• Daniel Kephart

Getting the Most Out of YouTube

Today's article is the second in a series on YouTube. You can find the first article "Addict" here.

The other week, I pulled out my phone to show someone a YouTube video that I thought might interest them.

"Oh, so you've downloaded YouTube again?" They asked.

That's right. After having essentially totally purged my life of the video-sharing giant, I've let in back in. Here's why--and here's how you can get the most out of your time on YouTube.

Everybody knows there's a lot of great information available on YouTube. In fact, "check YouTube" seems like a universal solution to any problem these days. The problem arises when YouTube becomes (much like television and social media are for many of us) a numbing agent. The way this happens is that the noise and narratives of what we are watching begin to get tangled with our own personal understanding of who we are as individuals. When this entanglement happens accidentally, it's a recipe for disaster. With our defenses lowered, we simply begin restructuring our view of reality in accordance with the nearest, loudest voice. Cult leaders often rely on this approach, slowly weeding out the other voices in an individual's life until their own is the loudest and most powerful. At that point, anything the voice says is taken as truth almost immediately.

Even a few weeks ago, I would immediately check my YouTube feed upon waking. Before anything else happened, before I saw another human face or even got out of bed, I was tuning in to the voice of YouTube. Now, obviously, there are lots of different channels on YouTube, so it's not as if I was really only listening to one voice. Some days I might be watching a comedian's stand-up routine, while on others I could be watching news or psychology. In some ways, however, that was the critical deception.

If you'll watch anything that pops up in your YouTube feed, does the content even matter anymore? Or has the platform simply become a place of solace?

Probably the latter.

In returning to my consumption of YouTube, I knew I didn't want to fall in this trap again. So far, I'm happy to report, things are greatly improved. In large part, that's because of a simple rule advocated by thinkers across time and place: First things first.

There's a lot of great pieces to read on the importance of routines. One thing I think a lot of the best morning routines have in common, though, is their solitude. Whether it's running, shaving, journaling, praying, or meditating, many morning rituals embrace the challenge of sorting through one's own thoughts. The mind bombards us with outside opinions of who we are, forcing us to come to grips with them. Anybody who has experienced serious negative emotions understands this phenomenon: We wake up so discouraged that we don't even want to get out of bed.

Having a consistent routine helps win this emotional battle because there are certain sureties involved. If I journal, I will have taken up a page in a notebook, and that moves me closer towards my goals as a writer. If I shave, then I will be taking definite steps towards constructing my desired appearance of myself. And usually, somewhere along the steps of fulfilling our routine, the mind is able to resolve and define a sufficient self-image. Runners, for example, often report that part of the "runner's high" is a sense of outside pressures disappearing or resolving themselves. Without external voices actually audibly competing for a chance to define us, our minds have a chance to work through this introspective process and come out on the other side.

Checking YouTube or social media right away disrupts this process (and so does listening to music, to some extent) because our minds are flooded with new narratives in need of sorting out. So by putting off tapping into these outside narrative for a bit each morning, we are redefining the balance of power.

I reinstalled YouTube on my phone. In fact, I don't even limit my time on the platform. Something I really do engage in, though, is keeping a word document open titled "daily log." This simply journal lets me jot down interesting things I learned or was inspired by while watching YouTube. This practice benefits me in several ways. For one thing, I instinctively steer more towards content I really want to engage. That doesn't always mean educational content, either. I'll bet, for instance, that there's probably a comedian or band you'd love to follow more closely. Check that off the list.

Beyond just choosing better content, I now also get more out of my time because I end up integrating what I'm consuming with what I'm producing. Taking quick notes on my takeaways from watching a video often leads to inspiration. And, if I need to return to an idea, I have it conveniently jotted down on my desktop.

Redefine your relationship with YouTube. You might be surprised at how much a video-sharing site can do for you.

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