I had known for a while that this change was coming, but I decided to commit to it when I was about 5 or 6 months pregnant. I was listening to an interview with Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism”. He was talking about the impact social media and constant connection has had on the generation just younger than me – the people in their teens and early 20s who have never known a world without cell phones. His argument was that even 5-8 years ago, we knew how to be alone. There was no scrolling the internet in the grocery line or checking Facebook while using the bathroom. You wouldn’t have to worry about checking a text message on your phone and looking up 45 minutes later realizing you lost track of time – there wasn’t anything else to do on your cell phone.
[PS: want to listen to his blog post? Check out the episode on Happy Healthy Human Radio here, or wherever you get you podcasts!]
The negative results of this change to a world of smart phones can be particularly seen in people who are in their teens and early twenties. There is so much learning about the world, emotions, and growing that you’re doing during that time. You’re that much more susceptible to your environment.
Think of yourself at age 18. What was your life like? What were your emotions and emotional stability like? Now imagine that instead of having to look at, identify, and possibly deal with your emotions, you were able to ignore them. Imagine that every time a negative thought came into your head you could open up your phone instead. Loneliness becomes a thing of the past, but so is the ability to actually face and handle strong emotion. Cal argues that this ability to not face emotion and be truly alone is causing the increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide among young people, which is truly at an epidemic.
When I heard this, I realized that my child is going to grow up in a post-smart phone world. If he wants to, he could never be alone in his life. There could always be a song, podcast, social media site, YouTube video, or text message to attend to. Even out last bastions of cell-phone-free world – the airplane and the subway – are getting connected.
Though I lived half of my life without a cell phone, and I remember navigating New York City in college without Google Maps but rather with my pocket fold out map, I have seen the toll that smart phones have taken on my brain. I would instinctively open a new tab to Facebook when I got stumped writing a newsletter. I would click over to Instagram at the sign of an unpleasant emotion. I no longer had to feel like a loser standing by myself waiting for a friend! I had a phone to look at instead. I wondered if there was a greater toll to my social media use – if it was also hindering me from processing emotions or just engendering more negative ones.
So in early October, I decided no more social media, hoping that the result would be positive for both me and my son. I deleted Instagram and Facebook from my phone and logged out on desktop, and I waited to see what magic would happen.
Here are the results of my social media experiment.
Less Time On My Phone:
With less to do on my phone, I spent less time there. It was so funny how the first few weeks I was looking for reasons to be on my phone to fill all the time that used to be spent on social media. I was getting bored on my phone. It was great. I had to find new things to do (and big surprise, I got to a lot of things I had been putting off).
Some of this might just come with the territory or having a new baby and the laser focus you can find when you know your baby might wake up any minute, but I found myself having a longer attention span and ability to sit and focus on a task or email, rather than switching between tasks, reading news, or doing other things. I started to finish projects, rather than having an endless string of tasks that were half complete. (Note to my Ayurveda folks out there: having a ton of incomplete projects is a very Vata tendency, and big surprise, social media is a very Vata activity. Tons of scrolling isn’t great for my Vata dosha folks!)
It’s a small thing, but it’s worth noting…my data usage on my phone dropped dramatically. I didn’t get the little warning text that I was reaching my plan limit like would happen if I check Instagram Stories too often.
These results aren’t super surprising, but there was one benefit that I didn’t see coming and I’m so glad it did.
More connected to friends:
After a few days off social media, thoughts, stories, or questions for friends would come into my head more often. I found myself reaching out to my friends more, calling more, and checking in. That benefit has stuck around, and I’m so glad that it did. I live far away from many of my dearest friends, so it’s easy to get disconnected. Amazingly enough, social media wasn’t connecting me to these decades-long friends, but I was getting pretend friend time by scrolling through social media. And when I stopped the endless scrolling, I had bandwidth to reach out to those friends and connect more deeply. This change has truly been the greatest result of no social media.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been toying with when/if/how to return to Instagram and Facebook. I have done a little bit on my Facebook business page, and I did take one peek at my Instagram feed. I’ll admit – just seeing the first 2 photos from the Instagram feed made me realize I wasn’t ready to return yet.
This post isn’t meant to make you all quit social media – I was addicted to it and needed to stop for my own good. But what I did want to show you was how I approach experiments in my life.
When I read about something or have a hunch about a new habit that could benefit me, I turn it into an experiment. I set a time limit. I set bright lines of what I will or will not do during the experiment. And then I watch and notice.
At the end of the experiment, I assess. How did it make me feel? Were there negative consequences? What would happen if I continued the experiment? As a result of the experiment format, I’m not afraid to try new things or ask questions about what might improve my life. I jump in with an experimenter’s mindset – whether the hypothesis is confirmed or denied, I’ve gotten more information, which is always a good thing.
That’s the kind of curiosity and mindset I want to cultivate in my clients. We don’t have to have all of the answers. We have a hunch or information that suggests a specific change would benefit us. We ask what it would look like to implement that change. We run the experiment. We reach a conclusion. We move on with better information than we had before. That simple. No judgment, no stress. If you want to run some experiments on your daily routines, you can always reach out here.
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