Dare I Say Digital Detox?

This time of year, there is a word that gets tossed around ad nauseum: detox. There is something about the excesses of December and the start of the new year that makes us want to lighten up, to feel restored, to hit refresh. As we are settling in for a long winter and trying to get our hygge on, we couldn’t help but think of areas of our life that could use a little more balance and our use of electronics shot to the top of the list.

We talked about becoming more aware of how much our digital life is taking over our real life in our last issue and after reading I Used to Be A Human Being , we knew it was time to take action. You cannot walk down the street or even pull up to a stoplight without seeing faces buried in phones. And, despite the many beautiful and wonderful things about social media, the benefits for most of us don’t nearly outweigh the costs.

Not everyone needs to do a full digital detox, but if you are interested in feeling a little freer, more connected and having more time to do the things that are important to you, we have a few road tested ideas from our resident recovering iPhone addict.

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Hi, friends! Before we go on, we need to have a little heart to heart. If you are anything like me, you probably feel like you have way too much to do, feel a little drained and overwhelmed. While I never would have guessed my use of social media and just time spent on my phone in general played an important role in that, I finally saw the light. Can I get a Hallelujah?

But, before that, if we are being perfectly honest, I have often thought quite condescendingly about how much time other people waste online. Sometimes I would catch my husband playing a game on his phone while we were chatting and I would roll my eyes and think about what an addict he is. And, in an internally haughty voice I’d think, thank goodness, I’m not controlled by my phone. I didn’t think about the millions of times I just “needed a second” to respond to a comment or how when there was a lull in anything, conversation, stoplight, game I’m playing with my kids, how I would pass my time scrolling Instagram. I always had the excuse of doing it for “work”, because whether I was working on a blog, a freelance writing gig or writing something for DIW, I fully believed I needed to have that social media presence.

I’ve had glimmers of a wake up call a few times throughout the years, like watching my young daughter acting like me by pretending she was scrolling on a phone and I remember thinking “is that how she sees me?” Why isn’t she pretending to work or make dinner or any of the other things I do? But, kids are like little mirrors and the sad truth was I was clearly doing it enough that it was a notable behavior to imitate. I don’t want my kids memories to be filled with me Instagraming. (Insert fully ashamed eye roll.)

There have been a few times throughout the years that I have tapered back only to find myself deeper in the cycle once again. Wake up, grab my phone. Must check email, must check social media, must go to all the news sites (and let’s be honest Jezebel and People, too) and then the million moments throughout the day when a notification dings or I “need a break” as an excuse to start to scroll. And, I have to wonder why? What true benefit am I getting? In a world that is so endlessly draining, is this really what I am doing to fuel myself? Really?

I started on a quest to bring out what I really hoped to gain and also to achieve online and to break the cycle of waste, negativity, and missed life opportunities once and for all. While I tend to reject “how to” articles on DIW, I am humbly passing along some thoughts and suggestions of what I learned in hopes they help you fill your life with intention, meaning and regain the time you need to do what is most important.

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First, to get a handle on how much time you are spending on your phone, download this app. If you are not shocked and appalled at the number it reveals, then I applaud you and you can skip to the next article. If, however, you were absolutely mortified/defensively angry that someone even invented this app to point out how much time you waste online, then welcome. This detox is for you and it is time for you to come over to the light side.

Regardless of whether you decide to go all in, take a moderate approach or just take a breather, here is my best advice after going through a digital detox and living to tell about it.

KNOW YOUR WHY

Before you can start to limit or even boldly eliminate your screen time, it is important to understand why you spend the time you do:

  1. Connection:  If you are anything like me, you love the connection you get on social. (My favorite will forever be the community on Instagram.) But, if you are looking for true connection, it is important to note that most online interactions may give us the perception of connection, but lack any true depth. For instance, you may comment on an Instagram friend’s photo and they may return the favor, but if you had a crisis or needed real help, would they really be the person you turned to? For most of us, the answer is probably not. Social media is where people put their curated life, pretty photos, quippy off handed statements, complaints about politicians, but more often than not, it is not where we have deep, meaningful conversations with the people who mean the most to us in life. Generally speaking the interactions that mean the most to us happen in person or on the phone. That is not to say interactions online are meaningless, but as you look at the spectrum of importance, it is up to you to decide where those interactions fall and how much time they are worth.
  2. Business: For others of us, social media may mean more than just personal interaction, but it may be where our business builds relationships and grows their audience. That doesn’t mean, though, that we need to live online or instantly reply to every comment or like we receive. As we move into talking about how to detox, we will talk more about how to develop boundaries that fuel and nourish us regardless of whether it is for personal or professional reasons.
  3. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): In our hyper connected world, it is easy to feel like by not being online we are going to miss out on something important. What if I miss that fake news story that my aunt shared on Facebook? Or, oh gawd, what if I miss the artfully styled breakfast photo of that girl I knew in 4th grade? It has been my experience that if there is something truly important to share, people will reach out directly to share it. And, when your brain is not cluttered with the millions of unimportant things that are shared on FB, Insta, Twitter and the like, you can focus more on not missing out in your real life.

BUT, HOW?

If you have the ability to go cold turkey and do absolutely nothing online, god bless you. Please let me know how you do it and what witchcraft you employed. But, for the rest of us, we need to get intentional. There are many approaches to take to greatly reduce the amount of wasteful time online and to use whatever time you allot to meaningfully connect in a way that fuels and refreshes you or your business.

