How A Week of Reading Deprivation Changed My Life for the Better AND Worse

Photo by Thought Catalog.

For the past week, I have faced one of the most challenging of personal challenges that I have ever challenged myself to: READING DEPRIVATION.

Taken from The Artist's Way (which I wrote about nearly five years ago when I tried doing the program for the first time and petered out about 2/3 of the way through), reading deprivation is exactly what it sounds like: you spend a week not reading anything. BUT! Like an infomercial in the 90s, THAT'S NOT ALL! The point is to stop inputting other people's voices and ideas into your brain so that you're left with your own thoughts and creativity, which means you not only can't read things (books, articles, whatever), you also can't listen to podcasts or talk radio, watch TV or movies or streamed things, or hang out on social media.

(It may sound a bit over-the-top, but at least it's not dopamine fasting, the weird tech bro trend that literally takes away happiness and is just bad for your brain.)

Here is what I discovered:

IT. IS. SO. HARD. Reading deprivation basically takes out every single default activity or distraction. Every moment of downtime you have to actually THINK OF SOMETHING TO DO.

It's incredible how much effort it is to think of things to do and how much MORE effort it is if you try to think of things that will be FUN or make you HAPPY. (Seriously, why is it so hard to think of a fun thing to do?)

You know how people leave social media because they feel it wastes their time and they want to be productive? Yeah, no. If that's really your goal, just leaving social media isn't enough because there are SO MANY OTHER meaningless activities that will creep right in! If you don't want YouTube rabbit holes to replace your social scrolling, you have to go COLD TURKEY and take it all away. Then watch as those little scraps of time you normally filled with social media/podcasts/streaming become both daunting and rife with possibilities. THIS is when you start knocking those long-awaited things off your to-do list!

In general, I felt more clear-headed. Normally, I have a podcast or TV show on in the background every spare moment that I'm not working (and then I listen to music). I didn't realize how much filling my head with people talking was really bogging down my brain.

I also got to work earlier because I didn't spend 15 minutes with my breakfast looking at my phone.

Ultimately, it turns out that this week has been a weird mix of clarity/freedom and oppression/frustration. I felt both liberated and imprisoned and now that it's coming to an end, I want to hold onto the gift of the freedom and reject that dang oppression.

BUT HOW??? We all know that any kind of "cleanse" or intense transformation of our lives fades away into nothing as soon as the restrictions holding it in place disappear. And reading deprivation is not a sustainable way to live.

My plan is to start with my morning routine. My goal is to get to work without having already cluttered my brain up, which means that instead of listening to podcasts and spending breakfast with my phone, I'll listen to music and eat breakfast with my thoughts or a notebook instead.

Wish me luck! And if you want to try your own reading deprivation week, let me know and I'll cheer you on!

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