Off (mostly)

A long goodbye to a soft addiction

So far, so good. (Mostly.)

That’s how things are going since we talked last week, about my realization that I needed to yank back control of the steering wheel when it came to how much of my mind’s attention I was giving to social media.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve given into temptation here and there — a couple of times, almost without doing it consciously. My habits around the sites and apps I’d been visiting had become so ingrained, I found my fingers tapping out the URL for Twitter mindlessly, to the point that I had to make a conscious effort to stop.

So, as you might imagine, day one wasn’t so easy!

But as the week since we last talked has gone on, I’ve noticed a marked difference in my own level of calm, and my ability to simply sit still and just be. (And, I notice a lingering anxiety here and there to fill what’s now silent time with a jolt of excitement from Twitter. But I’m trying to stay strong…)

I’ve also been watching the screen time counter on my phone, to see what the numbers say. I’m embarrassed to tell you that, before last week’s issue, I was spending more than 5 hours a day looking at my phone. Five hours! That’s roughly a third of the time I spend awake each day.

Just over the past week, however, by making the sole change of removing Twitter from my phone, I’ve been able to cut that down to 3 hours. That still sounds like a lot, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.

By coincidence this week, I stumbled upon a podcast by Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University. In it, he interviews Dr. Anna Lembke, a specialist in addiction medicine who also teaches at Stanford, about the role the brain chemical dopamine plays in our addictions to anything — substances, behaviors, video games, gambling, etc.

The entire podcast is really worth a listen — you can find it on YouTube, Apple and Spotify — but the part that really got my attention, and helped me zero in on what I think gives social media such a tractor beam-like pull on our attention, is what they had to say about the role addictions play in staving off simple boredom:

I learned so, so much from this conversation, and I strongly encourage giving it a listen if you find this subject resonates with you. (The sample I link to above starts at around the 18-minute mark; you can start from the beginning here.)

For me, I’d never thought about being bored — and the necessity of being bored — in quite the way Huberman and Lemke describe. I’d thought it was a virtue to try to escape boredom, to always be on the lookout for something interesting to go, do, see, or watch.

But they emphasize how essential boredom is to being creative, that we need our minds to simply be still sometimes. (A lot of the time, actually.) Because the creative parts of our minds need that boredom, when we don’t allow ourselves to receive stimulation or input, to work their magic.

When we overuse social media, we receive a little hit of dopamine in the pleasure center of our brains. But our brains, in turn, try to regulate our dopamine back down to the levels we normally experience.

If we aren’t constantly reaching for another “hit” of dopamine, our brains can get back to normal without much trouble. But when we go back again and again to the behavior or substance that gives us the dopamine hit, over time our brains can reset our “normal” level lower and lower.

(That’s why, Dr. Lemke says, you need to allow yourself plenty of time if you’re trying to kick an addictive behavior. It can take a while — perhaps as long as 30 days — for your brain to reset itself.)

I realize this sounds like something we ought to know already. But clearly, I had forgotten it. Until I wrote last week’s issue, I was filling up (most) every unused minute of the day with a jolt of excitement from social media — and I wasn’t even aware I was doing it.

Now, I am. Also, I realize it doesn’t take much to make a course correction with social media. As difficult as it feels, a single day or two without it makes a big difference in resetting how I feel. (Already, I’m beginning to wonder what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks I’ve been doing on it all this time.)

Here’s the thing, though: if I can do this, anyone can. Like I mentioned last week, my mind is like a butterfly, and it likes nothing more than to fly from flower to flower to seek out interesting things — which makes it perfectly suited to get addicted to social media 😃

How is your social media use going? If you have any suggestions or success stories, I’d love to hear them.

As always, have a great run out there and let me know how your running is going — and keep in touch.

Your friend,

— Terrell

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Help wanted

For the past few years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a wonderful, amazing editor (Sujin Headrick) to keep our companion website — Half Marathon Guide — updated each month.

I’m sad; she’s done an incredible job! But all good things come to an end at some point, and she is moving on to a great new job. So, I’m in need of someone who knows light HTML to make updates to the site each month.

