The Focus Course

Thoughts on High-Quality Leisure

Unbeknownst to me, while we were plugging away at our 30-day digital declutter, Cal Newport was encouraging readers to participate in his own Analog January Challenge.

I stumbled on his challenge just a few days after wrapping up the declutter here on The Focus Course blog. Having recently spent copious amounts of time pondering the concepts of Cal’s book Digital Minimalism, I found the analog challenge quite interesting. Essentially, he was encouraging readers to embrace high quality leisure in five ways.

The five commitments of the analog challenge are:
(Directly quoted from Cal’s article)

READ
Commit to reading 3-4 new books during the month. It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction, sophisticated or fun. The goal is to rediscover what it feels like to make engagement with the written word an important part of your daily experience.

MOVE
Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Leave your phone at home: just observe the world around you and think.

CONNECT
Hold a real conversation with 20 different people during the monthlong challenge. These conversations can be in person or over the phone/Facetime/Skype, but text-based communication doesn’t count (you must be able to hear the other person’s voice). To hit the 20 person mark will require some advance planning: you might consider calling old friends or taking various colleagues along for lunch and coffee breaks.

MAKE
Participate in a skilled hobby that requires you to interact with the physical world. This could be craft-based, like knitting, drawing, wood working, or, as I’ve taken to doing with my boys, building custom circuits. This could also be athletic, like biking, bow hunting, or, as is increasingly popular these days, Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Screen-based activities don’t count. To get the full analog benefit here, you need to encounter and overcome the resistances of the physical landscape that surrounds you, as this is what our minds have evolved to understand as productive action.

JOIN
Join something local that meets weekly. For many people, this might be the hardest commitment, but it’s arguably one of the most important, especially as we enter a political season where the pseudo-anonymity and limbic-triggers of the online world attempt to bring out the worst in us. There’s nothing more fundamentally human than gathering with a group of real people in real life to work on something real together. This has a way of lessening — even if just briefly — the sense of anxious despair that emanates from the online upside down.

* * *

What I love about the analog challenge is it encourages people to jump directly to engaging in high-quality leisure activity.

One of the obstacles I felt during our recent 30-day digital declutter was getting myself (and others) to buy in to the two-fold commitment. Not only removing optional tech for 30 days, but also aggressively pursuing high-quality leisure activities to fill the void created by removing the distractions of tech.

In recent years, as the boundary between work and life blends, jobs become more demanding, and community traditions degrade, more and more people are failing to cultivate the high-quality leisure lives that Aristotle identifies as crucial for human happiness. This leaves a void that would be near unbearable if confronted, but that can be ignored with the help of digital noise. It’s now easy to fill the gaps between work and caring for your family and sleep by pulling out a smartphone or tablet, and numbing yourself with mindless swiping and tapping. — Excerpt from Digital Minimalism

In our digital world of notifications and pings, high-quality leisure isn’t a luxury. Engaging in these types of activities is the way toward a life of focus in a perpetually distracted world.

The digital declutter is meant to clear the technology slate of your life and give you a fresh start, but a digital declutter without the pursuit of high-quality leisure is guaranteed to leave you feeling worse off than you started.

* * *

Leisure Lesson #1

Prioritize demanding activity over passive consumption.

As with most things in life, you get out of it what you put in, and it’s no different when it comes to leisurely activities.

Activities that require more mental or physical effort than swiping or staring at a screen are sure to also bring lasting satisfaction. And while the energy required to get started is slightly more, paradoxically, you will most usually find yourself more rested after engaging in these activities over those that are passive.

Leisure Lesson #2

Use skills to produce valuable things in the physical world.

In other words, create. Building, repairing, caring for things in the real world brings lasting satisfaction.

Long ago we learned to think by using our hands, not the other way around.” — Handmade

Leisure Lesson #3

Seek activities that require real-world, structured social interactions.

Lastly, engaging with people face-to-face far outweighs any social benefits of a disembodied interaction, i.e. a digital interaction.

Participating in any sort of group activity or club goes a long way in boosting our social well-being and make us human.


Hero image by Josh Rocklage via Unsplash.

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