Friday, 9 June 2017

The Most Important Lesson I Learned During My Social Media Detox

The Most Important Lesson I Learned During My 30-Day Social Media Detox

On the morning of April 29th, I deleted the Instagram app from my phone. It was the last social media app to go, as I had deactivated my Facebook account in 2016 and removed the Twitter app from my phone in March. I never thought I would delete the Instagram app, because of all the social media platforms out there, it had always been my favourite. But after yet another sleepless night in April, I could no longer hide from the truth: my anxiety had fueled a new level of addiction to my phone and I had to kick it.

I say I “had” to kick it because being addicted to looking at my phone and at social media does not align with my values. Over the past few years, I think you’ve all witnessed some of the transformations I’ve made in my life, including falling in love with the outdoors, and wanting to spend less time working and more time living. My phone is a great tool, in that it can help me navigate new territory and take pictures along the way. But it can’t help me do any of the other “living” I want to do; neither can social media.

Even though spending a lot of time looking at my phone or at social media doesn’t align with my values, I’m not immune to getting sucked in. Sure, I’m fairly self-aware, but I’m not a robot. I don’t operate on command, and I don’t automatically shutdown at certain times of the day. In April, I learned the exact opposite was true: when I was anxious, I looked at it more; went further down the rabbit hole; and felt worse about everything I found. On the morning of April 29th, I knew my online life needed a reset. It was time for a social media detox.

The Rules for My Social Media Detox

In the past, I will admit I have been hesitant to do any type of social media detox. My reasoning: I felt it was a necessary part of life, and that we should simply learn how to use it more mindfully rather than ban ourselves completely. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony that this thought came from the same girl who banned herself from shopping for two years. What can I say? Humans are complex! And I was a Communications major who, at one time, truly loved social media.) Still, once you see something, you can’t unsee it. So, when I finally saw how unhappy looking at social media made me, I knew I needed a break from it.

The rules for my social media detox were simple:

  • remove all social media apps from my phone
  • logout of all social media sites on my computer
  • use Buffer to schedule posts for my blog and Rockstar Finance
  • and don’t check any of my profiles!

The 30-day social media detox was intended to last from April 29th to May 28th. I was hesitant to walk away for such a long period of time, especially since I work for myself and have an “online presence” or whatever you want to call it. But like most of the other challenges I’ve set for myself, I knew this one was essential. In fact, tuning in to what my body and mind ask for would end up being just one of the many lessons I would take from this experience. But before I jump into the lessons, I should first tell you how the detox went, including some of the things I noticed about myself – and others – when I was offline.

How I Used Social Media Before the Detox

To have a better understanding of what this detox entailed, you should have a clear picture of exactly what type of social media user I was when I started. As I mentioned, I had already deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. I deleted Facebook altogether in May 2016, but I still managed a few business pages and groups, which I did from my computer. And I checked Twitter regularly on my computer, as well, but didn’t feel the need to have 24/7 access to it from my phone. I deleted the Twitter app in March, and had enjoyed feeling slightly less connected without it.

The one app I still checked often was Instagram. I have always loved Instagram. It has allowed me to share pictures of the beautiful scenery I’m surrounded by every day, and helped me discover new places to explore. I have also met some of my closest friends on Instagram! The first friend I made when I moved to Port Moody and the first friend I’ve made since moving to Squamish are both people I had connected with on Instagram. Our conversations started online, but through the pictures and stories we shared, we knew we could probably take them offline too – and we did!

The day I decided to make my Instagram profile a “business profile” was the day I started to get a little less enjoyment from the app. Instead of simply posting a picture, I started to look at how that picture was performing. I also found myself having more conversations with friends about how to optimize posts in order to get more likes. It was all about the likes. What I wrote in the captions was honest, but the profiles I tagged and the hashtags I used were intentionally chosen in the hopes it would bring in more likes. And if I didn’t get enough engagement with a post, I genuinely felt like it wasn’t a good enough picture. It wasn’t fun anymore; it was business. The same became true with Twitter and my tweets.

Even though it felt like business, Instagram – like all social media platforms – was also a rabbit hole. It was too easy to see I was tagged in a post, check out the picture, read the comments, reply to the post, then visit the profile of the person who took the picture, check out a few more of their pictures, look at the list of profiles similar to theirs, check out their pictures, and so on and so forth. All of a sudden, 10 or 20 minutes had gone by, and I had forgotten why I’d opened up the app to begin with. That’s not to say I never found or connected with cool people that way, but this happened way more often than I liked.