This role is part-time (about 10 hours per week) and I really need someone who can manage and motivate themselves. Interested, or know someone who might be? Let me know!

Races you might love running

Cambridge Half Marathon

Cambridge, Mass. | Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021

You’ll run along the banks of the Charles River for three of your 13.1 miles at this autumn race, when temperatures will likely be in the lower 40s at the start, near the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From there, you’ll run west toward the river, through MIT and past the Harvard Business School and through Harvard Square, on your way to the stretches along the river in the middle miles of the race. There’s even a stretch of the race — between miles 4 and 5 — that takes you inside Harvard Stadium, where you’ll run along the edges of the football field before heading back out into the campus.

$125 and up | Sign up here

Princeton HiTOPS Half Marathon

Princeton, N.J. | Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021

Run past Albert Einstein’s home and along the path where George Washington led his troops during the Revolutionary War at this fall half marathon on the campus of the world-renowned Ivy League university. You’ll follow a counter-clockwise loop around Princeton and experience rolling hills throughout, with stretches through Princeton Battlefield State Park and the Herrontown Woods Arboretum, and run along both Signer Circle (where four signers of the Declaration of Independence lived) and along a part of what’s known as the “Superhero Highway,” named for Princeton resident and actor Christopher Reeve.

$100 and up | Sign up here

Bermuda Triangle Challenge Half Marathon

Hamilton, Bermuda | Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022

The stylish storefronts of Front Street in Bermuda’s capital city start you off for this mid-winter race — at which you’re likely to feel temperatures that hover around 70 degrees — but then the course quickly moves you into neighborhoods filled with lush island trees and plants, white-colored roofs that sit atop pastel-colored homes, and the warm, friendly smiles of Bermudians camped out along the route. This race was my first-ever marathon many years ago, and the course today remains the same — the half marathon follows a single loop that starts and finishes in Hamilton, and tours the southern and northern coasts of the island. 

$105 and up | Sign up here

Oak Barrel Half Marathon

Lynchburg, Tenn. | Saturday, April 2, 2022

Runners who make their way to this beautifully scenic small town in the hills of southern Tennessee, located along the state’s Cumberland plateau, get a chance to enjoy both its small-town charm and the irony that the county in which the world-famous Jack Daniels whiskey is made and sold is a dry county — so while the whiskey can be made here, it can’t be sold by the bottle or the glass. The race unfolds through the town of Lynchburg and along the tree-lined rural country roads that surround it, featuring plenty of green farm fields and the pastoral beauty of the rolling countryside of this part of Tennessee. (Note: registration for this race sells out very quickly, and opens on Oct. 24. Sign up for the race’s mailing list to get notified.)

$72 and up | Sign up here

Salmon Run Half Marathon

Bend, Ore. | Saturday, April 23, 2022

A gorgeous, scenic run on the trails that wind alongside Oregon’s Deschutes River, a place where salmon and steelhead make their annual migration upstream, this race celebrates the “homecoming” of the hundreds of runners who take to its streets every year, overcoming obstacles of their own to run this beautiful route just east of the Cascade Mountains, surrounded by lakes and mountain peaks. Thanks to its location along the river, most of the race is pancake-flat and run on paved riverside trails, surrounded by wooden fences, trees and other greenery. (And, it’s open to walkers too.)

$60 and up | Sign up here

Steel Rail Half Marathon

Lanesborough, Mass. | Sunday, May 22, 2022

A run through the gorgeous, tree-covered hills and woodlands of Berkshire County in western Massachusetts, along a point-to-point route that starts in the small town of Lanesborough and finishes 13.1 miles later in nearby Adams. The course features just three turns and a net downhill drop of about 200 feet between the start and the finish line, and unfolds along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which brings runners alongside the banks of Cheshire Lake and features views of the state's highest peak, Mount Greylock, off in the distance as you run. Also next year, the race will offer the full marathon distance for the first time, on a course that will be a Boston qualifier.

$75 and up | Sign up here

Words to run by

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.”

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I loved this quotation too:

“Effort is not a means to lead us to happiness. Effort itself is happiness.”

— Leo Tolstoy


Photo at top by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash.