What I learnt from going cold turkey with social media

social media app icons in coloured circles

A friend of mine came off social for a couple of weeks last autumn and it piqued my interest, so when Christmas was on the horizon, and with the topic for my newsletter being addiction, I figured, when better to go cold turkey on my social media addiction and see what happens.

I’ve been on social media for over 7 years now, including plenty of times when it’s been my primary place for social interaction, and with that interaction seemingly more important than chatting to my husband, or kids…

I’d started to notice, in the weeks leading up to this, that every spare moment involved going straight to my phone, going through each app in turn, checking for notifications and messages, looking at a few posts, liking, commenting. Fine. Except then, I noticed that I would then sometimes start going round the loop again — rechecking the very apps I’d only just been in!

This was when I decided it was time for a break.

So 23rd December I switched them all off

I logged out so access was difficult enough that I wouldn’t go back in. But not before a stuttering start.

I put a Merry Christmas post out on all my profiles to let people know I was taking this break and I’d scheduled it for 7am UK. So the first stutter was, ‘oh, that was early in the day to say I’d stop when I’m still working till lunchtime…maybe I’ll just leave them on till lunch and then I’ll be able to reply’. Some people had already put up nice comments of Christmas wishes so it seemed rude to leave them unresponded to…

Then lunchtime came and stutter #2 ‘oh, but America’s only just waking up, what if some of my lovely US contacts reply and I don’t see their messages’…No Helen, just do it!

So I did it. Logged out and… urgh. A contraction of tension. A tangible sense of being disconnected, and alone, like an island in a vast ocean with no other visible signs of life in sight. I didn’t expect this.

Realisation #1 — social has become a proxy for a feeling of connection. When we drop behind ideas of connection with others, we realise a deep sense of connection already within us. One which — unlike these people out there — doesn’t waver, doesn’t let us down, doesn’t go anywhere. I really saw how I’d been using social as an easy fix to feel connection. But these fixes we use out here are never the same as the real deal. It’s like having MacDonald’s instead of Michelin starred.

Next I sent a WhatsApp — ha ha ha!! Yes hilarious!! In my switching off of everything, I’d decided that WhatsApp didn’t count because it was just like text messages and not like social media at all, and my family groups are on there. Oh the justifying of the mind that will make it look OK to ‘just have this one’.

And in some ways it isn’t the same, as I quickly realised when I found myself looking again and again to see if anyone new had messaged. Nope…nope…maybe stop checking it…

On Boxing Day I realised that the time spent checking social had been replaced by checking the news (I never check the news normally!), the weather (I really never check the weather!), emails (my inbox got cleared down, even of those ones that were longer to read / watch), and I was reading more.

Of course reading is a very socially acceptable activity but there was an element of it that was purely like a nicotine patch on the arm, something else for attention to go out towards. So…experiment time — I’d heard someone wise recently suggesting sitting for 30 minutes and doing nothing. Nada. Zero. Not even meditating which really just gives the mind something else to do.

On 28th December I sat for 30 minutes in my favourite chair that looks out onto the garden. Now, I wasn’t entirely doing nothing of course because I was looking at plants and birds. I set a timer and put my phone on silent so I wouldn’t have to check it for how long I’d been sitting there.

To start with I noticed the draw to pick my phone up but quite quickly settled into just sitting — and really enjoying it! I also noticed this crazy pattern of going in and out of the moment. I’d be sitting engrossed in the moment of the garden and then my thoughts would take me along a track, often to do with work, ideas coming up, things I could do, people to contact in the new year… and then I’d come out of that thought-filled state and back to the garden. I’ve never noticed so profoundly how, in the absorption of our mental activity, the world disappears from experience. It was really like the garden had gone in those moments, and I was in some other world of what was running through my mind.

Realisation #2 — how often do I, do all of us, disappear off on a little track of our own, lost in our own minds, entirely unaware of what’s happening ‘out there’. How much do we miss — and then later blame another for not telling us?

31st December — and I broke!!

I felt inspired to write an article for the new year, and posted it across my channels — via my scheduling tool so I didn’t need to actually log in to the apps. Top marks! But then, ‘oh, what if people comment or want to ask something? It feels irresponsible to put it out there and not be there to reply.’

It’s that pattern again, like on the 23rd. This idea of being rude or irresponsible — it seems to be a thing of mine, that I think I need to be responsible! And yes, there are more damaging things we can attach to, but ultimately all attachments limit the flow of life — including if they’re (currently) socially acceptable.

Innately baked into the idea of responsible comes the fear of irresponsible. There is no freedom when we think we have to be one side of a thought-coin.

Realisation #3 — was that whole thing a set-up by the mind…the idea for the blog post. Was it all a ploy to get me back on social, knowing that it could draw me back in with its ideas of being responsible…? Having read Untethered Soul over the holidays and the idea Michael shares about the strength of the habitual thought-patterns to draw us back into their familiar spiral…entirely possible that it was all perfectly designed to create this experience and bring to the surface this “be responsible” pattern again.

I use the word ‘ploy of the mind’ when really it’s a very smart design of the system that goes way beyond our little minds. It keeps showing us these same movies over and over again until we get it. Until we wake up, realise it’s a movie, and love it for what it is. Then we might choose a different screen, or even leave the cinema altogether. Who knows! But now we’re free.

Although there was no big ‘ah ha’ moment with realisation #3, I’ve since noticed a lightness in interactions with others that previously came with an idea of ‘be thoughtful, say the right thing so you don’t upset them, be the responsible one’. So maybe…maybe…the thought-patterns of this particular movie reel are unravelling…maybe freedom is re-emerging!

And so I logged back out again for my final 6 days off…erm, which became 4 because everyone seemed to be back on the 4th so, well, be rude not to!! Ha ha!! Maybe there’s some residual patterning going on 😉

And since then?

Realisation #4 — it’s really nice to not look at a screen all the time! I’ve noticed how my old habit was to look at my phone while brushing my teeth, half looking while getting dressed, looking while the kettle boiled…a myriad of moments!! And since the experiment, I just don’t want to. It’s really nice to just stand, quietly, and wait for the 2 minutes for the kettle.

The less we send our attention out there, the more it naturally returns to it’s resting place in here — and that’s the most nourishing place of all.

What habits could you experiment with? What could you disrupt? Then just watch, notice and realisations will come.

With love, Helen

I work with people who want a quieter mind and a more fulfilling life. They’re smart, passionate people who are curious about there being a better way. They’ve worked hard to get to here and yet something’s still missing: ‘is this it?’. In our work we explore and reconnect you to innate brilliance so you rediscover the real happiness, real security and real balance that you are. Find out more here.

And of course if you want to follow me on social, I’m on them all, just less often!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed