One of the more enlightened comments I’ve heard recently came from a young man who had just been immersed into an Old Money environment.
He’s currently a college student, and he just started dating a young lady. They reached the ‘meet the parents’ stage in their relationship and took a long weekend to go to her family home for the introductions.
All was awkwardly pleasant, as is usually the case when one meets potential in-laws for the first time. The young man was surprised by the size of the house and the property, as the young lady had not let on about her family’s history. He was also relieved that they made him feel at home.
Of course they sized him up and asked questions–all parents do that when their children’s happiness is involved. But there was a pronounced lack of pretense and condescension.
Upon their return to campus, the young man wisely did not discuss the family’s wealth with his friends. Instead, he mentioned how simple their life seemed to be. It had, as he put it, ‘zero distractions.’
The young lady’s mother and father both worked outside the home. They both enjoyed tennis. They both read voraciously. She mentored. He quietly sat on the board of a foundation. They traveled twice a year. And that was their life. Very straightforward.
Finally, after a winding conversation with me about the visit, what the young man was able to recognize and articulate was this: they had very few distractions. There was no television constantly on. There were no mobile phones constantly chiming at the dinner table. There was no drama.
Of course, if you have family, friends, a job, or any kind of life, a certain amount of turbulence is inevitable. But what this Old Money family had was simplicity. They had structure. These two things were probably made possible by having clearly defined priorities as well as boundaries regarding their work life, family life, and social life that reflected those priorities.
They intentionally avoided the ‘bad carnival’ of advertising, hyperbolic ‘news’ and a lot of what passes for ‘entertainment’ that is found online, on television, and in print. It is essential to be informed, of course, but too much cable television will make any one of us a crazy person. Vegetating on bad sitcoms and reality television will make us numb. And diving into the shallow end of ‘the latest trends’ and gossip will hollow out our sense of self and erode our sense of humanity.
So let’s avoid these distractions. Let’s articulate our priorities. Let’s sculpt our daily lives to reflect those priorities. Then we can deflect or ditch the distractions, distractions being defined as anything that doesn’t contribute and line up with our priorities or feed our goals.
We don’t have to live like monks. We don’t have to deprive ourselves. But we can, in 2022, keep it simple. When we’ve done our work and fulfilled our family obligations, we can sit and think. We can contemplate. We don’t have to check our email. We don’t have to engage on social media. We don’t have to turn on the television.
We can read a book. We can look out the window. We can go for a walk. We can engage with our imagination. We can take the time, as the great songwriter Johnny Mercer once said, ‘to get in touch with infinity.’ (He won 4 Academy Awards for his songs that were performed in movies–‘Moon River’ being one he wrote with Henry Mancini–and cofounded Capitol Records, so evidently taking some quiet time to ‘get in touch’ worked for him.)
We can try to compartmentalize aspects of our lives, fence off some quiet time, and in the process increase the quality of our existence. We’re not at our best when we’re being slugs. We’re also not at our best when we’re go go go all the time.
We’re at our best when we pause at regular intervals. When we appreciate rather than just consume. When we distinguish activity from productivity. When we divorce distraction from duty.
And having done these, let’s embrace the empty space, quiet moments, and the essential tranquility that have become so rare, and remain so sacred.
21 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolution: Less Distractions”
What a wonderful article! Taking a moment, embracing the quiet is a sacred joy. I keep my phone off so much that it dies and it cannot be found. Not a bad thing really, and tv sits in a small room up stairs, tucked away. It is rarely turned on. A perfect day is watching the birds and squirrels outside my dining room window. When husband and I arrive home each evening, we take some quiet time before dinner. We sit, talk about our day and just relax. We keep it simple. We believe this is and always has been for us, perfect. Thank you for once again putting into word life as it should be. Jane
Right with you on watching the birds and the squirrels! They are a delight. We live in a large Midwestern city, and are seeing lots of turkeys daily, as well as the occasional coyote.
Here is a suggestion: delete “less distractions” and replace with “fewer distractions” or perhaps “less distraction”.
‘Fewer distractions’ is best. Good call. Thanks – BGT
Fewer distractions would be my choice, too. “Less” implies homogeneous a single mass while “fewer indicates” discrete items as in many distractions.
I love this article. I am so delighted that you quoted Johnny Mercer. My husband and I just took a trip to Savannah,GA for our 15th wedding anniversary and I have a picture with his statue. Perfect timing 🙂 Most of your posts are. Thank you!
Thanks, Katy. Happy holidays! – BGT
It’s always good to read these anecdotes of OM life, please keep them coming Byron!
“We’re at our best when we pause at regular intervals; appreciate rather than just consume, distinguish activity from productivity., and divorce distraction from duty.”
Byron, thank you for the kindhearted words of empowerment and reminder
This ‘simplicity’ and relative lack of distraction sounds oddly familiar.
It’s a constant battle – but it also depends how you think about distractions. The Economist magazine, for example, is a nice distraction disguised as reading and learning. But that’s just pumping someone else’s information into your brain.
I like how you phrased it: “let’s embrace the empty space, quiet moments, and the essential tranquility that have become so rare, and remain so sacred” because it’s an opportunity to generate our own thoughts and to be creative. It was so fascinating watching The Beatles compose and arrange songs in 1969 with a high degree of mental focus and minus the distractions we deal with today.
