Back in October, I decided to challenge myself (some of you may recall) with a little phone detox. It wasn’t too extreme, but for someone who was 100% addicted to checking my email and social media on an almost constant basis it was a big concept at the time. I deleted my mail app, all social media apps, and any other distracting apps off of my phone and used my iPad during designated work hours to post and surf Instagram.
Now it’s mid February and I feel I can look back on the last 4 months and give an honest assessment on how my experiment worked out well and where there is still need for improvement. First things first for transparency's sake: I recently added Instagram back on my phone. I don’t know how long I’ll keep it there, as I can already feel myself mindlessly clawing for it at odd hours again to prevent “boredom”. I felt compelled to put it back on my phone when Instagram changed up it’s algorithm again last month and started to require even more engagement. As a small business owner of a creative brand the pressures of keeping up with an Instagram presence has become part of the daily necessities in order to thrive, and I immediately noticed a slip in presence as soon as they made the changes. In an attempt to keep up I downloaded the blasted app again.
My question now is: Does it even really matter? If Instagram were to lose it’s relevance (and it’s only a matter of time) how could I better connect with my audience for the long term?
Some things that have changed and developed for me since having gone so long without as many distractions at my fingertips:
Increased productivity with just about everything else in my life.
I’m not just talking about productivity at work and getting tasks done around the house. Although, that has definitely had an uptick! I’m talking more about productive thoughts and productive emotional processing. Not having anything to do on my phone for 3 months allowed for a space to come back into my life that has been pushed away consistently for years through constant email checking, website building, photoshopping, social media-ing, etc. Just by taking out of my hand one of the things that’s been causing incessant daily distraction for me I had to learn how to live in a more quiet space with myself again. There’s a long line at the post office? Guess I’ll just have to stand here with my thoughts...
As someone who meditates regularly and practices vision journey work - I’m still very much a weakling when it comes to the sweet distractions of social media and my phone. So when I took that option away from myself I was pretty shocked at how much space it had been taking up in my life, and in my psyche. I was fully addicted to it. I had to allow about 3 weeks for my mind to get to a place where I wouldn’t have the impulse to check my phone, and then eventually, I actually started to forget to take my phone with me when I left the house. When I had to sit in a waiting room, I would just wait. When I was in line somewhere, I would just be in line. I would observe the world around me, and actually experience the moment I was in. When I type that out it seems so ridiculous that something like “waiting in line” without staring at my phone should be such an enlightening moment! But these days I have to admit - it truly felt that way.
I was able to take a step back and observe our phone/screen/social media culture at large
This is something I’m still observing every day, but I’ve taken a more serious curiosity to understanding why we’ve become such a society of voyeurs and followers. These social media platforms are set up to send vast amounts of information really really really quickly, yet because of the bombardment of said information, we can never actually absorb any of it. We just get snippets and superficial impressions that ding our consciousness and create false assumptions. We get overwhelmed by the news coming at us from every angle so as a respite we search for puppy and kitten videos and Drake memes to make us feel better. We look at the influencer with 500k followers and wonder how they’re able to lead such a seemingly picturesque life.
We are constantly being pulled into directions in which our spirit is not.
I am completely guilty of being a part of this mass hypnosis as a seller of a lifestyle brand, and as you might be able to tell, I’m having a slight spiritual crisis about it. When I pile all of my overanalyzed thoughts onto my bed and begin the process of picking out the nuggets of truth (that’s right. I just Marie Kondo-ed this), I find the most glaring truth out of this experiment has been this:
There is a deep need to refocus on the deeper, more important work in my life, and I need to support that at all cost.
I love to write. How often do I do that? Not hardly at all. Is this my phone or social media’s fault? No, but it doesn’t help me out to much. Writing entails lots of time to just sit and think without distraction, and without a constant impulse to look at the latest post updates in the world. If I really care about nurturing this side of me, the side that is more aligned with my spirit than any other type of work, then I need to support that at all cost. It’s time to stop sacrificing my precious time for things that give me momentary respite.
