Just STOP–no really, Stop!

In my travels this week, I came across the concept of a ‘stopping cue.’ These are the zillion tiny signals dotting our lives that tell us to end an activity. Way back when, the five o’clock whistle would blow, and we’d down tools and head home.  The sun would set, we’d go to bed.

In print books, you have scene and chapter breaks, and at the very end you get those Dear Reader letters from your truly, but then… the book is over with. Time to let the dog out for last call and go to sleep.

A stopping cue is a big help in regulating health and well being, because it becomes something we don’t have think about, like stop signs. You see that red octagon with four white letters in the middle, and in very short order, you don’t have think, “Oh, time to bring the car to a complete cessation of motion.” Your foot just moves from the gas to the brake, while you keep impressing the world with your roadtrip karaoke, musical genius that you are.

When our stopping cues are gone, we have to use a lot more energy and focus to remain oriented and self-regulated, like trying to diet in the midst of multiple smorgasbords filled with favorite recipes.

In one area of life, there has been a concerted effort to remove stopping cues, and that’s on our screens. We can now “binge watch” entire seasons of television shows at once. Social media will dazzle our wondering eyes with a bottomless sea of personal content, camouflaging the fact that we’re really staring at a tabloid shopper. The news cycle is now 24 hours, and all of it sticky with anxiety-producing negativity. You can play Minesweeper until your arm falls off, not just until the quarter runs out.

As I look at the approaching new year, I already know I want to pay more attention to stopping cues, and to protecting the ones I have. There are places I won’t be taking my iPhone (like the dinner table), days I won’t be on social media (aiming for two a week), and times I won’t be scrolling email (outside business hours). I suspect at first, rebuilding some of these boundaries will be hard, but I grew up without any social media, and calling during the dinner hour has always been considered rude.

Have you felt an erosion of stopping cues in your life? Have you built any into your day or your week? What did you used to do with your personal time, before screens became our default mode?

I’m sending out three give-aways this week, because our list last week was so impressive: an audio recording of Jack: The Jaded Gentleman Book IV, a glittery amaryllis from Hirt’s Nursery, and a pound of Mary See’s dark chocolate marzipan.




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27 comments on “Just STOP–no really, Stop!

  1. Social media just doesn’t interest me at all. I’m of “an age” I guess. I just don’t see the fascination.

    I deal more with starting cues than stopping cues. I have arthritis pretty bad. When it hurts to move, it is easy not to want to do it. But it is all the more important that I do keep moving. So I assign myself a certain number of tasks to perform during the day. If that doesn’t put enough steps on my pedometer, then I just make myself just get up and walk until I do have them.

    • I think those of us above a certain age are so fortunate that we have a frame of reference for life without social media, without a 24-hour news cycle, without cell phones glued to our hips. The mental health of adolescents took a noticeable nose dive starting in 2011–the year the smart phone came out. That is not a coincidence.
      I’m sorry the arthritis plagues you. My mom was bothered by it, and her solution was much like yours: Keep moving however you can.

  2. The News is the worst anxiety of don’t stop or I’ll miss something political to my healthcare detriment, or detrimental to loved ones. So I’ve set timers on my phone, once it goes off no more checking that day. Most days 6pm MT is late enough I have the east coast news and can still sleep that night.

    Also use the Mindbell app for hourly random bongs to Stop, Breathe, and focus on something good right that moment between 8am and 9pm. Sun on my face, cat antics, being with a friend… Sometimes when I forget to mute my phone, like in a medical appt, it can be awkward random noise, but it’s also been a conversation starter, a shared moment of respite.

    Trying to use the technology to support sanity, cats, books and chocolate can only do so much.

    • Great point. Screens can be positive. I use the step-counter on my phone, which has been encouraged. Some days that I think I’m just spudding in front of the computer, I’m actually piling up thousands of steps (cats!). The idea of keeping the news dump to the middle of the day also has a lot of merit. I don’t log on until I’ve been stirring for a while (ideally until the pages for the day are written), and I try to log out of social and news a couple hours before bedtime at least.
      The world is too much with us, late and soon…

  3. I’ve never thought about stopping cues but they make sense.

    My Dad (who was 90 on Thursday) was a dancer of some note (tap–his vaudeville partner was Bob Fosse–and ballet)and a well-respected dance pedagogue when he stopped dancing. He told me just recently he never believed in the adage *no pain, no gain*. He felt once something began to hurt, you were either doing it wrong or needed to stretch more before you continued. Soreness was okay but pain was never okay.

