Giving Up Politics and Sports

This is a 30-day challenge for myself. But I invite you to join in and share your experiences if you’d like. For the month of April I will be giving up reading and watching all sports and anything about politics. This doesn’t mean I will actively avoid watching sports or politics (i.e., if I walk into a bar and a basketball game is on, I’m not going to leave), but I’m not going to spend my time seeking out either.

I’d like to introduce 30-day challenges into being a regular part of the site and have readers participate with me. In the future, the challenges will be more significant and require more effort. I’m starting simple to ease myself into them and also because I’m traveling a lot this month (five cities and four countries) and would prefer not to make any major lifestyle changes while I’m on the road. Since I’ll be spending the majority of the year in Medellin starting in May, I’ll have more opportunity to implement more intense and focused life habits while I’m there.

Why Politics and Sports?

Simple: I feel that the return I get on my time spent following them is too low. My time is better spent doing other things (reading, studying a language, discovering a new city, meeting people, girls, etc.). Both are sources of stimulation, but I find neither fulfilling or particularly relevant to my day-to-day existence anymore. Ideally, the one to three hours I currently spend each day on following them will be used for activities which are both more productive and more enriching for me.

A quick rundown on why I decided to give up each.

Giving Up Politics: Truth be told, I feel like American politics’ battered housewife. It keeps beating me and throwing me down the stairs, yet I always come back hoping it’ll one day change. Well, it’s not going to change. If you haven’t noticed, the US political system is going down the shitter. I’m going to keep this site apolitical, but liberal or conservative, I think we can all agree that the American system is corrupt and not functioning very well anymore.

The difference is that I spend 10-11 months outside of the US now, and I’m quite happy not going back to the US. I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever live in the United States permanently again, at least not for more than a few months at a time. I can get into the reasons why in another post some time, but the point is, US political life hardly affects me anymore, so why stress it?

Since traveling and living in so many places, I’ve come to see countries and political systems in a pragmatic way. They’re structures and systems which ostensibly represent their people (although they usually don’t) and which you must deal with wherever you go. You may as well adapt and find the best ones to make your own personal living situation as advantageous as possible. I feel almost no patriotism for any country anymore. And honestly, the idea of patriotism seems a little strange to me now. Everywhere I’ve been, by and large, the population has been poorly represented by its government. I think that’s a fact of life. Power structures exist primarily to sustain themselves — this seems to be universal worldwide — populations and voters are tolerated and pandered to, rarely served.

What I think I will miss most about politics is the mental stimulation. Political discussions force you to consider tough problems and do research on interesting topics. My mind is always running 1,000 miles a minute, so politics has been a good pacifier for it at times. I’m an idea junkie and politics often quelled my craving. Luckily, I’ve got a reading list about 30 books long, so I’ll be reading those instead of political blogs and news sites — and no, none of the books are political.

Giving Up Sports: This one was harder to decide on, but ultimately, I couldn’t find a solid argument for the little value following sports added to my life. I hardly get to see any games anymore since I’m always on the road. I suppose I wouldn’t mind catching a game now and then, but the time I spend every day reading articles and listening to podcasts feels unjustified now.

What makes this easier, and clinched the decision, is that I don’t feel an overwhelming loyalty to any single sports team. Yeah, I’m a Boston guy, and I root for Boston teams, but unlike some fans, I don’t adopt it as a part of my identity.

When I examined my interest in sports, I realized that there were two main reasons I enjoyed following them: the physical displays of athleticism, and living vicariously through the competition and drama. The first one I can find any time — a few Michael Jordan highlights on YouTube are never far away. It’s the second one that bothers me. I don’t like the idea of experiencing the thrills of life vicariously. I think it’s subtle, even if harmless, form of escapism. I’d rather focus more on living my life to its utmost potential.

Minimalist Tendencies

Most people, as they age through their 20’s as I have, do it by adding more and more to their lives. More responsibilities, more possessions, more interests, more work, etc. I’ve gone the opposite direction. For the past five years, every year I’ve had fewer possessions, worked less, fewer interests, and fewer responsibilities. And every year I get happier and happier. Every time I gave up something else, it felt really hard and I thought I was going to miss it. But within a couple months I couldn’t remember why it was so hard to give up. I don’t miss anything I’ve given up — save time with family and friends — and don’t see why I’ll miss sports or politics either. We’ll see, I guess.

