7 months? That’s a random number you might say. It was actually supposed to be 6 months but the last month was extra since I’m now used to life without social media. I was able to take the last month to focus on making final preparations for my firstborn (yay!!) and determine exactly how I’ll go about social media use going forward. But what about the most obvious question…..Why’d I leave social media for 7 months? Well firstly, I started noticing behavior patterns that I didn’t like. Whenever I was frustrated or impatient I’d immediately go to social media and scroll to pacify myself. Also, there was a lot of bite-sized negative content that collectively over a course of time would frame my thoughts and desires. And lastly, I felt like I subtly became so consumed with my “online self” and my “highlight reel” that I was loosing who I truly was. As a part of my holistic training and development (i.e., discipline), I feel God challenged me to leave social media “for the rest of the year” (this was in June 2017). After some initial push back, I realized the benefits that may come from doing this so I embarked on that journey. With that being said, here are my 7 lessons learned from leaving social media for 7 months. (They generally walk chronologically through the beginning to the end of my journey.)
1. Social Media is like a Drug
Many People Post and Scroll Mindlessly and Self Indulgently…..
Hi my name is Dante, and I was a social media addict. Many may not want to accept this but social media is very similar to a drug addiction or gambling. We tend to shame the drug addicts or gamblers that squander all of their money chasing a high or a jackpot. Why don’t we shame ourselves for squandering our valuable time doing the same? One is socially acceptable and the other is not. However, they are actually very comparable. Many social media giants have individuals and teams whose sole purpose it is to capture our “attention.” Many are called attention engineers, who create things such as the “like,” delayed app loading, or constant notifications to operate as the high that we chase after. Recent numbers suggest that Millennials check their phones nearly 200 times a day and spend almost three hours (cumulatively) on them. That’s a lot of time and we should find ways to reduce that! All of these companies are fighting for our attention, which drives a stream of advertisement revenue. So, they’re going to do their best to keep US on THEIR sites. So they’ll call out all of the stops to make the most addictive platform that we want to be on. When all of the major platforms are doing the same thing, we are left with the constant compulsion to always be on, which I would argue is detrimental to us socially and cognitively as our attention is being increasingly more fragmented.
2. Social Media isn’t All to Blame….we are..
My lack of self-discipline and self-control caused me to mindlessly go back to social media literally all day. My lack of having a clear purpose for using it caused me to abuse my use of it. This all became apparent when I left all the major platforms (FB, Twitter, IG). In the early stages, I replaced these with other outlets such as sports sites and news outlets that follow the same structure and design as social media sites. I found myself doing the EXACT same thing on them that I was supposed to be avoiding (mindless scrolling and wasting time). I had to realize that my thoughts and behaviors were trained a certain way and I needed to do a deeper dive to rewire them. In other words, I was a lot more of the problem than I was initially willing to accept.
3. Get Back in Touch with Reality
Contrary to what everyone might believe, leaving social media doesn’t make you lose touch with “what’s going on” …if anything, it gets you back in touch with reality. Oxford Dicionaries defines FOMO as (fear of missing out) – Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media. This is a real struggle as the constant pressure to be “plugged in” compels us to want (NEED) to know everything about everyone at all times. Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why? Or better yet what am I doing? Never in history have we been so inundated with “news” before. Let’s take a page from our historical counterparts who weren’t always plugged in and mainly lived life through what surrounded them.
4. Value Privacy
This brings me to my next point, I started to realize just how much I valued my privacy by being away from social media. Nowadays the line between what’s private and public is extremely thin. But once I was away from social media and started asking myself why I was doing what I was doing with no compelling answer I started valuing NOT showing the world what I was doing vs having to show the world every meal, every event, and every piece of my life. It became beautiful to me to share moments with my wife and family that only we knew about. It became refreshing to go places like the botanical gardens and take great pictures and not submit the measure of their quality to the online scrutiny of how many likes they get.
5. Become More Focused and Disciplined
As the months started to go by I started noticing I could focus more and I was becoming far more disciplined, in all areas of life. My attention started becoming less fragmented and I could focus longer on tasks without needing to check social media or what’s going on online. I started being able to curb those desires more easily to the point where they became few and far between. I started to develop more plans and goals and began to be able to think more deeply and focus more on goal completion. All in all, it was like I got my attention back and could control myself better. The process of re-wiring and re-training was beginning to cement.
6. Add Productive Replacements
Reading, learning more about finances, eating better, parenting..
This was one of my favorite pieces of the journey. After I realized I was to blame and started to be more focused and disciplined, I began adding things to my life that were more productive. It was almost like an immediate response to having more time and also valuing my time. Firstly, I created a holistic strategy for myself because I realized social media wasnt the full issue. The full issue was this constant tug and pull at me from every direction. My phone, my email, everything. I read somewhere that technology is a wonderful slave but a terrible master. That couldn’t be more true. I turned off all notifications from email on my computer to text messages to phone calls, everything (I did build in emergency systems for things to get through to me if needed). I wanted to dictate when and how my attention was given to something, not have it create pressure on me when I hear something ping or show up in my notifications feed. I researched and download a very strong task management tool. This helped my write out all of my goals and lists all the task needed to complete them. I now use and consult this daily to stay focused and make positive progress on everything in life. I started reading more books, started “side hustles,” learned more about finances, learned more about proper nutrition, created a consistent fitness routine, learned so much about parenting in preparation for fatherhood, made progress on completing my doctorate….the list could go on and on….in short, I attribute all of my accomplishments and positive changes to the conscious decision to leave social media for that period of time.
7. Nobody’s Perfect
My wife and I would get into it at times because she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to post or what was so wrong with social media. As I explained my personal convictions it would be hard for her to accept. We finally came to a joint understanding that how we engage with social media should change based on WHY we were do it (e.g., posting, scrolling). We both admitted that there have been/are times where we just mindless get on social media or post. And that’s okay, if we are honest with ourselves and know what we are doing. But I’d much rather have a purpose behind why I get on or post because then I can limit my time and distractions. BEFORE getting on, for example, knowing I want to encourage better spending habits, or check in on what my family has been up to, etc.. Just like having a budget, if you know where you’ve planned for your money to go you won’t look back at the end of the month wondering where it all has went. In the same way, if our time is planned well, we won’t regret our social media use. But as we all know, nobody’s perfect…just like on diets or anything it’s good to build in buffers so that one you don’t quit and two you don’t get discouraged if things don’t got as planned. If you go on social media longer here or there be okay with that, just examine your trends and see how to improve your usage. But don’t get down on yourself. Adjust and make changes. It’ll take time!
Note: This was intended to be a short read. There are many other posts that go into similar things in more depth. If anything, use this as a springboard for you to read into things for yourself.
One of my life’s guiding principles is (mostly) everything is good in moderation. Social media isn’t inherently bad in and of itself. Our mindless, self-indulgent use of social media is what I personally think is bad. Take a moment and reflect inwardly; if you find yourself in a similar place (or worse) to what I describe above, consider taking a break from social media. Get back in touch with the reality around you. God created us as social beings, not just to be expressed “socially” online, but in groups and communities learning and loving each other through physical interaction. Take stock of your life, what are you aiming towards….what vision is directing your steps? Are you too distracted to even know where your going? Resolve today that you’ll make some changes and accomplish the purpose you were placed on this Earth to fulfill!
The final burning question….Am I going to use social media going forward? Certainly! It is a powerful platform to stay connected both personally and professionally. However, on top of everything I learned these seven months, the one main thing I am going to change is asking myself WHY before every post or interaction. Why am I getting on at this moment? Is it because I’m using social media to pacify something, could there be something better I could do? WHY am I posting this? Is it so I can get praise from others or look cool and important…or is there and educational/motivational reason? Etc.
If you read this and think that you may need a break from social media, join me, and take the #7MonthSocialMediaChallenge!