I love to paint. Everything that I said above applies to my painting.
Does this mean I’ll stop using social media to promote the Native Bear brand? No. Will I get rid of my smartphone? Probably not right now. However, I’m ready and more prepared now after my break to use it, rather than have it use me. I highly recommend anyone who’s feeling the emotional zap from their phone or social media usage to give themselves a month off. You might think that would be too difficult for you personally and professionally, but I promise... you can let it go. I had given myself a goal of one month, and it honestly wasn’t long enough and by the end it had been about 4 months. By doing so I have regained some clarity about my priorities and what’s most important for me to be focusing on in my life. That might sound dramatic to some people, but the truth of the matter is that these devices and social platforms have the casual capability of distracting us from our lives. That’s why it’s so tricky. We may not think we’re being manipulated but as soon as you take a step back the truth gets pretty clear.
My goal isn’t to cut myself off from the world at large, but I am ready to cut several of the emotional cords that get attached through constant social media use. A few of the ways in which I am consciously reworking social media and screen time into my life:
- I’m not posting as often. Will that affect my algorithm (aka my presence)? Yes. Does it even really matter though if it means I have to be stressed out about it? No.
- I’m using an app called Planoly to help me plan ahead and take the stress of having to come up with daily posts off my plate. This doesn’t mean that if I have a strike of inspiration I don’t post it. It just means that I’m rerouting the way I think about using social media so that it’s not a driving part of my day.
- I’m seeking out businesses, public figures, and establishments that share my values and interests and I’m signing up for their newsletter. This is a big important step for me because it means I am taking a proactive approach to what feels in alignment with my life. Instead of just mindlessly scrolling on the relentless IG teevee I am choosing who and what I support, and I can still keep up with their events and updates.
- I am bringing writing and painting back into my life as a top focus, rather than an afterthought. This is clearly something that’s personal to me, but there may be something that you deem as an integral part of your joy that you’ve been distracted from. Sometimes it’s more about bringing the good back in, rather than feeling like you’re taking away. By bringing that joyful activity back into your life as a top priority and creating some parameters around when you are to spend time focusing on that activity you’ll find it’s easy to forget about social media a little more (or for me, some days I forget about my phone all together). Trust me. You’re not missing a thing.
- When I get the urge to pick up my phone during a sensation of boredom - I stop and I wait. One of the biggest behavioral problems with these sneaky little addictive devices is that we have been trained to never be bored. Our brains are very malleable, and through the many ways in which phones and social media has been designed to keep up glued we often find ourselves looking at our phones and not even remembering why. When I get the sudden urge to check my phone I will wait a few minutes or even say to myself “in 10 minutes I will check my phone”. Sounds ridiculous, right? There’s actually a lot of research on this topic of behavioral science and the difference between making a conscious choice versus falling into an addictive pattern. It’s these little jolts in the routine that can help break up the mindless/addictive factor and creates more healthy boundaries.
So, what the heck does it all mean? What’s really the big deal with smartphones and social media anyway? For me it boils down to clarity and connection. I am a human being and I need connection with other human beings on a deeper, much more complicated level than what the internet can provide for me. I have to stay aware of what’s stealing my focus away from the big picture of life, and what’s distracting me from the lovely nuances of my daily experience. For me, it’s just another modern life challenge for my spirit to grapple with, to learn from, and to come out the other side (hopefully) a little wiser.
Some books that have helped me work through some of my phone and social media struggles that you might find helpful too:
- Deep Work by Cal Newport ← can’t recommend this book enough for understanding the difference between superficial work and deep work and how to get back to doing the more important deep work. Thanks to Emily Kerr-Finell from Wholesale in a Box for the rec!
- How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price ← pretty self-explanatory, right? Thanks to Kristen Droz of Worthwhile Paper for the rec!
- Proposals for the Feminist Economy by Jennifer Armbrust ← just started diving into this little booklet but I feel it aligns with this process of re-prioritizing that I’m going through. Thanks to Serra Jagger of Indie South for letting me borrow this little gem.