Cold turkey – can I go a week without distractions?

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I’ve recently joined Kamsin Kaneko‘s Artist’s Way Facebook group, although I’m not doing planning on doing the whole course. I’ve done it a couple of times before, and although it was an amazing experience, I don’t want to commit to the whole shebang again at the moment.

My motivation for joining Kamsin was to make myself to commit to something quite specific – a media deprivation week.

In week 4 of the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes for a week of ‘reading deprivation’.

Her theory is that for artists – in which she includes writers, film-makers, musicians, visual artists, makers – other people’s words can function like ‘tiny tranquilizers’. Without the distractions of telly, books, newspapers we are forced to be more fully in the world, and notice what’s going on around us.

We cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static…. Reading deprivation can be a very powerful tool – and a very frightening one. Even thinking about it can bring up enormous rage. For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.

artists way image

When I did the Artist’s Way last year, it struck me that simple reading deprivation would be much too easy. The book was written in 1988 after all, and the world was a different place then.  Nowadays there are so many other ways to distract ourselves, from our thoughts, our needs, our creativity.

So I decided to do a full media deprivation – no reading, no radio or TV, no internet browsing, no social media. In the days leading up to the week, I found bloggers talking about similar experiences, and watched a young American woman’s vlog: Day 2, and she’d cleaned her apartment, cleared out a couple of closets. She’d done some sketches, written a to do list. Not tucking into that new magazine was challenging, but she seemed chipper enough.

I thought it would be fun: I’d get out that adult colouring book my husband bought me for Christmas.  Maybe I’d write a short story, a couple of poems.

All right then, I thought. Let’s do this.

What actually happened was way more intense than I’d been expecting.

I was bombarded by an rush of thoughts and feelings. I found it difficult to fall asleep, and when I did sleep I had weird dreams. Sometimes I felt like my mind was about to burst out of my body.

I cried a lot.

During the hours I’d normally have been watching TV, listening to podcasts, or pootling about on social media, I wrote in notebooks: obsessively, violently, compulsively.

It wasn’t the kind of writing I usually do: I didn’t work on a novel, or come up with new short stories or poems or anything like that. Rather it was an outpouring of raw, unprocessed thoughts and feelings, fears, memories of my childhood, fragments and impressions.

It was a bit scary, to be honest. It occurred to me that perhaps I was inducing some sort of mental breakdown in myself. But at the same time I knew I wasn’t going crazy. Rather this seemed to be an emotional purge, draining but not actually dangerous.

Eventually I realised I actually recognised this state of mind – it had happened before, I remembered, several times, and each time had led to new insights (although in the past, these periods had frightened me – but perhaps I’ll write about those another time).

Throughout my media deprivation week, I didn’t feel depressed (despite all the crying). I never felt confused, or unstable, or overwhelmed beyond what I knew I could handle. I functioned okay: I went to work, I chatted with folks I bumped into in the village. I was fine taking care of myself and the children, and I wasn’t short-tempered or distant with them. In fact, I remember us having a lot of fun together. Still, it was an intense and emotional experience.

Reading this, you might be thinking, WTF why would she want to put herself through that again? The fact is, several positives came out it.

One was that I became much more aware of the volume of thoughts in my head. I’d heard people talk about meditation as an antidote to this, so I decided to start meditating.

As a result, I have kept up – with the odd exception – a daily meditation practice for almost a year now. I believe this has had a massive impact on my life – for example, on my ability to deal with day-to-day stress and anxiety. I am more grounded, more present, more grateful. I judge others less. I’m less inclined to black and white thinking. I’m not sure I’d put all this down to the meditation, but I think it helps.

Secondly, when I read back over my notebooks and listened to my voice recordings in the days and weeks that followed my media deprivation week, there were several unexpected discoveries, new insights, different ways of looking at certain events and past experiences.

I believe the new awareness I gained that week has changed my life for the better – there are challenges I’m more likely to jump at, knots I’m less likely to tie myself up in. It was like I’d done a year of therapy in a week.

So, at the end of the 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way I made a promise to myself to repeat the exercise. And when Kamsin suggested doing the Artist’s Way in a group, it was all the nudge I needed.

