Almost ten years ago I wrote a blog post about my “to-don’t list“: the things that I deliberately don’t do, such as watch TV, follow the news, go shopping for fun, or spend time on social media. In my experience sometimes it’s relatively easy to cease such activities, but other times I need to substitute one activity for another.
As one example, consider the fact that many people spend their work days sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen. It’s widely known that sitting all day is hazardous to your health, but what’s the substitute? Personally I’ve found that a stand-up desk is a great way to break the habit: typically I stand half the day and sit half the day. (Getting out for a walk helps, too.) As to looking at a computer screen, wherever possible I try to read on paper instead of the screen (e.g., I strive to read physical books instead of ebooks or web pages).
As a second example, I have always had a fondness for sweets, especially chocolate and ice cream. However, I am also fairly sugar-intolerant, so I need to avoid the sugar high one gets from eating such foods. Here I’ve found two substitutes: 100% cacao bars (no sugar but still chocolatey) and dried figs (only natural sugars and not too much of those).
As a third example, for about ten years I’ve been on a low-information diet, which entails not reading the news. When the pandemic kicked in I started to check the Wall Street Journal headlines once a day (I can’t read the stories because I’m not a subscriber!), but even that was somewhat stressful and distracting for me. Thus over the last few months I’ve substituted reading poems for reading the news: not only are they short enough to read on the phone when I have a few moments to spare, but they’re beautiful and thought-provoking, too (recently I’ve especially been enjoying the poetry of both Robert Hillyer and Sara Teasdale).
I freely grant that substitutions like these might be easier for me because I have a low stimulation threshold, which essentially means that I don’t need much excitement in my life. As I like to say: “Dare to be Dull!” :-)
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