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Dunbar’s Number, Iceland, Instagram, the Myth of Scarcity, & Creating a Rule of Life

Careful, now, before you dive in: there’s a thread of coherent thought here, but there’s quite a few cross-threads as well… (it does make a tapestry if you turn it around and stand back, I’m pretty sure of it).

1. Dunbar’s Number

Last year my friend Haley introduced me to the concept of Dunbar’s Number, a term coined by anthropologist Robin Dunbar in the 1990s. I’ll spare you the science-y details, but basically, he hyphothesized that humans can have about a max of 150 people in their social sphere.

Humans seem to have a natural limit to the number of meaningful relationships they can have. Furthermore, these relationships are layered: most people thrive with about five people in their closest layer, then the next layer holds about 10 people — one step lower than our closest relationships.

After that, the layers go from five, then 15, 50, and then finally, 100 people. So, about 150 people max in our lives with whom we have a meaningful relationship.

This is so interesting to me, especially in our social media-obsessed world. Are we able to not only give our best focus to those 150 people in our lives, but do we even know who they are? 150 sounds like plenty of people, but when you start counting friends, family, extended family, neighbors, coworkers, fellow students, and interactions with waiters, mail carriers, flight attendants, cashiers, and store owners? It makes me wonder what happens when we prioritize our relationships found primarily through the screen.

2. Iceland

I wish I could remember on which podcast I heard the genius Seth Godin reference this, but the words he used have stuck with me years later. He was asked about the idea of a thousand true fans (in case you’re unfamiliar with him, his niche is permission marketing, and how to break the mold of old-school business). He replied with a personal story: One time he was about to give a speech in Iceland, and was disappointed initially in the size of the crowd (I forget the actual number of people). But then he did the math and realized the people in the auditorium equaled roughly one percent of the entire country.

Everything has to do with perspective, he said. In our digital world, where “enough” is never enough (you could always have more Instagram followers, you could always answer more email, you could always get more work done because of the device in your pocket), it’s easy to forget that there really is a just-right amount of [fill-in-the-blank]. If you’re an online entrepreneur, that could mean there’s a just-right amount of followers or traffic for you. If you’re a shop owner, this could translate to foot traffic or customers. If you’re simply a user of the internet — a purveyor of good stuff out there — this could mean what you consume: the podcasts, the blogs, the shows to stream, the books to read, the newsletters to receive. There’s a cap to the amount that’s just-right for us.

You don’t need all The Things, even the Things that Smart People You Trust say you need. You need just the minimum of what’s good for you that’ll enhance your life, not take it over. You need to listen to the podcasts that’ll make your life better, and that’s it — even if everyone else is talking about that one show you personally have zero interest in.

One percent of Iceland is more than enough to make a dent in your business, to enrich your life, or to stay in the know with what you care about. 

3. Instagram

It’s no secret that in the past year or so I’ve grown much more leery of social media. Not only am I not a big fan of supporting a tiny population of Silicon Valley who profits light years above and beyond any of the people doing amazing, on-the-ground work that makes social media worth it, I’m really not a big fan of how it’s addicted so many people. And it’s changed the way we engage with each other: sometimes in a good way, but oftentimes really, really not.

Yes, Instagram can be a lovely place, and I’m not quitting it. But as both a consumer and a digital business owner, I’m really dubious of how many eggs people put in this digital basket, both in what they consume and in what they create. It’s owned by Facebook, who haven’t exactly proven themselves trustworthy. And it — like all social media platforms and most apps — is inherently designed in its DNA to be addictive. It’s how they make money. Users are not their market, they’re the data they sell (and users = us). 

(A few weeks ago Science Mike said everything I feel about social media in a recent podcast, so go listen to the first twenty or so minutes of this episode, if you’re curious. Basically, hear me say, “What he said.”)

4. The Myth of Scarcity

As an enneagram 4w5, I know my core struggle is envy — but not in the classic, I-want-my-neighbor’s-car way. It’s the constant, low-grade sense that something is missing, that other people understand, have, know, and attend things I don’t. (I’ve talked to other 4s, and every one understands this feeling. In fact, it’s what confirmed for me my 4-ness more than anything else.)

When I’m healthy, I’m spurred on to good work, to support and applaud my colleagues, and to recognize my many, many blessings. When I’m less than healthy (or, let’s face it, when I’m tired or hungry), I’m tempted with despair, jealousy, a hollow sense of never-enough, and enough self-doubt to lead me to wonder if the work I do, both online and off, does anybody a world of good.

(Insert a night of sleep, or lunch, or a leisurely walk, and I’m usually much better.)

