Lessons learned from 1 week away from social media
Social media became part of my daily habits in the same way that brushing my teeth and putting on clothes was. I always felt like it was a healthy habit, until it wasn’t.
In October I started a new year long business training/coaching program. Our challenge for the month was to take a break that was a minimum of two weeks. Me with my healthy, inspired relationship to social media promptly ignored it. “I don’t need this,” and “I can’t do this, my business needs social media to survive” were a couple things that crossed my mind.
Then I got sick and on the couch all day I had Netflix on repeat and my phone in my hand scrolling endlessly. I even managed to make my shoulder sore by sitting on the couch all day! I’ve experienced “tech neck” in the past, and once realized my tender wrist was not caused by my push-ups and weights at the gym as I thought, but by holding my phone.
In general I’d say I have a pretty good relationship with my phone, especially as I observe others. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement.
In addition to my sore shoulder from scrolling, I noticed two other things: dopamine hits from likes and feeling jealousy towards industry peers in a way I hadn’t experienced before. In the past I’d always noticed likes, but I didn’t care THAT much. (I’ve written about how it’s not about the likes.) Some of it had to do with that I had just come out of a trip and people were engaging with my images far more than usual, feeding the curiosity. I also started to notice WHO was liking, in a way I didn’t care about in the past.
(For anyone who cares a lot about likes, know there are “silent stalkers” out there absorbing and being inspired by your work even if they don’t directly show it. Keep doing what you’re doing. Persistence pays off, and it gives you the bonus of finding more clarity from actually doing.)
As for the pangs of jealousy, I was feeling it towards friends. People I talk to regularly and know how hard they work (which means working smartly, not non-stop), and how pro-active they are in pitching and generous they are with sharing their work with the world. We’ve always been so supportive of each other. The only thing that changed was my own mindset. I also had this awful feeling when I realized some people must feel this way when they see me, my work and output. That is the complete opposite of what I’m striving to do in my business. It was time for a reset.
I decided I’d finish posting my trip pictures, posting multiple a day, and then would take a break. I didn’t make it a big thing. I was doing it for myself, not for anyone else. Sunday night—one week ago—I posted my last photo with a caption that I suspect most people didn’t bother to read (let’s face it, social media doesn’t reward those habits), an IG story, tweet, and post to my FB friends saying I’m taking a break and would be back in a week. I didn’t hang out to see what the responses were. I did it, put all my apps into a hidden folder on my phone (I already don’t get notifications), closed the tabs on my computer, and called a friend. I felt liberated!
The first day wasn’t the hardest. It took a few days in to remember what boredom felt like, and having to entertain myself. I ended up taking a break from Netflix too, instead turning to books and watching a few short TED talks. There were days were I did find myself jumping between my four tabs of email accounts hoping there was something new to respond to. It wasn’t always comfortable, but I inevitably had breakthroughs.
Clarity is probably the biggest reward this week has brought me. For a long time I’ve been focusing on my business, but it wasn’t until this “disconnected” week that I realized just how distracted I’d become. I’ve been hovering around the same ideas for years, but it wasn’t until I had to sit with what I was facing that everything became that much clearer for me.
I started to see how all the content I absorb in a given week inspires me, it also deflects and distracts. Infiltrating thoughts.
As a business owner it’s easy to comparison trap yourself to others and see what they’re doing and feel like you’re not doing something right. It’s an unspoken thing. When telling a friend about my week, she pointed out that in the past she hadn’t so much felt jealousy towards others so much as she stopped believing and trusting in her own work. I agreed with that sentiment and suspect that is what I was feeling too more than jealousy.
When I work with clients I’m regularly reminding them to stick to what feels true to them. I need to take my own advice sometimes.
Getting unstuck doesn’t always feel great, but it’s the act of overcoming a hurdle where the reward comes. Thursday when I was feeling a bit lost in how to feel my time I knew I needed to go out for a walk and listen to a podcast. This is something I regularly do during my workday, but for some reason I needed a reminder. It’s weird that when circumstances change we can so easily forget what we already know.
At the end of my walk I ended up at a cafe with my notebook and favorite pen. I started to write things down. I sketched ideas for a new business card. It made me think how I could integrate it into my website. It made me see a connection between my travel blog and my coaching business.
I got home and worked through a values exercise where I started to reframe my business goals in a new way. We want to have all the answers, but what this break gave me was the space to sit with the discomfort and face some challenges head on. Sometimes we just need to step away and put ourselves into a different setting.
