Why I’m Leaving Facebook

Leaving Facebook

 

This morning, many of my friends were surprised to see me post on Facebook that I am taking an indefinite leave of absence from that social media site. I have been very active on Facebook over the past few years and I have fabulous conversations with dear friends, wonderful colleagues, and friends of friends who I would not have met any other way.

I Love Facebook

One of the things about being an outlier is that local communities tend to offer small numbers of people who understand you. But, Facebook allows me to keep in touch with most of the people I have really clicked with in real life. I had 3 close friends in elementary school, 1 best friend in middle school, 3 deep friends at drama camp, larger groups from the congregated gifted program at my high school, the colleges I went to, etc. Every major stage of my life yielded at least one friend I was sorry to part from when life developed in ways that meant moving. It is astonishing how many of those people I manage to have in-depth conversations with via Facebook despite thousands of miles between us.

My husband’s family is all in England and we rarely see them but stay connected through Facebook. I have nephews I have only seen on video chats and Facebook. Because the extended family posts pictures and silly stories on Facebook, I have a relationship with folks I would not make the time to write regular letters to. Each connection may not feel like much, but I have a sense of who these people are that I would never have if we only met at weddings and funerals. This is my family. For us, Facebook is a tool for cultivating love.

I participate in communities with very specific interests and issues. For example, Facebook is fabulous for parents of twice-exceptional kids to connect. By definition, we are stressed. Our kids need crazy amounts of attention. We burn out easily. We find ourselves awake at strange times, exhausted and only capable of communicating in controlled fashion. And, our kids are rare in the population. One of my sons was described by the principal of his K-8 elementary school of 500 kids as “the most challenging kid in this school”, and they couldn’t remember ever working with a student that bright with that many challenges. I can log on to Facebook and talk to 20 parents of similar children who are seen as unique by their schools. I discover that I am not alone and hear about other kids like mine.

And then there is the intellectual stimulation. My friends post all sorts of fascinating articles. And I follow all sorts of organizations that post intellectually interesting material. Between them, I have a never-ending supply of stimulation for my intellectual over-excitabilities.

So Why Am I Leaving?

 

Facebook is Interfering with My Writing, Especially This Blog

I get a lot of my best intellectual stimulation from Facebook. When I turn around and forward things to my timeline or one of the pages I run, I move that idea out into the world without giving it time to mix with other ideas in my brain or my daily, embodied experiences.

My brain thinks it has dealt with the material and files it in “done” or forgets it. And I have fewer ideas to write about, both in my fiction and in my blogging.

When I post less on Facebook, I have more motivation and more time to blog, and I am better at it.

The number of half-baked, under-cooked blog posts I have failed to complete since my Facebook time became out-of-control is frankly inexcusable.

I need to leave ideas in my head for longer before I act on them or move them out. Less Facebook will help me do that.

I Need to Be More Present in My Daily Life

My life is stressful. I have 4 crazy, wild, wonderful, creative, brilliant, stubborn kids. According to the school district, they all have special needs. (Let me tell you now how awesome it is to live in a school district where all gifted kids are seen as having individual special needs, not just my obviously twice-exceptional kids.) My husband’s job has been stressful for years and got worse for a bit this year. I started a business last year. Over the winter, I got pneumonia and my husband broke 3 ribs. It has been a rough 6-9 months.

Given the combination of stressors in real life and the awesomeness of Facebook, it is not surprising that I have used Facebook as a way of escaping from the difficult parts of my life. The connections with people not connected to my daily stress and the intellectual stimulation have been an amazing distraction.

But, my husband has started complaining that I am on Facebook when he wants to be with me. And I have found myself in the habit of being on my phone chatting with friends instead of being fully present for my kids. These habits are bad. My husband and kids need my attention. If I don’t pay full attention to them, not only do they get upset with me for good reason, but I enjoy my time with them less.

I need to get control of my smart phone habits. I need to be more present with my kids. How can I know who they are if I don’t take the time to see them. Are my own kids in the room with me less valuable to me than nephews I have never seen? They shouldn’t be.

To the extent Facebook is damaging my family, I need to stop.

Why Don’t I Just Cut Back?

I have tried and I can’t do it.

You see, there is always something happening on Facebook. My most recent post or the conversation I have been having since this morning may be generating comments at any time. I find myself with a compulsion to check. And I can check from my phone anywhere, at any time.

That is too easy.