I’ll admit to seasons in life when I’m unhealthy more than I’m healthy, yet I’ve happily been in a healthy place for several months now — and so, most of the time I’m at peace with who I am and what I do. But there are definitely times when the feeling of envy (in the something’s missing definition) tempts me to believe in the myth of scarcity — that there’s not enough of life to go around… and nowhere do I see this more in my life than when I scroll Instagram.

I’m hardly on Facebook anymore, but it’d probably do that to me, too, if I were. And for some reason, Twitter just doesn’t send me into a spiral, possibly because of how I use it and who I follow. It’s on Instagram where, for the good of my soul, I have to be really, really careful.

As a consumer, it’s too easy for me to forget that everyone shares their highlight reel, not their mundane days of dirty floors and errand running. As a creator, it’s too easy for me to self-doubt over numbers, statistics, wondering if I should do a thing because someone else is doing a thing. It’s way too easy for me to want to veer out of my lane. I forget that I just want to do good work, not be instafamous.

Now, this isn’t all the time — when I’m healthy, I have no problem with Instagram. It can enhance my life without tempting me to replace it. And? This leads me to weaving all these loose threads into something coherent.

5. A Rule of Life

If I want to invest in the 150 people that’ll keep me a sane, healthy member of society that gives more than it gets, I need to take care of myself. For me, I’ve learned this looks like no screens after 9 pm, lights out by 10 pm, awake early enough to do pilates before my day begins, and eating on a 2×2 scale (I’ll share more about this last one later, when I’ve learned it better).

It means as a writer, I write in the morning before I consume (besides the Daily Office), along with journaling and prayer, then working pomodoro-style throughout the afternoon.

It means a daily walk outside. Sometimes two.

It means loving my family enough to close my work day by 5:30ish, and channeling the rest of my day’s energy into relationships in my close, physical world: husband, kids, friends, and neighbors.

And it means cutting WAY, way back on social media, so that it’s where it needs to be: just a few check-ins a week, so that it enhances my life instead of commandeers it. 

Strategy-wise, it’s helped me enormously that we created a separate Instagram account for the blog and podcast, and that I have help running it. I feel buoyed by smart people like Cal Newport, whose blogs and books keep me sane and stable on this path I’m choosing (note: his new book releases tomorrow, and I’ll be stalking the mail carrier until it’s in my mailbox). Getting back to old-fashioned blog reading through Feedly helps as well. And Atomic Habits as rocked my world so much, I’m already reading it a second time.

I’m especially encouraged lately by simply owning all this stuff in me, and sharing it with people I trust, instead of being a classic 4 and ruminating on it until it festers in my brain.

And I’ve really found help lately in writing all this stuff down, at first a brainstorm of jumbled thoughts, but slowly, slowly transforming itself into ideas birthed from a Rule of Life. (Side note: I’ve been researching St. Benedict’s Rule of Life lately, and am working on a new thing to share with you about it — I think it’ll eventually be a short class).

At the end of this week on the podcast, I’ll share with you a conversation with Crystal about how all these thoughts really point to how partial solutions serve me well in life — basically, what it means to know that nothing can be exactly how we want it to be, so instead, I choose to embrace partial solutions when I want to be healthy. I won’t ever live perfectly aligned with the ideas of Dunbar’s Number, one percent of Iceland, not sweating the temptations of Instagram, or never struggling with scarcity. So what could it look like instead? A whole lot of goodness, when I embrace and lean into a personal, thoughtful, well-crafted Rule of Life.

These are the things I’m reading about, learning about, and writing about lately. It may sound like a jumbled mind map, but it’s making more and more sense in my life. And I feel better than I have in a long time.

How about you — have you ever thought about any of these things?

Reading Time:

6 minutes





  1. Kelly Wiggains

    This post is fantastic! Thank you for the extra resources you provided, too.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You’re welcome! xoxo

  2. Louise

    I love this post so much! Dunbar’s Number is such an interesting idea to me – as an extrovert I want to keep up with all the people, all the time. I’ve lived in three different countries in the past six years so this isn’t really possible, and I struggle with letting go and recognising that some friendships are for a season. I would love to hear more on this idea and for now I’m going to go look at who I follow on Instagram and see if I can reduce it down!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, I SO get what it’s like to have friends literally all over the world and wanting to keep up with them — and I’m an introvert, so I can only imagine as an extravert! Thanks for sharing, Louise.

      • Louise Harvey

        Yes I wonder if it can be easier for introverts in that way- a natural limit and finding it easier to withdraw? I can just keep going and going with people until I crash. I was inspired by your post to go through my Instagram feed and unfollow a lot of accounts- for big things like weddings/babies I can see their updates on Facebook, and if I don’t regularly see/text them (or enjoy following their content if a blogger) then I decided it’s not worth following them. I had a particularly nasty strain of the flu in January and it was illuminating to see who got in touch, and who didn’t – and now in 2019 prioritise those relationships where there is definite mutual pursuit of the friendship.

  3. Julie

    Kudos, again, Tsh. Great job. I love the way you think. And share what you’re thinking.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Julie!

  4. Jacqui

    Fantastic post, Tsh. Last year I took a month long break from all social media and it was very enlightening for me. I found that I reached for my phone out of boredom and habit. I also found that save for a few accounts I found visually inspiring, I didn’t miss seeing anyone’s updates. It fine tuned my social life so that I was more invested in the relationships most important me. I actually wrote down which specific blogs/podcasts I wanted to keep up with, and being intentional like that was very freeing. A lot of what I learned carried over into my reintroduced media consumption and I’m grateful for that.
    One of the things I often remind myself when I start struggling with that feeling of missing out is that I need to keep my eyes on my own lane, and I can do that while still cheering others on.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That’s such a good practice, Jacqui! I’m thinking of doing something similar soon (a social media detox to observe what I specifically want to bring back in)… I know Cal Newport’s new book (linked above, in the post) provides a framework for doing this, so I think I’ll follow suit to whatever he says. 🙂

  5. Melissa L.

    I’ve not heard of Dunbar’s number before (and it seems high to this introvert!) but I’ve always pictured my relationships as a bullseye. So Dunbar’s number fits my mindset.

    At this time in my life my husband and children are at the center. The rest of the people in my life hop around on the rings somewhat, but I have 6 good girlfriends. We aren’t all one group, and some live in other cities across the country. All are friends I made as an adult. I have a very narrow definition of the title “friend” and while I endeavor to be friendly toward most people, I would definitely say I don’t really seek out new friendships, and sometimes I feel a bit burdened at the thought of ANOTHER friend. That probably sounds awful! But I am also an introvert, maybe that’s a big part of it.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      If you feel at capacity with friendships, Melissa, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all! 🙂 Perhaps be open to surprises along the way, and be willing to encourage someone who needs something you can give, but keeping your circle where it feels maxed is good boundaries, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • KC

      When I hit maximum on friends, I started being a Friend Matchmaker – if people wanted to be friends with me, then maybe there was another acquaintance of mine (who wanted to be friends with me) who would be a really good fit for them in some specific way – and it turned out that this was often the case and it was *awesome*. (and then I moved and changed and now I have “space” for more high-contact friends again but don’t live in the right area for this; but it is still nice occasionally getting “wish you were here!” tea party photos and stuff.)

      Anyway, no guilt if hooking people up with each other is not feasible either. Just, sometimes your networks can be mutually beneficial and I am in favor of filling up all the people who want/need more connection.

      • Ronda

        KC I love that term of friend matchmaker and how beneficial it is to everyone involved. I know I have been working on being more intentional with the friendships and family relationships that I want to keep a closer relationship with. And I think not only to be that person in someone’s life but to have someone help you meet a friend who they think you would enjoy is such a gift.

  6. Nicole

    Tsh, thank you for this. So many of us are right there with you. My social media breaks have been wonderful, and yet it feels so hard to truly disconnect – and also hard to moderate, especially with instagram’s addictive qualities. It’s a struggle. Your writing here is helping me continue thinking about thoughtful use, rather than mindless scrolling. Thank you.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’m so glad, Nicole! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Ashley S

    I thought the post was very coherent and made perfect sense!

    I must be one of the rare people who is not overwhelmed by instagram (Facebook is a different story, but I don’t quit it because of a couple helpful groups). I don’t really ever feel comparison harming me there, but I have carefully curated my feed to people I actually know and like or a couple of blogger types that I find authentic and inspiring. In November I did have to unfollow everyone who was trying to sell me something, even if it meant missing out on seeing their delightful new art. It was a worthwhile endeavor though, and I haven’t gone back. I also have the Instagram timer within the app set at 30 min a day, and the screen time monitor on my iPhone set for 90 for social media (which means instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and texting – texting is where most of my time goes!).

    I’m working with a spiritual director right now to form a rule of life. It’s been a wonderful practice, even if it still needs a lot of work!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      What a lovely framework you’ve given yourself, Ashley! And thanks for the reminder that the iPhone has that new-ish timer feature… I’ve forgotten about it! Sounds useful.

