On Cultivating One’s Own Garden First

18th century philosopher, Voltaire, famously asseverated that “one must cultivate one’s own garden”. I am not a gardener, though I do appreciate the aesthetic of a verdant landscape, but this metaphor is increasingly apt for all of us in modern society.

Largely because of technological advancements we are able to scope the affairs of any location in the world at any given time. We can swiftly gain a thorough sense of what our distant acquaintances are up to via our commonly superfluous social media networks. We can speculate on business rivals’ visions. We can compare our physiques and training regimes to ‘influencers’ on Instagram. And so on and so forth.

In short, and with our smartphones invariably tethered to our hands, we are constantly tending to the gardens of others. While our own backyard burgeons with weeds.

And our plants, perhaps symbolic of the meaningful pillars in our individual lives, wilt from neglect.

Even the most headstrong of us succumb to the ineluctable perils of modern technology. The algorithms that drive traffic to and within social media platforms are constantly being refined, and individualised based on tracked personal activity, to become even more addictive.

With greater addiction to our devices comes greater use, plunging us further into a fearful state of missing out (‘FOMO’)… At the expense of our immediate environments, our direct eco-system, our own garden. Perpetual consumption of extraneous content quickly becomes a black hole that clouds our own sense of self, our unique viewpoint of the world; stymieing the unvarnished individuality we are all born into.

Life satisfaction and fulfilment derived from that with which we engage in, is intrinsically linked to the depth of agency we wield over our lives. In other words, the greater the sense of control we perceive ourselves to have the more likely we are to be happy. We have little to no control over the affairs of others, and yet we spend perverse amounts of time scrolling through such every day.  Distracting ourselves from our own reality, and immediate sphere of influence.

Former American President Theodore Roosevelt averred that “comparison is the thief of joy”. There is profound truth to this quote, and it complements what has already been said above. However, it carries most relevance for the aspiration of success. For authentic success is an inalienable manifestation that is born from intrinsic motives, and attained on one’s own terms. However, It seems that a vast majority of us today are quantifying and qualifying markers of success on extrinsic motives, and arriving at goals that are fuelled by the approbation of others. This pervades the fitness domain, particularly; a domain typified by egocentricity and vanity – traits governed by interpersonal influences.

In this realm, if one isn’t comparing oneself with another’s profile or posts, one is often posting to elicit validation from others more so than to derive fulfilment from the workmanship itself; the process culminating in the ‘art’. When our decisions are governed by the opinions of others, we lose respect for ourselves and become hard-pressed to extract meaning from our pursuits.

Venturing too far and too frequently from one’s own garden can easily degrade one’s otherwise remarkable life, induce anxiety, stir up insanity by way of self-delusions, and rob us of the privilege it is to be a human being. On the other hand, muffling the ubiquitous noise in a distracting world, to cultivate skills and a sense of individuality that we can be proud of, is a healthy means to not only retain sanity, but also to exert a positive influence over the environment and relationships that truly matter to us. Our nuclear sphere. Not the great digital nowhere.

First, you must cultivate your own garden.

Disconnecting From Tech To Reconnect With Life

It was last year that I was on the end of a crucial reaffirmation. My brother had just introduced me to a captivating interview in which Simon Sinek, a leadership guru, was passionately illuminating the detriment of modern technology addiction. The talk was specifically delivered in the context of millennials, a cohort to which I belong.

It was my first acquaintance with Sinek and an impactful first impression it was; Sinek has this unique ability to make one feel as though he is speaking in one’s very direction and thus naturally engages the individual within a larger audience. He is the expert on leadership and behavioural psychology, after all.

I had read and listened to Eckhart Tolle’s work for many years prior and so was aware of the concepts that modern technology is generally inimical to; enlightenment, presence, state of consciousness and so on. Despite this knowledge, and a fascination with the growing research pertaining to mindfulness, I was perpetually denying a personal battle with mild addiction to modern technology.

As a small business owner operating on various social media platforms I was succumbing to the black hole that social media can very easily become and it was unquestionably retarding my productivity, mental health and ultimate sense of fulfilment.