Perhaps the title of this article should be “Goal for 2022: more empty space, quiet moments, and essential tranquility”
I’ve mulled over this essay since reading it yesterday morning . . . and find that I like all the characters involved. First, the college student for learning the OM principles. The girlfriend for not talking about her family’s wealth; the parents for making their guest feel comfortable, and for living their lives of simplicity and engagement (oh! to travel twice a year!!) and then again the young man for his discretion in not talking about the family’s situation. Byron, will you be providing us with a sequel?? Either way, thanks for this refresher on living a streamlined and meaningful life. I’m going to go watch the snow fall now. Stay well, all.
Once again a very nice posting. A few observations as I reflect on how our lives have changed in the decade (I think), I have been reading this blog.
Live simply, usually after work my wife and I eat dinner and clean up, I will read the newspaper and my wife will work on her sewing in the sewing room.
Budgeting works, inflation really has not hit our budget. Why? When you sit down and plan your meals for the week and buy two or 3 carrots or couple heads of lettuce for salad; it doesn’t really have a major effect if it goes up a few pennies. (Buy what you need, I never buy food in bulk). I saw a grid lock going through a Starbucks drive through and I told my wife I just don’t understand it. You can get a Hario pour over cone for about 12 dollars and I’m sure most of you have a coffee decanter that were part of a wedding gift to your parents or just go to a thrift shop. There were a whole generation that would carry a thermos to and from work.
We also have a TV antenna now. Cable is the only company that makes you purchase things you don’t use (let that sink in for a moment). Antenna TV has come a long way and a professional company will install it in your attic. It took two months to break even. (I pay NOTHING to watch TV). Our tradition is a football game and 60 minutes on Sunday evening, so the set doesn’t get a lot of use.
Yes we need internet, but use the lowest tier at about 45 a month. It’s understandable that people who work from home would pay a bit more. My teenager is not an issue in terms of Internet use. Besides top grades, it is mandatory that he participates in sports every trimester. After dinner he usually gets a really good nights sleep.
When you appreciate something, anything, appreciate it for what it is and in the moment. Don’t spoil it with what you think might make it better.
Some of my most lasting memories are of people and scenes I saw in passing, and then they were gone. No photos, no sketches. Just private memories of beauty in the eye of the beholder.
A good post, Byron.
I keep coming back to read this post because the message conveyed is so lovely and so simple, and such a wonderful reminder.
Full agreement, Anne. I’ve read it several times, too.
While this Blog subject is sub-titled ‘Less Distractions’ lets all stand up and make a New Year’s Resolution and say we’re open about our values and beliefs and wish to share them.
Many of us do believe in Christmas, we say the word and we celebrate it.
We do believe in, and exercise good manners and common courtesy.
Not all, but many of us wear khaki chinos, old OCBDs and other items. But we also know when to wear them and how to otherwise turn up when invited somewhere.
There are myriad other examples.
In spite of many, sometimes not-so-subtle-attempts in social and other media to undermine us, we do not hate who we are.
We simply, ARE !
First let me tell you that after I’ve read your books I’m a new man with new goals and attitude toward life.
But even after reading those i still struggle with certain aspects of my life.
Especially how to cope with stress and bad events.
I used to play a lot of video games when I was a teenager and young adults. I slowly getting to the 30’s and I try to stop playing them multiples times.
Each time my life get off balance. Every thing seems to go wrong, I’m less productive and I’m get mad more easily.
When I play 1 hour a day of them, it’s the exact opposite. I could conquer the world.
I would like to have your thoughts on how bad it is to have this kind of coping mechanisms and how to replace them if possible.
Happy new year and bonjour du Québec,
Bonjour DP, thank you for the kind words about the books. I’m happy they’ve helped.
About the video games…my armchair analysis is this: when you play video games, you are immersed in the experience and your mind is set free. You relax, and real life is easier to manage when you return to it. This is what I call a ‘meditative state’. We can often get it from actual meditation, or exercise, like running. When you stop playing video games, your mind doesn’t get that moment to ‘get away’, and you feel anxious.
My advice is to take up exercise or meditation, or both, to substitute the ‘break’ you need, and gradually replace the video games with something healthier and more mindful.
If you’re getting angry too frequently or too quickly, meditation can help. But you may also need to look at other factors in life that may be contributing. Obviously, I don’t know what those would be, but if you back off the video games first, you might have a better perspective, especially if you’re playing video games as a way to avoid something.
Just my thoughts, and know that I get irritated easily, too. It’s a lifelong process to handle daily life.
Thanks again. – BGT
I think you put the finger right on it. Others activities I’ve tried never put me in a meditative state as you say.
Any books suggestions for meditation?
Running in January in Québec is a bit dangerous. I will check this when spring will come.
Thank you for your insight and bonne journée,
Bonjour Denis-Pierre. I learned meditation from the late, great Nancy Cooke de Herrera. She taught Transcendental Meditation, which she learned directly from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. It’s a simple technique, taught at TM centers around the world. I’m not sure if a book would help, but there are many books, videos, teachers, and classes out there. Caveat emptor. Nous attendons pour printemps! – BGT