  8. Meg

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I adore all of your content, but this in particular hit home. So much good stuff here. I really appreciate your encouragement to seek just enough input–as a PhD student, my “free” time is so limited, and the sheer overwhelming amount of truly great content can become a barrier to me consuming any of it at all. I’d love to hear more about the rule of life stuff–a course/class on that sounds amazing!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks, Meg! I’m really enjoying my research on a Rule of Life so much… I think/hope whatever I create from it will be a really good resource.

  9. Amanda McGill

    This is so helpful. I recently finished In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (and I learned more about Benedictine spirituality with this novel than a host of non-fiction works) . The whole book is so beautiful, so profound. But, I keep remembering this part, every time I go to reach for my phone: ” ‘Use every odd space, each ten minutes.’ Dame Emily had always taught her novices that — ‘It’s how all our tasks are done.’ ” At the beginning of the year, I tried to pray a set prayer before I opened Instagram — to use it with love, to be faithful and attentive to both those before me and the people and work that I see on social media. I’d like to say that worked well for me, but installing a tracker on my phone that tells me how many minutes I use it (and gives an alarm when I reach a certain amount of time) has helped the most. News Feed Eradicator helped me kick my Facebook habit. Have you looked into other alternatives for Instagram? I keep wondering about….

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Amanda, I’ve never heard of that novel before, but I immediately looked it up! It sounds lovely. And yes, I installed the News Feed Eradicator for FB as well, and it’s helped ENORMOUSLY (linking to it in case it helps anyone else). I now only check FB about once a week, and only the few groups I still care about. It’s been just the thing I needed to walk away completely from my feed.

      I haven’t found IG alternatives because I haven’t looked for them… Mostly I just check only a few times per week. I don’t not like IG, I just have to check my heart, mind, and body before I get on there. I can’t mindlessly scroll… 🙂

      • Amanda McGill

        Oh, you must read Brede as part of your Benedict/Rule of Life research! I think of this quote all the time, too: “Nowadays there’s a tendency to make everything utilitarian — even the things of the spirit,’ said Dame Clare. ‘Beware of this,’ and, ‘That wasn’t the way of the saints,’ said Dame Ursula. ‘They didn’t set out to be of use. . . And you needn’t worry about being useful. . . When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He, Himself, will know how to bestow you on others.”

        I look forward to seeing your work on Benedict and a rule of life. I’m currently reading another incredibly enlightening book called English Spirituality by Martin Thornton that is helping me understand that Benedictine spirituality is very much English Spirituality (and really at the heart of what made my husband and I become Anglicans 6 years ago). I’m preoccupied in understanding how Benedictine spirituality works itself out as family spirituality (even with very young children).

        Though this is also my first time commenting, I’ve also been very grateful for you and your work for many years now!

        • Tsh Oxenreider

          Well, you’ve left fantastic thoughts for your first comments, Amanda! 😉 Grateful for the wisdom you’ve shared here.

      • KC

        I second the book endorsement, although I would note that it is kind of huge. But definitely read it!

        • Tsh Oxenreider

          I’ll keep that in mind! I’m not too afraid of big books… 🙂

  10. Brooke Posey Steinbacher

    I so relate to this! As a fellow 4, the Instagram struggle is real. I just came back off a 1.5 year break from social media. It was a good break, but I did miss the good aspects of social media. Trying to find a healthy balance though is seriously so hard. I love the partial solution idea though, because I get frustrated when I can’t find a perfect balance that I’m %100 happy with and can stick to. Thank you for sharing your thoughts out loud and inspiring me to do the same!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      A partial solution is a great middle-ground place, I think. And I hear Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport’s new book I mentioned in the post) suggests several ways to do this — not completing writing off all social media, just keeping it in its rightful place. I’m genuinely looking forward to what he has to say.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brooke!

  11. Devi

    Tsh, I like this post, but I’m going to be a bit of a dissenter here. How did you grow your email list? How did you grow your blog? How did all of this become your family’s full-time income? I’m going to guess that social media had a part to play in that – maybe not a huge part, only you could tell us that. I remember your post a few weeks back about how right now social media isn’t a big part of sustaining AOS, but I’m curious more about how you grew it to a full time income – did social media have a part to play in that? My guess is yes, and if I’m wrong, please say so. It seems awfully privileged to me to be able to benefit from something and then turn around and tell others it’s not worth it. There are many of us – myself included – who long to make writing a full time income source for ourselves, not even because we need the income but because we want to believe that our words and work are worth the effort we put into it. However there aren’t that many pathways out there. Social media provides and effective and possibly fruitful way of getting our words out there and a way for us to work on our ability to speak to specific groups of people. Hopefully one day it will also turn profitable. Instead of just telling people not to put their eggs into one basket (and I share your concerns about Facebook), you could give writers a way of sharing their work for pay, you could show us how we can share our work in ways that are profitable that don’t involve social media. Everyone gets their start somewhere, right? You started somewhere..Maybe social media is just our way of trying today.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Hi Devi, thanks for sharing this comment of yours! I’ll start my answer by reiterating this point I made in this post: “[Social media] can enhance my life without tempting me to replace it.” I’m not anti-social media. I’m so, SO grateful for the many opportunities it’s allowed me to connect with people all over the world — both for my work, but especially for the friendships I’ve made. To this day, some of my dearest friends I first met online. I love it when it keeps its rightful place in my life (and work): as an enhancer, not a replacer.

