Boredom is at the root of device addiction, meditation is the cure

The verdict appears to be in: smartphones are ruining us. They’re making kids depressed, causing parents to neglect their kidsripping our society apart  and ruining our attention spans.

As a result Apple shareholders recently wrote a public letter to Apple, petitioning the company to make changes to it’s devices.

France is making rules to outlaw phones in schools for kids 15 years old and younger.


These are welcome attempts at solving the problem. But ultimately each of us has to acknowledge how our devices are manipulating us and take responsibility for our device consumption. And it isn’t an easy task because social media apps sink their hooks in deep. They’re designed to take advantage of our brain’s vulnerabilities.

Being proactive about taking back your mind from these devices requires going on the offensive; not unlike deliberately avoiding the ice cream isle if you want to lose weight, you need to disable notifications, leave your phone in a different room or remove apps from your phone altogether. But I think there is still a root problem here that will always be working against our efforts to thwart device addiction — boredom.


The threat of boredom has never been more real, no thanks to our devices training us to always be stimulated. And it shows: waiting in line, while taking a break or between sentences in conversation with friends, the phone is out — the ultimate filler.


There are plenty of articles pointing out that boredom is a useful tool. It’s crucial for developing “internal stimulus,” which strengthens the creativity muscles  by allowing us to notice the thoughts and observation boredom sparks.

Boredom has also been cited as a necessary to get good at things. To get good at something takes effort and there’s a stage — sometimes a long stage — that’s tedious. Like composer John Cage is quoted saying,

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”


But what if boredom isn’t something that needs to be used, struggled through or solved at all? Maybe boredom is an invented affliction designed by marketers so they can sell you a solution; similar to the premise of “wearing occasions” — the made up idea from apparel companies to sell you multiple kinds of jackets even though they all do the same thing.


So what is boredom? It’s a label that we’ve put on the feeling of being uncomfortable with ourselves and with what’s in our minds and hearts. Now while there is no diversion good or long-lasting enough to solve this, meditation provides us with a laboratory situation in which we can examine this syndrome and devise strategies for dealing with it — a practice that can leave us never feeling bored again — and therefore never longing for a quick fix from the facebook newsfeed.

In boredom we can see how we ceaselessly run from our problems and after our desires. Buddhism advises you not to implant feelings that you don’t really have or avoid feelings that you do have. If you have a problem, you have a problem; that is the reality, that is what is happening, so confront it.

Look it objectively without flinching. Study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a the boredom trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart piece by piece. The trap can’t trap you if it has been taken to pieces. You can come to realize that You are not the boredom. The result is freedom.

The goal of meditation is to learn to control your mind, to step outside of the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.


In this light, you can swap boredom with presence. Boredom isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you can do.


What’s the job you hired your career to be done?

In our society there is a lot riding on your career. Far from just paying the bills, a career needs to provide meaning, status, belonging and happiness – in a word, Fulfilling. The list of required attributes for a career to be classified as fulfilling is a long one:

  • Work that is engaging and intellectually compelling
  • Provides autonomy in how to perform your work
  • Has variety
  • Is meaningful
  • Helps others
  • Allows you to work with supportive colleagues
  • Aligns with your interests and passions
  • Provides a direct connection between effort and reward

Many people are “disengaged” with their work (68% of us, according to the latest Gallup poll) and the solution seems to be focused around finding a more ideal job – one that checks off more of the fulfilling checkboxes.


But what if it’s not your career’s fault? What if you’ve “hired” your career to do the wrong job?


Clay Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, has what he calls, “The theory of jobs to be done.” It’s a strategy to help businesses reframe their ideas on how create innovative products:
“When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative.”


Is it possible that we’re hiring our careers to do many things it was never designed to do in the first place? How about just picking a job based on what’s in demand? Balance the trade offs between money and time required. Then check off those “becoming fulfilled” boxes with the things our grandparents called families, hobbies, friends and communities.


I think the problem with the “disengaged” worker is not their unfulfilling job, it’s actually the modern day curse of having enough time to try to find a meaning to it all. And when an easy answer isn’t forthcoming through shallow inquiry, the job is blamed. You’ve hired your career to do a job it’s not designed to do.



Zach’s Best Of 2017

I watched 87 movies in 2017, the lowest number since 2012. Overall, not a memorable year for movies. These were my favorite:
Baby Driver
Trainspotting 2
Logan Lucky
OJ Simpson Made In America


I watched 196 episodes of TV. The second highest since records began. I enjoyed these shows more than my favorite movies. Here were the best ones:
Search Party S1
Little Big Lies
Silicon Valley S4
Master of None S2
Rick & Morty S3
The Handmaid’s Tale


I read 30 books. A continuous downward trend since 2014. Although according to Goodreads, the number of pages I read in 2017 exceeded 2016. These were my favorite:
The Trespasser by Tana French
Attention Merchants by Tim Wu
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
The Force by Don Winslow
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
The Humans by Matt Haig


More 2017 best of’s:


Most Painful: Pulled muscle in my back working out and was incapacitated for two weeks
Runner up: Woke up to at least 30 spider bites across my body
2nd runner up: Bruised tailbone from glasaiding on Mt Saint Helens


Coolest (by far): Total solar eclipse


Best Vacation: Tie between Kauai and Italy


Best Surprise: Birthday trip to Yosemite California


Best Family Trip: Camping at Lost Lake Oregon


Best Concert: Andrew WK
2nd: Sylvan Esso


Most Embarrassing: Fell while test driving Vespa from guy on Craigslist


Most Entertaining: Shooting fireworks on beach 4th of July Long Beach Washington


Firsts of 2017: First time I played 9 holes of golf – (got two bogies!)
First time I did an Escape Room
First time going to a sensory deprivation float tank
Finished first video game in over a decade – Inside on PS4


Most Proud of Myself: Killing it performing magic show for nieces and nephews during family reunion


Biggest Disappointment: Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Worst Idea: Enrolling three kids in soccer at the same time – three soccer games every Saturday for month and a half


Best idea: Getting Lasik eye surgery
Runner up: First bike tune up in 7 years – bike rides like new!


Favorite purchase: Bidet toilet seat attachment
Runner up: Sold 04 Toyota Sienna, bought 2011 Toyota Sienna

RSS: The ideal digital minimalist’s content consumption tool

There is no question that social media apps provide immense value by giving us information to help us be informed.

But that’s not all you get when you use social media apps. You also get unsolicited clickbait that’s not designed to inform, but rather to capture your attention involuntarily – to the point of becoming compulsive. And it shows in the amount of time we spend on these apps: Getting what we want from them should really only take a couple hours a week – yet many people use them a couple hours a day.

So the challenge is having the ability to stay informed while not getting sucked into all of the bad. It’s a shift from compulsive use to controlled use

I’ve been using RSS feeds for close to 10 years now and have found that an RSS feed reader is the ideal tool for staying in control because:

  • You can’t “like” an update that comes to you via RSS, nor comment, nor easily share – you consume for your own benefit, not for someone else’s (or some company’s). Your motives for consuming are higher ones  – like reaching your goals, not crafting your image for others to see.
  • It’s difficult for sites to monetise, track or promote their own agenda in RSS. So there is no way to exploit your mind’s weaknesses and prey upon your psychological vulnerabilities. You read RSS feeds when you want to, not why they want you to.
  • RSS is pure content, curated by you based on your personal goals, instead of algorithmically generated based on a corporation’s goals.

Digital minimalism is based on simple, carefully curated content, aligned with what you find to be important in your life. Any tool you use should help you increase your control over that content, not take control away. RSS is the best tool yet.

The biggest compliment you can give a movie & how to rate movies

Obviously these three movies; a dark comedy, a bio-pic and a family Christmas movie, are not all equally good, right? Yet all three, boasting a rating of 81%, would lead you to believe that you should enjoy all three of them the same. If three digital cameras were rated the same, you’d expect them to be nearly identical. But these three movies are far from identical so how could they be rated the same?

