169: How to Calm Your Mind, with Chris Bailey


Great to hear Chris Bailey wax poetical, this podcast was like an extension of the book, thanks Chris for being so generous with your time. I first listened to the audio book, then read a physical copy, and have shared that physical copy around my immediate family, and I plan to get the Kindle version too! This really is the most broadly appealing and practical book Chris has written, it’s story and advice easily extends beyond the usual “productivity nerd” circle, and covers new ground in that circle too.

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I’ll be honest that I usually blow some of these things off. But this one really stuck with me.

In a happy coincidence I’m re-reading Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and I also blew that off the first time I read it. However, this year I’ve been trying to make a more conscious decision about what I’m consuming and I’ve starting to see consumption of various things makes me more anxious.

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Great episode! Chris Bailey is one of my favorite writers and this book was no exception.

He is at his best when he’s relating the results of his scientific research about burnout, stress, anxiety, dopamine and calm. I learned a lot about all of these topics in his book, and I’m thankful for his skill in bringing research to bear on practical issues.

However, it’s noticeable that in chapter 7, where he talks about Digital vs. Analytic, there is almost no science cited. I got the sense that in that section, many of his strong recommendations (when you have a choice between digital and analog, go analog; or analog is meaningful, digital rarely is) seem to be based solely on his subjective personal experiences and opinions.

I don’t believe that it’s accurate or realistic to claim that analog activities are almost always more calming than digital. He cites his own experience with books, where he finds he can focus more and become engaged and calmed with analog books.

But there are many of us who have precisely the opposite experience! I can’t think of a more calming, engaging, and focused activity than sitting in my soft-lit living room while reading a digital book on my digital iPad and listening to relaxing digital music on my digital home pod device. And I don’t think I’m alone.

In the interview, Bailey also seemed to be claiming that analog activities had little or no distractions, while digital activities had a high level of distraction. He wrote about this in the book about reading, wherein in a digital book you “jumped around” on the digital device. Not my experience at all. I tend to get more distracted while reading an analog book.

He also talked during the interview something along the lines of, “analog activities bring you along to completion,” inferring that there was no distraction with analog, but there is with digital. I would take exception to that as an unfounded generalization.

The example he talked about in connection with this statement was journaling, and that analog journaling brought you to completion (with the implication that digital did not, which is not my experience or the experience of thousands who regularly practice digital journaling). Maybe it works that way for some people, but I think it’s unrealistic to pretend that there aren’t an abundance of distractions in the analog word.

Meditation is a great example. It’s a totally analog activity, so should be very low on distraction. Wrong! Everyone gets distracted while meditating and trying to focus on their breath. One of the main points of meditation is to notice how you continually are distracting yourself. If there are no outside distractions, we do a great job of distracting ourselves!

There are distractions in both the digital and the analog world. We have to learn to avoid and minimize distractions in the analog world, and do so in the digital world as well. It’s not just an “analog vs. digital” issue.

For those who find digital devices distracting, there are abundant solutions to reduce those distractions. Apple has Focus Modes installed on every device that block unwanted notifications. There are inexpensive 3rd party apps that will close down all notifications and block using other apps while you’re working with your apps of choice. I don’t need a digital e-ink device that only does one or two things to use focus modes or block other apps.

We’re not helpless victims of distraction in the digital world or the analog world. To me, the key is to identify the distraction in either digital or analog and take the steps necessary to shut it down so we can intentionally focus on what is important to us.


Since writing the above post I’ve written a blog post reviewing the book in more detail – A Review of How To Calm Your Mind, by Chris Bailey - Original Mac Guy

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I enjoyed your review. I haven’t read the book (yet) but I am pleased someone is thinking critically about productivity-type claims, particularly the recent theme that analogue is inherently better (less stressful in this case) than digital. I share your experience: digital music, ebooks and writing digitally are all liberating for me and a vast improvement to their analogue equivalents.

I’d just add that there’s some deep over-simplification and conspiracy-theory type thinking in the whole digital/analogue debate. I’ve worked a lot in media and since about 1980 there’s simply no clear division between digital and analogue. Every book, movie and audio recording is digital, for a large proportion of its existence. There are valid reasons for people preferring different ways of reading, listening or watching, but they are very little to do with whether it is digital or not.

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