      But I’ll argue that personally, the majority of my growth didn’t happen through social media, it happened through word of mouth — mostly through other bloggers. And this is because my early growth happened from around 2008-2010, before the explosion of social media (at least to the point where it all but replaced some of the original beauty of things, like indie blogs). And as recently as last fall, I surveyed my listeners and readers and discovered that, BY A LONG SHOT, most people currently find my work by subscribing to my weekly email, followed by subscribing to this blog + pod and getting updates in their readers (Feedly, Overcast, etc.). I was so surprised. Did they perhaps find these places via social media? Sure. But those places aren’t what sustains their attention as readers and listeners. It’s one email sign-up at a time, one episode download at a time — content driven, giving them value and encouragement again and again, above and beyond some sort of social media strategy. That’s what I’m talking about in this post.

      So again, I’m not eschewing all social media, and I’d even argue that sometimes Cal Newport takes it too far. But I stand by my belief that while social media has done a lot of good, it continues to do a lot of harm to our culture, and I don’t think creators should overly depend on it. I don’t think it’s sustainable, safe, or smart. That’s just my opinion.

      I 100% agree with you that it’s indeed a privilege to get to do this sort of work for a living, and I don’t take it lightly. I’m very, very grateful for my readers and listeners. I’ve also worked hard for almost 12 years (and counting), for many, many hours, many of them without pay and only because I genuinely loved it.

      Thanks for the interaction!

      • Katy

        I would like to second that. I found The Art of SImple via the Simple Show, when looking for a podcast about minimalism without actually wanting to be a minimalist (I love books and dvds too much for that). Often when I start relying on Instagram for blog updates, I don’t read the blog unless it is a stand out Insta post. It’s too much hassle really. Weekly newsletters and Bloglovin are way better for getting long form content.

  12. Amber Redmond

    This resonates in a way I’m not sure I fully understand yet (hello 4? I’m still deciding.) But mostly with the myth of scarcity. I literally had to stop myself today from making a list of “how to get the things I want next” because I knew that was unhealthy, unattainable, and unbelievable. I’m learning (slowly, deliberately) to take it to prayer.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      You’re welcome, Amber! I understand how you feel.

  13. Alice

    Great post, Tsh! I am a 4w5 as well, and so much of this resonates with me. Do you also find that some of those feelings, of self-doubt and sensing something missing, tend to subside when you are traveling? I feel mentally healthier when I’m on the road (though if I’m gone too long, like our time as expats, those feelings inevitably creep in again). I’m definitely still working on becoming a healthier 4w5 in everyday life, so I appreciate you sharing here what’s been working for you.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes, yes, YES, Alice — isn’t that interesting? Those things COMPLETELY subside when I travel. Maybe it’s a weird mental shift into feeling like I’m far away from those things (even though the internet is technically everywhere?)… I’m healthier mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when I’m on the road. It’s much more of an effort to stay healthy when I’m at home. Wonder what that means… ?

      Great observation!

      • Alice

        Yes! Even a shorter trip can snap me out of my type 4 melancholy, leaving me in a much healthier place for weeks after. Not only from spending less time online, but all the time outside and walking, so many new experiences, being challenged on a daily basis, quenching my thirst for beauty, being as social (or not) as I want, and not feeling quite so wrong or different from others (because I can more clearly see just how different and alike we all really are). But yes, it is much more of a struggle at home, even though I do want – and need – my home life too. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this topic!

  14. Amy Zack

    Actually, yes, to all these things. This post vibes with where I’m at and what I’ve been thinking about lately. My husband is in marketing so I’m familiar with Seth Godin being quoted around here.
    I clicked on the post because I thought you were going to mention “A Mother’s Rule of Life” by Holly Pierlot, which I believe she wrote based on Saint Benedict’s and Mother Theresa’s “rule” but adapted it for herself as a SAHM/work at home mom. The little bit of the “rule” that I have implemented already has helped so much. When I get my priorities right and hone in on what’s good and necessary for me, then social media gets put in its rightful place. But when I get unfocused, then social media feeds all the symptoms you discussed.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That sounds really interesting, Amy! I’ll have to go look that up.