My lifestyle has become minimalist. I own a suitcase of clothes, a few cell phones and a laptop. That’s it. My lifestyle is built around experiences, not possessions or status. A life based on possessions or status, the scarcest resource is usually money. But in a life based on experience, my scarcest resource is time. As someone who is self-employed and not constrained by owning a house or raising a family, I’ve learned to become very deliberate and conscious of my time and how I use it. Following sports and politics eats up a lot of my time each week. And right now, they’re adding little to no value or experience to my life. So it’s time for them to go.

I will come back at the end of the month with an update on how the challenge went, how easy/hard it was, and how I feel about the results.

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50 Responses to Giving Up Politics and Sports

  1. deivid says:

    Hey Mark,
    I love your 30 day challenge idea. It would be nice to have one place where everyone state what is their 30 day challenge and everyone would start on the same day. So whenever one thinks he is not following the path, he can post about it and others could comment on it which would make a supportive and friendly environment for somebody trying to push forward.

    • Mark says:

      What I’d like to do is start a sub-forum for them and just have one each month that everyone can jump in on together and then share their experiences as they go through it. We’d start with a few challenges that I’d designate, but then later we’d crowd-source the challenges and let people vote.

      I’d rather keep it as a group activity for a couple reasons: 1) it keeps everyone accountable to one another; 2) people are better able to offer advice and support because they’re going through the same changes at the same time; 3) if we get 50 people doing 20 different challenges, it will all get jumbled and confusing to follow very quickly.

      But yes, this is where I’d like to take it.

  2. I gave up news in general over a year ago, maybe two years, after reading the 4 Hour Workweek. It started as an experiment and I never turned back. I bet the same will happen to you. It will start as an experiment and you will miss it so much less than you think that you never turn back. The one bad side effect I started feeling was this contemptuous arrogance when around people still heavily invested in news, sports, politics. The more I stepped outside of the news, sports and politics information stream, the more I viewed everything with a type of superior detachment. I would catch myself thinking things like “this person still buys into the dog and pony show” or “this is like bread and circuses for the Roman masses,” or “politics is just about pro wrestling, they just putting on a show with faces and heels for the over-invested audience, and when the cameras go off they all share a good laugh and a meal together.”

    I’ve been trying to become more and more minimalist, but I find I have to be vigilant of that creeping sense of moral superiority I feel coming over me when encountering people more “plugged in” to the news cycle than I am or more unabashedly materialistic and consumeristic than I am.

    • Mark says:

      Funny, I used to always feel a tinge of that moral superiority with people who DIDN’T keep up with politics and current events. I used to think to myself, “Geez, this person is so un-cultured and un-interested in the world.”

      Will be interesting to see if/how my perspective changes.

      • Traindom says:

        I have to say though, a good foundation is needed at least. I can’t tell you how much studying economics has helped me see what the hell goes on in the world. I wouldn’t take it back for anything. It was pretty enlightening.

        I think that it’s about the effort people make towards reading up. Most people don’t bother to read up on concepts not immediately relevant to them, and that’s okay. But when they’re set off, they’re ill-equipped to talk about issues. They don’t know what’s being done to them or about the long run. They can only parrot what little they’ve heard. Some never bother to make the effort to read after a certain point, only whatever the immediate media provides.

        But yes, the Republican show is something I would consider not important unless you really love that stuff, which I have to admit is pretty funny sometimes. That’s not helping anyone.

        • Mark says:

          I agree about economics. Understanding basic economics has helped me tremendously in multiple areas of my life.

          But I can read and study about economics without getting sucked into the daily political shitshow. :)

        • Jero says:

          Can you suggest some books about economics?

          • Ronnie JAY says:

            Finance/Econ major here!

            I studied them both in college and at one point almost taught Econ at the college level:

            1-Economics in One Lesson-By:Henry Hazlitt
            2-Basic Economics- By:Thomas Sowell
            3-The Little Book of Economics- By:Greg Ip
            4-How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes- By:Peter Schiff
            5- Money What it is How it works: Second Edition-By:William Hummel
            6-A Primer on Money, Banking, and Gold- By:
            Peter L. Bernstein
            7-Understanding the United States Debt- By:Tyler L Chessman

            The above will give you great insight and perspective. You’ll be solid. IF you’re not a “Econ Guy” like I am ,it may prove to be dry reading but that’s the reason why I listed the above specific books/titles. They’re for the Non_Econ person.