I knew things were really bad when my insomnia on April 28th caused me to pick up my phone at 11pm, 12am, 12:30am, 12:40am, 12:50am 1am, 1:10am … until I finally passed out around 3:30am. The dogs woke me up at 6:30am, and I knew I couldn’t survive like that another day. My anxiety had fueled a new level of addiction to my phone and I had to kick it.

What My Life Was Like Without Social Media

I don’t think I’ll bore you with all the nitty gritty details of what each and every day looked like. (I did keep a journal and documented most of them, but it’s not exactly an exciting read!) Instead, I’ll share some of the things that stood out most to me. The first thing I noticed, of course, was how often I reached for my phone. As soon as I clicked the home button, however, I realized the only thing I could check was my email. Email is my least favourite communication tool, so I didn’t check it very often. I just spent ~14 days reaching for my phone, realizing I didn’t care if I had new email then putting it down again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The second thing I noticed, in those first two weeks, was how many times I thought about posting pictures of what I was doing. I would be out on a hike and still take pictures, but would think to myself, “If I don’t post this, did it really happen?” Obviously, laughter ensued. Instead of posting pictures, however, I sent them to the one or two people I really wanted to share them with. This meant a handful of friends got a lot more pictures delivered via iMessage, and I got to have a lot of meaningful conversations with them.

That brings me to my third point, which is that I strengthened a handful of friendships during my social media detox. Instead of simply double-tapping a picture on Instagram or replying to a tweet, we had real conversations – via text, the phone, Skype, etc. Two friends, in particular, quickly became the people I spoke to on an almost-daily basis. To counter that, unfortunately, I also found a few of my friendships quietened down or died off. I don’t know if that’s because I was offline, or because we have gone down different paths lately. But it did make me think about how the connections we “maintain” online aren’t always meant to last forever.

Finally, one of the best – and most unexpected – outcomes was that I slept better than I had in months. Since October, I had been in a new and terrible sleeping pattern. I was lucky if I could get six hours a night, and especially lucky if I could sleep in past 6am. Within the first few days of my social media detox, I was getting at least eight hours of sleep and was sleeping in until 7-7:30am! The non-morning people probably still think that’s too early, but this felt incredible to me. The bags under my eyes started to diminish, I had more energy and just felt better overall each day – all because I wasn’t checking Instagram before bed.

Of course, some of these things changed when Molly passed away. Namely, I went back to not sleeping very well. All I did was hangout with (and worry about) Lexie. She had spent her entire life with Molly, and I didn’t want her to be alone. I also didn’t want to be alone, but didn’t want to leave the house without her. So, I decided to quit the detox early and downloaded Instagram on May 22nd. There was nothing impulsive about this. I just wanted to share the news (writing little obituaries for Molly and Lexie was part of my healing process) and share pictures and videos of my time with Lexie during her final days. <3

Other Observations I Made During My Social Media Detox

So, it wasn’t a perfect slow living experiment. I witnessed some positive differences in my behaviour and built upon a handful of existing friendships. Being offline also helped me stay more present and alert with the girls, during the time they needed me the most (and that’s time I could never have gotten back). But I did genuinely miss a few things about social media, during those 23 days (I only stayed off Facebook for the full 30). Specifically, there were two friends who were on big life-changing journeys, and I missed reading their updates on Instagram, and seeing pictures and videos from the beautiful places they were visiting.

There are a few other observations I made during my social media detox:

  • I tracked how many hours I was using my phone with the Moment app, and found I spent only 35% of my usual time on it without social media. It also (obviously) held a charge for a lot longer.
  • I can’t tell if it made me any more productive. I finished the second draft of The Year of Less, but I also quit freelancing (more on that later) and spent a lot of time doing nothing.
  • I did feel out of the loop on things, like current events. To be fair, I could have done a better job of checking the news on various sites. It just didn’t feel important compared to what was happening right in front of me at home. And I will never regret being uninformed for one month.
  • I found myself in a lot of conversations with friends who asked, “did you hear about X thing happening in Y city or to Z person?” When I said no and asked for more details, they couldn’t give me any. “That’s all I know,” they said. That’s all most of us know, if we don’t read past the headlines. And that’s what we do: think that what we can learn in 140 characters is enough to stay “in the loop”.

