When it comes to entertainment and media, we are what we consume. When we consume things that nourish our minds, we can become better and healthier. When we consume things that distract our minds, we can become stressed and anxious. And with companies investing unfathomable amounts of money into developing creative ways to steal our attention and swallow up our time, it’s easy to overindulge and consume junk.
Recognizing my overindulgence, I set the intention to make better use of my free time by stepping away from my social media accounts and reducing time with my phone overall. Instead of endlessly scrolling and traveling down rabbit holes, I wanted to experience the physical world around me and strengthen my imagination and creativity. So I dumbed down my phone by deleting most to all distracting apps and notifications and set out to reacquaint myself with the things that brought me the most satisfaction pre-smartphone days.
The experiment lasted five months and taught me five valuable lessons.
Your Desire to Check-In Weakens
Have you ever felt like there’s a magnetic field between your hand and your phone?
As a meditator, I often bring my awareness to thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. For years, I’ve practiced how to take a step back and observe how each of these things stimulate reactions in my body. This has been especially helpful in learning what triggers a negative reaction, when the reaction starts, and how to dilute it before it comes to the surface.
On the second day, I was doing the dishes and listening to music through my phone. As I was drying a pot, I suddenly felt something in my core pulling me toward my phone. Being able to see it in the same room paired with doing something that wasn’t particularly exciting sparked the impulse to grab it. Instead of giving in, I continued doing the dishes and felt the momentary pull weaken.
Once I experienced this feeling, I noticed it come and go, and a few days later, it nearly dissipated.
Lesson 1: If your phone is constantly visible, you’ll feel its demand for your attention. But if you leave your phone in another room or even on another floor of your house, you’ll discover that the level of effort to go get it is not worthwhile.
Your Morning Routine Improves
For many, morning routines can be the most important part of the day.
Prior to this experiment, meditation and exercise were my two constants, so I needed to fill in the gap between these activities and work to avoid mindlessly meandering through my phone.
Instead of using my phone’s alarm to wake up, my wife and I used an actual alarm clock. This way, the morning wouldn’t begin with turning off the alarm on my phone, seeing notifications and checking in on social channels and email. It also made it harder to hit the snooze button. It’s never great when the first action of the day is procrastination.
I began incorporating new activities into my morning to stimulate creativity. This included either a three-minute drawing, short writing session, or reading block. Stacked on top of waking up to an alarm, meditating and going to the gym, my mornings were stronger than ever, my focus improved because I eliminated time-wasting distractions, and the momentum carried over into the day.
Lesson 2: What you do during your first hours sets the course through which you navigate the rest of the day. You can either use those quiet hours to your advantage and spend them proactively or waste them and exhaust them reactively.
Hacks Aren’t Long-Term Solutions
There are many productivity hacks created to boost production and minimize distraction. They include tips and tricks for removing distracting apps from your phone, such as switching your phone into black and white mode to reduce the attractiveness of bold colors, turning off notifications, and switching to airplane mode, to name a few, app and website blockers and timers, and others.
These hacks might work at first; however, you learn ways to get around them. They’re short-term solutions that are only a few taps or clicks away from disabling. For instance, I now know how to navigate through various settings and disable black and white mode without thinking twice.
The power that our devices can have over us is incredible. That we have to go to such great lengths to curb our willpower seems crazy.
Lesson 3: These quick solutions mask the symptoms but don’t address the underlying issue. We need to take a step back to address the root of the problem that causes us to continuously reach for our devices and distract ourselves in the first place, not just slap a temporary band-aid on the symptoms.
You Crave Connection
When you leave your social network, the world doesn’t end.
After the pull to check-in throughout the day weakened, I didn’t miss it. The FOMO left, and the JOMO entered. But what I missed were real, authentic connections.
In his book “Digital Minimalism,” author Cal Newport writes, “The relationship between our deeply human sociality and modern digital communication tools is fraught and can produce significant issues in your life if not handled carefully. You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room, or among the Ping-Pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator, to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we’ve painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages or emojis.”
By sharing a majority of connections in the digital world, I was malnourished in connections in the physical world. I reflected on my relationships with friends and family and began reaching out and meeting up face-to-face. Although it took more effort, it was more meaningful.
Lesson 4: When possible, try to share your experiences with people more than screens. Physical engagements and interactions can have more weight than any number of likes and comments.
It’s Very Easy To Relapse
If you’re planning on conducting your own social detox, make sure you have a clear exit strategy.
After the five months ended, I made a mistake. While I had set the intention to give up social (and other distractions though my phone) and planned how I would do it before it started, I didn’t plan well for what to do after it was over. I picked up where I left off instead of taking the time to think about how I wanted to reuse my phone. It was just like going on a fad diet – I switched things up, met my goal over a designated period, then I overindulged to make up for the lost time.
But I have noticed that I’m spending less time on social media. Whenever I am online, more time is going towards creating content that I’m proud of instead of sharing for the sake of sharing. I’m also thinking more about what I choose to like and comment on instead of liking everything and everything. And if there’s something funny or interesting to share with someone I’ll see soon, I’ll share it in person when I see them for a real reaction and interaction.
Lesson 5: If you want to try your own experiment, put a plan in place for how to reintroduce technology gradually when it’s over, almost like an elimination diet. Gradually reintroduce elements and see how each one affects you, how you want to use it, and whether you want to use it.
Looking back, this experiment wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. While there were things I could have done better, it opened my eyes to the stronghold today’s technology can have on our attention, productivity, well-being, and time.
I’m not suggesting that you shun technology and become a neo-luddite. When used to your advantage, it can do a lot of good. But if you feel like there’s an imbalance and, when literally left to your own devices your devices are consuming your time, it might be time to hit the reset button.
By resetting and creating time and space to change my relationship with my social channels and phone, I realized that I have more time and energy to do things that bring joy to my life. More time and energy to start off each day proactively. More time and energy to read, write, create, reconnect with old hobbies, pick up new ones, learn, and exercise my mind and body. More time and energy to put towards being a better husband, dog dad, son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew, friend, co-worker, and even a complete stranger.
For me, that’s time and energy well spent.