The digital age has made us so good at filling every minute of our time. My time away from social media has shown me where space is and to sit with it. Through that comes clarity. And doing something other than scrolling brings everything into focus.
It’s all an experiment.
School teaches us to study for the test where there’s a right an wrong answer and you’re expected to get a good grade. The real world doesn’t always work that way. Being open to experimentation is one of the most enriching things you can do for personal and professional growth.
I had ideas what my time without social media would be like, but it wasn’t until I did it that I knew how it would affect me. Friends all week asked me how it’s going. “SO GOOD! I LOVE IT!” is not the response I expected to say. I think they were surprised, but I’d go on to explain some of the learnings from this post.
My break from social media gave me a new lens where I could zoom out and get a better sense of the big picture and my own priorities. There are a lot of important conversations that can come up when we start to shake things up and stir the pot a bit.
Social media misses me more than I miss it.
It’s so strange but I honestly don’t miss social at all. In fact, I think social media misses me more than I miss it. Not more than 3 days off of it and both Facebook and Instagram started emailing me almost daily with how many notifications I’d missed and that so and so had posted something new. It was weird. It’s like they’re more obsessed with me than I with them. (And no, I did not open these emails.) It did concern me that that these companies can’t even pretend to support the fact that people may need a break.
I already was familiar with Nir Eyal’s work and his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products from teaching UX. While we want to design products that people keep returning to, it’s not until I stepped away that I could see how hooked we’ve all become.
It’d reached out to a friend who’d had a break up with social media a year or so ago. She told me about Adam Alter’s TED Talk “Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy” and book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.
I watched the talk on day two of my temporary separation from social. When he talks about the lack of “stopping cues” (aka infinite scrolling) I started to see the way I jump between apps and lose track of what I’m doing illuminated. It was nice to have some actual research to help me rethink my own relationship to my phone and social media.
The real challenge I’m going to face is re-entry and keeping healthier habits. (I think one will be not having certain tabs open all day.)
Relationships can become stronger.
My digital detox was cold turkey when it came to social media, but it didn’t limit other ways I used my phone. One of the nice benefits of being off of social media was feeling more connected with my IRL friends near and far. When we constantly see people in our social media feeds we can become guilty of not taking the time to reach out and check out to see how people are really doing. (On the first day I even managed to write 5 thank you notes and hand delivered them to the post office.)
I did start to ponder, “How much of social media is just a performance?” I know there’s so much good and value from social media, so I’m not giving it up forever. I know my mission involves sharing and celebrating the work of others. But maybe I’ll think a bit more about what I do share.
One friend texted me to see if I’d seen the new Paris 2024 Olympic logo (I hadn’t). It led to an interesting conversation. I couldn’t read Twitter reactions (how I round out my news consumption), so instead I reached out to friends to ask for their analysis.
Another friend tried to shield her phone from me from posting to Instagram. I reassured her there’s no judgement towards others, and it’s not that I can’t see what she’s doing, but it’s just my choice for the moment.
For once I didn’t have FOMO, and for one week I didn’t care if I didn’t know or understand what people were talking about. It’s OK not to know everything and to take time for oneself. For me so much of life is about people and nurturing those relationships. I love sharing what I know with strangers on the internet, but ultimately there are only so many hours in the day.
From the first day of my social media break I knew that my one week away was going to be two. Was I going to login to announce it? No. I’m not a surgeon, no one is going to die. (However, because I send my newsletter out every Sunday, those subscribers will be in the know.)
It feels right to lead by example and show that we don’t have to follow the crowd. You don’t need someone else to tell or challenge you to a break. You probably can sense you need it. For me I clearly needed the nudge to plant the seed. It’s also why I’m sharing my experience.
Every day I took notes to track my experience. I managed to fill my days no problem. It was also interesting to see how I responded to different challenges. I started to collect cues to build a better work day.
Two weeks ago I may have felt like I couldn’t afford to take a break from social media. Today I’d tell you my business can’t afford to not take this break.
I feel refocused on the work I do, along with new motivation to challenge myself in unexpected ways. There were no mega shifts in my week so much as small insights that helped remind me why I do what I do. I’m curious what week two will unlock…
Have you stepped away from social media? Please share your experiences in the comments so we can keep continuing this conversation!
Special thanks to Tiffany Han for the 2 week social media break challenge!
One of the things I do as a coach is support people on their own journeys, through the highs and lows, serving as an accountability partner and reminder of what you’re really working towards. Learn more about my services.