My rules of media deprivation

These are based on Julia Cameron’s book, but adapted for me and my circumstances…

  • No books, obviously
  • No radio, ie no turning on Radio 4 first thing in the morning when I’m making breakfast, no radio when I’m driving
  • Also: no podcasts. If anything I’ve become even more obsessive in my podcast listening since last year – my list of subscribed podcasts is longer, I spend more of my life with earphones in: driving on my own, running, pretty much anything I do alone that doesn’t involve writing or editing has a background soundtrack of someone else talking
  • No TV, and of course, no Netflix, no iPlayer, no You Tube. None of that
  • No DVDs
  • No blogs, articles, on or offline magazines or newspapers
  • No Facebook
  • No Twitter

So what can I do with my time?

Those evenings, I seem to remember, can be long! So it’s good to have some ideas up my sleeve.

I can:

  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Sketch, doodle, colour
  • Brain dump into a notebook
  • Write lists, scenes, ideas, fiction…
  • Listen to music
  • Dance around the living room
  • Hang out with my kids
  • Talk to my husband
  • Make voice recordings on my phone
  • Phone friends, or write them letters
  • Garden
  • Clean the house
  • Draft blog posts
  • Cook. Sew. Mend stuff
  • Do DIY
  • Just be… (easier said than done, clearly!)

A couple of caveats

I can’t afford to take a week off work to do this (and I’m not sure I’d even want to). So I’ll need to check work emails while I’m working, and may need to access specific items of information on the Internet to do my job. But the point is, I won’t be browsing, or reading around, or losing myself in other people’s words.

I’m also responsible for other things I won’t be able to neglect for the week – family admin, kids’ activities. So, I’m going to set myself specific periods when I can check and deal with things that need to be dealt with.

You might be thinking, it’s hardly a week offline if I’m allowed to check emails. But the thing is, this experiment isn’t about me neglecting my family or my work, and it’s not about cutting off communication with the outside world. It’s about committing to time with my thoughts to see what happens. It’s a spring clean, not a retreat.

There’s one exception to the communication-okay, reading-not-okay rule and it’s this: no social media. It’s just too easy to get sucked into that world, and to spend hours reading comments, posts, tweets, messages, replying to threads, following links.

The thing is, at the moment, I am CONSTANTLY online.  Since the last time I did this, and despite other changes in my life, I’m even more connected to the Internet and social media.

All my notifications come into my iPhone – Facebook, mail, text messages, podcasts, Twitter and the rest. Checking my notifications (and then following those threads to wherever they lead) is often the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to sleep at night.


This post is part of my preparation – I’m setting my intention, announcing my plans.

Then, the day before I start, I’m going to:

  • Turn off all the notifications that currently come into my phone
  • Schedule essential email checking time to deal with family admin
  • Decide in advance when I am and am not working (otherwise, my ‘work-time’ can bleed all over my weekly schedule)
  • Get out my emergency supplies: colouring book, pens, a stack of notebooks

I can’t decided if I’m scared or excited (mainly excited, I think).

I’d love to hear what you think about this. Am I bonkers for attempting it after last time? Do you think I’m over-stating how hard it is?

Are you tempted to join me?

If you’d like to play along at home: my media deprivation week runs from Friday 22 April till Thursday 28th. Given the limits I’m setting myself, I won’t be able to chat online with anyone throughout  – but maybe we could talk about it afterwards?


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22 thoughts on “Cold turkey – can I go a week without distractions?

  1. Jo Winwood

    Wow, I think this sounds awesome. I’m the Queen of Procrastination and spend far too long on social media – Twitter is a thief of time! Reading your post I did wonder whether part of the problem I’ve been having with my writing is that my head is clogged up with stuff – Twitter, TV, other people’s thoughts and ideas via reading. So maybe I need a detox too. I must say I’m tempted to join you but it all sounds really scary – will you hold my hand if I decide to do it?

    1. Becky Post author

      Hi Jo. Hooray! Yes, do it too! I’d love to hold your hand, but I’m not sure how to without breaking my own Facebook ban… perhaps we could write each other encouraging postcards….?

      1. Jo Winwood

        Hi Becky! I’m going to go for it. I have to set my own rules but will be leaving social media alone completely, that’s the biggest thief of my time. I know I can do it as I manage fine when on holiday but it’s a whole different kettle of fish when at home, isn’t it? Not sure how we’ll keep in touch that week but I’ll be thinking of you. xoxo

  2. Kamsin

    This is very thought-provoking. I consume words. Constantly. Being in a foreign country I feel like my online life is like a lifeline to English speakers. I can feel my resistance to doing this building up already!
    I have a couple more weeks to prepare mentally. No TV and no radio is easy. No books, no Facebook, no blogs. Man that sounds hard.
    But I need to get through the things blocking me. I need to find a way to some of the things that need to come out.
    I’m kind of scared to do this! And yet, I’m committed to the process of going through the Artists Way….

