A little over a month ago I was one of those people that make a post on Facebook that they’re leaving Facebook.
However, I acknowledged I would be back in thirty days. Like many others who have read “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport, I was inspired (convinced) to try a 30-day digital detox.
To summarize, there are three main steps to this process. Please know this is a broad overview and it’s definitely worth picking up the book to get a complete understanding of the philosophy and process.
The general process:
- Complete a 30-day detox. Eliminate all apps, sites, and digital programs (Netflix and video games included) that won’t significantly impact your personal or professional relationships. If you have to use something, create ground rules for exactly how/when you will use it.
- Fill your extra time with other things you’re interested in/passionate about.
- Afterward, don’t add anything back until you’ve clarified exactly why you’re bringing it back into your life, and how you’re going to use it.
Note: I didn’t actually read the whole book because he wanted to explain and prove a bunch of things. However, he actually acknowledged this and presented the philosophy and process in the first third of the book. Appreciate you, Cal!
What Convinced Me
As someone who generally lives a pretty balanced life, I was convinced to play full out for two reasons.
He makes a strong argument for cutting everything out completely and explained why my past efforts to decrease social media usage were doomed from the beginning. I knew that I didn’t want to cut most technologies out completely, but without doing so I didn’t have enough clarity to understand why and how I wanted to use them.
He also pointed out a huge assumption we tend to hold onto, which is that everything that makes our daily tasks slightly more efficient adds value to our lives.
The idea that more = better is easy to believe when everything is so new. Apps have literally infiltrated every area of our lives in the last ten years. It actually requires somewhat “drastic” measures to take a step back and assess what’s truly useful and meaningful.
Let’s get into my three biggest takeaways from the last 30 days.
1. Time spent on social media isn’t ‘fixed’
We tend to think about the time we spend on social media as a fixed amount. In this way, we could just use an app on our phone to limit our screen time to less than X amount of time per day.
In my experience, however, the fixed number of hours spent on apps/sites is an incomplete picture. If you spend 20 minutes scrolling your feed, and then your brain gets riled up for 20 minutes after that, how much time are you really spending on social media?
One of the primary habits I sought to reset was the amount of scrolling I did on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day. I knew that 5, 10, 20 minutes here or there was starting to add up. I also knew that the exposure was starting to trigger me for longer periods of time.
It’s very difficult to avoid the barrage of opinions, blame, judgment, and divisiveness that gets posted on both of these platforms. I would often find myself getting frustrated with people for being so illogical (oh, the irony) and my mind would be justifying, rationalizing, and trying to articulate opinions about everything I saw long after I had put my phone down.
By the end of the first week, I realized that 90% of these imaginary conversations or rants in my head were no longer happening. I was no longer “writing out” my thoughts and opinions about various things that don’t matter. Of course, I would occasionally have a train of thoughts related to those things, but a huge percentage of them were gone.
And guess what? Peace of mind is a beautiful thing.
Who’da thunk it? Can’t go to yoga class and need to de-stress? Just put your phone down.
2. How you eat dinner determines your future success
So, I have a theory. That is:
The first 1-2 hours of your morning contribute to the success of your days, and the 1-2 hours after dinner contribute to the success of your future.
Hear me out.
I’ve already been on board with the idea that it’s better to eat without distractions (TV, phone, computer, etc.) for a number of different reasons. I’m pretty much over the term ‘life hack’ but if there ever was such a thing, eating in silence is one of them.
Still, the routine of turning on a show while eating dinner had started to creep into weeknights. During my digital detox, I put the kibosh on it completely. Using that word is kind of fun, by the way, unlike the idea of eating every meal alone in silence.
Anyways, what I noticed again (with more clarity) is that the mind gets very activated when eating. The process of eating itself is an influx of sensations that stir things up internally, including our thoughts. Not to mention, we’re usually eating right after some hectic cooking or rushing to pick something up. Maybe it’s just me, but next time you sit down, just notice how frantic you feel.
Along with slowing down while eating, I acknowledged that I needed a few minutes after eating to let everything settle. It started feeling like an event, and I needed a cool-down period afterward.
The payoff: Once I actually took this time, I found it much easier to switch over to cognitive tasks I wanted to work on.
I realized that watching TV while eating was “extra” stimulating, and I had no space/silence to recover. As a result, the idea of turning off the TV and diving into side projects seemed exhausting and I felt unmotivated.
I no longer view it as laziness – I just wasn’t hitting the reset button.
During my digital detox, I found myself effortlessly working on side projects after dinner while keeping my energy up.
Bottom line: Focus on your food. Relax. Then decide what you want to do with the rest of your evening.
3. Gratitude comes naturally with space
If you want to feel grateful, you have to create space for these feelings to surface.
One way to do that is to carve out time for a specific gratitude practice. Being intentional about this is one way to remove ourselves from the fast pace of our daily lives and focus on what matters.
That said, when I’ve tried this approach in the past it has felt a little bit forced. The digital detox reminded me that the other way to do it is by simply creating space and slowing down.
Once I stopped thinking and worrying about so many things that don’t matter, I found myself feeling grateful for more of life’s simple pleasures… naturally.
I thought about the fact that I can go for walks in a safe neighborhood, I have an apartment to myself, and the crisp Fall air feels more like a gift than a sign of impending doom (Wisconsin winters).
After the Detox…
At the time of writing this article, I’ve only added two things back officially: Spotify (duh) and Pinterest (there is no better way to find recipes for the ingredients you have on hand)
I haven’t decided on my exact guidelines for watching TV, but I did give myself permission to watch one show a few times in the last couple of weeks.
It seems like a lot of work to figure out why and how I want to use Facebook and Twitter, and I’m not craving them like I used to. Yes, I’ve taken a peek at both, but I’m not ready to enter back into the Matrix quite yet.
I think I’ll take my time in creating my digital ground rules. The real world is a lot less complicated.