  15. Amanda W

    This post was just the thing to read to start my day (Including the comments!). Some of it really resonated with me (Dunbar’s number has lately helped me give myself permission not to be friends with everyone) and a lot of what you wrote has made me more curious (Rule of Life sounds so intriguing). And if there is thing I’ve learned the past few years that has changed my life the most, it’s the value and importance of knowing myself. Social media is like a trained wolf, a barely domesticated wild animal. I love it, I hate it, I need to learn how to use it more effectively professionally. Anyway, thank you!

  16. Nellie

    Hi Tsh,
    I’ve never commented before either, but your post is incredibly timely for me as you discussed SO many things that resonate. I deal with seasonal depression and have begun to wonder whether Instagram feeds that depression. I love it for a number of reasons. I mostly follow book accounts and have formed some friendships that way. But now I wonder, What kind of friendships are these? Do they value me in the same way I’ve decided to value them? What would it look like if I decided to let them know I was leaving Instagram for awhile and would like to keep in touch with them personally instead? I think it would be a good litmus test. I recently decided to change my feed when I realized that some of the accounts were more troubling to me than not, and my life has not been adversely affected. I’m going to take that as a sign that perhaps I should apply this more liberally and see what happens.
    Thank you again for writing this. I feel inspired in so many ways.

  17. Amber

    I’ve been diving deeper into what it means to be a 4, and I think this was perfectly timed for me. Thanks for the great insights and ways to think about carving out the intentional space and people that really matter. Great timing, and thanks for sharing your journey in this too!

  18. Rae

    Wow, Tsh. So much good stuff here. Thanks so much for sharing!!! I totally see how these things are connected. I have to admit that the “Rule of Life” concept doesn’t 100% make sense to me yet — have you referenced that idea somewhere previous? The context here does seem to define it somewhat, though, so I think that is making sense!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Not yet, really, only because I’m still learning about it! The closest thing to me talking about a concept like this is in Like Your Life. I’ll share more when I learn more + apply it in my own life!

  19. Amber Safford

    Tsh, I second everything here, especially the thoughts on scarcity. I’ve become slightly obsessed with the whole abundance vs scarcity mindset. Not to seem dramatic but I strongly think this paradigm has the power to change us as people and as a society.

  20. Katia

    Tsh, it’s refreshing to know that more and more of us are increasingly using social media with heightened awareness and intention. For me, it’s a tool to help promote my business. It helps to foster connection to a degree, but it will never replace true connection that we all crave in our lives with those 150 closest people. I’m choosing to focus on enriching those real-life links. Thank you for your honesty and food for thought.

  21. Laura

    Thank you for the heads up that Facebook owns Instagram! I had no idea and it confirms my decision to stay off the platform. I’m only on Twitter because Facebook made me feel bad about myself so I’m betting Instagram would, too. I’m a #1 but from what you say I think I may have some #4 tendencies.

  22. Maurie Roselaine

    I LOVE this. I am adding both of those books to my reading list. So much of what you said resonated. I’ve been (hesitantly) back on Instagram after a year-long break and by limiting it to a couple quick check ins a week (as well as nixing Facebook), I’ve found that my overall well-being is a lot better. After having my first baby, I made a rule that I could do whatever I wanted to as long as it wasn’t online. I don’t have to do dishes or fold laundry, but if I’m not going to do what I “should” do, I need to do something analong, like write or read or goo at my baby or talk with a friend. It not only helped my mental health, but even my motivation and overall well-being! I recently had my third baby, and I’ve recently reinstated that habit. It is a game changer!

    • Rachel Allred

      I loved this post and all the wonderful comments. I was on vacation and out of my normal routine this week and found myself reaching for my phone to fill in time far too much. I’m excited to get back to my normal routine and try to apply some of what I’ve read here. So much to ponder!

    • KC

      This is kinda brilliant, the “do whatever you want, but only analog things” idea. I am not against all online-ness, obviously: see me typing this comment: but! The idea that we don’t necessarily have to substitute something Unpleasantly Virtuous for an activity we’ve identified as negative for us, but can sometimes just do whatever we want that *isn’t* that thing! That’s especially brilliant when it’s New Baby time, I suspect (although I haven’t tried it).

