zen habits : breathe

Beating the Anxiety of Online Reading

Post written by Leo Babauta.

I am a huge fan of reading online — I can generally do it for hours a day. But with the explosion of great blogs, online magazines and news sources, personal development sites, social media and more … how do you deal with the anxiety that comes with it?

Anxiety often results from:

And so on. This is an extremely common form of anxiety. Take a reader, Eric, who recently wrote:

I have been struggling with the problem of keeping up with all the awesome self-development websites & blogs for quite a while and I thought I would ask you for your suggestion. The only self-development websites I am subscribed to as a regular reader include yours, Scott Young, Steve Aitchison’s and Lifehacker. I have plenty more that I want to add to my regular list of blogs, but even with just the blogs I regularly read, I frequently have difficulty keeping up with all the excellent articles that are posted on an ongoing basis. My current “waitlist” of articles consists of over 350 articles, among which the oldest one was written in April of last year!

How do you deal with this? It’s a matter of letting go, and realizing you can’t ever, ever possibly read 1% of the good stuff that’s out there. It’s absolutely impossible. And so you must let go, or the anxiety will never end.

Trying to keep up is not only impossible, but a great waste of your life. You could be spending some of that time creating, pursuing a dream, exercising, learning a new skill, spending time with a loved one, or taking a nap. Any of those would be better than trying to keep up with everything, or worrying about it.

How do you let go? More below.

But first, one additional point … Eric also writes:

I have considered subscribing to only the very best ones, because many blogs borrow content from other better blogs. But just the work of trying to research the best ones through trial & error by reading sample articles takes a toll on my time & energy because there are just too many websites and I don’t want to wrongly eliminate some great blogs based on a few of their less-than-average articles. My biggest fear is falling behind on some really important productivity findings, insights and so on, with the rapid rate at which information is expanding these days.

It’s also impossible to know what the best blogs are, and to be sure you’re reading all of them. It’s impossible to find the best posts on the best blogs. This is not an important goal, and should also be let go. The reason for this lies in a philosophy of life, which I call the River Flow philosophy. Let’s take a quick look.

The River Flow Philosophy

If life is a river, and all the information out there (including blogs, social media, etc.) makes up the water, as well as all the possible experiences in the world … imagine trying to consume the entire river. Consuming an entire river is obviously impossible for one person, and no one would ever try.

Trying to consume all information and get all experiences in life is like trying to consume the entire river. Impossible.

Now imagine that you wanted to taste all the best drops of water in the river. How would you go about doing that? Well, you wouldn’t know where the best drops were, and so you might have to sample huge amounts of water to find out. Or you could ask various fish and fishermen, and they might have different opinions, and so you could test out all their recommendations, but that could take a lifetime, and even then you wouldn’t be sure you didn’t miss out on the best drops of water.

This is how many people approach finding the best blogs, the best books, the best movies, the best experiences in life … they try out a huge amount, or read a lot of recommendations and spend a lot of time testing the recommendations. That takes an entire lifetime. And still they might have missed out (actually, they almost certainly did).

Notice the futility of all of this activity. Now imagine that you let go of the goal of tasting all the best drops of water, which isn’t a necessary thing at all.

What might you do instead? Try the drop of water flowing towards you at this moment, and enjoy it. It might not be the best drop of water in the river, but who is to say? Maybe it is. Maybe if you love that drop fully, it will be the best, regardless of how good other drops are.

Enjoy the post or article you do read, and don’t worry about the rest.

Enjoy the experiences you have, and forget about those you don’t experience.

Have fun with the people you’re with, and don’t worry about who you’re missing.

Life is a flowing river, and worrying about every drop is futile. The water you’re in now is the best.

The Art of Letting Go

How do you let go of all the articles you want to read but can’t? How do you let go of the worry that you’re missing great articles? How do you forget about your backlog?

Wipe the slate clean.

Every day, you’re not adding to a new list on a whiteboard — those you’ve read and those you still have to read — but instead you’re starting on a clean whiteboard. This clean board is empty of what you’ve already done, but also empty of what you still need to accomplish. It’s blank, which means the possibilities are endless, and the guilt is zero.

Wipe the slate clean every day.

You don’t need to worry about your reading lists. Mark them all as read. Don’t worry about all the social media posts you haven’t read. Don’t worry about all the blogs there are to search through, or all the news sites there are to keep up with. Each day, your slate is clean.

Then you can decide how to fill that slate each day, and enjoy whatever you choose to experience. Then let go, with a new slate each day.

You won’t get to everything either way, nor will you find the best of the best either way. So enjoy the water you’re in.



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