The Zero Feeds Experiment

Brain Atrophy

I think I know why our brains hurt. Instead of reading, we’re scanning thousands of text snippets. Headline after headline, tweet after tweet. You and I over-process; the brain-filter is clogged. It’s time to stop feeding on all the feeds, not just social media.


Aggregators

I use three services that collect or curate articles on my favorite interests: WordPress Reader, Feedly, and Google Discover.

WordPress Reader

I’ve considered abandoning the WordPress Reader to force myself into the habit of actually visiting people’s blogs.

The Reader is simple, convenient, and great for consistency. But it makes everyone’s blogs look the same. The Reader lacks a blogger’s personal touch of expression via their theme.

I want to see someone’s blog not stripped of its unique design. Aggregators supply lots of content, but they reduce blog posts to nondescript data-points. 

Feedly

Besides the WP Reader, I use Feedly daily. The name itself is about feeding on feeds!

What’s nice about Feedly is it’s algorithm-free. You can see every single article from every single blog site you follow – in chronological order!

While this means you’ll never miss a thing, the downside is you must track and absorb everything yourself. So I often reevaluate the sites I follow. Some sites are so prolific, it’s like they’re spamming the feed. I sometimes pare them down.

Google Feed

This is content curation at its best. Originally called the Google Feed, the Verge describes the initial purpose:

“Google is hoping you’ll begin opening its app the way you do Facebook or Twitter, checking it reflexively throughout the day for quick hits of news and information.”

Sounds like addiction to me.

Now called Google Discover (yet still labeled “Google feed” in Android settings), this will be a tough one to drop!

On my Android phone, it’s a quick thumb-swipe to the left of the home-screen. It presents an always updated list of news and articles that you’re interested in.

About the signal-to-noise ratio, it’s easily the best feed by far, surfacing a ton of relevant stuff. Better still, I can easily optimize the algorithm settings without leaving the feed. I help curate the content!

I truly discover a lot of articles I’m passionate about in this feed and enjoy it more than Feedly. Leaving this one behind will test me.


The Need To Feed

We are so accustomed to social feeds – and the mindless constant scrolling – that our brains find it hard to think outside that feed box.

Whether social media streams or RSS readers, the convenience of aggregated content brings efficiency. You consume content at speed and at scale – like your brain is a multi-core computer!

But this has problems.

I know from experience that my eyes fluttering over hundreds of headlines and titles also brings fatigue. It’s mind-numbing.

There’s often a feeling of low-grade background anxiety induced by web feeds. I’m sure you’ve felt it too. I sometimes experience a nervous angst, needing to read everything. It makes my brain feel scrambled sometimes. Overwhelmed. All that to hopefully find rare diamonds of information.

design desk display eyewear
Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Fasting From Feeds

So as part of an experiment, I’ve decided to try living without any feeds!

This shouldn’t be too hard since I’ve been practicing #socialmediadistancing for a few weeks now – and I’m enjoying the calmer and simpler life. I deleted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp from my phone, plus their bookmarked icons from my browser’s toolbar. My accounts are intact but inactive. It’s a 30-day trial.

Starting July 1st, I will delete the Feedly app from my phone. I will avoid the Reader tab in the WordPress mobile app. And I’ll turn off the Google feed on my Android phone.

Instead, I will manually click to websites or blogs like a net-surfing neanderthal from the 1990’s!

One challenge I foresee here, beyond overcoming the reflex to check feeds, is being forced to slow down. Clicking through several websites will take more time and be tedious. It’s less efficient. But as I’ve written recently, slowing down like this is usually beneficial.

Another drawback to this will be ads. My feeds don’t show ads. But the websites or blogs I like to visit are ad-supported, not subscription based. So I must face obtrusive and distracting ads. I’ll look for ways to mitigate deleterious pop-ups.

The point of this experiment is to see how my brain is affected by starvation of aggregated content. Can my thinking improve if it’s not inundated with hundreds of lines of disparate texts to process? My guess is that the slower pace will cause my mind to relax into deeper, stronger thinking.

After this 30-day experiment runs the month of July, I may post my thoughts about any results.


