For years the most common New Year's resolutions remained the same: eat healthier, give up cigarettes, drink less, exercise more, finally start work on that much delayed dream. These classics are likely to never go out of style, but recently there's been a new addition to the most frequently made resolutions list: reining in our out-of-control tech use. 

Most of us don't need research to tell us that we waste too much time scrolling through feeds and miss out on important moments checking our phones. But if you want studies, they're out there. Harder than proving the problem exists is figuring out what to do about it. 

But Cal Newport, a computer science professor, and author of several books on our collective tech obsession and the toll it's taking on our productivity, has a fun suggestion. He calls it the Analog January Challenge, and it's not too late to get started. 

Create a January so full of life you won't miss your phone.

Newport's Challenge is based on the simple idea that going cold turkey on social media and other addictive tech habits is hard. Most of us lack the willpower to just switch off from one day to the next. Instead of relying on willpower, Newport suggests we lean on the power of substitution. 

"If you simply resolve to quit social media, and end up sitting on your coach, bored, white knuckling the urge to check Twitter, you're unlikely to experience lasting change," he observes in a recent post announcing the challenge

"On the other hand," he continues, "if you fill your life with hard but satisfying analog alternatives -- activities that resonate with our primal urges to connect, to move, to reflect, to be surrounded by nature, to manipulate elements of the physical world with our hands -- you'll find the appeal of animated GIFs and ASCII snark to be greatly diminished."

Building on this observation, Newport suggests those looking to establish a healthier relationship with tech commit to the following five actions for the month of January to help them reset the terms of their interaction with their devices: 

READ: Commit to reading 3 - 4 new books during the month. It doesn't matter if they're fiction or non-fiction, sophisticated or fun. The goal is to rediscover what it feels like to make engagement with the written word an important part of your daily experience.

MOVE: Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Leave your phone at home: just observe the world around you and think.

CONNECT: Hold a real conversation with 20 different people during the month-long challenge. These conversations can be in person or over the phone/Facetime/Skype, but text-based communication doesn't count (you must be able to hear the other person's voice). To hit the 20 person mark will require some advance planning: you might consider calling old friends or taking various colleagues along for lunch and coffee breaks.

MAKE: Participate in a skilled hobby that requires you to interact with the physical world. This could be craft-based, like knitting, drawing, wood working, or, as I've taken to doing with my boys, building custom circuits. This could also be athletic, like biking, bow hunting, or, as is increasingly popular these days, Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Screen-based activities don't count. To get the full analog benefit here, you need to encounter and overcome the resistances of the physical landscape that surrounds you, as this is what our minds have evolved to understand as productive action.

JOIN: Join something local that meets weekly. For many people, this might be the hardest commitment, but it's arguably one of the most important, especially as we enter a political season where the pseudo-anonymity and limbic-triggers of the online world attempt to bring out the worse in us. There's nothing more fundamentally human than gathering with a group of real people in real life to work on something real together. This has a way of lessening -- even if just briefly -- the sense of anxious despair that emanates from the online upside down.

The cleverness of this plan is that it doesn't mention screens at all (except to exclude them as options). The focus isn't on deprivation, but on building a life so full and vibrant offline that the lures of the internet will pale by comparison. Who wouldn't want that? 

Some might object that this sounds like it will take a whole lot of time out of our busy, modern lives. "You might be wondering how you're going to fit these commitments into your already busy life. The answer is simple: by spending less time online," Newport insists. 

And don't fret that it's already the third of the month. You can start Newport's challenge any day. Just mark off 30 days from when you begin the challenge to keep your commitments. 

Interested? Check out Newport's complete post for a whole host of other suggestions to help you implement the Challenge, including tricks on how to control your cravings for screen time and wean yourself away from your worst tech habits.

Good luck, enjoy your analog January, and let us know how it goes in the comments.  

Published on: Jan 3, 2020
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