I think movie ratings makes more sense once you ask this question:

Were the creators successful in achieving their goal?

If they intended to make a comedy and it’s funny, create a horror and it scares you, or make a tragic love story that makes you cry, then it’s considered good.

This accentuates the importance of genre. Movies aren’t rated against each other, they are rated against their genre. Genres initiate a contract with the audience — setting their expectations. Movies are most successful when they not only fulfill those expectations but supercede them. Good movies aren’t able to go above and beyond the contract by avoiding the genre conventions, but by fulfilling them in novel, fresh and unexpected ways.

This is what gives the review from a trained critic more clout than the review from the average viewer: critics are experts at knowing what the rules and conventions are for each genre. They know better than anyone the genre conventions that must be hit, when they’re done in a cliche way and when they’ve been transcended.

All the best lists

Now is the golden age of lists. I have different kinds of lists that serve different purposes, but the main reason is summed up well with this quote:

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them”

David Allen

Here are my favorite lists:

  • Things to do for fun. I keep this list in a GoogleDoc. I’ve got camping & hiking destinations, local attractions I haven’t seen and yearly events I’d like to go to. It’s like a vacation itinerary for where I live.
  • Things to buy. I keep this list as an Amazon wish list. Adding things to the list usually suffices and I don’t end up buying anything. Instead I look at the list of neat things from time to time and feel empowered by not having to own them.
  • Things to buy other people. Gift ideas are hard. Whenever something comes up that a friend of family member would like, it goes on another Amazon wish list.
  • Todo’s. The quintessential list. The reminders app on iPhone takes the cake for this kind of list. The ability to set push reminders based on time or location is killer.
  • Music to listen to. I use playlists in Spotify marked by year and genre to dump bands and songs I’d like to listen to when I’ve got the time. Those playlists get refined into best-of playlists as I go.
  • Books to read. GoodReads is my go-to for keeping track of what to read next.
  • Books I’ve read. GoodReads again. I rarely buy books. Instead I keep a list of all the books I’ve ever read. This is just as pleasing to look at as a bookshelf but without the cost and space.
  • Articles to read. The majority of content I read online is in Feedly the RSS reader. I use the feature that allows you to bookmark any post to read later.
  • Articles I’ve read. Any articles I’ve read that I really enjoyed get posted to Twitter.
  • Ideas in the moment. It’s important to capture ideas when they occur instead of holding onto them and hoping you’ll remember them later. I have a personal belief that by writing down ideas as I get them, the muse gains confidence in me that I’m taking her ideas seriously so she is willing to give me more ideas. I carry a little notebook and pen in my wallet for this purpose.
  • Ideas in general. Workflowy holds multiple kinds of lists for me: story ideas, post ideas, podcast ideas, business ideas, video ideas.

Indifference is a disease

At the end of Matt Haig’s book, The Humans, about an alien who appropriates a human body and learns to enjoy living among us, there is a chapter dedicated to “advice for a human”.

My favorite is number 86:

To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilisation advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunize yourself with art. And love.

What does indifference look like? I think it looks like binge watching, mcmansions, designer jeans, snapchat, self expression and the radio.


Minimalism isn’t about stuff

Minimalism is a consequence, not a goal.

What I mean is that having less stuff is a natural outcome of being more deliberate and mindful. You don’t set out to decrease the things you own, but it happens naturally as you put more thought into what you buy and what you keep. There isn’t any kind of transcendence once you’ve whittled down everything you own to the smallest number of things possible. In fact, you probably won’t even notice the moment you’ve reach a new level of minimalism because you aren’t even giving the things you own much thought to begin with.


Minimalism is a mindset, making you more intentional about every area of your life – not just in the things you own. A minimalist mindset will cause you to carefully curate the technologies you use. It will focus your efforts on the things that are most important. You move from compulsive to in control. Random to scheduled. Reactionary to proactive. You use things rather than be used by them.

In the end it’s about living deliberately.