We live in a culture of easy acquisition and disposal, and this has caused us to be rather flippant in the ways we spend our time. I felt uncomfortable with this realization, and I started looking around for ways to address this value that I seem to have instilled in myself, however unwittingly.
In 2018, David Cain wrote an article called “Go Deeper, Not Wider” about his idea for engaging in a Depth Year which he explains as a year in which a person increases the depth, not the width of interest. The premise is based on the recognition that in our culture, so many habits, objects, and interests are disposable. Our brain’s craving for novelty encourages us to pick up and abandon our pursuits with alarming ease.
For example, I order new books online about topics that interest me when I have an entire shelf of unread books, many of which I intended to read as soon as I received them. I recall having to save up for new books or waiting for the latest books to be released at the library. When Amazon came on the scene back in the 1990s, I still had to save up for books, but a shift happened. Soon there were many titles available, often for less than they cost in the bookstores, and about a dozen years after that, Kindle arrived, changing the nature of our reading forever. Before the publishing companies banded together to raise ebook prices, ebooks were extremely cheap and easy to acquire. I could order books from the comfort of home without waiting for UPS to deliver a text. Don’t like what you’re reading? Want to take a break? It is so easy to log on and download something else. We trained ourselves for this habit, or at least I did.
I’ve also picked up new hobbies and activities if only to drift away and try something new when the opportunity arises. I never reach a state of flow or mastery in these pursuits because I am constantly trying something new. In fact, when things become less of a novelty and start becoming difficult, this is often where my interest tends to drop off and my brain seeks that dopamine hit of trying something previously unexplored. I have even fooled myself into thinking my trying something new is broadening my horizons and making me into a more well-rounded citizen. Cain describes it best when he says:
When newness is always available, it’s easier to seek more of it than to actually engage with a tricky chord change, the dull sections in Les Miserables, or the dozens of ugly roses you need to paint before you get your first good one.
There are unexplored worlds waiting for me at home. To remind myself of that, I only need to look back at 2016 when I finally sat down and read War & Peace cover-to-cover. After 20 years of saying I wanted to read this book but never getting past page 27, I finally made myself slog through the beginning parts that made me want to quit. As I kept reading, my rational self tried to reason with me and argued, “There are thousands of unread books out there begging for your attention. Why stick with something that doesn’t hold your attention?” It’s a compelling argument.
I’m so glad I ignored my whiny self and forced myself to keep pushing through the novel. I kept reminding myself that books like this have withstood the test of time for a reason, and it isn’t because they are page-turners. That experience led me to find a life-changing book that has shaped my intellectual and artistic life going forward. It also helped develop me into that “more well-rounded citizen” I want to be.
As I sit here, I glance over to my bookshelf. What other books are sitting on my shelf right now waiting for me to pick them up? To extend this to other aspects of my life, what unwritten blog entry or unedited poem is ripe for my attention, if I’d only take the time to focus on these pieces again instead of running off to start a new piece? What relationships have I been inattentive to that I could renew and refresh? In what ways can I listen better and deepen my relationships with others?
The question I plan to keep asking myself about activities, books, and interactions is “Are there any ways you could go deeper?”
What ways might you seek to increase your depth this year, whether you plan to embark on a Depth Year journey or not? Leave your ideas and comments in the space below, and thank you for reading. Happy New Year!