What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

Photo Therapy

Photo Sensitive

You know what I did about a year ago? I drafted a blog post pursuing the idea of using photography as a type of therapy. I never got around to fleshing out that draft, but given our current state of affairs, now seems like maybe a good time to bust this one out.

Can photography be therapeutic as a sort of mindfulness activity where you’re focused on things in the immediate present? Or does looking at your world through a lens remove you too much from the moment?


Focus On Healing

Looking back through my photos over the years, I started to lament the passing of time and good memories, and also how I used to enjoy photography a lot – I was so into it! I’m sad that I’ve lost some of that enjoyment, the passion of the hobby. The few times I seldom focus on photography, I really enjoy it. The embers get fanned into flames again, but for a short time. It makes me consider re-focusing on photography as a more full-time hobby.

I find in photography a tangible way to “get out of my head” and get into nature, the great outdoors. The camera is a tool that causes me to look and see what’s around me. It makes me study a scene, the subject, the lighting, the shadows, the little details. I think you could say it makes me mindful of the moment.

The camera is like a mindfulness tool. It sharpens my eyes while also giving me another eye through which to see the world. Yes, to some degree, I think photographing a moment removes me from it. But then again, I’m still involved with the moment. Instead of an active participant, I’m an observer. And I’d say I’m an active, not a passive, observer. Rather than being in the moment, I’m around or about the moment. I’m seeing it from a different angle, in a more mindful mode.

This mindfulness via camera seems to me like it could help deflect worry because by focusing on external objects – like a flower – I’m not dwelling, brooding, or ruminating on internal concerns.

Let me interject a caveat here about generalized anxiety disorder, which is an order of magnitude worse than worry. While I think a hobby, especially photography due to its inherent trait of observing the world outside of you, can be a good way to decrease worry, I don’t think pursuing a hobby is a cure for an anxiety disorder. Having suffered seasons of terrible anxiety and panic attacks myself, seeing a counselor, taking medications, etc, I empathize with those who suffer likewise. Each person is different, and mental health issues are complex. I can’t blanket cure such issues with a camera. Hope that makes sense.

Having been through debilitating anxiety episodes, I’m all too familiar with worry. For me, among the many aids that carried me through my anxious seasons, I think photography is a nice means to interact with nature and lessen the tendency and severity of worry.


Looking Around

My hope is that this seed of an idea finds fertile ground. Maybe a test or study could be undertaken that offers photo-walks, for example, as a way to introduce people to a potential means of enjoying life more rather than worrying about it. I’m using Rich Mullins’ words here, “There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see. Everywhere I go, I’m looking.”

Can photography be a form of therapy for some people? I think so. Just being outside in nature is helpful. The camera is a way to focus on nature even more (pun not intended by happily embraced).


What do you think? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!

Anxious Dudes Anonymous

Something has bugged me for a while. In American culture, men are basically allowed to express only one emotion – anger. It’s like an unspoken rule. Other emotions men have are downplayed or hidden. Somehow being emotional is linked to weakness or vulnerability.


I have struggled with anxiety and the emotions that tag-along for the bumpy ride. And I know I am not the only anxious person on the planet.

In the blogosphere, there are many who express their struggle with worry and depression. But it seems to me that the vast majority of those online who dare open up and express their anxiety are women.

It makes me ask, “Are there any anxious dudes out there?

Truly I’ve wondered this. I keep my eyes open, but it is rare to find guys online who share their feeble feelings. I guess because a man would never appear so lame. As if a pack of wolves is really going to move in for the kill.


We all struggle. Some share it. Some hide it. I have found that honesty about wrestling with weakness is a means to gaining strength to overcome it. And finding solace in the fact that you are not alone in your struggle is empowering.

Yet it’s sometimes difficult for me to share my anxiety in the blogging community because I often think I’m the only guy broaching the subject. It makes me worry (imagine that), “What if…I’m just weird or more messed up than the average man?”

man arranging his black necktie
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com


All that said, I wanted to address the situation and find facts to balance my feelings.

Are there any other anxious dudes out there? Yes. There are!

They may not be abundant or available to talk in the blogosphere, but they’re out there in the greater sphere of life. Knowing that, at least, is somewhat helpful.

Here are some articles addressing males with emotional or mental issues or other personality “weaknesses,” which provide evidence that masculinity is not without emotions and, dudes, you’re not alone.

