Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, the word ‘normal’ has been redefined. Many of us have been coping with the illnesses and deaths of friends and relatives, while others have been dealing with and contemplating on their family’s financial stability. If some of you were like me, you may have tasked yourself with finding the silver lining of this entire situation. Perhaps you decided at the beginning of quarantine that you would take this time to learn a new instrument or fit in a workout every morning. Maybe you wanted to devote your time to volunteering and helping others or planned to learn or improve skills that were beneficial for the future. And if you were like me, with the Thanksgiving season approaching, you reflected back over this year and are probably disappointed in how much you actually accomplished.
I admit, most days, I am not as productive as I want to be. I wanted to take advantage of quarantine and become smarter, stronger, and more social than I was. I wanted to start that new coding project and practice for Cross Country. I wanted to prepare for the SATs on Khan Academy and commit to those early morning yoga sessions with my friends. I wanted to finish that random Coursera lecture on the History of Classical Music that I enrolled in three years because I was bored at my aunt’s house. However, most days, I felt unmotivated and lackluster. Most days passed by the same: wake up, get ready, go to school, finish homework, promise myself to do something productive, binge watch or read (fantasy might I add), and scroll through social media feeds for the rest of the evening after promising myself and my parents that I’ll get around to doing something right after this episode or chapter or meme.
It’s like I was waiting for someone or something out of the ordinary to change my behavior, even though I know that I am in charge of my own future. I too have read the posters hanging in the PE locker rooms reading the “Push yourself, no one else is going to do it for you” quotes up on the walls near the mirrors. Heck, my entire bedroom wall is covered with motivating quotes from inspiring people. I know that I should be motivated to do something. But then why don’t I?
Initially, I told myself that the root cause of my problem was due to boredom. Nothing exciting or out of the ordinary happens anymore. Nothing excites me. I barely even left my bedroom anymore, let alone stepped outside my house this past year. And I know many others who feel the same way. Just the other day, one of my teachers joked with my class saying that they almost logged onto their class on a Saturday because all the days passed by the same.
To fill in the boredom, I read the stories of other people’s lives, real or fictious, whether it was on Netflix, Overdrive, or Instagram. During the first few weeks of lockdown, I watched so much television that my head hurt just thinking about a screen. I shifted to indulging my mind with stories in books to occupy my mind. When I was done with the collection in my home, I slowly shifted to e-books in the public library. And when I finally got my first social media account, I spent more than 14 hours each day on electronics.
Under my friend’s persistence, I watched the documentary, Social Dilemma. It was quite informative in explaining that my addiction was not unique and why that was the case. This is it, I told myself. This is the reason I am not doing anything productive. My mind is addicted to the dopamine that is released in my brain when I read all these different stories across different platforms. I needed to stop this. I needed to stop reading other people’s stories and start living mine.
I forbade myself from looking at any screens until the end of summer. Thinking back, it was quite an unreasonable goal. Nevertheless, I was adamant on reaching it. I only managed to maintain it for one week. At the end of that week, I intensely debated in my mind on whether or not I should reach over to my phone. I promised myself that I would only spend one hour on TikTok if I allowed myself. One hour led to two, which led to four, then six, and then eight.
This wasn’t new. Even before my screen-time restrictions, my mind fell into an abyss, disregarding all proponents such as time whenever I stared into a screen. A promise of a ten minute leeway on my computer or phone would spiral into sometimes even 10 hours.
Something was missing. I watched and tried to apply numerous Ted Talks on how to battle this. I talked to my grandparents, who ended up giving me lectures on willpower. Finally, I got my friends to limit their screen times with me.
While listening to others and their perspectives, I realized one thing: the moment I allow myself a leeway when I am not supposed to, even when I tell myself it’s for one minute, I automatically throw myself down a spiral of screen staring that wastes my entire day. Those individual hours and days pick up until I’ve wasted months and even years of precious time on excessive screen time.
It’s like taking a test. Many juniors and seniors who take their SATs sit down and often reflect on how one test, a few hours of small marks on a single sheet of paper, could affect their entire lives. The same thing happens when I distract myself from my work for a few minutes. A few minutes of screen time can affect the entire day. When I promise myself a limited amount of screen time, my brain forgets that it’s limited. It craves more dopamine, and so I stay addicted to my phone, no matter how much I try to break the habit. The only difference between taking out your device and taking the SAT is that you don’t have hundreds of opportunities to take your SAT. Those moments that we think are small when we promise ourselves a few minutes of distraction come and go so often that we think nothing of them. We don’t realize how taking our phone, even for a minute, can make us want to waste the entire day. Those individual hours and days pick up until we’ve wasted months and even years of precious time on excessive screen time. That is why, whenever my eyes automatically drift to the TV playing in the background, I tell myself one word: now. Now is the time to focus. Now is not the time to get distracted. Now is the time to do the productive thing you want to do.
Because it’s those small moments of ‘nows’ that add up in your life and tell your story.