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The United States celebrated our Independence Day over the weekend. Many, myself included, took Friday off and made it a long weekend.

I turned off my computer, kept my phone in my pocket, and lived life fairly free from personal electronics. Aside from a few movies, the TV went pretty unused as well. Instead, I watched a fantastic parade and some equally great fireworks. I took two long hikes with my wife. I read a book printed on real paper.

After three solid days of living off the grid, my brain feels much clearer and my mood is much lighter. You probably think I’m going to say electronics are evil or something, but electronics really aren’t the problem. My problem is how much information I feed into my brain. It’s easy to overload on information, and it happens more than I think. It’s only when I take a break that I realize just how much information I put in front of my eyes every day.

Information is NOT knowledge or wisdom, which you can probably never get enough of. Sure, it can evolve into knowledge through assimilation, or wisdom through experience, but information that is not used is just mental clutter.

If I asked you to print every page you visit on the web or every post you look at Facebook and then put it into a filing cabinet (even if you’ll never view or use it again) you’d call me crazy. And yet, stuffing your brain full of information that you never use is equally loony, don’t you think?

And don’t even get me started on the self-defeating practice of comparing your life to what you see, hear, and read on the internet. That’s a topic for another day.

This week, take a break from information intake. Let your brain catch up and clear out a little bit. You’ll feel happier, more creative, and a lot less stressed.

This article doesn’t count, of course, because you’re actually going to do what it says, right?

 

About mark henson

Mark is the founder of sparkspace...the most inspirational business retreat center on the planet. His blog is read by thousands worldwide each week. Mark's passion is sharing ideas that help people live and lead a rockstar life.

  • Mike Houdeshell

    Well put: “Information is NOT knowledge or wisdom, which you can probably never get enough of. Sure, it can evolve into knowledge through assimilation, or wisdom through experience, but information that is not used is just mental clutter.”

  • Jeff Pelletier

    Twitter is my downfall right now. Because I use it as s news source, I feel compelled to constantly check in on my feed, lest I miss something “important.” But chasing the important means slogging through the inane banter, three or four time posts of the same listicles, and retweets of things I never asked to see.
    I’ve learned to scroll through it faster, now if I could just master doing it less!

    • Ah, Twitter. Tiny bites of information that quickly fill up your entire brain.

      I’ve never mastered Twitter and pretty much stay away from it for all the reasons you stated, Jeff. I do know that you can set up lists to narrow down what (and who) you see in your feed, etc., but I’ve never taken the time to do that. I’m more of a Facebook guy and I have learned how to weed out my feed of lots of unwanted stuff, so it’s a lot more efficient for me now. It can still suck me in, though.

  • Paula Hart

    Facebook was my source of mental clutter and stress. I boldly terminated my membership from Facebook because it became a habit for me to check it every few minutes. I knew it was the source of my stress and overload and decided I didn’t need it.

    • Wow. That’s extreme…and awesome. I take the app off my phone when I find myself getting to that point. That usually helps, but I eventually put it back on and then get pulled in again. I tell my wife all the time that I’m *this close* to pulling the plug completely. Good for you for taking a stand! Now what do you do with all that extra time???? 😉

      • Paula Hart

        Yes pretty extreme, but was worth it. I do miss the pictures, but nothing else. Now I spend my time talking to the person face to face instead of virtually….. or not! : )

  • Deanna Stevens

    I call it “Electronic Detox.” A week in the mountains or a long weekend away from the office—even my home office—can do wonders for relaxation and creativity! Great post, Mark!

    • Mountains help, don’t they? They are wise, those mountains.

  • Cynthia Parsons

    Too much news and facebook have become my source of mental clutter. Matter of fact, that became highly evident to me over the weekend. So, I am taking a sabatical from it all! I suspect what I will discover is that it is not essential to the day’s activities and is just extraneous junk. Time to clean out the attic! So far, I have not missed anything.

    • Cynthia, I haven’t watched the news or read a newspaper in several years (and my wife used to be a TV news reporter, imagine that!). Best thing I ever did for my own happiness and enjoyment of life. Somehow I still find out about the “big stuff”, so I know I’ll be ok. You will, too.

  • Laura Cochran

    My family and I celebrate 3 days a week as “No Technology” days. We actually talk and spend time together without interruptions.

    • Laura, we used to do that, too, but one day a week. We called it “No Technology Tuesday.” We’ve gotten away from it in recent years, but it worked like magic for a long time. Thanks for reminding me about that. I need to find a way to work it back in. With 2 teenagers, that’s easier said than done, ha ha!

  • Joan Strawn

    I’ve finally admitted that I am addicted to Facebook. One month AT&T added to my data package three times. (@$15 each time) I have begun limiting my time on FB. I find that the outdoors is a much more relaxing space. Time for decluttering!! I am sure my week in Hilton Head, SC will help a lot!!

