A slow approach to social media
Last year I gave up social media for Lent. And let me tell you, 40 days of no Instagram, Facebook or YouTube was NOT easy.
Before my little experiment I would never had said I was addicted to my phone. Sure I used it a lot but addicted..moi? Definitely not.
And then I went cold-turkey, and realised I was, in fact completely unable to detach myself from my phone and so, it seems, was everybody else.
Because nothing will make you stop and take note of just how much the world around you has their heads down, eyes firmly glued on that little computer in their hands, furiously typing or swiping or scrolling, than when you’re not. Studies support this, with research showing that the average user touches their phone 2,617 times a day. That’s right, per DAY.
The first 48 hours were the worst. Despite having removed all of the apps from my phone I still found myself checking my homescreen multiple times a day, almost by default. And even after a few days, when I managed to catch myself before actually doing so, I still was aware of the weight of my phone in my pocket. And I still found myself anticipating the little buzz or ping that comes with each notification.
The FOMO was real guys, and I was utterly convinced that everyone would be crestfallen waiting for responses to their Instagram DMs that never came.
By the time Easter rolled around though, I had almost completely forgotten about my phone.
Upon returning to my favourite apps I found that no, I hadn’t missed out on anything important and yes, the world still just kept posting pictures of photogenic coffee cups, perfectly arranged flat-lays and Parisian streets, whether I was looking at them or not.
And more importantly, nobody even noticed I was gone.
Even though my feed of pinterest-perfect pictures did seem slightly vacant now, and the draw to check my Facebook multiple times a day was firmly a thing of the past, there were a few things I did miss about being on social media.
And so I returned to the world of likes, shares and comments once more, albeit with a more conscious approach to how I was going to use my time online.
Fast-forward 9 months or so, and that long-ago digital detox seemed extreme at the time, but I’m still feeling its effects.
As a recent busy weekend, and a couple of days away from my phone, turned into three weeks offline with no effort at all, it dawned on me that those forty days without social media have had a lasting impact.
Without me even realising it, I have cultivated a much healthier relationship with technology than ever before. I use it because I want to, not because I need to.
My experience over the last year has taught me it’s not ‘all or nothing’ – you can use social media and not be TOTALLY addicted. It’s just takes a few intentional steps to actively make it happen.
Here are mine - I hope you find them useful!
Start tracking your usage
Not something I was doing, but now wish I had done. It’s a good way to see in black and white your real usage. Those small amounts of time that seem so insignificant, all add up. I’ve heard good things about Moment, an app which allows you to set daily time limits (and sends you annoying reminders when you exceed them). I’ve also recently discovered the function on your iPhone that (scarily) shows you exactly how long you’ve spent on each app. A guide can be found here!
Even if you don’t fancy diving into a digital detox just yet, this is a great place to start if you want to cut back.
Go cold turkey (for a while)
The only way to truly see how much you rely on something is to give it up, completely. Jumping in the metaphorical deep-end shocks you out of your subconscious behaviour – in this case checking your phone purely out of habit, not through any intentional decision to do so. Which likely makes up a large proportion of our time online (it certainly did for me).
It also enables you do the hardest part of quitting any addiction – seeing that you may have a problem in the first place. If this step is very difficult, I’d argue that you need it the most! I certainly found this a huge challenge.
I’d advise a good chunk of time to slowly get used to life social-media free - at least two weeks.
Delete the apps. Get an accountability buddy. Whatever you need! But just Put. The. Phone. AWAY.
Identify your triggers
Whilst you’re in social media exile it will become clear that certain situations, emotions or activities are met with you grabbing your phone for a quick scroll.
I found I used it the most when I was feeling bored or restless. Or just in those bits of ‘dead time’ in the day, like commuting, waiting for dinner to cook or lying in bed in the morning before my alarm goes off. I also tended to use it when I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed and needed some escapism. Every time you go to reach for your phone, ask yourself what is prompting you to do so? Once I’d realised what my triggers are, it was much easier to crack my behaviour. And it enabled me to put in place other options – my next step!
Provide meaningful alternatives to mindless scrolling
Having other options in place (other than reaching for my phone) helped me to resist breaking my digital detox.
For the commute, I’d pack a book. Or download a podcast. Whilst waiting for dinner I would do a quick tidy up. For those mornings when I would wake before my alarm, I’d write a list of all the things I’d like to get done that day. Or just lie in bed and listen to the birds outside the window. Or make a cup of coffee and enjoy the quiet of the early morning, before anyone else is up.
One of the best things I took from my time offline was re-kindling my love of books. Instead of mindless scrolling I now had time for new habits that actually added some value to my day. And an opportunity to enjoy those little moments of white space in the day without needing to fill every waking minute with activity.
Ease yourself back in with an intentional attitude
Before I dived back in to using my favourite apps, I thought long and hard about what they would be bringing (or draining) from my life.
We all know the harm that social media can have on our mental health, real-life relationships and productivity levels, to name a few. But there are some things it’s great for, and taking some time out made me realise all those things that brought me joy. I missed seeing what my friends and family were up to in other parts of the world. I missed exploring creatives, small businesses and inspirational people (that I otherwise might not have discovered). And I missed all those pretty pictures of flat-lays, coffee cups and Parisian streets that I find so aesthetically pleasing.
So I returned to social media, but with an intentional attitude about what I was letting into my mental head space and for how long each day.
Set yourself boundaries for going forward
I found that although I had taken a good chunk of time off social media, I still needed some boundaries to keep me from going back to my old ways.
I firstly decided to keep the apps off my home screen, meaning I’d have to download them and log in manually each time. I also set some time limits, particularly on Instagram which seems so suck me into a vortex of scrolling for hours on end. I lastly set myself a rule that I wouldn’t check it first thing in the morning or last thing at night - it seems to set the tone for my day. I find I’m much more distracted (and more likely to check my phone) if I’ve started the morning with social media.
I can’t say I’m perfect - some days I am more susceptible to the allure of my Instagram feed than on others. And I occasionally get stuck down a Facebook rabbit hole. But I can definitely say I have a much healthier relationship with that little computer in my pocket than a year ago. And I’ll definitely be doing another digital detox soon…