            Have

  3. Wanted to add, a surprise side effect was that I always had this idea that plugging into the news and current events made me a better blogger, but in retrospect I was just always reactive, angry and petty and I never realized it. Once I got out of the news cycle, I went from thinking mostly about people and events to mostly thinking about more abstract, timeless ideas. So instead of making my blogging worse, it actually made it a whole lot better.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly. I stopped reading most news regularly last year, although I’ll still read news articles if someone passes them along to me, and what was most interesting was how I never felt uninformed when I entered into a conversation on current events. History repeats itself so much I can usually just guess what’s happening, and then I just applied the usual arguments and could sound completely knowledgeable on it.

      Mark I’ll take this challenge too, though slightly adjusted. I’ll give up all news of any sort, and be sure to particularly avoid political news. I’ve been curious about the Republican primaries, because I’ve never followed them in the past, but nothing interesting will happen in the next month for them, so I’ll give that up completely. And I’ll give up all sports outside of actually watching a game. So no following the scoreboard for Celtics games on NBA.com or reading anything.

      I don’t think watching sports or following your team is negative. It’s when you start to get addicted to checking the leaderboards or spend hours reading opinion pieces about how X player will go to Y team or how some team you weren’t even alive to see had the greatest defence relative to their offence blah blah blah. I’ve been through times when sports were a distraction I used from the rest of my life, that’s what I’ll be trying to avoid in future.

      • Mark says:

        The Republican primary this year is a fucking dog and pony show… It’s all hype, Romney has had it wrapped up for months. It was actually a big inspiration to do this… I just couldn’t stand reading about it anymore.

        I agree sports can be harmless. I’m more curious about whether I’ll miss them or not. I’ve followed sports since I could walk. I want to know if I’ll miss them if I stop. I have a feeling I won’t.

  4. Dave says:

    I’ll give up Fark.com and politics for thirty days. The problem with Fark is that it’s very easy to get sucked into humorous but meaningless news, which is stupid when I have about forty books on my Kindle that need to be read. I’ll also give up politics for much the same reasons you mentioned, the exception being that a few weeks before voting (I’m in Canada, so whenever we have an election) I’ll educate myself enough on the issues and the candidates to make an informed decision.

    The reason I won’t give up sports is because a) NHL Playoffs are starting, and b) sports has always been a social activity for me. I rarely watch a game alone — I might listen to it on the radio while cleaning or doing some other mindless activity — but if I’m watching a game, I’m usually with my friends. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, I get the experience of being with my friends, plus there’s sports. It’s the camaraderie more than the viewing experience.

    So Fark and Politics, starting… Now.

    • Mark says:

      Very cool. Glad to have you on board.

      Sports as a social event I can see. I think the one thing I wouldn’t give up is actually going to a live sporting event every now and then. Just because the experience is so much more than the actual game itself — it’s the people you’re with, the crowd, everything.

  5. Mark Ebersole says:

    I like this idea, but I have a son now. What I will try to do (I’m not doing the 30 day thing), is starting being more of a minimalist and existentialist. I think those are the right words. Plus, I guess you could say I’m already doing it, since I hate and despise both already.

  6. tien says:

    First you want us giving up porn (which I’ve gone over a week without!), now sports and politics??

    I think it’s a good idea in theory but for some groups, sports/politics is what dominates teh conversations, so without it I’d be sitting in rooms silently while people discuss the NCAA tournament, Trayvon, etc..sports is the one subject, in the US at least that you can automatically connect with other men about, and if you’re meeting new people (other guys), sports will be the glue that connects you.

    • Mark says:

      Hah, it could be a good exercise in forcing yourself to develop real conversations. A lot of people use sports and current events as a way to avoid talking about things that actually matter. :)

      • tien says:

        That’s a great point, but I think the bridge of going from shallow conversations to “real” things requires a stepping point in developing comfort first, and certainly talking about a “comfortable” situation like sports can help ease that transition.

  7. David says:

    I’m also getting into the idea of being minimalist. I’m buying much less these days, and am getting rid of some of the clutter in my flat after living in the same spot for several years. I tell you, it feels good :)

  8. Brian says:

    Damn, and I thought I was the only one who viewed people’s love of sports as living vicariously. It’s always better to take part in something than to watch it from the sidelines, literally and figuratively. And politics? yeah, it is inherently fucked.
    I think I’m going to try this, which will be extremely hard since my homepage is yahoo :/ I just hope that it somehow doesn’t turn into being willfully ignorant about what’s going on in the world.

