Digital detox is in right now. I feel like I’m seeing the phrase everywhere, and I could not be more thrilled that it’s in vogue.
Personally speaking, pulling away from social media (not all the way, just enough) has been one of the single biggest contributors to my happiness level in the past decade. And based on studies I keep seeing pop up in my news feed, as well as anecdotal observations, I don’t think my situation is completely unique.
If you want to go full-on down the rabbit hole, I can’t recommend Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism highly enough. It really opened my eyes to the fact that I get to decide just how much I want to live in the online world, versus knowing when to take a step back and live my real life offline.
If you just want to dabble, or are curious if a digital detox might be for you, here are three reasons to consider limiting your screen time, even if it’s just for a month. A week. Even a day.
01. You’ll remember what it was like to simply enjoy a moment for the sake of the moment
I quit Facebook in May 2018, but it wasn’t until March 2019 that I read Cal’s book, and gave all of my screen time a long hard look, including my beloved Instagram, and even, dare I say … books. Shortly after auditing how much time i spent looking at a screen, I went on a trip to Paris, and made a conscious effort to leave the phone turned off and at the bottom of my bag when my husband and I left the hotel to go exploring each day.
It felt … strange. Instead of immediately snapping a selfie the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I merely looked at it—marveled at it. Instead of taking a photo of my amazing seafood lunch and accompanying glass of champagne, I sat simply enjoyed the meal and conversation with my husband. Sitting on a park bench with my husband, hours passed. We didn’t pick up our phone once, just sat with a pen and a notebook. We did take some pictures on our trip, but they were with his proper camera, not with our cell phone where we could easily fall down the rabbit hole of sharing those pictures then and there. The result? I was focused on enjoying Paris, rather than telling everyone how much I was enjoying Paris. It was the best trip I’ve ever taken.
Social media can be great for sharing moments with family and friends, but it can be really easy to be so focused on the sharing that the moment itself passes you on by. If you really feel called to snap a photo for memory’s sake, do it! But try doing it with a camera if you have one, where your focus is only on capturing the moment, not immediately telling everyone on Facebook about the moment. Don’t have a camera? Try putting your phone on airplane mode (or at least removing all social media apps from your device), so that you put the phone away the second you’re done with the photo.
And this doesn’t just apply to big lifetime moments like a trip to Paris! When we got back home to New York, I continued my social media hiatus, leaving my phone at home when we went out to dinner or drinks, and was shocked, and a little dismayed to notice just how many people seemed glued to their phones constantly. Posing for the perfect selfie in Central Park. Recording themselves walking down Fifth Avenue. And worst of all, over and over again I’d see two friends, or a romantic couple sitting side-by-side at a bar with a glass of wine, both of them staring at their phones. Worst of all? I know I’ve been that person plenty of times. I’m not saying never take a selfie of yourself to record that amazing moment. I’m just suggesting try leaving your phone at home once in awhile; there’s something beautiful, and almost a little surreal, about living a moment completely screen-free.
02. You’ll stop comparing yourself to others
This one is especially relevant to authors or other creative entrepreneurs. Speaking from personal experience, I know exactly what it’s like to be going about your business, feeling pretty good about whatever project you’ve got brewing, or feeling proud of an accomplishment you’ve just achieved. And then, you pick up your phone, go to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and bam!
That “competitor’s” just outdone you big time; she’s hit the New York Times, his book’s getting made into a movie, some other author landed a six figure deal, another’s been mentioned on The Today Show, partnered with hot shot brand, etc.
In a blink of an eye, you went from feeling accomplished and proud of yourself, to feeling like you have so far to go.
Here’s the single most important thing I learned about not being on Facebook and Twitter, or at least significantly cutting back:
Ignorance can be bliss.
For authors, ask yourself this: what good does it do your soul to know that so-and-so sold more books than you, or that X reader thinks your latest book was garbage, or that Suzy Debut hit #1 New York Times with her first book? We tend to be hungry for this information in the name of research and business-savvy, but pause a moment and ask yourself:
Is this contributing to my happiness? To my productivity? Does knowing what another author is up to make me a better author?
For the non-writers, this absolutely goes for you too. Maybe it’s that friend from high school whose trip to a luxury resort on the Amalfi Coast makes you feel a little less excited about your budget trip to a nearby lake. Maybe it’s your sister-in-law’s extravagant birthday party for her kid who makes you feel the box cake with the sagging middle you threw together for your kid’s birthday wasn’t good enough. Or the former colleague who’s now director of her own team at Google, which makes your own recent promotion feel small in comparison.
Social media has undeniably been great for connecting us with friends and family, but it’s not without it’s dark side. Next time you pick up your phone, start paying attention to the way whatever you’re looking at makes you feel.
03. You’ll be the creator—not the consumer
Social media has a reputation for taking over our lives, and the reputation is at least partially earned. And it’s easy to think that if we’re not one of the people that’s slave to Facebook, if we’ve resisted the urge to join Instagram, if we don’t know what Kim K is up to, that we’re somehow “above,”
But hold up a second. What if it’s not just social media or junky reality TV that’s draining us? What if the “good stuff”can eat up our lives just as readily?
Anthony and I are frequently caught off guard by how many people in our life seem to be constantly consuming information. You all know that person—maybe we are that person—who fills every spare moment with YouTube, Netflix, audiobooks, podcasts.
They’re the people who start every other sentence with, “Did you see / have you heard / I just watched X / I just listened to Y podcast / you should check out Z …”
Now, let me just say, information and learning is amazing. There’s some really fantastic brain food out there, and I have a lot of respect for people who like to learn things and absorb new information.
But here’s the thing: if you’re always consuming other people’s information, if you’re always absorbing other people’s creations, you leave no room in your brain, in your imagination, in your schedule to do any creating of your own.
And I’m not just talking about producing something “creative.” The word creativity tends to get attached almost exclusively to the arts, and it of course can absolutely result in a book/painting/screenplay, etc. But when I say creativity in this context, I just mean giving your brain a minute away from other people’s ideas so that you can come up with your own.
Do I sound lecturey? I don’t mean to, really. I just can’t overstate the positive impact that setting my phone aside has had on my life. I’ll leave you with one last little nibble for thought: