How to Quit Mindlessly Surfing

Distractions have existed since the beginning of time, but the internet represents an entirely new level of itch. The desire to read Treasure Island and or listen to a radio show exerts a certain pull, but not like the force that keeps you surfing from page to page to page on the internet. Why is this?

Researchers speculate that evolution has wired our brains to be constantly scanning for changes in our environment; if a change is sensed, our minds direct our attention towards that thing. For our primitive ancestors this ability was a safeguard against dangers and predators. In the modern age, that sense has been hijacked by the constant stream of incoming stimuli. “Look, I see a bear!” has become “Look a funny video on Youtube! An interesting article on this news site! A photo of my friend on Facebook….”

So that may be part of it, although it doesn’t quite explain why when you’re siting on the couch reading a book, your mind feels an itch to check your phone or your computer. Indeed, there’s a bigger issue at play here. It used to be thought that the reward centers of our brains only lit up when dealing with basic needs, “primary reinforcers” like food and water…and, of course, those dopamine hard-hitters, drugs. But then experiments found that not only did money, food, and sex also activate these reward centers, even pictures of these things had the same effect. And most recently, an experiment done with monkeys showed that even a little bit of information stimulates our brains’ reward centers. And what is the internet besides a collection of millions of bits of information–hit after dopamine-releasing hit. The internet is really like a giant information slot machine. Every time you surf to a new page, you pull that lever, and wait to see what pops up. Pull the lever. Pull the lever. Pull the lever. Ding-ding-ding-ding. It’s easy to get entranced and lose track of time.

So what’s a man to do? Despite its sort of addicting quality, the internet is an amazing tool that most people absolutely do not want to give up. So you probably don’t want to chuck your laptop out the window, even if you sometimes feel like you do.

You can try to limit your penchant for mindless surfing through sheer willpower alone. But as we’ve discussed, your willpower is a finite resource which is depleted by every choice you have to make. Do you really want to use up your willpower trying to stay off of Reddit, when you really need it to work or study effectively? Instead, simply eliminate the decision of whether or not to screw around on the web from your available choices altogether, without taking a sledge hammer to your computer.

The first step in stopping the scourge of mindless surfing is to make a list of which sites you’re wasting the most time on. You probably already know what they are. Write those down.

If you want a more thorough audit, you might consider signing up for one of the many online services that show you how you spend your time online. Such as:

Rescue Time is a paid service that allows you track how much time you spend on certain websites and even how long you use certain apps on your computer. You simply create an account with Rescue Time, install the Rescue Time program on your computer, and Rescue Time takes care of the rest. At the end of each week, Rescue Time will send you an email report that gives you a breakdown of how and where you spent your time while sitting (or standing!) at your computer. It also has some other nifty features like the ability to block distracting websites and create goals for how you want to spend your time online.

If you want to completely banish time-wasting sites from your computer, you’ll needed to get into your computer’s host files and do some hacking. Don’t worry. You won’t break your computer in the process. What we’ll be doing is simply telling your computer that these time-wasting sites live on your computer’s hard drive. Because these websites don’t reallylive on your hard drive, you’ll get a “server not found” message when you try to surf to those addresses.

What’s great about this method is that it blocks these sites across all browsers. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Firefox, Chrome, or Explorer, if you try to visit sites on your blocked list, you’ll get a message saying your browser couldn’t connect with the site.

Another benefit to this method is that it provides a pretty strong firewall to prevent backsliding into mindless surfing. While this method is reversible, it’s kind of a pain in the butt to change. Any time you want to visit your blocked sites, you’ll have to go through the rigamarole below and “comment out” your added lines (add a # to the beginning of the lines) in your host file.

Men of genuine excellence in every station of life—men of industry, of integrity, of high principle, of sterling honesty of purpose—command the spontaneous homage of mankind. It is natural to believe in such men, to have confidence in them, and to imitate them. All that is good in the world is upheld by them, and without their presence in it the world would not be worth living in.

Although genius always commands admiration, character most secures respect. The former is more the product of brain-power, the latter of heart-power; and in the long run it is the heart that rules in life. Men of genius stand to society in the relation of its intellect as men of character of its conscience.

Great men are always exceptional men; and greatness itself is but comparative. But each man can act his part honestly and honorably, and to the best of his ability. He can use his gifts, and not abuse them. He can strive to make the best of life. He can be true, just, honest, and faithful, even in small things. In a word, he can do his duty in that sphere in which Providence has placed him.

Commonplace though it may appear, this doing of one’s duty embodies the highest ideal of life and character. There may be nothing heroic about it; but the common lot of men is not heroic. And though the abiding sense of duty upholds man in his highest attitudes, it also equally sustains him in the transaction of the ordinary affairs of every-day existence.

Intellectual culture has no necessary relation to purity or excellence of character. “A handful of good life,” says George Herbert, “is worth a bushel of learning.” Not that learning is to be despised, but that it must be allied to goodness. Intellectual capacity is sometimes found associated with the meanest moral character—with abject servility to those in high places, and arrogance to those of low estate. A man may be accomplished in art, literature, and science, and yet, in honesty, virtue, truthfulness, and the spirit of duty, be entitled to take rank after many a poor and illiterate peasant.

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