Being Intentional in 2024

I put on quite a bit of weight over COVID. Stuck in lockdown with little else to do, I quickly picked up a nasty habit of snacking. The cupboard and fridge were so accessible and readily stocked with all manner of tasty food. With nothing better to do, I would go grab a bite anytime I was hungry or bored or thirsty or anything. And of course, with all of this, I began to balloon in weight, despite wanting to remain healthy.

Until I got Invisalign. Once I had my Invisalign set up, the act of snacking became a chore. Before, I could just walk up to the fridge and raid whatever was on the top shelf. But now, to eat anything, I had to: (i) go to the bathroom, (ii) take off my retainers, (iii) wash the retainers, (iv) eat, (v) brush my teeth, and then (iv) put my retainers back in. Snacking became such a hassle that I essentially stopped eating outside of designated mealtimes. And lo and behold, I dropped weight until I was back at the current, healthy weight that I’m at now. That added bit of friction helped me break out of my cycle of food addiction, as I now had to think about whether it was worth the effort.

Now that I’ve beaten the food addiction, however, I’ve gotten on to a much tougher problem. My phone contains an even more endless stream of dopamine than an infinite number of pantries. There’s no Invisalign for your brain either, so without supreme discipline it’s pretty tough to cold turkey quit media apps. Unfortunately, as someone with a limited amount of discipline, this isn’t viable for me.

To get around this, I’ve focused on a framework of being intentional to break out of the brainrot cycle.

The least productive and worst things in life are the easiest and quickest boosts of dopamine you can get. Sugary food and drink are available at any street corner or pantry; the most interactive video game you’ve ever played is one console boot away from taking up your next three hours; a video essay on the most interesting topic you’ve never thought about is right on the YouTube app on your phone. If they weren’t so easy and instantly pleasant to do, nobody would do them.

Apps like YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram have to create their own demand to justify their existence. While all three have legitimate uses (I use YouTube to listen to lectures and podcasts, Instagram to talk to people, and Twitter to learn about tech news), they are monetized based on your time. As such, they have extremely dangerous algorithms; they are designed to maximize the amount of time you spend on the app, at the detriment of, well, your time.

My average experience is something like this:

I wonder who messaged me on IG -> Hmm that’s an interesting Reel about the best food places in SF -> Wow that’s a cool snowboarding trick -> … -> Annnnnnnd it’s been two hours

Looking at my Screen Time, I had been wasting over three hours a day on just YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram Reels over the past year. That is three hours a day spent absorbing useless brainrot, contributing zero to my well-being or personal growth 😬

It’s tough because nearly everything these days is designed to be comfortable, low investment shlock, and keep your attention irrespective of whether you intended to view it or not.

To combat this, I’ve been forcing myself to be more intentional about the content I consume. To me, intentionality (in the modern world) involves adding just enough friction to tasks such that it forces you to think about whether something is worth doing.

This involves adding additional steps to everything, to force yourself to think about everything as a time investment. For me, these include:

  • Being meticulous about Todo lists and my calendar
    • If it’s not in one of the above two things, is it worth doing? If it is, go ahead and write it down before doing it. If it’s not worth the effort of writing down, it’s probably not worth doing.
  • Journaling
    • I’ve started keeping a personal journal to log every day’s activities and how I’ve felt, to force myself to be present in the moment, and better recollect experiences.
  • Writing reviews
    • To force myself to be invested in whatever I’m watching or reading, I’ve committed to reviewing everything that I do watch on Letterboxd. This way, there is a lot more friction when it comes to selecting my entertainment of choice. I’d much rather write about Whiplash than Love is Blind.
  • Deleting problematic apps off my phone
    • Basically all apps have web clients, so when I need to view a YouTube video, I go to the browser, type in, then manually search for the video.
    • An additional plus: the YouTube mobile web client appears to have unskippable ads, which really really makes me focus on whether the current video is worth watching.
    • I also have an iPad as my designated consumption device with all of the apps that my phone does not have. Forcing myself to use a separate device to view content adds that additional layer of intentionality before completing a task.

And, while this doesn’t really have anything to do with intentionality, I also stay away from short-form content. Anything worth learning is worth learning about in depth. While surface level knowledge about a variety of topics is a useful cocktail party skill, it’s not really improving your life in any meaningful way. Besides, are you really going to understand the nuances of the Israel- Palestine conflict from a Tweet?

Part of the point of writing this blog post is, as well, to force me to be intentional about being intentional. Writing down the things I’ve committed to, and have been, doing, is a great way to stay focused on what is really important.