How to do a digital detox
One Friday at work, in between emails, face-to-face conversations and a myriad of other notifications, I received an email invite to a yoga workshop at my favourite studio on Sunday, and excitedly accepted. Sunday rolled around and I showed up to the studio, only to be met with confusion. I sheepishly put my bag down and checked my emails – the workshop was actually in more than a month. I gathered my things and left, clearly embarrassed, even though I’m sure no one cared. I had cleared my whole day for this, so now what? I drifted around the local stores, contemplating what had gone wrong.
I had lost my focus, I felt like my attention was being pulled in every direction and I was overwhelmed. I sat down with a coffee and the first thing I did was open Instagram, which initially gives the feeling of switching off and relaxing, but really does the opposite. I had been carrying my book around with me everywhere for two weeks but I’d barely made it through the second chapter. I pulled it out, and within minutes I was scrolling again. In that moment, I decided I needed to cut myself loose from this addiction.
I suspect it’s no accident that deactivating your account is not as easy as it should be. You can’t do it on the app, it has to be done on the web browser version of the platform. I looked at the date and saw that there were exactly two weeks left of the month, so that would be my challenge. The longest I had gone without social media before was about 48 hours, which if I’m honest, I really struggled with. Despite the dismal attempts of the past, I love a lofty goal, and I was ready.
I had set a goal at the beginning of the year to read one book per month for all of 2019, I was on track so far, but two weeks into March I was only 36 pages into Michelle Obama’s 'Becoming'. I spend three hours a day commuting to and from work, time that I swore if I took the role would be used for podcasts, writing and reading. On my first commute without Instagram, I read 50 pages – the time I had been wasting on social media became immediately obvious. In just two weeks, I finished my book and read a second one before my hiatus was over.
There were a number of big accounts that I followed – people who do great things and conduct their lives very differently to my own – that I realised add more value than I would have initially thought. People who were living their lives authentically and sharing it with all the ups and downs. I decided that’s not only what I wanted to see more of, but also what I wanted to share more of myself. I proclaimed that when I went back on, I would be unfollowing all the accounts which did not spark joy.
This is something I really had to be honest with myself about, I follow a lot of amateur and professional athletes, which I used to tell myself was motivating, but how many photos of workout summaries do you need to see before you get out the door for a run? Most of these accounts were actually making me feel worse, fueling feelings of inadequacy that I’m sure most of us wrestle with enough in the real world, without needing to amplify it in the digital world. This was obvious to me when I attended a yoga session after a week without Instagram. For the first time, I didn’t pick apart the way I looked in each pose, my focus remained internal.
After my mass cull of yogis and triathletes, I got down to the gritty stuff, the people you kind of know, but not well enough to explain your situation. The girl you used to work with a year ago whose gymnastic ability makes you feel like trash, or the person who only posts photos of her baby in ballerina costumes, all lovely people in real life. For this, a friend suggested ‘muting’ their posts, so that no one’s feelings got hurt. I figured that if someone was mad that I unfollowed them, they had their own issues with social media to unpack, and I would not let that burden fall on me. Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.
I thought I was confident and ready to defend every decision, until I was confronted by someone at dinner about unfollowing their dog on Instagram. I felt myself shrinking, I admitted I had been unfollowing a large number of accounts since returning to Instagram, and maybe it was unintentional (it was not). I made a non-committal statement about refollowing and commiserated about the loss of followers, before leaning in to another conversation at the table. This was probably my first, and only, unexpected negative side effect.
I’m now one week back online. And while I’ve definitely slipped back into some old habits, I’m a lot more aware and intentional than I was three weeks ago. I’m continuing to unfollow (and mute) accounts that are not enriching my experience online. I’m not just sharing my highlights reel, I’m committing to sharing more of the lows, and not just the funny ones. I am declaring that I will not be offended if you unfollow me – I am multidimensional and if you don’t like the content I share, it doesn’t mean you don’t like me in real life, and if you also don’t like me in real life, that’s okay too.
My top tips for a digital detox
- Turn off all push notifications, apart from text messages
- Unfollow all accounts that don’t add value, inspire or inform you – be honest about this one
- Allow yourself time each day, and put a strict limit on it.
- Don’t just log out of the app, remove it from your phone completely if you want a complete detox
- Periodically move the apps around on your screen, so you can’t just open them without thinking