that are going to recommend like the super expensive diets, these really intense workout routines where you're working with personal trainers, all without really speaking to the fact that that's just not an option for a lot of people. Financially, it's not an option.Physically, it’s not an option because like we all have unique bodies. We all have different degrees of mobility and just physical accessibility in this world.

The same thing that happens with wealth and making money. You know, you'll hear tons of podcasts advising all of these ways that you can invest and get this really big return on investment. Some people just need to put food on the table, and they don't have a spare $5,000 to invest in these ETFs that have been great for you.

Some people just need like $50 to get to the end of the week. And so when I talk about something as complicated as feeling distracted, during the current climate, I want to be really clear that there is not an easy answer.

I think that these are situations where it's really critical to get clear with yourself about where you are at, what is contributing to your sense of distractedness and stress, and then look for ways that you can intervene in your own unique situation. I wish that I could really give, like hands-on coaching to everyone who listens to this and explain like what that might look like in your particular situation, but given that this is a podcast and not a real-time conversation between us, I think that this is a situation where I would definitely recommend the journaling methodologies that I've outlined a couple of times before, both on my website and here on the podcast.

Get vulnerable with yourself on some paper, and really lean in to the discomfort that you're feeling. You know, we over-use that phrase: lean in, lean into the discomfort, lean into vulnerability. We use that a lot without discussing what it means.

And I think that all too often, especially among men– and I want to highlight that since most of my readers on the website or man– I think especially among men, when we hear that, we think of it as something very  valiant, you know, it's like, yeah, Lean into the discomfort. It's like, you're putting on your arm or grabbing your sword. And you're just kind of going at it and combating with your sense of discomfort, and that's not what I am recommending at all.

When I talked about grabbing your journal and leaning into the discomfort, what I mean is being willing to be honest and raw with yourself about what it is that you're feeling. Most of us don't want to admit when we're afraid. We don't want to admit when we are overwhelmed. We don't want to admit when we think we can't handle a situation that we're in. We don't want to admit, and this one is really pertinent to what's going on right now, we don't want to admit when we feel powerless.

But, if we're going to make sense of the sources of stress and anxiety that are distracting us and that are derailing us, we have to. We have to embrace and recognize what that source of discomfort is. Once we do that, we can start peeling back the layers. We can start to get clear with ourselves about what it is that is so upsetting and unsettling.

And we do that, especially within the context of journaling, by being willing to name those experiences. This past June, shortly after the murder of Brianna Taylor, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed and powerless. I used to live in Louisville. I love Louisville. That city is always going to be my second home.

And I would get on Facebook and see friends and people that I love at protests, peacefully sitting with their hands raised and they're getting maced and tear gassed and dragged off the streets. I just felt this deep sense of rage at the injustice that was happening in Louisville to the Black Lives Matter community and to people who are protesting for racial injustice, and for Brianna Taylor, of course.

And I could not get into a clear headspace at all. I was struggling so hard and I pulled out my journal, and I can't remember exactly what I wrote and I don't have my journal here with me, but essentially what I wrote was something along the lines of, “I’m so angry with what's going on. I am so hurt and feel betrayed by the city that I love. I hope they burn it to the fucking ground."

And once I wrote that, I stepped back. And was like, “okay… Do I really want Louisville to burn to the ground. No, I don’t. I don't want any more people getting hurt. But that is the raw feeling that I have right now. What does this mean?” And in that moment, I couldn't really peel back those layers. I couldn't define what that feeling and that experience meant for me.

But it was a question that I dwelled on and continued to just kind of chip away at over time where I would start to feel that sense of stress, feel that anger. And I would go to my journal and just put it on paper. “Okay. I feel this anger. I feel this stress. What's causing this?” And as I wrote through that over and over again in a dozen different ways, it became clear to me that I was feeling powerless and feeling like, “well, there's nothing that I can do about racial injustice besides sit here and watch it unfold.”

And when I realized that that feeling was what was kind of underpinning those other negative experiences, it created an opportunity to step back and say, “okay, I know that that's not true. It's not that I can't do anything. It's that for these specific situations that I'm seeing right now, I'm not able to be present or formulate a clear thought on what it means to show up.”

It was an opportunity to then be able to step back and say, “okay, So what are black organizers telling white allies who cannot be at protests? What are they advising? What are they saying we should be doing?” And, you know, in the case of some of the specific local organizers that I follow that meant sending money for resources to specific organizations and to the community bail fund.

Being able to at least do that— I wasn't able to be physically at the protest, but I could help fund some of the people who were.

And having that outlet helped. It helped those feelings of anger and rage dissipate. And. When you hear me saying that, please know that I do not think making a couple of donations in any way in any way changes the tide of racial injustice in the US or that I am somehow absolved of, you know, my involvement in the ongoing fight for equality.

I'm not saying that at all. What I'm saying is that. It was a process that helped me take these really overwhelming, ambiguous negative experiences and turn it into something I could action on. It gave me an outlet to process those feelings and feel like I wasn't as powerless. And doing that, in terms of though the issues of not being able to focus and feeling overwhelmed and feeling distraught, having that sense of dread. Excuse me. Doing that helps. And so right now where we're in this horrid situation where insurrectionist are causing violence at an unprecedented level, and rooting their violence in conspiracy theories and a psychopathic demagogue, it’s similar in the sense that it starts to feel overwhelming.

It starts to feel like I don't know what I can do in this situation. And that overwhelm and distractedness just sets in so easily. And so one of the things that I've been trying to do in this situation, Is really make a point of stepping back when I am feeling those experiences and saying, “okay, what is underscoring these feeling?. And what can I do about the root cause?”

Since I'm coming up on 30 minutes, I want to just really drive that home as my advice to you today, is if you are feeling distracted and overwhelmed and have a sense of dread, it’s okay to take some time to process that, put your thoughts down on paper. If you don't have access to a therapist or a coach, journaling is the best thing you can do to process those feelings.

Put it down on paper. And see if you could start to peel back those layers to get at the root cause of what you're feeling. If you can identify the root cause, I guarantee you can figure out something you can do to help address that root cause at least a little bit. Also be gentle with yourself, be patient with yourself. If you need to take some time to just rest and recoup, do it.

To my white listeners and to people in positions of power right now, as frustrating as this can be for us, please know that for the people of color around you and in your community,his is something that most of them have seen coming for a while. And this experience is different for people of color than it is for white folks. You know, we, we have a degree of privilege that protects us in ways that a lot of people of color don’t, and we need to be conscious of that. Make sure that we aren't so indulgent and caring for ourselves and our own resting and recuperation that we aren’t there to listen to and support the people of color around us, especially the black women that have been at the forefront of recent politics and discussions, and unfortunately the target of a lot of these extremist. Just keep that in mind. And we will move forward together. We will find fulfillment. That is the focus of this podcast.

We'll make 2021 a better year than 2020. We're certainly not gonna make it worse. That's sure as hell not going to happen. We're going to make it better. I'm pretty confident. So have a great day, everybody. And I will be back next week with another episode.

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