Anxiety versus Masculinity – fight!


13 Things Men With Anxiety And Depression Want You To Know

From the above Huff Post article, here are some of my thoughts on the 13 things:

1. Understanding that anxiety is as much a physical health issue as it is a mental one helps take away some of the stigma.

2. It is natural and healthy to talk about lack of health! Ironic but true.

3. Anxiety is not a weakness per se, though it makes men look or feel weak. This is tough to deal with because my own anxiety attacks have been physically debilitating in the past. I once was admitted to the ER due to a panic attack. And when you need prescription medicine to help with anxiety, it’s hard to not feel weak since medicine is usually associated with a physical problem. So in a way, anxiety does make you physically weak. I have a hard time balancing this.

7. The all-consuming nature of an anxiety disorder is hard to convey to others who have not experienced it. It helps to find those who have the same struggle because then, besides not feeling alone, you can begin to find more practical help.

8. Anxiety will attack anyone, man or woman.

13. The idea of control is big. With anxiety, one thing you feel is lack of control. That’s tough on a man who is supposed to be a leader or provider. How can he be those things if he is not in control?


3 Things I Wish Other Men Understood About Being An Introvert.

This piece from Introvert, Dear talks about men with an introverted personality being in the minority online. But many of the sentiments expressed match my feelings about men with anxiety being scarce on the web.

The author conveys my thoughts so closely that it makes me know I’m not the only one. While I am also an introvert, in the quotes below, replace references to “introversion” with “anxiety.”

“When I browse sites lending themselves to introverts [anxiety], I find that they tend to be filled with women…”

“…there don’t seem to be many of us guys floating around the introvert [anxious] interwebs.

Confession – I’m one of those emotional types. I may not always show it, but I feel it. As a matter of fact, my feelings can be quite strong.

There’s some more irony for you. In males, emotions tend to be equated with weakness, but, oh man, emotions are so strong sometimes! Some, for example rage, even make you feel super strong. It’s like being a Sith in Star Wars, giving into anger to fuel your power as a guy!


Breathe into the bag: Gender and the anxiety gap.

This last article echoes certain points that I’ve said here. It also addresses some unique ones. And it links to two other articles that cover this gender anxiety topic; they’re worth clicking so go check them out too.

One thing to note is how the male author describes anxiety as, “defeating.”

I recall that during the months and weeks leading up to my major anxiety attacks in 2017, I often felt defeated. I used this term to describe the overwhelming and wearisome stress I had experienced when I spoke to my therapist about my anxiety.

“It’s time to get honest: we all feel anxious. Men are not the strong, silent types who don’t feel sad or anxious. Men just have different ways of expressing their feelings.” – Sean Swaby

I don’t talk too much about my anxiety. Thankfully, it has gotten much better this year due to changes in my diet and exercise. I wrote about that recently here.


Are you an anxious guy or gal? Do you struggle to open up about it? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me here. Thanks for your time.

Exercise Against Anxiety

Anxiety is not my favorite subject to talk about. I kind of avoid it. If you’ve had anxiety or panic attacks and have been debilitated by them, then you know – anxiety is terrible.

In 2017, I struggled with anxiety big time. When I wasn’t giving into the “flight” response, I would use some fighting tactics like reaching out to others for prayer, taking medication, seeing a therapist, and private journaling to cope.

Over the next year, my anxiety weakened as I clawed towards full-recovery. I had to return to “normal!” The process was back-and-forth; my anxiousness flared up at random times. At best, anxiety would hover in the background like a buzzing wasp ready to sting. I couldn’t ever fully shake it.

But finally, there’s been a big improvement in my life. I think there were two changes that made the difference.

Less sweet and more sweat!


Sugar

It started back in December. After Thanksgiving last year, I had a bad recurrence of anxiety that sent me back to my therapist. I also saw my doctor and discussed my diet, which was suspect. There seems to be a direct link between gut-health and the brain.

So I decided to reduce sugar in my diet, which was huge for me! And my biggest daily intake (addiction) was – coffee! – with cream and sugar. But I didn’t know how I would pull this off. I figured I could survive for one week and see what happens. I’d drink coffee as usual but not add any sugar.