    There are so many instances where with *no pain, no gain* we are made to feel we NEED the pain to advance. Physical stopping cues and emotional stopping cues are discounted as deterrents to advancing in whatever we are doing, while listening to our bodies and out hearts for a change could actually do more to help us than continuing. I think that goes for social media–when I am reading something online and I get INFURIATED, I now stop before I blow–and that has made a difference in my mental well-being.

    I am thinking about New Years Resolutions this week and one of them will be; if something makes me uncomfortable, gives me pain or distracts me from a goal, I will stop. This will include physically, mentally or emotionally discomfort or pain. It will be case-by-case and am sure to not get it right (for me)immediately.

    I am not as turned on as some with social media (I try to do only what I need for my chamber choir) and other than a few very close friends (from grad school and childhood) I have no Facebook friends. I am happier than many of my real friends because I decided to go that route when I was forced on Facebook for my job.

    Happy December, Grace. Hope you are enjoying your friend from Scotland’s visit!

    • The visit went wonderfully. My house and I are happy to have had the company, and hope there’s a repeat engagement.
      I agree with your dad: “No pain, no gain” strikes as so much testosterone driven nonsense, along with “that which does not kill you make you stronger.” Not only is the latter adage factual baloney, it ignores the lasting damage trauma can do.
      So we’ll have a comfy, happy, occasionally sore New Year, and keep the FB dialed down as much as possible.

  4. I like the idea of stopping clues!

    Have a nightly stopping clue. I grab the remote and shut off the tv each night when my husband heads to bed. Molly and the puppy go out, come back inside & settle in their crates and I read. Reading transitions me from work to sleep.

    We have a stopping clue at dog class, too. When we’ve finished our last excersise or task, the dogs have free time to play. Greg and Laci play which they enjoy.

    My goal for 2018 is to back away from a few street teams, review for books for a few authors/publishing houses and spend less time on Facebook. Maybe I will start by skipping Facebook on. Sundays?

    • When I’m in a horseback riding lesson, the horse knows we’re at a break when I let the reins go slack and give him a pat a on the neck. If I kick my feet out of the stirrups, the lesson is over. If the instructor leaves the arena, I have about five minutes before the horse starts tugging me toward the door, stopping for no reason, and otherwise offering me cues that it’s time to get off.
      The concept of a stopping cue isn’t complicated, but it’s powerful.

  5. I really can’t get into social media. Not interested. I grew up without any of it. I basically still live the same with the exception of having a tablet to read with once in awhile and my del for important calls. I enjoyed your post.
    Happy Holidays.

    • I’m only on social media in my author persona. The lawyer-me, the family-me… not there. I sometimes wish the author-me didn’t have a social media presence either, Like you, I grew up without it, and when I see how my privacy is casually ignored the better to sell me things I don’t need, or inundate me with propaganda I really don’t need… no thanks.

      I do love communicating with readers and other authors though. Always, the compromises.

  6. Its definitely so easy to be online all the time, since my phone is always in hand or right next to me. I read a little bit more, before I got sucked into Twitter and Facebook

    • And the “smart” phone has become diabolically indispensable. We store our calendars in there, our phone numbers (‘member when we knew a dozen numbers by heart?), our clocks, our cameras, our email, our step-counters. One third of us doing our web-surfing on our phones, read our books there, and oh yeah… call each other on them.

      This would be fine, except that data is, just being able to SEE the phone makes us less able to focus, recall, complete a task, or analyze. Our smart phones make us stupid.
      So mine stays out of sight as much as possible.

  7. It seems like in so many jobs these days, they have eliminated these type of signals by giving people the ability to work remotely or smart phones to use for work purposes so that the expectation becomes that you bring your work home with you. I purposely go into the office instead of working from home and leave my computer at work so I don’t find myself putting in more hours than I mean to. I’ve found if you don’t protect your work/life balance, nobody will for you.

    • France recently passed a law forbidding employers from requiring employees to respond to email outside work hours. The Daimler corporation has an auto-respond email along these lines: The person you’ve emailed is on vacation. You may send your email to this other person instead. If you insist on sending your email to the employee vacationing, the system will delete it before it can be read. A Dutch company has set up its graphic design studio so the desks all rise up to the ceiling on a system of tracks at 6 pm.
      Elsewhere in the developed world, there’s much more respect for the notion that we need physical and mental rest. We KNOW that any hour worked beyond 55 a week is counter-productive, but here in America, it’s as you say: Guard your personal time, because nobody else will.