One weak moment and I have failed.

Changing habits is hard. It is much easier to replace a behaviour entirely than to moderate it. I don’t need Facebook. By cutting myself off completely for some time, I will be forced to replace my Facebooking habits with other things.

Once I have filled my time with non-Facebook habits, then I can see if my life is enriched by adding Facebook back into my life. I suspect it will be. But I have to replace the habits first.

How Long Will it Take to Make The Changes I Need to Make?

I don’t know.

Gurus say it takes 21 or 28 days to change a habit, but it isn’t true. Long standing habits in adults can take much longer to change. 60 days is not uncommon for deeply ingrained habits.

Changing a habit requires making new connections in your brain that are stronger than the connections that already exist. My obsessive Facebook checking has been reinforced to an unknown level. I cannot predict how long it will take to replace the craving for an update with the instinct of going for a run, laughing with my kids, watching them play, writing a few sentences, drinking a glass of water, calling a friend, or folding the laundry.

How will I know that it might be safe to test the waters again? When I no longer feel the need to. When it feels like an option, not a compulsion. Until I can make that distinction, I am taking a break.

I can’t wait to see how I fill the time. And I am looking forward to reconnecting with my family at the level that nurtures us all deeply.

Why Habits are Hard to Break

Blasts from the Past: While I am busy finishing the current revision of The Red Oak, I am running a few of the most popular posts from this blog that were published at the old WordPress.com site. Enjoy.

Habits are powerful things, for good or evil.

If you have ever tried to change a bad one or successfully created a new one by choice, you know this.

photo © Scantynebula | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

photo © Scantynebula

There is a neurobiological reason that habits are so powerful. (I am about to simplify things dramatically, but the basic idea is correct.) In your brain and body, every action triggers a pattern of neuronal activity. And every time a neuron fires, a little myelin is added to the outside of the neuron. This myelin coating basically forces the message the neuron is carrying to stay on target and move directly to the next neuron in the chain rather than bouncing around on its journey to the recipient neuron. The more myelin, the more the message delivery system stays on target, the faster the message gets there.

At some point in the habit-forming process, the myelin is thick enough that the neuron carries its message too fast for conscious thought to notice.

Interestingly, the process is exactly the same for thinking and for doing. Habits of mind and habits of body function the same way.

The power of habits is in their speed, your body takes action so fast you can’t think about it. Imagine you have the habit of getting out of bed and making coffee as soon as the alarm goes off. When the alarm goes off, your body starts moving. By the time your conscious mind has caught up, the coffee is brewing. On the other hand, if you are in the habit of hitting the snooze button, your body responds to the sound of the alarm by rolling you over and lifting your arm to press the button before your conscious mind has time to process the sound. You are asleep again without having noticed the alarm.

The unconscious movement of your arm is why moving your alarm clock can help you break the hitting the snooze button habit. Your body still moves to where the alarm used to be, but because the button is in a different place, you don’t touch the snooze button and the alarm keeps sounding. This gives your conscious mind time to recognize the sound and choose how to respond.

The unconscious nature of habits is what makes them powerful.

And, because mental habits work the same way as movement habits, you can prime your mind for certain activities.

Writers who use rituals to get themselves into a creative mental space are tapping into this habit power. If their minds immediately move away from what to make for dinner and towards thinking about their characters when holding a certain pen, then faster than consciousness, their minds start writing when their bodies pick up that pen.

It is easier to build a new habit than to break an existing one. Building a new habit where there is no habitual behaviour requires only repetition of the new pattern, which can be done consciously until suddenly it is so fast it is no longer conscious.

To break a habit, you must do two physical things. You must interrupt the neuronal messaging system so it doesn’t deliver the old message, and you must create a new habitual messaging system that delivers a different message as a result of the same stimulation. The old habitual message is still there. You cannot make conscious changes that take the myelin off the neuronal pathway of the old habit. You have to work around it.

So there you have it: the basic physiology of habit formation and why it is so hard to break a habit.

(For a less clinical take on habit formation practices, you can check out my related postsA Creative Space of Your OwnWriting at the Speed of the UnconsciousStep By Tiny Step: Changing my Life PracticesHang on and Pretend It’s a Plan.)

Holding it Together When Things Get Busy, Part I

When Things Get Busy

Have you ever found that all the projects you have on the back burner came to a boil at the same time?

