important nothings

Thoughts on Input

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is input. What we read, what we watch or listen to, the conversations we have—all of these things have the power to shape how we think and feel.

I guess I’m just completely oblivious or something, but I never paid much attention to input until the last couple of years. I started noticing the importance of it when I was going through a rough time teaching, and I really noticed it once I found out I was expecting.

Oddly enough—or perhaps embarrassingly enough—television was what made me first realize the importance of input. Allow me to explain.

One of my favorite shows in high school and college was Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I still think it’s one of the best shows on television. It’s an easy one for me to Netflix–binge, and I used to watch an episode or two when I got home from school and waited for my husband to get home from work.

Then I went through a really difficult year of teaching. Teaching is difficult enough at the best of times, but that year was just a tornado of negativity from administrators, colleagues, students’ parents, and even a few of my students themselves. It brought me down and often left me feeling spent and bewildered. I’d lament what went wrong that day on the drive home, take my dog out, and then sit down to watch SVU before starting dinner and schoolwork for the evening.

And you know what? It didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, it usually made me feel worse. I’d get caught up in the story and how awful the perpetrator was, plus how difficult life must be for the victim, and even though I still thought highly of the show, I realized it wasn’t a good time for me to be watching it. I really hope I reach a season in my life again where I can catch up because it is a great show, but I know that it’s not the kind of input I needed at the time, and I’ve been okay without it.

Around the same time, I remembered that one of my husband’s and my favorite things to do when we were first married was to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show. So silly, right? It was on Netflix and popped up as being recommended for us—goodness knows what other dorky stuff we’d watched to have it as a recommendation—and we both talked about how much we loved Nick at Nite when we were growing up.

That’s when it dawned on me that the positive input of one show made a huge difference, especially when compared to the negative input of another show.

I realize that isn’t earth–shattering, but it was a transformative moment for me and made me consider other sources of input more carefully.

Something similar happened when my husband and I started watching Breaking Bad. We’d heard lots of good reviews about it, and we noticed in the first couple of episodes that it was well–written, but the overall situation and tone of the show just didn’t do it for us. It brought us down too much; after one particular episode, my husband said, “That was exhausting.” I agreed, and we quickly got to the point that we just wanted something light–hearted to enjoy. We’d already watched The Office, but we started watching it again because we liked it so much and knew it was the kind of humorous input we were looking for.

pink flowers

When I found out I was expecting, I became ruthless about the kind of input I allowed for myself. I guess I should admit that I haven’t been reading every single word out there on pregnancy health, birth, baby registries, sleep training, and everything else available for research. All I wanted was something to give me a brief overview of pregnancy and some sound advice related to taking care of myself, so I turned to Amazon reviews to help me sort through the millions of options. I also checked out a few from the library to skim and consider before purchasing one (I went with the Mayo Clinic Guide—and found out later that our insurance would’ve sent us the same book for free! Ha!).

The same was true for the internet. I’ve never been much of a crazy Googler, looking up every symptom and reading every forum post, but I have looked up some things to be sure. I became overly cautious about that so as to avoid reading the one horror story that would send me into the depths of worry. And I certainly avoided forums where it was clear certain moms were openly judgmental of other moms.

I think the main factor in my deciding what input to allow has been tone. I don’t want anything alarmist, discouraging, or sanctimonious. Have you noticed how often we use the word “best” in situations where it doesn’t necessarily make sense? I’ve noticed lots of “such–and–such is best for baby” language in situations where what’s best is really arbitrary. No wonder mommy guilt is so strong in our world.

Here are some other ways I’ve been considering input:

Blogs There are some sweet spaces on the internet that absolutely make my day, but unfortunately, I am not the best blog reader ever. I don’t always make time to stay caught up on the blogs I love, and I am the worst about commenting on my favorites, yet they leave me so uplifted and feeling like I’m not alone. A couple of my many, many faves are A Grace Full Home, Cartwheels Down the Hall, and The Gardener’s Cottage. It’s not like they update every day and it’s impossible to keep up with them; I simply need to find a few minutes to spend filling myself up and maybe even commenting on a post. I’m also thinking about bullying some of my favorite bloggers into posting more often (ahem, Misty. wink).