  8. I limit news watching to 30 minutes in the morning. Watching it in the evening impacts my ability to sleep. One stopping cue that works for my husband and me is the use of the DVR. We watch TV after dinner until bedtime watching only those shows we have selected and DVRed. Fast forwarding through the inane commercials seems like we’re not wasting so much time in front of the box. Game shows, Food and HGTV shows along with others are a greater pleasure without commercials.

    As we grow older it’s important to switch our routines. This adjustment enhances our brains patterning. I don’t sit at my sewing machine for 6 hours 5 days a week. I could, but I don’t. Mixing up a daily routine by walking, reading, cooking and napping helps. I found I really needed to adjust my daily schedule or I had no stopping cue to quilting.

    I appreciate that you’re so prompt in responding to email. Given the information you provided in this blog, I’ll understand if a reply takes longer. You’re making wise choices.

    Merry Christmas.

    • You are so right about a routine that doesn’t put you in a chair for long stretches. Sitting Disease is a thing, and it’s deadly, and so very easily combatted. As you say, just GET UP. Take a walk to the mail box, to the potty, to the back porch. Change the position in which you read. Rest when you’re tired… such basic, important stuff, much of which could fit under the heading, “Mama always said…”

  9. We have an elderly dog with an agenda. I have a husband who comes home to lunch and supper. He has an office with appointments scheduled. For the most part, the technology has helped.

    I wash beds on Monday and clothes on Thursday, an aide-memoire from 40 years ago. I can relax about them the rest of the week.

    I still go down internet rabbit holes, just like I used to with books. (It’s also part of my job by times.) I can binge play stupid games, but I used to throw dice one had against the other, too.

    Yes, the twelve o’clock whistle is gone, the cows don’t need milking and the chickens don’t live in my neighbourhood. No one knows when I do my laundry or if my whites are white. The “stop” signals are more personal decisions, which can be difficult. The thermostat stops heating at 9 pm, the screens go to night mode, my husband tells me my book will still be there tomorrow… but it’s still a personal choice. And I need to remember that.

    • My computer, which I stare at for hours a day, has a program called F.Lux loaded onto it. This little free app does several helpful things for me: It starts cutting down blue light at a time based on when the sunsets where I am. It also starts giving me little nighty-nighty messages, such as, “Based on your normal routine, you are going to wake up in nine hours… in eight and a half hours… in eight hours…” And the activity on the screen stops until you acknowledge that message.
      I can ignore the messages of course, but as you say: That’s a choice.

  10. I admit I need to pay more attention to stop signs. I would say I’m old enough that I don’t care about social media, but I do know plenty of people my age and older who are completly addicted to Facebook. I use it primarily to keep in touch with long distance friends – and for the “Happy Birthday” wishes for people I won’t see on their special day. To be honest, lots of times I give wishes in person and FB since they expect the FB wishes too. I do use my phone for way more than I probably should email – both work and personal keep me busy even when I’m not at work a lot of the time. I have learned to keep my call volume on over night and mute other notifications.

    Activity wise I still do many of the same things I did before social media became prevalent – sit in front of the TV while mostly ignoring the programming in favor of a book, or brushing the dog, or cuddling a cat. Oh and we still have conversations at our house – strange but a real phenomenon.

    • Oh, conversations! When I was a young kid, I loved to hear my parents and older siblings having protracted discussions at the dinner table. That is probably half the explanation for why I’m a word nerd–I wanted to participate in what was among the few reliable, whole-family activities in my childhood home.
      Just a few days ago, I was talking to some other parents, and they remarked that now, they have most of their discussions with their children in the car. As long as they’re talking, I’m good with it!

      • Oh my! The car conversations. We had many of those and occasionally still do. When the kids were very young – pre K to 2nd grade – we had some very memorable ones: “How does someone get pregnant mom?” “Jack-Jack says he’s gay and everyone is being mean to him. Why?”

        They almost always asked this type of question out of the blue when I was driving. I learned not to be surprised at any topic they brought up.

    • This might be part of the reason why I like print books. Turning the page, getting to the blank page or half page at the end of the chapter, seeing the break between scenes, my arms getting tired, my hand getting cold… that’s all part of the stop. I can also physically see how much book is left, it’s not just a little figure up in the corner, and that makes a difference too.
      Can’t help with you with YouTube, that’s clearly an example of an ecosystem set up to minimize stopping cues (“Next up!”), and of all social media, it’s the most effective platform for product sales.
      What a coincidence.

  11. So I get two weeks off for Christmas Break, during that time I will not look at e-mail or Facebook as a present to myself. I love it. It drives my girlfriends crazy, but I don’t care.