It is exciting when projects move from potential to production. But, the transition can require some adjustments. When more than one project makes the switch, your routines may need more than a little tweaking. Changing habits is hard, and especially so with the pressure of imminent deadlines. How do you do manage the transition without tearing your hair out?

Everything in my life has been in overdrive in November except this blog. I have been working behind the scenes to set up several projects.

Coming in 2013, in addition to my writing and theatrical activities, I will be:

  • Training as a writing circle facilitator and setting up a new circle
  • Teaching InterPlay workshops at a new facility
  • Setting up a new business as a creativity coach

All of this started coming together at once. And although it has been an adrenaline-filled rush, it has had me drawing on all of my tools for managing a multivalent life.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that my favourite life-management tools come from InterPlay, improv, and theatre.

Coming up over the next few posts, I will share some of the tools I have been relying on heavily over the last month. But first, a quick look at getting started.

Show Up and Start Anywhere

It doesn’t really matter where you start, but you must start. When there are too many things that need doing, just pick something and do it. Activity builds activity. And it doesn’t matter if you could have made a better choice. Getting started will often reveal what needs to be done better than any list-making preparation.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, pick one small task you know will move a project in the right direction. Now go and do it.

Fear is The Mind Killer

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

~ The Bene Gesserit litany against fear from Dune by Frank Herbert

Fear: the great saboteur.

Personally, I fear failure and the changes that usually accompany worldly success more than I fear death and public speaking. Mice don’t bother me, but heights and crawly things with more legs than spiders do.

You have your own fears. You know what they are.

Fear can be like a black hole. We can get sucked in never to emerge if we aren’t aware.

I love the quote from Dune about dealing with fear. The first line, “I must not fear,” is non-sensical at face value. Fears arise of their own accord. However, I interpret it to mean that I must not be paralyzed by fear.

The rest is a great process for dealing with any problematic emotion: feel the emotion, let it pass through you and let it go. Hiding from emotion and getting caught up in emotion are both ways to get stuck.

For me, reciting “fear is the mind killer” in the face of fear lets me experience the fear without being trapped by it.

I ran into fear this evening. Our new house has a pool. After a rather long process of getting it open that involved failing to figure out how to get the pump working and growing an excellent algae culture and learning how to kill said algae culture, it was ready for swimming in. And I was first.

As I stood at the edge of the pool preparing to dive in, I found myself afraid. I took a deep breath and dove in. It was beautiful. As I swam, enjoying myself tremendously, I noticed that I had not put my face into the water since diving in. I played gently with getting my face wet, but my resistance was great. My long-standing fear of putting my face underwater has not faded.

I didn’t always have this fear. I remember the swim instructor whose instruction triggered the fear. I used to call her sadist, but I realize now she was merely not able to understand my problem. I used to be a fish – in the water, underwater, handstands at the bottom of the pool, diving, water polo – one with the water. And I still love swimming. As long as my face is above the surface

But I want to get past my issues with putting my face in the water.

I expect I’ll be reminding myself that fear is the mind-killer a lot this summer.

And that ‘s okay.

Fear isn’t stronger than I am. And it isn’t stronger than you are.

Is fear an issue in your life? Is so, how are you managing it?

Say it Loud: I am a Writer

Jeff Goins is leading a 15-day challenge he calls “15 Habits of Great Writers.”

15 days is not long enough to form one habit, let alone 15, but I am curious to see what he thinks, so I have signed up to get the daily challenge e-mails.

Today is Day 1.

Today’s challenge: Declare Yourself a Writer.

His point: If you write, say you are a writer. Say it loud; say it big; say it often. If you say it big enough, you will believe it.

His challenge to his readers for today:

Declare you’re a writer.

Not just to your wall or computer or notebook, but to an actual person or institution. Someone or something you’re scared of — this could be a person who might reject or judge you, a family member who may misunderstand you, or a publisher who could discredit you. But tell them and tell them now.

I grew up believing I could neither draw nor be taught how to draw. I am learning I am teachable.

So, I figure that makes today as good a day as any to tell you about my new Facebook page. I have

been on Facebook as a private individual hanging out with my friends for years. Last week, a little latte mug with a link to Facebook appeared on this page. That link, my friends is to my public page; the page where I present to you Kate Arms-Roberts, Writer.

On that page, I expect to post about the things that make me the writer I am.

  • Books I read
  • Books I want to read
  • Things that inspire me
  • Creativity
  • The genres I write in: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Middle Grade
  • Things that make me think
  • Information about the craft and business of writing

Please come on over and Like my page.