    • Speaking from experience, it helps that AT&T has lousy coverage in Hilton Head. In the meantime, take the Facebook app off your phone for a week and see what happens. (Yes, people, you can take apps OFF your phone even easier than you can put them ON).

  • cobi seedhouse

    My iPhone is my downfall! Too many sources of Social Media in one place. With the weather being nice, i spend a great deal of time sitting on the front porch with my husband- and attempting to leave my phone in the house, allowing some “digital downtime” and enjoying the company of my husband and being outside!

    • I have a question for you (and everyone else reading this): Would your life get better or worse if you got rid of your smart phone and just got a regular ol’ cell phone?

      • cobi seedhouse

        That’s a great question – I’ll be honest, i couldn’t part with my smartphone and go back to an old school cell. Rather, I feel it’s a matter of learning some self-control on smartphone use. I think we all feel as if we have to be reachable 24/7. But do we really? Not likely…. so making a habit of putting the phone out of sight for a certain amount of time every day seems a reasonable solution. Gives our minds (and eyes) a rest from being connected, and creates time to focus on ourselves, spouses, friends, nature, etc… It’s a matter of wanting to find that balance.

        • I’m going to invent a box that has a time-release lock. You’ll put your phone in it, lock it, and set the timer. The lock won’t release until the timer is up and there will be no manual override. Probably will have to make it out of Titanium so people can’t break the box during their desperation.

          • cobi seedhouse

            perfect!

  • Stacy Pettit

    I returned today from a four day break from work. It was amazing to connect with my son and enjoy time one on one. Facebook tends to be my go to when I am looking for a “mindless” activity for a few moments here or there but I find that it cuts out time to connect with those that really matter in my world!

    • So…when is your next one?

      • Stacy Pettit

        That is a very good question!!

  • Dawn

    Guilty. Last year I set a goal to read a handful of self-improvement blogs, to work on freeing my mind of useless clutter. After a few weeks, I got busy and started printing the articles to read in bed at night. After a couple of weeks, I started setting them aside to read later. At the end of the year, I had stacks of about 38 weeks worth of several blogs. I still have so much mind-clutter, and now I’ve added home clutter. Overload of information, more than can be useful. So my goal this year has been to purge papers & electronic versions, to clear out information and to focus on information that matters. Simplify.

    • Dawn, here’s a concept that might free your mind and your space:

      You’re perfect just the way you are. You don’t need one bit of self-improvement.

      Doesn’t mean you can’t improve or change or grow, but you don’t HAVE to. Now, if you can believe that, you can be incredibly selective and only read what you WANT to read, not what you think you should.

      I do find it ironic that you set a goal to read more to free your mind of clutter. You might consider reading just one or two blogs that you really like. I have found that if I am following too many voices, I often hear conflicting messages or too many people saying exactly the same thing. Either direction just adds stress and clutter. Now I follow one or two voices at a time and I drop them when I feel like I’ve learned what I needed to learn from them. I don’t follow anyone forever.

  • James Vincent

    Some of the best times I have had with my family is when the power went out for a few days (remember the ‘big storm’?) and we played games by candle light. I also enjoyed a long weekend vacation we spent at a remote horse ranch that had NO Wi-Fi, no Internet, and the cabin we were in had one working light along with a refrigerator from 1962 I think. We fished, hiked, rode horses. Turning OFF is not just a good idea, we all need it or we will quickly lose perspective of what is truly important.

    • Part of my criteria for the cabin I want to buy is no cell phone service. Sadly, that is becoming harder and harder to find. I absolutely love those times when the power goes out. I remember even as a kid playing dominos by candlelight with my grandfather during a storm. Probably my favorite memory of him (one of many, thankfully).

  • Jenny Wolf

    Definitely Twitter and Instagram when I turn to give my brain a break. But does it really give me a break? I think not. I get pulled into the forever trends of an electronic personality. How much more the reward of a personal relationship with family and friends. Guess I’ll start picking up the phone and make an actual phone call or two from now on. Kind of ironic huh. Use my phone for making phone calls. Who knew.

  • Sharon DeSize

    Any free moment I find where I have nothing to do I whip out my phone and get online. I find myself slightly addicted to information and yet honestly it’s not really enriching my life. I should be just as content to sit and wait and stare at a wall or read the year old magazines in the doctor’s office.

    • Sharon, I feel ya. I’ve been so guilty of that and I am still tempted by that stupid little screen.

      I am trying more and more to just do nothing (instead of whipping out my phone), maybe staring at a tree or a cloud for several minutes at a time instead. I remember doing that a lot as a kid, just observing the world around me and being endlessly fascinated and stimulated by it.