      Something a bit similar, but not digital/analog, has gotten me a decent distance towards improving my time use in the last few months – the concept that if I’m in a state where I’m just plain *not* going to be doing the Most Important Thing I Don’t Want To Do right now (because my brain is pudding or whatever), then I can instead be doing something less important but semi-positive (and probably self-limiting) rather than one of the things I’ve concluded is outright wasteful (or self-perpetuating/addictive).

      I also use the “do the Thing I Don’t Want To Do for ten minutes” trick when my brain is not *that* puddingy but when I suspect I’m just feeling averse/avoidant. It sometimes works. But it’s not an always-solution, because one’s brain is sometimes pudding and it’s not productive (or aesthetically pleasing) to keep mashing it against the wall…

  23. Cindy

    Wow! So much good stuff! It came across as you just ruminating about ideas that have crossed your path recently. However, you really summed it all up in the end, making all those thoughts cohesive! It’ a bit like my journal, except I don’t always (mostly never) come to a cohesive end… I enjoyed the good read & am about to clink on a handful of your links that grabbed my attention! Thanks, Tsh! I enjoyed listening to your ruminations today (as usual)!

  24. Sharon Thomsen

    I’m starting Joan Chittister’s book on The Rule Of Benedict. Sister Joan is a terrific writer. I’ve enjoyed many other books. You might want to check her out.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I’ve heard that’s a great one! Thanks, Sharon.

  25. Fanny

    Thank you for sharing! As a 4w5, I resonate with everything you say!
    We are currently working on our own rule of life as a family.. Lifechanging!
    I wanted to ask you about a book you say you read every January! Can you refresh my memory and tell me which one it is?
    Thank you!!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes! It’s Essentialism.

  26. Robin

    How much do J’ADORE you’ve incorporated Pomodoro into your work practice? Maybe you were a user before my post here, but regardless…it helped me write a book, and I was so thankful to learn about it.

    But this post isn’t about Pomodoro, is it? When I read your thoughts, they were perfectly in sync to me, I could follow the threads as you were weaving. I h e a r you and am reminded why I genuinely love and appreciate you as a human, a producer of good work, and a thought leader and introducer. I’m still here, cheering you on, missing you often, and eager for that next IRL hug. Until then, keep doing what you do however you’re lead to do it, and know that you’re reaching hearts and minds in a way that leaves us for the better.


    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thank you, friend. Your friendship means so much to me! xoxo

  27. Jamie Martin

    I so relate to everything about this as an Enneagram 4, too, Tsh! #solidarity

  28. Christine Bailey

    SO much good stuff. The Iceland part is fascinating and particularly resonated with me, as I started incorporating intermittent fasting into my daily routine in January. I’m shocked by how much less food I actually NEED. Now, I’m trying to focus on eating just enough to keep me going and enjoying those meals more fully, rather than consumer more, more, more. It’s been really freeing. Next, I need to figure out how to apply this to things like Instagram and other things that suck my time.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh interesting! I hadn’t made the connection between intermittent fasting + Iceland, but you’re RIGHT! I’m back to doing IF again (after talking with you!) and I feel so much better… it really is amazing how much less food we need than we think!

  29. Ellen

    I so appreciate your honesty and thoughtfulness. Thank you for this!
    I took a 5 year break from Facebook because it was rarely a positive experience. When I stepped into Instagram i was super careful about who I followed. I also just check in a few times a week and that has been a helpful boundary. Keep up the good work (and thinking) it is meaningful to many!

  30. Katy Walton

    With every blog post I read and podcast I listen to, I am so grateful I found that first podcast. As a 4w5 in her 20s, seeing Tsh love her life so honestly gives me hope for my future. And a lot of ideas on how to shape my present for me. I love the idea of a Rule of Life and hope you write more about it. Might have to create my own.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Katy, thank YOU for inspiring ME with your comment here! I love that we have more and more readers + listeners in their 20s (because honestly, I often still feel like I’m in my 20s!). I’m so glad you’re here. xoxo

  31. Meredith Cox

    This is wonderful, Tsh! I’m excited to have you back in the blog world more!

