Distraction loops

20 May 2018

“I’m a mess of shitty habits. I drink most days, often alone, there’s always an excuse, and when the weekend comes around I drink more. Every attempt to eat healthy ends in failure, some weight lost, more weight gained. I waste time watching crap and reading crap. I think it might be interesting, constant news updates, random clickbait, someone famous did something, ephemeral updates from people I once knew, but the end result is emptiness. Dopamine-driven feedback loops going nowhere. I feed and I feed, and it leaves me more nauseous each time. Exercise is too sporadic to make a difference. If I fix one shitty habit, another takes its place. The vacuity persists.

“What do I do? I’ve tried enough self-help books and fads to know whatever I try won’t work. Is emptiness my lot?”

A growing number of people experience some version of this cycle of meaninglessness. Like an itch that can’t be scratched, we don’t recognize the underlying cause, and are constantly searching to find what’s missing without knowing where to look. We inhabit an unpleasant and shifting state of distraction. The feeling of inauthenticity is intolerable, and also boring. We crave escape in the form of stimulation. Escape is ephemeral. Retrograde epicycles. Nothing seems to fix the problem.

The origin of this restlessness lies in a sensed disconnection with reality. The reason we’re a mess of shitty habits is because we are not ourselves. If we were really being true to ourselves, instead of being shitty habits, our external actions would simply represent who we are. You may or may not like who you are, but accepting it, and being it, is the solution to this insufferable distracted state.

The problem with any kind of self-improvement, such as replacing bad habits with good habits, whether it’s diet, exercise, a new hobby, is that the cause doesn’t lie with what we do. What we do is a symptom of the problem, and fixing symptoms does not provide a cure. When the problem lies in a disconnection with the self, fixing what we do is likely to fail.

If we accept this notion, then to fix the problem, our outward actions need to reach inward, and enable us to reconnect with who we are. Let’s refer to this internal authentic self as an inner plane of consciousness. Then what we need is a gateway that connects our outer actions to the inner plane.

There are many potential gateways to the inner plane. Religious or spiritual practice is one. Spiritual meditation can form a connection to one or more idealized representations of one’s inner self. The deities of Hindiusm for example, are in some traditions, referred to as inner-plane beings. Forming a spiritual connection to the inner plane works for some people, and fails for others. Spiritual practice contains many pitfalls for the ego, which can deceive itself with self-grandiosity and magical thinking. At the very least it requires an honest shedding of preconceived notions, along with guidance from experienced practitioners.

A more pragmatic approach to becoming better connected with ourselves is to simply practice creativity. The creative and expressive arts, including art, music and dance, film and photography, poetry and other forms of writing, all form a connection to our more authentic selves. Creative expression is a way that our inner plane naturally reaches out to form a bridge to the external world. Practicing every day reinforces that bridge. It doesn’t matter what you pick, one art or multiple, whatever works better for you, just make it a daily practice however small. Mini-habits are easy to maintain. It is easy to be self-conscious and worry about what others may think, but an audience is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter who sees your work. It can be no one.

Yes, it can be as simple as writing a few words every day. Slowly at first, practicing creativity will pull you out of meaningless distraction loops and establish a stronger connection with your true self. You may still have some bad habits but they will be your habits, less a cause for emptiness, and more of an expression of who you are. Some of the shitty habits will simply fall away, no longer a part of you, and no longer required as an escape attempt from a repetitive and empty cycle of experience. Creativity will be the escape, a more satisfying escape, from the ephemeral, to the real.