Personal Sovereignty

Quit Something

I’m probably a bit old-fashioned, but how can a reporter quitting email for a week be a news story? The piece I refer to is called What I Learned After Quitting Email For A Week and includes gems like these:

As a generally well-functioning workplace human, I found the first few hours to be problematic and uncomfortable. A phantom limb syndrome set in immediately — I felt vibrations on my phone from emails that would never come. Every 20 minutes I absent-mindedly clicked the Gmail bookmark on my browser only to be locked out. I felt uneasy, and disappointed at how uneasy I felt.

[…]

When I mentioned the experiment to friends and colleagues, they responded for the most part incredulously, the way a person might if you told them you didn’t believe in modern medicine.

Hmm. Not the world I live in. Those of you who have suffered from my slow email response times might suspect (quite correctly) that I quit email for a week every other month or so. Often this is because I simply don’t have web access – just as last week, when I went on an Amazon jungle adventure with four friends, six liters of rum, and a machete. Where there’s no electricity, no showers and no toilets, don’t expect great wi-fi coverage.

It’s probably all a matter of habit. I love email and use it as my main form of computer-based communication – but I’m simply not addicted to it. It surprised me to see I might be an exceptional case here, though.1

Temporary Quitting: The Inverted Cheat Day?

Thinking beyond email, I started to wonder: What are the things that I have quit temporarily at some point in my life? And what could be things that would be hard to quit, even for just a week?

A few successes come to mind: I once fasted for a week. I have quit alcohol, wheat, sugar, milk and other selected edibles for longer periods of time. While I couldn’t quit sleeping for a whole week, I did adopt a biphasic sleep schedule once when I lived in Berlin. I have spent weeks without telephones, computers, and the internet. Months without family and friends.

Temporary quitting is like a cheat day, turned on its head: Instead of allowing yourself a break when adapting a new habit, you challenge yourself to give an old one up, even if it’s just for a few days.

My thesis: Our ability to give up familiar things and ingrained habits is an indicator of a higher degree of personal freedom and sovereignty. It could hence be worth to get better at it.

The 1-Week Quitting Challenge

Here are a few challenges for me: A week without talking, reading or writing. A week without seeing another person. A week without music and noise. A week without light. Some of these might be tough, but I’m quite sure I could pull them off if I had to. But I probably won’t, because I just can’t see a benefit in many of them (the notable exception being talking).

What challenge comes to your mind, and why? Any recommendations? And what would be the hardest thing for you to quit for even just a week?

  1. Together with my weird friends, of course. []

Enjoyed this article?

Share it with friends on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter to stay up-to-date!

Karol Gajda May 3, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I’d say I’m probably addicted to email. But also, I use email as part of my work. It’d be difficult, but not impossible, to quit for a week. (Though if I was allowed to use a different communication platform it would be easy.)

Most other things I could quit without much problem. I’ve gone a week (probably about two) without speaking to another person. That’s not something I would necessarily recommend. I’ve quit drinking for nearly a year (and am currently in a “no alcohol until I run a half marathon” phase). Quitting light may be very difficult (and also unhealthy?), though I often find myself on vampire time where I don’t see much daylight.

This is a fun thought experiment, but the biggest issue with a lot of this is what you mentioned. If there is no benefit it doesn’t make much sense to quit anything.

Fabian May 4, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Karol, “no alcohol until x” sounds like an good motivator. I’d be interested in the “no talking” experiment from a mindfulness perspective.

Another thing that came to my mind are these “no complaints” experiments some people have been doing. I’m afraid they are a bit harder to track, but I could definitely see the benefit in them.

The week without light definitely doesn’t seem helpful at all, as long as we’re not vampires. ;)

Clara May 3, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Hi Fabian, this is an interesting article for me this month. I am doing mindful-in-may and making time to meditate every day. To my delight, some things just interest me less and make room for my meditation practice. My reflex to stream the new episode of Orphan Black is replaced with “Do I really want to watch this now? Is there something else I could do instead? Something creative and active, maybe?”. I like this. It may not be related to my meditating for four days, maybe my brain is just bored with consuming for now.

Here is my experience with quitting music for a week: I (involuntarily) quit while on holiday away with my family, I forgot to bring my recharger. And after two days, I started humming and on day three I was singing under the shower and while doing the dishes. Songs from childhood resurfaced and songs I sang as a teenager with the scouts around a bonfire. It was incredible.
Luckily I was with my family who happily sang along ;)
And it was so so good to come back to my home and get that first hit of music. aaaah…

Fabian May 4, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Clara, I hope you’ll be able to keep up the meditation practice. I personally always seem to benefit from it, but somehow couldn’t turn it into an ongoing habit until now.

Fun story about your experience with quitting music. It shows how there can be hidden benefits we wouldn’t even expect to get (like more fun on a family vaction, reconnecting with childhood memories, etc).

Radhika May 4, 2014 at 6:47 am

Seriously, how could that be a news story?

I’m a bit addicted to email, checking it is part of my morning routine, but I’d have no problem not checking it for a week.

I guess we do live in a different world…

I think, more interesting than a 1-week quitting challenge would be what the Stoics do, kind of like your Amazon adventure. Put yourself in some weird, underprivileged situation for an amount of time and if you survive, appreciate your privilege of having say, electricity, wifi access, blankets, who knows what?

Fabian May 4, 2014 at 4:12 pm

You’re right, Radhika, I thought about that Stoic angle as well when editing this post.

Aren’t the two approaches actually quite similar? If you give up some comforts and enjoyable habits during a 1-week challenge, you’ll appreciate them a lot more once again afterwards.

I actually believe this is why I’m so happy living on a comparatively low living standard in Europe – because I’ve lived a lot worse during my travels.

mary June 13, 2014 at 9:44 pm

ahh I find it quite easy to give up email while i’m travelling I’m so engaged I have no desire to go online unless I’m away for weeks at a time. I do tend to start bombarding friends with postcards instead though!

Fabian June 16, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Ha, I’m sure your friends much prefer it that way, Mary. Who doesn’t love postcards? :)