  9. Xander says:

    I’m curious with all the time freed up from eliminating sports, politics, and porn, what specifically will you be allocating more time to? I find I usually fill free time with reading books but that’s really just another form of escapism.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t see reading books as escapism necessarily. It can be, and in both a positive or a negative way, but they also educate you and broaden your perspective on life. They can actually help you to deal with life more directly, which is the opposite of escapism.

      • Mark says:

        Depends on the books, I suppose. Trashy airport novels are definitely escapism. Non-fiction and literature I don’t think is.

        To answer your question Xander, the answer is more reading (almost all non-fiction) and more work.

  10. Mike says:

    Ha! I just had a conversation about this yesterday with the new girl I’m dating. I’ve been off sports and politics for 5 years, and have used the time to start a couple businesses instead. I’ve always felt that it’s odd to get some of our emotional stimulation and satisfaction from something that we’re really not connected to. Ex: following a team because your parents do or simply because you’re from the town in which the team resides. I feel like blaming our problems on politicians is an easy out as well. All of us have a chance to obtain our own version of success and the fairly minimal political pendulum variations are not stopping us from getting what we want. Great thoughts, Mark.

  11. Guy Guides says:

    “I feel that the return I get on my time spent following them is too low.”

    This is the exactly mentality I use when choosing to give up things, even some social functions I just feel are a waste of time. Great post.

  12. Serge says:

    Never seen any point in following either, mostly for the reasons you stated above, so how is this a challenge? :-)

  13. Edmond Dantès says:

    Gave up watching television last year and it was a great decision :) Will try the challenge in a few days as well

  14. Pushit says:

    I understand giving up politics. I will turn into a manipulative, judgemental asshole if I was forced to watch 24 hour cable news shows. No disagreements there. I gave that up years ago.

    Following sports, however, provides more inspiration than anything. Tom Brady’s competitiveness and discipline, Ray Lewis’ intensity, Bill Belichick’s “Manage Your Expectations” philosophy (I’m also a Boston guy). Also, watching the intense backlash and vitrol they recieve off the field and the random drama gives me an example of how to overcome obstacles in my own life. I don’t nessecarily live vicariously through the parties, women, fame. But following a sports team to the end and watching them win it all is definitely an awesome feeling and one that bonds people together.

  15. Colaman says:

    I’m in. The politics seems to be harder than sports for me. I never understood what is interesting seeing other people doing sports.

    Is it a kind of “Biedermeier”? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biedermeier

    I love the idea with a challenge every month.

  16. Mike says:

    I’ve been doing this ever since I became interested in serious self-improvement, and it works wonders. Never was a big fan of sports, but politics and political philosophy had been my preferred topic of mental masturbation for as long as I’ve been able to think critically about these kinds of things. I’ve since realized that I have much better things to do than get upset about The State every five minutes, and am a much happier person because of it.

  17. Thomas says:

    Incredible, incredible idea. I’ve done this for short (unplanned) periods of time and always found it refreshing. I’m down.

  18. Mike says:

    Also, you write:

    “Everywhere I’ve been, by and large, the population has been poorly represented by its government. I think that’s a fact of life. Power structures exist primarily to sustain themselves — this seems to be universal worldwide — populations and voters are tolerated and pandered to, rarely served.”

    Which I would agree wholeheartedly. I feel that coming to these conclusions as I was obsessing over political philosophy is what made it so easy for me to give it up. If I still believed in some variant of “by the people, for the people”, I would always feel some sense of obligation to “get involved” (a.k.a. “get angry and frustrated”).

    • Mark says:

      Yes, I imagine I’ll still vote. As it is still possible to have some influence. But I realized that — for example in this upcoming US election — it’d take me all of about 15 minutes to decide who I’d vote for without a doubt in my mind. So why was I spending dozens of hours each month following this stuff?

      • Mike says:

        Still voting? You hopeless idealist, you :p

      • Tim says:

        It would take you 15 minutes to pick Obama over Romney?

        • Zac says:

          I think he kind of means that no matter who it was you could take 15 minutes, see where they stand, see how far apart they usually are, and pick which one suits you better. It’s like a presidential convenience store. You’re welcome. Being forced on a 3rd world Country near you soon!

  19. Jon says:

    Hey Mark–very interesting, particularly about the minimalist part. I’d love to hear more about the things you gave up–what they were, when you gave them up, what life was like without them in the short/long term, etc.

