Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Taking a Break from Social Media: Part 2 [UPDATE]

Tuesday, 31 October 2017


Last week, I set myself the goal of cutting out social media (at least, for the most part) for several days. I explained my reasoning for this decision in an earlier blog post, and also commit myself to writing an update of how well - or wrong - this went after my ‘mini break’ was over.

I’ll admit, I was very hesitant on even writing an update at all after I had, once more, predictably succumbed to the enticing digital world that is social media. I felt like my efforts at going a full week of detoxing were poor, and I welcomed the social media apps back into my life a little too easily.

However, after some thought, and after stumbling upon a guide on Reddit on how to limit your use of social media and technology, I concluded it was just as important for me to document my failures and setbacks on this mission as well as any successes. There’s a need to illustrate just how challenging it can be to step away from our screens and digital reality, to look up from our phones and open our eyes to the problems many of us face from an excessive use of social media. And if anyone can demonstrate the significant magnitude of those problems... well, it’s gotta be me.

The first 48 hours of my social-media-detox were surprisingly easy. I think that can be attributed in part to the fact I didn't cut myself off cold turkey: 

  • Websites like Reddit and Twitter were excluded from the break as there was less focus on 'image', unlike Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat etc.
  • I would still use my phone throughout the day, and use other apps
  • I knew that I was only giving up social media for at least a few days, and that the ban would be temporary. I had deleted the 'forbidden' apps knowing that I would at a later date, reinstall them

As a result of all of the above, my break from social media went fairly smoothly. I felt a huge sense of relief knowing that I couldn't simply just click on Instagram or Facebook out of habit, and not being able to see what other people were up to every minute of the day didn't bother me much at all. There were times where I impulsively went to grab my phone and open up Snapchat to take a snap of something happening during the day, only to then remember that I had deleted it, but other than that, I can't say I missed it too much.

I lasted a total of 5 days without my usual fix of social media. With my birthday last Friday, I decided I would 'treat myself' and re-join the online community the night before. I really tried to think about why I did this, as uncomfortable as that self-retrospection might be. Perhaps re-activating my Facebook allowed others to be notified that it was my birthday, and I wanted to see the influx of birthday messages posted to my wall. Knowing I was celebrating my birthday on the Saturday night, maybe I wanted to show off my Halloween costume on Instagram. After a new haircut, I wanted to send pictures to my friends and post to my story on Snapchat. 

It seems like the underlying theme of my social media addiction here is a need to feel validated by others. For others, it may be a completely different reason, but I think I can speak for a lot of us when I say that this constant fixation with a need for approval - be it through likes, followers, or comments - is the main reason we struggle to get a hand on our social media habits.

The Sunday morning after my birthday celebrations, finding myself scrolling through Instagram with hangover brain, I felt this weird urge to post something. I still can't quite tell whether I genuinely wanted to, or just felt like I had to include myself amongst the many others posting their Saturday night photo albums, but I went ahead and did it. And I felt shit after it.

The anticipation of waiting for those 'likes' is what encouraged me to delete Instagram once again. The hangover likely didn't help, but the anxiety I was experiencing thinking about how others would be judging me made me feel like I needed to sever those ties. Out of sight, out of mind. 

Fast forward to Monday, feeling hopeless and defeated, I came home from work and began to scroll through my Reddit feed. What I came across almost seemed like a lucky strike of fate: a guide on overcoming your addiction to social media through r/getdisciplined. The guide is lengthy but well worth the read, and essentially teaches you how to 're-program your brain' to begin to limit your use of the internet and create the foundations of a healthier relationship with the digital world.

'Digital isn’t like cigarettes. You quit cigarettes. You don’t worry about “creating a healthy relationship” with your Marlboros.'

One of my favourite parts of this guide is the notion that it's simply unrealistic to completely cut off from the internet, and social media, in today's world.

What is possible, however, is establishing between what part of that world you need to engage with, and what you engage with 'just for fun', in order to create a healthy balance between real life, and social media, and allow yourself to 'turn off' once in a while.

The nine main principles included in this guide are as follows:

Principle 1: Be purposeful about digital.

In other words, not turning to the warm glow of our smartphones whenever we're feeling anxious, bored, or uncomfortable.

Principle 2: Displace digital from its central role in your life.

Be fully present in your interactions. Don't text whilst walking, stop glancing over at your phone during dinner with your friends. 

Principle 3: Cut out junk-food content.

Think Buzzfeed, Twitter, Vine compilations on YouTube. Anything that is remotely toxic.

Principle 4: Stop multitasking.

Close the 17 open tabs, keep your phone on 'do not disturb' during work times, and stop carrying your phone around with you everywhere. I especially need to follow this one!

Principle 5: Replace social media with real-life social interactions.

This one's pretty self-explanatory but hugely important. And resist the urge to post about it online..

Principle 6: No porn.

Again, self-explanatory. The author details the many benefits of this in the article, but think improved intimacy and relationships.

Principle 7: Screen-free mornings and evenings.

This one's particularly tricky for me, as the first thing I often do in the mornings is read through my news feeds like it's the newspaper. Not to mention the netflix binging before bed...

Principle 8: Align values with behavior online

Your behaviour online links in with your behaviour in real-life. Watch how your happiness improves once you ditch the relentless moaning and bitching.

Principle 9: Cultivate real excellence.

Stop giving a shit about likes, friend requests, and becoming verified. Give your own life more attention and watch it flourish. These things are superficial and meaningless.

Obviously I've attempted to provide a very brief summary of this extensive guide, so I would highly recommend reading the post in its entirety and experiencing your own unique epiphany. Its a brilliant read as not only does it inform of us of the very unhealthy and dangerous habits we're already doing (and vastly need to eliminate), it also provides us with 'counter-programming' options: alternatives to previously learned behaviours to cultivate new, healthier habits. 

The most important thing I learned from this guide is that there is no perfect. There is no getting it right 100% of the time. We'll experience setbacks - a lot of them - in our journey to become less clingy to our online identities, but over time, it gets easier. And the benefits will speak for themselves.

I'm going to try to implement all of the above into my life - maybe not all at once, maybe in stages. But I will make the decision to try, and that's the first step. I'll also attempt to monitor my happiness and life satisfaction whilst doing so, and see if it makes the slightest bit of difference. It's comforting to know that we're not alone in this, and there are actionable steps we can take to improve our lives - and relationships with social media - for the better.

Let me know what you think of the guide if you read it, and whether you've attempted (and succeeded or failed miserably) anything similar.

Emily x

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