And you know what? Somehow I made it that first week. So I tried a second week. Then I also limited my overall sugar intake. One week led to another. And to this day, 3 months later, I still do not add any sugar to my coffee!

How does this help make a difference in my anxiety levels? I think it improves my gut-health because I no longer have those sugar highs followed by crashes. And the result is that my up and down mood swings are mostly gone! Feeling less grumpy at times, less negative, I also feel less anxious.


Exercise

There’s also been one other big change in my life recently. In January I rejoined my karate class! I had been out of practice for over a year (initially due to the anxiety). So I quickly began to exercise and train for an upcoming test to rank up a belt. Part of that test is vigorous physical exercise to push you to your limits. Naturally, this impelled me to get my sedentary butt into shape – fast!

As you know, exercise just makes you feel better! And it gets you more focused on your physical body and what’s out in front of you rather than staying stuck in your head in a rut of mental rumination with the brain tumor of worry.

Exercise excises anxiety!


Less sweet and more sweat – good for your health! I think that’s been instrumental in reducing the amount of anxiety I deal with on a regular basis. It no longer seems to lurk in the background of my life, waiting to strike like a viper.

Mentally, I have greater fortitude and resilience. The random negative-voice type thoughts that creep into my brain are fewer and farther between, and I’ve been able to cut them off before they can take root.

Now, I’m not doing a victory dance here. I don’t presume to be fully healed or have a changed personality. Anxiety attacks are not that far behind me; I haven’t forgotten how terrible they are. I’m not letting my guard down, lest I be blind-sided by them again. I still sometimes have what you might call mild anxiety-aftershocks or tremors.

I’m simply saying that – surprise – exercise and diet do positively affect one’s mental (not just physical) state! I know there are other factors to consider. I’m not a psychologist and I’m not giving medical advice. This is my anecdotal evidence I guess.

I’m also saying to you that I’ve been there, in anxiety’s death-grip, and I’ve gotten better over time. There really is hope.


Do you struggle with anxiety? What have you tried to help? Comment below or contact me privately. I’d love to hear from you!

Karate And Mental Gymnastics

Something happened that I didn’t expect. Looks like for 2019, I’m taking karate again! It happens to be January, a new year, so it’s a good time to start a new thing. Or in this case, renew an old thing.

Last week, my youngest son had his birthday and became old enough to join karate with his 4 older brothers at our local YMCA. My wife is also in the adult class. So my entire family is doing this; I was the odd man out.

I attended last week to watch my boy in his first karate class. But it also meant seeing my old classmates too; and they have advanced!


Let me back up a bit. I joined this Kyokushin Karate class in 2016. I practiced for a year and ranked up a few belts.

But in 2017, stress and anxiety clobbered me. I got on some meds for it and felt my life severely thrown off by anxiety attacks. Homeostasis was not happening.

So I paused my karate attendance (and blogging) to just get myself started on back to ‘normal.’ Weeks turned into months, which rolled over to a year. After a while, I felt I just couldn’t go back to karate.

I improved greatly over time in having less stress and anxiety. But mentally, I was blocked from karate. Defeated by myself, my own mind prevented me from returning. Plus I still had uncertainty about being physically capable of the rigorous exercises with kicking and punching and sparring.


Watching my whole family and my old buddies practice karate last week naturally got me thinking about rejoining. My brain did a bunch of mental gymnastics and decided it was still not a good idea.

But suddenly yesterday, I found myself reconsidering. And I found a spark of interest, a small hidden flame of desire to complete my training (like Skywalker). I want the next belt color: blue!

So I decided to “try again.” Rejoin, I would. I need to stay in shape and be more physically fit. I could at least be another human punching bag for the others.

In the end, I quit the mental gymnastics to rejoin karate! I stopped letting my mind defeat myself. Fear, doubt, worry…these enemies blocked my path.

I think half the battle of practicing martial arts is simply just showing up to class. Just get myself there first. Then the rest should work out.

I’m excited and happy that I am recommitting to the discipline of karate practice. For me, it’s not so much dreaming I will be like Ip Man someday, or my childhood hero Daniel LaRusso.

It’s about sticking with something and finishing what I started no matter the difficult circumstances and imperfect details.

And in my case, the family that fights together, grows together. Let’s have some fun.