For a manmade construct that purports to enhance life modern technology appears to paradoxically diminish it in endemic proportions. Sinek parallels modern technology addiction with other forms that include alcoholism and gambling.

The commonality in addiction is a self-cultivated dependency on a powerful hormone that we know as ‘dopamine’. This stress-numbing hormone is produced every time we imbibe ethanol; every time we trigger a pokies machine; and every time we check our phones for fresh notifications.

It is scary when considering the statistics: approximately 80% of millennials sleep in close proximity to their smartphones, more than half check for notifications at least once during the night, and one third periodically interact with it over the course of a night (Julie Albright, PhD in digital sociology).

The research supports the concern that social media addiction inhibits development of the interpersonal skills that relationships survive, let alone thrive, on. And even though our awareness of its perils is gaining ground, consumerism continues to parallel the swelling prevalence of mental health illness.

This isn’t at all surprising when we consider that identities conveyed through social media are usually beset with disparities between others’ perceptions of us and our reality. In the same vein, addiction to modern tech is distinctly associated with low self-esteem, anxiety, narcissism, envy and general life satisfaction; all of which are antagonistic to constructing authentic relationships. Indeed, a fading art amongst many a millennial and one that may very realistically be extinguished by Gen Z and Gen ‘Alpha’.

Outside of the interpersonal sphere, is our obsession with modern technology not making us less efficient in our everyday work? The ‘privilege’ of convenience that it portrays ironically masquerades as our biggest source of disruption to deep work. It isn’t necessarily our fault, either. Immersion in a society that is unconditionally one with their tech infects us with an unhealthy behaviour that is incredibly difficult to shake.

Aldous Huxley opined that “Technological progress has merely provided us with a more efficient means of going backwards”. Quite an extreme perspective but in a lot of ways it really has.

So how does one go about dissipating this pronounced addiction with modern tech and its incorporeal offspring, social media?

The reason we persistently fall prey to the bane of our own invention is that our willpower simply cannot single-handedly defeat such addiction. We set ourselves up for failure by equipping the temptation wherever we go. Having the internet readily available with the smartphone always within arm’s reach composes the perfect storm.

Removal of temptations that predispose us to perpetual negative habits is the fundamental first step in annihilating addiction. “But I need my smartphone!?” Yes, we occasionally do need to use data for practical necessities… though if one is well organised, then the ‘need’ to message or check on work-related notifications during the day drastically diminishes.

As such, outside of practical means, quarantine the smartphone wherever possible so that the temptation to mindlessly check it is nullified. Every time this seemingly insignificant act is carried out, the willpower passively strengthens and the obsessive compulsive behaviour disintegrates.

None of us are impervious to unhealthy habits and this is something I still struggle with, but have undoubtedly improved in this year. More recently, I saw my move to a new country (Japan) as a terrific opportunity to further this practice of temptation elimination. I have deliberately avoided arranging a phone plan, instead opting to utilise Wi-Fi only when practically necessary.

Yes, it may not be permanent but until that time comes (or doesn’t) it is a lifestyle decision propitious to greater fulfilment.  

I have learnt to love being disconnected from the interweb, allowing me to invest more time into the things that matter; studying a second language, building relationships with fascinating people in person, offering more value and writing. In other words, I am better extracting the essence of life that can so easily be sabotaged by our feckless use of technology.

*Of course, this technique is applicable to food choices and other habits antithetical to our health. Give the willpower an assist.


Blackwell, D., Leaman, C., Tramposch, R., Osborne, C., & Liss, M. (2017). Extraversion, neuroticism, attachment style and fear of missing out as predictors of social media use and addiction. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 69-72.

Hawi, N., & Samaha, M. (2018). Identifying commonalities and differences in personality characteristics of Internet and social media addiction profiles: traits, self-esteem, and self-construal. Behaviour & Information Technology, 1-10.

Liu, C., & Ma, J. (2018). Social media addiction and burnout: The mediating roles of envy and social media use anxiety. Current Psychology, 1-9.

Turel, O., He, Q., Brevers, D., & Bechara, A. (2018). Delay discounting mediates the association between posterior insular cortex volume and social media addiction symptoms. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 1-11.