Maintaining Momentum

Building habits takes time. And repetition.

I’m in habit building mode, which probably means that last week was a bad time to take a vacation.

Too bad, I did it.

The kids had one of those “so much fun they didn’t realize how much they learned” vacations, visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the U.S. Naval Academy, the B & O Railroad Museum, and the Ithaca Sciencenter, and getting to see their grandparents.

If you have been reading this blog regularly, you know that being at my parents’ house last week had a profound impact on my writing. (See here, here, here, and here, if you missed it.)

And now I am home.

I had to find a way to keep connected with my growth over the past week while also diving back into all of my mundane, school week activities and continuing to unpack the house. (Note to self, taking a vacation when the house is half unpacked breaks the unpacking momentum dramatically.)

So, this morning I got up, made my early morning cup of coffee, sat on my sofa looking at the tree out my window, and wrote, getting back into my routine. But, instead of writing a blog post then, which is what I had been doing earlier in the month, I changed it up.

I wrote the new prologue/introduction to my novel instead, capturing the emotional truths I had been discovering last week and putting them first. Much as I love this blog, and much as I am committed to finishing the month of March having posted every day, I chose to make the novel come first, knowing that tonight when I am tired, I would still be able to write this post, but I might not have had the courage to dive into the emotionally tougher material of my novel after a busy day.

I expect that the prologue is part of the iceberg of my story that I will cut eventually, but I needed to write it to give myself the framework for the next revision.

And, I made it my priority.

Are you letting your most important work take priority?

Why Habits are so Hard to Break

Habits are powerful things, for good or evil.

If you have ever tried to change a bad one or successfully created a new one by choice, you know this.

The most overused example of physical habit formation is riding a bicycle, so here is a scooter for you instead.

There is a neurobiological reason that habits are so powerful. (I am about to simplify things dramatically, but the basic idea is correct.) In your brain and body, every action triggers a pattern of neuronal activity. And every time a neuron fires, a little myelin is added to the outside of the neuron. This myelin coating basically forces the message the neuron is carrying to stay on target and move directly to the next neuron in the chain rather than bouncing around on its journey to the recipient neuron. The more myelin, the more the message delivery system stays on target, the faster the message gets there.

At some point in the habit-forming process, the myelin is thick enough that the neuron carries its message too fast for conscious thought to notice.

Interestingly, the process is exactly the same for thinking and for doing. Habits of mind and habits of body function the same way.

The power of habits is in their speed, your body takes action so fast you can’t think about it. Imagine you have the habit of getting out of bed and making coffee as soon as the alarm goes off. When the alarm goes off, your body starts moving. By the time your conscious mind has caught up, the coffee is brewing. On the other hand, if you are in the habit of hitting the snooze button, your body responds to the sound of the alarm by rolling you over and lifting your arm to press the button before your conscious mind has time to process the sound. You are asleep again without having noticed the alarm.

The unconscious movement of your arm is why moving your alarm clock can help you break the hitting the snooze button habit. Your body still moves to where the alarm used to be, but because the button is in a different place, you don’t touch the snooze button and the alarm keeps sounding. This gives your conscious mind time to recognize the sound and choose how to respond.

The unconscious nature of habits is what makes them powerful.

And, because mental habits work the same way as movement habits, you can prime your mind for certain activities.

Writers who use rituals to get themselves into a creative mental space are tapping into this habit power. If their minds immediately move away from what to make for dinner and towards thinking about their characters when holding a certain pen, then faster than consciousness, their minds start writing when their bodies pick up that pen.

It is easier to build a new habit than to break an existing one. Building a new habit where there is no habitual behaviour requires only repetition of the new pattern, which can be done consciously until suddenly it is so fast it is no longer conscious.

To break a habit, you must do two physical things. You must interrupt the neuronal messaging system so it doesn’t deliver the old message, and you must create a new habitual messaging system that delivers a different message as a result of the same stimulation. The old habitual message is still there. You cannot make conscious changes that take the myelin off the neuronal pathway of the old habit. You have to work around it.

So there you have it: the basic physiology of habit formation and why it is so hard to break a habit.

(For a less clinical take on habit formation practices, you can check out my related posts: A Creative Space of Your Own, Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious, Step By Tiny Step: Changing my Life Practices, Hang on and Pretend It’s a Plan.)