10 Best Lessons I Learned by Forcing Myself to Cut Back on Social Media (That Apply to You, Too)
I’ve noticed recently how I can’t have a quality rest, despite having enough downtime. Even if I’m not working on the weekend, I feel swamped on Mondays, and even when I spend my evening doing little or no work, I feel weary the next day.
It seems as though we need to learn how to rest properly, just like we need to learn how to work, play the guitar, or do any other activity.
When I started analyzing my habits, I realized that I’m spending a lot of my time on Facebook. The tricky part is that it doesn’t seem like a lot of time—a few minutes here and there. How bad it can really be?
But in the last few months, it’s become my favorite procrastination tool. Having the app on my phone makes it super easy to hop on when I’m working on something hard, or when things become boring, or when I’m waiting in lines.
So, I decided to try a small social media diet. Five minutes of it in the morning and five minutes in the evening. (I can’t eradicate it completely because I’m the administrator of an amazing Facebook group that helps me foster my creativity daily.)
I did this for a weekend. Here’s what I learned:
1. My Addiction’s Completely Impulsive
When I feel like checking, my phone is right on my desk, and the next thing I know I’m browsing. There’s no second thought, just the urge and an impulsive reaction.
Addiction, obsessive eating, drinking, cigarettes—all bad habits work this way. You feel the temptation, and the next thing you know, you’ve already swallowed a cookie or opened a beer.
We can do a lot if we just slow down to think: “Hmmm, interesting. I feel like having a cookie/beer/checking my newsfeed. Why is that? Am I hungry? Am I bored? Am I uncomfortable? How does it feel?”
Sit with the urge. Think about it. Slow down. Try to understand what’s underneath it. It may pass. It may not. But, you’ll be able to control your reaction better.
2. I Check it When I’m Bored or Stuck
And the feeling of boredom can be initiated by various causes—when I’m writing and don’t know how to formulate a thought, when I’m doing research and get stuck or don’t know what I’m doing (which is about 70% of my time), when I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, when I just arrived at a social event and it feels awkward to start a conversation.
But boredom’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a surprising creativity booster, science says.
We don’t need to cure our boredom. In fact, the most successful, creative, and prolific problem-solvers are usually the ones who decided to stick with problems a little bit longer and endure the boredom just a little bit more (rather than hop on a phone immediately).
3. Checking it Once Makes Me Want to Check it Again
You would think it’s enough to see there are no new notifications and you’re good for the next few hours. Like, if you’re hungry and you eat, you can then focus on other things.
But, no, it’s not that easy. It’s not the need you can satisfy. Checking once only makes you want to check it again. And again, and it quickly becomes second nature.
4. It’s a Huge Waste of Both Time and Mental Energy
When I jump on, I suddenly change my mental environment and way of thinking. I’m skimming and browsing and deciding which one of these posts deserves my full attention. It takes me forever to get back to the relatively normal mode of thinking when I’m focused on one thing at a time and trying to follow a logical train of thoughts. (And by that time, I usually feel the urge to check once again.)
Small crumbs of time on social media here and there pile up quickly. According to The New York Times, the average person now spends 50 minutes a day on Facebook. That’s enough time for getting in a decent workout, writing 1,000 words, preparing a delicious, healthy, home-cooked meal, having three phone conversations with your favorite people, or whatever else you want, or need, to do.
5. Breaks Spent Doing Nothing Are More Productive
For some reason, we feel more productive when we fill in every single second of every day. Ironically enough, that practice only swamps our mind and makes us confused and, eventually, less productive.
Breaks should be for rest. Gaps between activities are perfectly fine. Give your mind some time to digest everything that’s happening around you.
6. After Panicking at First, I Felt a Sense of Freedom
Yes, at first I felt anxious. What if something happens and I miss it? How will I know if anyone reacted to my new post?
But these thoughts (surprisingly) dissipated quickly, and what remained was a feeling of freedom. I found myself relieved, saying to myself, “Oh nice, I don’t have to check once again. I can rest and do other things. I’m free from it.”
I know it sounds ridiculous—nobody ever pushed me to check my newsfeed 55 times a day. It was all my (semi-conscious) choice. However, a firm decision about this diet made everything so much easier. I stopped feeling the urge, and a release from decision-making. Which brings me to the next point…
7. Firm Rules About Certain Things Work Better Than Relying on Willpower
Gretchen Rubin differentiates between abstainers and moderators. The former category of individuals has to quit things completely, while the latter enjoys moderation.
I’m a moderator for most things. However, in the case of Facebook, I fall down the rabbit hole easily and need firmer rules.
I once spent a whole day in an airport in Paris without eating. I didn’t have any money, so I didn’t even think about food. Granted, I didn’t intend on starving myself, but it’s an easy choice to make when no other option is available. Firm rules eliminate decision making, which frees up our mind for other things.
8. I Don’t Want to Stop Using Facebook, Just Be More Mindful About It
This is probably the moderator in me talking.
Someone may draw the conclusion from this article that Facebook is bad and everyone should stop using it. But I still love it—it connects me to tons of great people and ideas. However, I definitely think that, like most things in life, it’s a great tool and a bad master.
Instead of mindlessly browsing and killing time, we should use the platform to connect, share ideas, inspire, and empower. Be the change you want to see on the internet—use it mindfully and intentionally.
9. My Weekend Was Very Productive Without It
Without Facebook, I got a lot of things done. I came up with some great new ideas. I wrote a lot. I spent quality time with my husband. I got some good rest. I felt good, and I felt free.
10. The World Needs a Digital Detox
I complain about my bad habits a lot, but the majority of the people I know are way more obsessed with checking their phones than me. I can’t imagine how stressed, unfocused, and swamped their minds must be. And Facebook is just one distraction out of many.
Everywhere I go, I see people staring at their phones while crossing the street, eating, or talking to other people. This world needs more genuine human connections, more love, and more listening. And that’s not going to happen if we’re keeping one eye on our phone all the time. Your life happens right here in front of you, in full HD. Take a deep breath, and open your eyes and ears. Don’t miss out.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.