  32. Megan Wise

    I gave up all social media a year ago and it has been great. I get that there’s good and bad to it, but I was tired of the struggle of trying to find the balance of it. It was easier for me to just lay it down. Also, the addictive-ness of it totally worked on me. I was hooked! The people they pay millions of dollars to keep you coming back, loggin in, scrolling are doing their jobs well. I am just a happier, more centered, more peaceful person without it. Oddly social media lead me to feel less connected than I had ever been in my life, and not having it has forced me to reach out and make real connections when I want to talk to someone, rather than just checking their feed to see what they’ve been up to. This year I decided to give up my iphone and all smart phones in general. I was worried about how hard it would be, I thought it would be a huge sacrifice and thought I’d miss it a lot. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It has been 98% awesome not having that phone pull at my brain all day, and 2% Minorca inconvenient using a flip phone with old technology. I still use an iPad Pro as my designated computer, so I use that for texting at home, and I keep my old iphone without a SIM card in the car with podcasts and music downloaded on it- so it has become an iPod. But the time I spent thinking about my phone, trying to avoid my phone, wanting to pick up my phone, carrying my phone around with me, picking my phone up to check something and getting sucked into something else without even thinking about it…..all that is a thing of the past and it is nothing but a HUGE relief! I was greatly influenced to try all this by the example of my wonderful sister-in-law, Jenny Black, who blazed this trail before me and made it look doable. You can see her work at

  33. Dorothy H

    Are you aware of the wonderful trilogy of books called the Divine Hours put together by Phyllis Tickle? The Divine Hours includes morning, midday, vespers (evening) and compline (before retiring) offices of Anglican prayer and Bible readings based on the Benedictine tradition. It may add richness and content to your daily rule. I’ve certainly benefitted from it! PS. I so enjoyed your family world travel book. Writing in in the present tense made it so vigorous and engaging!

  34. Morgan

    I read this post the day it was published and I keep coming back to the concept of Dunbar’s number. The more I think about that maximum number of meaningful relationships (especially within the framework of different levels) the more it helps me understand not only how other people prioritize their relationships but also their capacity to do so. I know you were writing from the perspective of focusing on our own meaningful relationships but I think it’s really helpful in understanding our friends/acquaintances and how they foster relationships. As a 1w2, I often find myself feeling under appreciated by friends and then further rationalize those feelings by turning the situation into moral/immoral, just/unjust, etc. issue. This concept serves as a reminder for me to step back and think through my initial feelings of being under appreciated in a new light. Thank you for sharing!

  35. Mandi

    I’m also a 4w5 & hear you loud & clear, sister! I have had some recent disappointments in my life (more likely than not because my expectations were too high to begin with) that have caused me to become more unhealthy in my 4-ness & isolate myself from others. Enter the downward spiral of feeling that I don’t fit in, removing myself from others, feeling like I really don’t belong, ruminate on all day. I started 2019 with aspirations of it being a different story this year. Even though the disappointments are still present, I’m trying to release control of my desired outcomes & let what is, be what is. I’m reading more, doing yoga, journaling, joining book clubs and women’s retreats. Coming back to self-care, and hygge during the grey Indiana winter, has been huge. It’s been saving my life these days. Thanks for being vulnerable & sharing – I know it can be scary for a 4!

  36. Wendy

    I feel like there is so much good here, but I need to hear it in a podcast with someone interviewing you to really wrap my mind around it.

  37. Arianne

    Like many others have shared, I have followed you for years, Tsh, and can’t express how much I appreciate all the ways you have opened your heart and life to us, allowing us to grow right alongside you. Your vulnerability truly does build connection, and your bright mind is such a guiding light. You are loved and cherished by a great Dunbar community. 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Arianne, I meant to tell you this back when you first left this comment: you completely made my week. Really and truly. Your words of encouragement and kindness floated me throughout the ins and outs of my days in a really surprising way — THANK YOU for taking the time to write this. It means so much. XOXO

      • Arianne

        And you just completely, completely, completely made mine. Praising God for the gift of this connection and mutual encouragement. Thank you so much, Tsh. Love and prayers.

  38. Melissa L.

    Was thinking on social media (mainly Facebook, I briefly bothered with Twitter and don’t do Instagram) and how it relates to Dunbar’s number.
    I always limited the number of friends I acquired on Facebook – even bluntly telling people ” I only use Facebook for far away friends and family.” Even before the overwhelming politics and trolling of the past 2 years, I’d watch personal drama unfold on Facebook – and I wanted avoid that for myself.
    While I’ve learned about blocking, un-following, private groups, etc. in the beginning, everyone was just a “friend”. I can’t imagine even extroverts wanting to share the same information in the same manner with their mother-in-law, their coworker, their next-door-neighbor, their best friend, their spouse, the parents of their child’s best friend, etc. But that’s what Facebook did: it equalized all our relationships online. I might expect grandma to enjoy looking at endless pictures of my children, but I would never, in person, expect it of my friends and neighbors. If I’ve got a cousin that has a tendency to make inappropriate comments, I don’t want her having a chance to jump into my online conversations with people who don’t know her. Sure, I’ve had happy experiences with social media, but I now view the cost as being to high.

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