    1. Becky Post author

      Thanks Kamsin. I totally get you about constantly consuming words. Thanks for prompting me to look at this again. It’ll be interesting to compare notes afterwards!

  3. Marija Smits

    This is really interesting, Becky and something I may well consider for the future when work isn’t so all-encompassing. Your reaction to the first time you did the media deprivation does sound intense, but worthwhile, so I hope it goes well again this time. But I hope you’re going to still be in contact with that wonderful editor of yours, right?!

  4. Cara

    Oh my word, I am absolutely amazed a the concept, which sounds incredibly difficult to me. Actually it sounds terrifying. Part of me is thinking that if I find the idea of switching off terrifying I should probably do it. I’ve written the week down… Don’t know if I can work up the courage to join you but!

  5. Belle Amatt

    Brilliant it’s the kind of thing I do on holiday, though I read books, all manner of social media comes to a halt. The kids love the undivided attention as I’m forever taking pictures of their meals before they can start eating or researching recipes during an intense chat on school politics.
    So all sounds wonderful to me and no I don’t think you are mad for giving it a second go. Sounds like it is perhaps a multi step process.
    Lets schedule in some runs before you go incommunicado.

  6. Maddy@writingbubble

    Sounds amazing! I’m WAY too addicted to social media and even boing wifiless over new year taught me of the many positives of being offline. But books too! AND TV! i feel twitchy at the thought. But I can definitely see the appeal. Since your week is in the middle of our #THISislearning campaign, I can’t join in this time but actually, despite the twitchyness I’m really tempted, I mean imagine how much drawing I could get done! And how much parental guilt could be alleviated by not glancing at my smart phone constantly! Good luck! Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting – you’ve really got me thinking!

    1. Becky Post author

      Thanks Maddy. Actually, after this week on social media I’m really looking forward to a break – perhaps you could schedule some time off grid for after the school strike?

  7. Alice @ The Filling Glass

    This excites me and scares me all in one fell swoop. I did actually zone out from social media over the Easter weekend to really ‘be’ with my family, and it was good, although there was a lot of ‘catching up’ that I did afterwards. I am quite happy to explore emotions so I am interested to see what insights come. Books are a lifeline and a numbing device so I’m a bit worried how I’ll cope without those! I’m getting a bit behind with the book, but I will aim to do this next week too. I’d better announce my intentions. Thanks for sharing your insights. x

    1. Becky Post author

      Thanks Alice. Following your suggestion I deleted all the social media apps on my phone this morning and turned off the notifications on my email. Good luck this week!

  8. mummy tries

    This does sound fab, but isn’t very realistic for me. We don’t have a telly in the house, but get to points during the day where a bit of iPlayer or a film is the only thing that will break the funk going on with the kids. That said we’ve had very successful screen free days, which have worked well. We are going on holiday next month and I don’t intend to switch my phone on all week. That will be my idea of bliss 🙂 best of luck lovely, can’t wait to hear how you get on xxxx

    1. Becky Post author

      Thanks Renee, enjoy your holiday with the phone off. Bliss indeed. I’ll let you know how I get on 🙂

  9. Sophie Lovett

    Only just getting round to catching up with last week’s posts, but I love this! I have been increasingly aware recently of how much the internet robs my time – emails, social media (big time), blogs, news sites – and it’s not just the time but the headspace it erodes as well. I could definitely do with a week like this, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to start this Friday… Definitely at some point over the summer though I’m going to give it a go. Even just the thought of it is incredibly liberating! xx

    1. Becky Post author

      Thanks Sophie, yes, I think that’s it – I have so many ideas of things I want to write, but social media takes so much time and energy doesn’t it? One of my intentions for this week is to think about how I can manage that stuff better in the long term.

  10. Emma

    I have just got to the reading deprivation challenge and it really shocked me. I definitely gasped out loud whilst reading it. I am an avid reader. I love it. If I’m not reading a book, I’m on a blog or researching something on Google and reading articles. So much so that I took to Google straight away to see how others felt about it. So glad I found your post. I like the rules you’ve given yourself. I’m going to set some rules up too.

    I’m going to defer the exercise to the week after as I’m away from home for 5 day’s/4 nights and I want to see how it affects me in my normal surroundings. I am scared though!!

    Thanks for sharing (I know this is an old post but needed to comment)

    1. admin-becky

      Hi Emma, thanks for your comment – I’d forgotten all about this challenge and you’ve reminded me… Glad you found my rules useful. Let me know how you get on!


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