      Granted, the world was simpler then, and we weren’t smart enough to invent smart phones yet, but I still get that same feeling of fascination when I allow myself to just be. Sounds counterintuitive — and definitely counter-culture — but it’s true. It sounds all zen-like, but when the more I practice this, the calmer I feel, not just in the moment, but throughout the day.

      If we whip our our phones whenever we have a free moment, that moment (and our mind) is no longer free.

  • One Voice Worship

    Facebook and the internet in general. Both can be beneficial, but more often than not prove to be time-sucking devices in my life that is chronically short on time, creativity and productivity as it is!

    “And don’t even get me started on the self-defeating practice of comparing your life to what you see, hear, and read on the internet.” – Good word. And I’m guilty as charged. And convicted…again.

    “This week, take a break from information intake. Let your brain catch up and clear out a little bit. You’ll feel happier, more creative, and a lot less stressed.” – I accept the challenge!!!! I minimized my virtual presence last week while we were visiting family out of the country so that I could be fully present in person and wow, yes, it absolutely made a positive impact on my attitude, mental clarity and stress level. I intend on maintaining this to an extent now that I’m back home in my normal routine.

    • I expect an update now that you’ve committed. I’ll be pulling for you as you establish a “new normal.”

  • Lori Warner

    Well said Mark. Just the weekend prior, we made a trip to Kelley’s Island on Lake Erie. It was a monsoon the entire weekend so we weren’t able to do much outside and the island had very little internet connectivity or cell service. Phones were used only for playing music. My teenage son complained the whole way from Columbus to the Lake about how boring the weekend was going to be and then when he found out we didn’t have cell service, he complained more. When we left on Sunday, he told me it was the BEST weekend he had in a long time and it really surprised him because he didn’t have access to his phone. It was a great family bonding time doing things “Old School” like teaching the kids how to euchre and playing other board games.

    • I HATE that transition to the electronic-free zone with my kids (all that complaining!), but it almost always turns out the way you describe. Once they get involved in something else and drop it, they have a great time (even if they won’t admit it out loud).

  • Sandy Buchwalter

    Great article, Mark. I did not have a smart phone (I did have the only rotary dial cell phone in Christendom until I purchased the new phone) until 6 months ago. I soon found myself staring at cat videos until 3 or 4 am – and had to be at work at 8:30 those same mornings. When I realized that this – coupled with being online all day at work, using my e-reader in the evenings, etc. – was madness was when I attended a Memorial Day party. One of the attendees, the 19 year old dating my nephew, was on her phone checking emails, posting to fb, and tweeting the ENTIRE day! At that point, I became determined to unplug as much as possible. And, to my amazement, the world did not fall apart!

    • Sandy, I miss rotary phones. There was something comforting about dialing those things.

      Last year, I took 7 weeks off work, including email, Facebook, etc. I didn’t miss it at all. However, I also noticed that nobody missed me, either! NOBODY EVEN KNEW I WAS GONE (except the people I told). After I got over the hurt to my ego, it helped me put the whole electronic world into perspective, ha ha!

  • Jason Elliott

    Great Article Mark. For the past several years I have lived your advice, and what a difference I feel it makes for me. Each summer I spend a week at Boy Scout Camp with 20 – 40 Boy Scouts. While many people think I am crazy, I LOVE my week away from the digital noise; no computers, no internet, no TV’s, and virtually no cell phones. It is the one week out of the year that I actually read paper books. I spend lots of time actually talking (face to face) with people. At the end of the week, I come back feeling more mental alert, relaxed and ready to deal with the challenges of our technology filled lives. Getting away from it all, also helps me remember that we are in charge of the information we consume, and the technology we use. Some of it is great and life changing, but a lot of it is junk that just eats up our time, and robs us of opportunities to make real connections in the world.

    • When you do something out of the norm, people do have a hard time understanding (i.e., they think you’re crazy). That’s so cool that you not only disconnect, but contribute to the lives of dozens of young men at the same time.

  • Great advice and so timely. I appreciate your genuine and authentic writing style. Have you ever noticed how much better you sleep when you have been “free of the tablet, laptop or smart phone” for several hours prior to bedtime? Ironically I am packing up for a three day self imposed “off the grid” retreat. One thing I put in the backpack that really helps to slow my mind down is a box of crayons and a couple of coloring book. Can’t wait to mindlessly just color inside and outside the lines! I love the fact that sparkspace promotes adults playing.

    • Paula, you’re absolutely right about the sleep. I even thing my dreams are different (better) when I’m unplugged!

      I LOVE the coloring book idea. I’ve heard coloring books are making a big comeback for adults as a way to de-stress.