  1. Whittle: You may decide you can eliminate entire social media channels by looking at what is truly useful to you (or your business) and what networks truly fuel you. For instance, Instagram is my one true love. FB could die and I wouldn’t bat an eye, Twitter, too. Knowing that I derive a lot of enjoyment from taking photos and looking at other people’s photos, helps me know where I can cut back and devote less energy. While I still have a FB and Twitter account, I made it clear on both that if people want to find me, they should head to Instagram or my email inbox (and I deleted those apps from my phone to make sure any use would be intentional and not mindless.) That allows me to focus on the community I want to engage with the most. 

    What social media channel lights your fire?

     Which drain you?

     Which could you cut entirely or cut back on?

  2. Curate: Regardless of whether you eliminate a social media network, it is also important to curate your feeds by reducing the number of people or businesses you follow. When I think about what I want from my interactions online, I want inspiration, community and positivity and so I have employed this mindset to eliminate anything that doesn’t fit in those buckets. During the election cycle, you could hardly turn on social media without drowning in vitriol. I muted or unfollowed anyone that doesn’t bring me joy or true connection. And, for other online activities, like checking People, I’ve realized that missing the newest update on the Kardashians or what Duggar is having another baby (seriously, so. many. babies.)  was not worth my energy, so I added those to the cut pile, too. Curating saves loads of time and also controls what information you are feeding your brain. 

    What do you want to get out of your interactions on social media?

    What fuels your brain, makes you feel inspired, excited to be online, or part of a true community?

    What drains you? Eliminate. It.

  3. Structure: The internet is designed for infinite scrolling and clicking. Have you ever gotten online with the intention of doing just. one. thing. and suddenly realized an hour has passed and you’ve fallen down one rabbit hole after another? Creating a schedule or time limit for when you are going to go on social media can be a day saver. I have created “office hours” of sorts for my time online. I schedule or automate posts all in one batch and then fit time into the day to respond to comments, spread some love, and just have fun enjoying the beauty on Instagram. And, if I am worried about getting sucked in and spending more time than I intend, I decide on a goal ahead of time, like 10 minutes, and set an alarm on my phone. As much as my inner wild child thinks structure is for squares, setting my intentions and making a commitment to myself feels oh so good.

    What can you do to reduce the amount of time you spend online?

    Are there ways to schedule, automate or delegate your business accounts?

    What ways could you infuse your time online with intention?

  4. Remove Unnecessary Distractions: Turn off your notifications. Seriously, turn them off right now. If someone desperately needs to get in touch with you right. this. minute., they will call or email you, so rest assured you will not miss anything that is life or death. When you have your scheduled time to check in, you will be able to see any notifications you’ve missed. The only exception for this is Instagram. They generally only store the last 50 or so notifications. If you get more notifications than that in a short time span, you could leave them on for that account only or just check your last few photos for new comments. If someone is commenting on a two year old photo on your Instagram, it probably doesn’t demand your attention. Otherwise, people who truly need to contact you will message you in some way. Just imagine the bandwidth you’ll gain when you phone is not constantly dinging.

GET PREPARED

I’ve tried many times to taper off the amount of time I spend online only and have only had modest success. I finally used my therapist past to think about how one might treat an addict. Before your internal monologue screams “she’s calling me an addict?!?”, hear me out. Whether you look at your social media and online use as a habit or an addiction, there are several commonalities that will help you be prepared to make the shift minimally painful and ultimately successful long term.

One thing you will notice is recovering addicts often replace their bad addiction with a new healthier one. The point is when you create a void like removing the time you spend online, it is important to be prepared to fill it with something else. Every morning when I would normally reach for my phone, if I didn’t have something that is more nourishing for my soul prepared and waiting, I found it much harder to resist the temptation of the scroll. By being prepared with a book on the nightstand, a little box of notecards to send actual snail mail, or a knitting project nearby, I found it much easier to create a new habit. Drinking my coffee in bed while reading a good book, for me, makes the start to the day feel less stressful and harried.

So ask yourself, if you had the time back that you normally spend online (and now that you have an idea exactly how much that is), what would you want to fill it with? Think of this as an opportunity to fuel yourself and instead of repeatedly choosing a box of donuts, you have a green smoothie and a full breakfast. That donut isn’t inherently bad, and in small doses is downright delicious (oh, great, now I want a donut), but if a large portion of your diet every day was Krispie Kreme, you would eventually feel the slog.

Another thing I wasn’t initially prepared to deal with were the moments of lonely. When there is space in your brain that you are not instantly filling with a mindless activity, it can suddenly feel very, very quiet. Instead of running, lean into that moment of lonely and just sit with it. After a few days of my hands twitching to grab for my phone in line at the grocery store or at the stop light (ehem, sign of addiction), I started to feel calm, aware. I was surprised by all I noticed around me in the still. The hilarious interaction between a mom and her kid in front of me, that song on the radio I hadn’t heard in forever, and my own twisted, wandering and beautiful thoughts. When I finally regained some of that space, my mind delighted in refreshed creativity. It took a little while to get there and I realize now one of the reasons I failed in the past was because of this feeling taking me off guard. We are so quick to try to wipe out discomfort that may unwittingly be sabotaging progress.

One of the greatest aspects of breaking up with your phone is feeling happier and creating deeper relationships. If you need friend during your break up, want to commiserate, or need support, drop me an email. And, if you want to read more about the benefits of detoxing, check out these articles:

What Really Happens To Your Brain and Body During A Digital Detox

9 Ways to Start and Stay on a Digital Detox (Has some truly embarrassing statistics on our use of technology)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Grace Ray is a former child forensic interview specialist, reformed home decor blogger, writer and editor (who has a difficult time being serious whenever there is a camera around). She is proud to be the co/founder of Do It Well, Co.