I think the same is true for letting go of blogs you used to love but aren’t really feeling anymore. I remember the first time I heard the phrase “hate read” (as in reading a blog you can’t stand by someone you don’t like); I was flabbergasted and vowed never to let a blog get to that point for me. There are only two blogs that lost their luster for me—and I promise I didn’t let them become “hate reads”—so I simply stopped reading them. In both cases, the blogs went from being sort of simple and honest, journal–type blogs (the kind I love) to becoming really popular . . . and then really sponsored, becoming more about product reviews than the person’s life. I was happy that these people I liked had so many readers and free stuff coming to their doors; it just wasn’t what drew me to the blog in the first place, so I moved on.

Radio Okay, I’m sort of using that as a catch–all term for stuff I listen to. My husband and I are news junkies, and we love a lot of the shows on NPR, especially Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion, so our radios are usually set to that station. The radio in our kitchen is HD, so we’re able to get our local NPR station’s jazz and classical stations, too (we have jazz on nearly nonstop when we’re both home, and I love to have classical on during the day when I’m home). This means we catch quite a bit of the news, too, of course, which is good. And while I like to be an informed person, sometimes the news is too much for me. The events of the past few weeks have been perfect examples of this: I want to know what happened, but I can’t endure the nonstop live coverage. The same is true of the election. I’ll go into the booth as an informed voter, but I simply can’t listen to every soundbite every candidate says. So sometimes I just turn it off. Simple, right?

What I’m listening to is also a great opportunity for positive input. I’ve got a few podcasts I just love, and I never have enough time to listen to every single episode, but I stay pretty caught up, especially while I’m cleaning or doing food prep for the week. My favorites are Happier and She Percolates. I feel so refreshed and recharged after listening to these.

Books I’ve mentioned in some of my Reading Lately posts that I’ve stopped reading books I’m simply not enjoying. I love to read Christian books, and I’m usually good at choosing ones that are at least somewhat aligned with my own theological beliefs. Every now and then I’ll find one that’s really conservative and way more literal with the bible than I am, but I can usually get around those issues if I’m still getting something out of the book. But there have been a few times when I’ve kept reading something that’s getting under my skin simply for the sake of finishing the book. Silly, right? I’m getting better at moving on to something more suited for me.

I’ve also given myself a lot of grace to read something seemingly silly just for the sake of enjoying it. As an English major, I can be too hard on myself for wanting to read something light, thinking to myself, “I should be reading Middlemarch instead.” But honestly, Anne of Green Gables fills my heart! It’s another bit of input that lifts me up, and I’m giving myself much more space for books like that.

Friends Ouch. This is a tough one, right? Like most people, I have a small inner circle I’m close to and keep up with constantly and a bigger group of people I love but don’t necessarily keep up with all the time. That bigger group tends to be easier to navigate because we aren’t necessarily doing the tough stuff together, if that makes sense. We get together every now and then—usually for some sort of celebration—and maybe text occasionally, but they aren’t in my day–to–day.

It’s with the people who are in my day–to–day where I need to be careful. I’ve noticed lately that some of my close friends and I have reciprocal relationships; it feels like we give and take equally, they fill me up, and I don’t leave conversations with them questioning anything. But I have a few close friends who do much more taking than giving, making our conversations feel more like a therapy session for them and leaving me completely drained. Please don’t get me wrong—I am happy to be there for people when they need me, and I hope my friends turn to me during tough times. But there’s a difference between that and people who complain for the sake of complaining. I’m slowly learning how to set some healthy boundaries with those friends so that I don’t spend an hour of the afternoon listening to their endless complaints about what time the mail arrived yesterday (yep, actually happened).

My most unexpected takeaway from monitoring input has been paying more careful attention to how I spend my time. That was a focus of mine when I was working on being more intentional, and I didn’t realize I’d revisit it during this little experiment. Spending time on positive input makes such a difference for me, and seeking what’s uplifting has been a good use of time, too.

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