    • Sharon DeSize

      Love coloring as a de-stresser and miss the days when my son and I colored together! Not only some bonding time but your mind is so free of everything while you color!

  • Julie Kaufman

    You called me out with this one Mark! When did the latest “HouseWife” show suddenly take over the priority in my evenings? And as soon as I look at TV, Facebook, YouTube, and the endless electronic “time suck” things, I’m totally disconnect from others, and really, my own self needs. Time to re-assess! Thanks for the kick!

    • Consider it a gentle, loving kick. I needed it, too.

  • Sarah Brenamen

    Being born in the year 1990 has been both a blessing and a curse for me. I have experienced so many technological changes over the past 25 years, that it is hard to remember “the good old days” that other generations have experienced. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when a group of my friends go out to dinner and everyone is more interested in Facebook then the real life people in front of them! I make a conscience effort to keep the phone/tablet away while in the company of another person, but find myself spending more time on Facebook and Instagram than I should. This is definitely something to work on!

    • Sarah, your observation about the “good old days” is interesting. Without a technology-free reference point, it’s hard to even imagine what life would be like without it. We now have an entire generation that thinks it’s normal to look at a phone instead of a face…even on a date! Glad to know there is at least one person born in 1990 or later that would rather talk to someone who is right in front of them.

  • Bethany Fox

    Well said Mark. My co-worker and I were just talking about the amount of time wasted and the unneeded emotional stress and the “self-defeating practice of comparing your life to what you see, hear, and read on the internet” that Facebook easily provides. It’s exhausting. AND as others have commented, so many people are more concerned about their phones rather than the person across the table at dinner. Look around in a restaurant some time…it’s rather sad. Anyway, thanks for this candid, relevant article. Much appreciated.

    • I sense a real anti-technology movement waiting to happen. And you could be our leader!

  • Sharon Young

    I have really been trying to spend more time going ‘tech free’, but I find that if I go too many days without checking personal email, there is too much to read. So, the next step is to eliminate all lists/feeds/etc. where I don’t find every message to be extremely useful or thought provoking. (Messages from SparkSpace will of course remain on the list!). Less in the inbox = less time in email.

    • A. sparkspace should definitely stay on the list. 😉

      B. Take a good look at your current definition of “useful” and “thought provoking.” We often confuse amusement (i.e., something that piques our interest) for useful or important.

      C. Be ruthless and FAST when you go through your email. I have several email newsletters, etc. that I love, but when my email piles up like you mentioned, I delete everything that is non-essential and move on. I don’t open it or peruse it first, I just trash it. I do this once in awhile in the physical world, too, with magazines, stuff I’ve printed to read later, etc.

  • Daphne Smith

    Information is not knowledge or wisdom- genius! I’ve never cared for Trivial Pursuit and other games of the like. Information overload is merely paralysis. Lately, FB doesn’t draw me in like it has in the past. I would rather free my mind and time for free thinking and creativity. Seeking knowledge and wisdom is an intentional process for me. I choose to live by design instead of default. Knowledge and wisdom are more valuable than information to me as I evolve from the trivial to actual pursuit.

    • Daphne, I could never retain enough in my brain to be even remotely good at Trivial Pursuit. Nor do I care to, ha ha, so we have that in common!

  • Susie

    4 months ago I don’t think that I would have really understood how true this is! I experienced my first cruise in March and not being able to make calls, check email, Facebook, the internet etc. for 5 days was GLORIUS!! I can’t remember the last time I felt that relaxed and content after a vacation.

  • Kate Kimble

    I feel like digital media is trying to tell me something today… I’ve come across so many articles about cutting back, putting devices down, relaxing instead of reading another blog post. After a few very unsatisfying unproductive evenings lost to the Facebook time warp, this is exactly what I needed to hear. Facebook is my time suck. No question. I’m considering implementing an austerity program that limits my FB access. Your point about printing out every article, page, tweet, etc that I read was well taken!

    • See, even digital media is telling you to lay off the digital media!

  • Love the comment about printing every page I look at and putting it in a filing cabinet and your question, do I really want all that stuff in my brain? I know a day of Facebook (and I’ve lost whole days to it when I’ve felt overwhelmed, has left me even more overwhelmed and tired.) Thank you for this suggestion to take deep breaks.

    • You’re welcome, Katie. Enjoy your breaks!

  • Matt Crill

    Thanks Mark for this post! I’m heading out for vacation at the end of the month and my goal is to do exactly this. I have made progress by trying to put the electronics down an hour before bed and it has really improved my sleep…I guess that’s another blog post as well. Thank you for pushing us to keep getting better!!

    • Thanks, Matt! That’s great advice to disconnect an hour before bedtime. I’m going to give that a try, even TV, which might be tough since all my summer shows are piling up in the DVR, ha ha!

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