Monday, December 19, 2011

Time and the Passing of it

I've been considering the idea recently that I'm addicted to wasing time.  It's definitely an activity I would consider myself an expert at.  The amount of my free time I spend on activies which provide no real benefit to my life is outstanding.  Internet and TV mainly.  The usual suspects; Facebook, Twitter, Reddit.  It's become a bit of a problem, and something I'm seeking to understand so that I can work to correct it.

I know that addiction is not a word to be used lightly, and I don't intend to.  If this is indeed an addiction it is a low-level one without any of the consequences of worse afflictions.  But I do acknowledge that inproper use of time or procrastination can be considered self-destructive behaviors.  They decrease someone's confidence, self-worth and can have lasting effects on their success.  When I'm more than an hour into browsing the internet I'm usually not having any fun.  After two hours I'm actively frustrated with myself but often won't just walk away.  After three hours we get into the realm of guilt and self-loathing.  But something keeps drawing me back.

A lot of the anger I feel with myself when wasting time has to do with the way I view time.  Since my sophomore year of college - when I got serious about my studies - I've always mentally divided my activities into useful and useless time and am constantly categorizing everything I do.  This is a double-edged sword.  On one hand it does keep me focused or at least keeps my eyes on the prize.  On the other hand it causes me great amounts of stress and, as I mentioned earlier, guilt.  Especially when I feel I can't control how I use my time or get myself to stop doing things I want to do.

I'm also frustratingly arbitrary about the way I categorize my time.  Time spent reading a book is useful time.  Time spent on the internet is usually considered wasted time, even though I'm often doing just as much reading.  I really only use text-based websites; most of the time I'm reading news articles.  Time spent watching TV isn't always wasted.  If there's a show I watch every week, that's just part of my routine.  The problem is if it's 10 am and I just flip on Sportscenter for half an hour even though there are better things I could be doing and really I kind of hate Sportscenter.  Writing in the blog is considered useful, though I can never just consistently write; I always feel a need to keep flipping back to social networking sites between paragraphs.  Some activities seem obviously productive, like playing bass or exercising.  But if I think about them in terms of my long-term goals (finding a career and a place to live), do they get me any closer?  I'm not going to be a professional bassist or an athlete.  How are they more useful than reading the news?

This last question had frustrated me for a while.  I've come close to answering it recently, with a realization about the importance of enjoying life.  I feel better if I'm making music; it doesn't matter if it won't ever bring me financial success.  After a good workout I feel like a million bucks.  I shouldn't feel guilty about spending time with friends instead of searching for jobs, because it improves the quality of my life.  These things don't worry me anymore.  But wasting time on Reddit doesn't improve the quality of my life in anyway.  Yet I can't pull myself away.

The actual addiction I'm referring to here is a physiological need for dopamine.  Recent research has shown that the novelty we experience finding new things on time-wasting websites releases dopamine in our brain, which we become addicted to.  Unforuntaely the only article I have about it is from the always reliable, never biased Huffington Post, but here ya go:

Classifying it as an addiction actually makes it easier for me, especially since it really is a low-level addiction.  But if I can acknowledge that it makes it easier to approach it as a physiological problem that can be addressed in steps instead of a character weakness.  I am not a person incapable of using time productively.  I just have a problem that needs to be fixed.

I'm never going to reach a point where I wake up at 6 am and then write, read run and play bass nonstop until I go to bed at midnight and start all over the next day.  But I will take steps to reduce my wasted time and resist the urge for a constant dopamine rush.  And if I can train myself to see my time-wasting activities as a reward at the end of a productive day instead of my go-to activity, I know I'll enjoy life much better.  And like I said earlier, any time spent enjoying life is time well spent.

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