Last week, I decided to make a dramatic change in my life. I wanted to quit social media. I tried to quit in the past and failed, but this time I was more motivated than ever. I wanted to quit so I could focus more on my writing. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
At first, I was just going to delete the apps from my phone and give myself a certain time of day to check in, but as my cousin reminds me, I’m not a woman who can “do moderation.” I’m more of an all or nothing kind of gal, so I pulled the plug all the way out and closed my Facebook and my Twitter accounts.
Here are a few improvements I’ve noticed already:
I’m sleeping better
Whether it is the fact that looking at screens close to bedtime affects your circadian rhythm or that I would look at my phone if I happened to wake in the middle of the night and might see a notification or open an app and get sucked in, there are multiple ways the phone can screw with our sleep. On Friday night I slept 11 hours. I know that sounds crazy. I usually get that in a span of two days. I was so hyper all Saturday I could barely keep up with myself. Friday night I was going to write a little but I was too tired for that. So, I decided to read. Once I got some hot tea and got cozy I realized I might even be too tired to read. So I took my book to bed and fell asleep by 8:30. Had I been scrolling my phone, the little hits of adrenaline and dopamine from engaging with people, watching hoaxes play out, or witnessing all the insane outrage might have excited me enough to keep me awake until 11 PM or even later! And for what? I was much better off catching up on sleep.
I’m more productive and more inspired
I’m writing every morning for at least thirty minutes but the rest of the day my mind is thinking about things I want to write, developing characters, thinking about the book I’m reading, thinking about my plans and goals. Basically, when my mind isn’t stuck thinking about the petty dramas happening online, or the ridiculous news cycle or pop up ads or clickbait or anything else that gets my attention online, I’m thinking about things that are truly important to me. Turns out there are a lot of things that matter to me that I enjoy thinking about. I am excited to daydream and imagine. I’m finding that while I may not get that hit of dopamine from opening my Twitter app to find 30 notifications, I am getting an entirely different but even more satisfying pleasure out of being in my own head.
My quality of life is improving
This one is hard to describe. In some ways, it’s obvious, “of course my quality of life is improving! I’m not wasting time online!” but it’s more than that. I have more moments where I can improve my quality of life. A week ago, while cooking dinner, I might scroll my news feed. This might distract me enough to overcook dinner or to forget to make a side dish I was planning, which would make part of dinner ready while another part wasn’t and then I’d be serving a half warm, half reheated meal. When I pay attention to what I’m doing when I’m cooking, I cook better, I see the big picture, I’m less forgetful and distracted and the meal is better. This improves my quality of life. Another example is when I’m walking through my house, I’m looking around and noticing something that might need to be dusted or something I should put away. Before I might be distracted by a post or wondering if someone had replied to a comment I made. I might be “in the middle of interacting via social media” in a discussion, so I’d keep checking my notifications. Maybe I would have even been in a feud and so I’d be fired up. What’s the point in that? Now I have a greater sense of peace overall, I am investing my undivided attention in the things and people in front of me. I feel calmer and more satisfied overall.
Social Media Isn’t the Problem, It’s a Symptom
On day seven, I can see the benefits are obvious, but the transition wasn’t easy at first. In fact, I quickly found out that social media wasn’t actually the problem, although getting rid of social media allowed me to see the problem more clearly.
I wasn’t addicted to social media like I first thought, I was addicted to distraction. Social media is a distraction. We are never bored, we are never thinking deeply, we are never focusing when we have a smartphone available to entertain and distract us. When we are constantly distracted, we are not thinking, we are not observing, we are not paying attention. How am I supposed to create great art if I can’t focus? I can’t.
That sounds like social media addiction, right? That’s what I thought. But when I removed social media from my phone, I found the addiction was deeper. I kept reaching for my phone. Instead of checking Twitter and Facebook, I was checking email, I was checking the news. It’s just as easy to go down a black hole of distraction through the links in my emails or scrolling news as it is to get lost on social media. So I deleted those apps from my phone as well.
That should have solved it, right? Nope. I started to check my Fitbit app, my bank account, and the weather. Anything I could find on my phone to distract me was newly fascinating to me. I could check the weather five times in an hour. I’d check my bank, flipping between accounts the way I used to flip between Twitter and Facebook as if something there would surprise me. The only upside to this was that I found I was still being charged a recurring payment that I had canceled months ago and was able to get it resolved. But otherwise, what the hell was so interesting about the weather and my sorry ass bank account? I wasn’t learning anything, getting any new information, I was seeking distraction. I was compelled to click through literally anything rather than to sit in stillness and think, rather than to focus, rather than to tempt boredom.
When I succeed at eliminating my distractions, I am not bored. Giving up distraction isn’t torture, it’s bliss.
I Can Breathe Again
If you are suffocating, you can do two things to your environment so you can breathe again. You can pump in oxygen from an outside source. Or you can remove the source of the pollution that is contaminating or sucking the oxygen out of your air.
My creativity has been suffocating. My productivity has been suffocating. My imagination has been suffocating. I could either pump in oxygen from the outside, which is what I thought I was doing by reading books on creativity, watching videos, reading articles, engaging with others. The thrill of engagement feels like activity. It was lighting up synapses, giving me energy and making me feel like I was being creative, thinking, inspired. But it was shallow creativity, only lasting long enough for a moment, a tweet, or at best, a 1,000-word article.
When I remove the distraction–when I remove the creative pollution–I can breathe again, easily.
I’m not quite where I want to be. I still feel the urge to pick up my phone, I still catch myself surfing online from my computer when I should be reading or learning. I am trying to learn how to make videos and post mini-movies on Patreon, Instagram and YouTube for when “my book is finished.” I don’t have much experience with the fancy technical aspects of these platforms but I *have heard* they are more author friendly than Facebook and Twitter. So I’ve been trying to “teach myself how to use them” but I’m not so sure I’m not rationalizing and looking for a hit of social media validation. It’s a tough balance. I want to find a way to stay in touch with readers, promote my work but not get lost in the distractions. A full detox may be necessary if I can’t find some balance.
Week One Results
After one week, I have 50 pages of handwritten free writing in my journal. I am rested. My house is clean. I have a plan for the next week. I have ideas blooming in my mind. I have clarity about which ideas to develop and which to forget. I have a sense of calm and focus I haven’t had in years. I feel–wait for it–relaxed. Can you imagine?! Do you think you could do it too?
PS. I made this post public. If you are online, will you share it for me?