This post is inspired by a quote by the stoic philosopher Epictetus, which I shared on my Instagram, twitter, and blog page earlier this morning, but felt like there was more to say. The quote was: “you are what you repeatedly give your mind to.”
When I first read this quote it immediately invoked thoughts of the distractions and the overwhelming amounts of information that come to us from the media. The moment we wake up, the first thing that most of us do is turn off our alarm, which often happens to be our cell phone, and then we spend the next 5-15 minutes scrolling through various apps on those very phones before getting out bed and finally starting our day.
How do you feel after spending those early waking moments scrolling the internet? Do you feel calm, centered, peaceful, focused, and motivated? Or do you feel overwhelmed, angry, scared, and anxious? For me it is certainly the latter.
If the first thing I do in my morning is check my phone, it is almost guaranteed to set me on the course for a chaotic day where I am constantly reacting rather than being proactive. I will feel anxious about whatever may happen to me that day, even though I am extremely fortunate to have a good job, be close to loved ones, and live in a safe environment and the worst thing that is likely to happen to me may be a conversation with a frustrated customer. I will get angry because I will click on Instagram stories and see people I follow expressing their beliefs and stating what I believe is wildly inaccurate information that makes my head want to explode. Then I will click on some news articles and will become terribly depressed learning about the suffering of refugees in certain parts of the world followed by crippling anxiety as I read the latest climate article saying that life as we know it will be extinct within 50 years and that there is nothing we can do to stop it.
I only slightly exaggerate in the above paragraph for the sake of humor, but what I described is hardly far from reality. The point being, that when we subject ourselves to the plethora of distractions found in society and in the media, we immediately lose control over our own reasoned mind. If the media advertises consumerism, chaos, fear, and panic then this is exactly what we become when we give thoughts to the media, bringing Epictetus’s quote back to mind. It is the job of the media to sell headlines, and to promote a consumer-based culture wherein we should be constantly afraid while constantly on the search for new products to buy which, we are led to believe, will finally make us happy.
One of the best things that you can do is to avoid what I call the morning-scroll, that early morning check of all of your cell phone apps, and to do something productive that focuses on your own physical or mental wellbeing instead. I am not suggesting that you throw your phone into the ocean and go live as a Buddhist monk high in the Himalayas. I understand that for philosophy to be practical it must take modern existence into real consideration. I like living in society. I enjoy seeing my friends, watching tv, sharing memes on Instagram, going to parties, and occasionally going out to buy dinner or a nice gift for someone I care about. You probably do too and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is a problem if you cannot escape it and if you give too much of your attention to these notions. One of the best ways to control your attention and to strengthen your mind against such distractions is to at least post-pone your morning-scroll until an hour or so after waking.
If you are able to postpone your morning-scroll, you will set yourself on the path that day for personal growth, success, calm, and happiness. Rather than do that morning scroll which can plunge your whole mind and day into chaos, do something positive for yourself. One of my favorite things to do after waking is down a glass of water to reverse the onset of dehydration that begins when we sleep, rejuvenating both my mind and my body, Then, I like to start with a very simple stretch and mobility routine, inspired by my friend John Lindsey, that puts me in touch with my physical self, builds a healthy body, and clears my head of any possible anxiety or fears as I wholly immerse myself in the movement of my body. Then I will read a few pages of some uplifting content like stoic philosophy, Buddhism and more. A few pages is plenty for me because I am often still a bit drowsy at this moment and don’t want to overwhelm myself, but the idea is to put motivating, happy, and soothing content into my mind rather than the disaster that awaits a few button clicks away on my phone. Finally, I will do a few minutes of transcendental meditation, clearing my mind and more importantly helping me guide my thoughts such that when I do login to a device later that day, I will be able to observe without being wholly captivated.
Whether its stretching, running, reading, journaling, knitting, cooking or otherwise, any activity for the mind and body that is built on empowering and improving you is better than handing over your waking thoughts to your cell phone. Avoid that morning-scroll and do something that enriches your sense of success and happiness. I guarantee you will have a more enjoyable and meaningful day.