And one observation I’ve made since starting to use Instagram again is somewhat surprising: fewer people text me. I don’t know if it’s because they are now getting updates about me online, but I feel as though I’ve had fewer (and less meaningful) conversations since posting again. That’s something I need to think about more, which brings me to my final thoughts on this experiment.

How I Plan to Use Social Media in the Future

I had such a negative mindset about social media, when I started the detox, that I honestly thought I would be deleting some of my profiles by the end. Twitter had been fuelling my anxiety for weeks, as had Facebook the year before. I knew I wouldn’t delete Instagram, but I also knew the way I’d been using it had to change. I was so convinced I would be anti-social media, by the end of this, that I actually wrote an outline for the post where I would announce why I was walking away from it. Instead, I’ve gone back to my original thought: that we should simply learn how to use it more mindfully rather than ban ourselves completely.

When I looked back at that post I had drafted, I realized most of the reasons I was thinking about quitting social media were related to the fact that it wasn’t fun anymore. Some of that is because what we see online has been extremely negative (even downright mean) since the election. But it’s also because I had turned it all into business. I had never been someone who cared about the numbers, and then one day I started paying attention to them. I also started caring about the overall look/feel of my profiles. I thought that was what I was “supposed to do” in order to grow my business or to seem more legit (and imagine many bloggers and online business owners feel the same).

I’ve bucked most of the trends of what we’re “supposed to do” for years. I’ve never followed thousands of people in hopes they will follow me in return. I’ve always known I would rather have fewer followers who engage with my content rather than an inflated number that makes me seem more important. I also refuse to schedule content to publish around the clock. The business blogs tell me it will increase my pageviews, but I would rather have all my interactions occur in real-time. These are just a couple of the ways I’ve stuck to my morals while building my business. The experts might tell me I’m doing it wrong, but doing things their way isn’t fun. And if it’s not fun, what’s the point?

The most important lesson I learned during my social media detox is to make your own rules.
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I’m going to ignore every article about how to increase my engagement and achieve some meaningless goal, and go back to doing what I used to do: sharing my story and connecting with people. Social media doesn’t have to suck. For as much as I was hating on Twitter earlier this year, I am in control of how I use it – and all social media platforms, for that matter. I know it’s a powerful tool, but I don’t care how it affects my business. I want the power to be all about the connections we make. I love hanging out with you guys (and am using this penguin picture to show you how much I love it). I just want to do it my way. Here’s what that will look like:

  • Facebook: I’ll still use it to share all my new blog posts, and some other posts I think you would like.
  • Twitter: Ditto. But I’ll never schedule anything. I only want to post things when I know I’ll be available to have a conversation with you.
  • Instagram: I actually think I’m going to use this platform a little more than usual (namely, stories). However, I won’t be tagging profiles or using hashtags in posts. I don’t care how many people like my photos. I’ll share things because I want to, not because I want it to get any amount of validation.

Also, if the thought of using social media strategically makes you feel icky, go look at how some of the people you look up to in your industry use it. For me, that meant looking at the profiles of Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle Melton. These women don’t have strategies. They all do things differently but have one thing in common: they post what comes from the heart.

Experiment #5: Slow Technology

All-in-all, while I didn’t fully complete the slow living experiment I had mapped out, I still feel incredibly happy with the lessons I took away from it.

  • do a 30-day social media detox (April 29th – May 28th) – 76% complete
  • figure out the role I want social media to play in my life – done!
  • check/reply to email less often (also experiment with not checking on my phone) – done!
  • figure out the role I want technology to play in my life (phone, computers, TV, etc.) – not really
  • read from a book every day – nope

As I am slowly easing myself back onto social media, there is one new habit I built this month that I hope I can hold onto forever: the feeling of not wanting to look at my phone very often. It’s hard to describe, but I genuinely feel an aversion to carrying my phone around with me and looking at it all the time. Yes, it can be a way to connect with people, but the connection you make when you sit across from someone and look them in the eyes is so much better. I vow to do a lot more of that in the future. <3

Books and Podcasts I Consumed This Month

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