  20. Drew says:

    This is great. I used to be the political loud speaker until a few months back when I realized exactly what you said here: it doesn’t matter. The American political landscape is a farce to say the least.

    And yeah, you can keep up with economics without getting sucked into politics….actually, when you study it independently, you realize how both the liberals and conservatives don’t know a damn thing about the world.

    A really, really good book to read that put a lot of this into perspective for me is “How I Found Freedom in and Unfree World” by Harry Browne.

  21. Mykel Cross says:

    This is cool. As of a couple of days ago I decided I was going to leave my laptop charger at work so that I couldn’t use the internet before bed a few nights per week. This was to make sure I got to bed as soon as possible. What I’ve noticed after a few days is that I wasn’t really wasting time on the internet at all….I just thought I was. But there’s a huge cost to that. I’d carry this misattribution of laziness around with me which left me feeling guilty and angry with myself. In addition, I’ve been reading and meditating more. So, I think I might actually be more clear minded by the time I go to bed and get to work the next day.

    I’ve always thought politics and sports were a soap opera. And, I don’t watch soap operas for the same reason.

  22. Cory says:

    Great stuff as usual man. Thanks for being a pioneer/inspiration. If you could share some podcasts that you enjoy sometime, would be really interested.

  23. xsplat says:

    I have a lot of sympatico and familiarity with all of the ideas you express so well in your article. I went through the same decision for the same reasons to drop politics as an interest.

    The time suck that I’m noticing is spending too much time goofing around on the internet. So I’m trying to notice when it is pleasurable, and when it is just a space filling mind greed hungry habit. And I’m rounding out the day with other activities and interests. Like you say, time is a valuable resource – it’s a shame to not maximize hedonism.

  24. Badger says:

    I pretty much gave up politics and sports a couple years back, replacing the time with about half and half blogging and reading. I watch my favorite teams but I don’t read the daily feeds or play fantasy or anything. When the game is over I go back to my life.

    It’s been great. It’s so relaxing to not have manufactured outrage blasted into my brain on a daily basis. Sure I keep track of big political issues and such, just like I follow my teams, but the compulsive need to consume highly-perishable and basically pointless information about the minutiae of these topics is a welcome thing to get rid of.

  25. aNDY says:

    “Giving Up Politics and Sports”

    Very good idea. I’ve Leechblocked all news websites on my browser until for an hour in the evening when I’m done with all tasks. But even that should go as I found that the news tend to sour my mood and dampen my motivation. After all, it’s always BAD news.

    As for spectator sports – never been really into it. Total waste of time. Sport is something you should be doing, not watching.

  26. aNDY says:

    A good trick to stay informed but not get contaminated by the media is to just read the headlines. Just the headlines. Quick and easy.

  27. the former "pua" formerly known as megatron says:

    Hey mark, been awhile, glad to see you’re doing well. Liked this post a lot…like the new or at least new to me – dont keep up with this stuff anymore – site and the direction your taking it!

  28. Tom says:

    I’ve been on zero sport and 1% politics for years now and it hasn’t done me any harm. Sports is a pretty useless subject anyway and the time that I would spend watching it, I go rock climbing instead and it’s been a great journey. Even if I don’t follow politics I feel that I don’t miss anything. Most of the stuff that’s really interesting isn’t broadcasted by the big media anyway. I rely on the fact that other people do the job for me and trust that the really big news that I need to hear will come to me regardless and it always does. When Jacko died I only found out about it a week later, but who cares! Never been a big fan of him anyway. If there’s really big stuff that affects everyone, people will talk about it and let me know. This frees up so much of my valuable time, it’s incredible! I can’t even imagine how I was once able to waste my precious hours with all this useless information. One year, this team wins, next year it’s that team. One year this president, next year another. None of that has a direct impact on my life. I choose to build and maintain meaningful friendships instead.
    I highly recommend a low information diet! I will not come off it in a hurry.

  29. […] not limited to useless social media interactions. Earlier this year I experimented with giving up sports and politics for a month. I was blown away with how much information I once considered vital and important soon […]

  30. […] the beginning of April I challenged myself to give up sports and politics for one month. For the entire month of April I intentionally did not consume anything related to […]

  31. […] not limited to useless social media interactions. Earlier this year I experimented with giving up sports and politics for a month. I was blown away with how much information I once considered vital and important soon […]

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