What is the first thing you do in the morning? You probably grab your phone and check your social media. How do you pass the time while you’re waiting for the bus to work? You’re probably checking your social media. If you’re reading this in a public space, look around and see how many people are sucked into their phone. There’s probably quite a few, right?
Tell me if you’ve experienced this before; you’re hanging out with some friends in a social environment, yet they (including yourself) are on your phones.
Over the past year or so, I have begun to notice how addictive we are to our phones, with social media being the key tool that is feeding the addiction.
On a personal level, my relationship with social media has been both good and bad. It’s allowed me to develop friendships, network professionally, and, to an extent, showcase my ability as a writer. I’ll admit I’m apart of the group of people who are addicted to social media – endlessly refreshing and scrolling, in the hope that little red dot would appear. The red dot of recognition. It’s been proven that being acknowledged, along with excessive use of social media, can have longterm effects on our brains.
According to an article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes, when you get a social media notification, your brain sends a chemical messenger called dopamine along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good.
Ultimately, this hasn’t been healthy for me. I’ve recognised how unhealthy this habit is. Moreso, social media has in the past triggered a downward turn in mental health, leaving me envious and second-guessing my worth as a writer; ‘why am I not being given this opportunity?’, ‘how are they writing for that magazine and I’m not?’, ‘am I not good enough?’ etc.
In recent months I’ve tried to rectify this addiction unsuccessfully; moving my social media folder to the second screen on my phone merely just added a couple of extra taps to feed my addiction. I still found myself wasting time mindlessly checking my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It didn’t help that I was maintaining the social media channels for Already Heard during this time too.
In an attempt to diminish my reliance on social media, I decided to make a bold decision. For the whole of November 2019, I challenged myself to 30 days without social media (note: LinkedIn was still used for professional reasons.)
I was inspired to do this by reading ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ by author and computer scientist Cal Newport. I discovered Cal’s work by researching how to reduce social media/phone usage. Newport is a key proponent of the idea of ‘digital minimalism’; using technology for intentional/productive purposes rather wallowing in shallow tasks. In ‘Deep Work’, Newport suggests the removal of social media can prove beneficial towards meaningful work. Influenced by Ryan Nicodemus’ aim to simplify his life by packing away unneeded items and the realisation to get rid of useless stuff, Newport proposes the reader goes “cold turkey” with social media for 30 days.
By spending a month without these services, you can replace your fear that you might miss out—on events, on conversations, on shared cultural experience—with a dose of reality. For most people this reality will confirm something that seems obvious only once you’ve done the hard work of freeing yourself from the marketing messages surrounding these tools: They’re not really all that important in your life.
He also suggests not announcing your plans to your followers/friends, in fear that your decision might be changed by persuasion, and that you might miss out on something “important”.
How I Cut Myself off From Social Media for 30 Days:
- Deleted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram off my phone.
- Installed the ‘StayFocused’ extension in my Google Chrome browser and then blocked Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, limiting them to just 1 minute (the minimum).
- I set up a 6×5 square grid in my bullet journal with a square for each day. After each day, I would cross out the date.
I feel the first point is perhaps the most vital instruction. As suggested previously, social media usage is predominantly done using smartphones. The second point might not the most ideal; you can tweak the settings daily to allow x amount of time on a “blocked site”. Finally, seeing the progression of crosses each day in my bullet journal grid delivered a hit of positivity and productivity to my well-being. I guess this replaced the dopamine trigger that social media might have given me (but probably wouldn’t).
How Did I Cope During My Social Media Detox?
Over the first few days, I found myself helplessly reaching for my phone with the intention to check my social media. Like many, being able to pick up my phone and check social media served as a comfort blanket when boredom hits. However, as the days went on and I found alternatives ways to preoccupy my free time (reading and TV). More importantly, I wasn’t craving to use social media and became used to not constantly checking my phone whenever I wanted to. And as silly as it might sound, putting my phone facing down on the table increased the less chance to use it.
Admittedly, I did wonder what I was missing out on (if anything), especially early on, yet the likelihood is I wouldn’t be and that anything relevant or important that I needed to know could be found out through another means.
Upon completing the 30 day run of inactivity, Newport proposes two questions in ‘Deep Work’:
- Would the last thirty days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service?
- Did people care that I wasn’t using this service?
In hindsight, I don’t think the last month would have been “better” if I allowed myself to use social media. Sure I may have missed on something but if it was vital to me and my interests, it would have [probably] been brought to my attention. And from briefly checking my social media since the start of December, my absence went unnoticed.
Furthermore, I’ve not had a desperate yearning to download social media apps again and begin interacting etc. I would go as far as saying “being disconnected” has improved my mood. Gone is the need to be acknowledged and for interaction.
Ultimately, I have learned social media doesn’t need to, and shouldn’t, take over my life, especially during idle times. Going forward, I feel my use of social media will be far less than it had been before the start of November. I feel I have crossed a line where social media isn’t addictive. Sure I will still need it; how will I get anyone to read this?
For anyone who is concerned about their overuse and reliability of social media, I would suggest disconnecting from social media for 30 days.
If you’ve taken a social media detox, have any further questions or would generally like to discuss this more with me, leave a comment, drop me an email (or tweet me… once you’ve taken a break from social media).
- ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport
- ‘Digital Minimalism’ by Cal Newport
- ‘Simple Ways to Declutter Your Phone’ (Matt D’Avella)
- ‘Why you can’t stop checking your phone’ (Better Ideas)
- ‘How to Improve Your Experience on Social Media’ (Nathaniel Drew)
- ‘This is Your Brain on Instagram: Effects of Social Media on the Brain’
- ‘Digital Minimalism: How To Declutter Your Online Life’