I recently watched a video by Matt D’Avella about quitting social media (see below), which brought me to question my own relationship with this everyday technology. In particular, my relationship with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. After observing my daily behaviour, I noticed a pattern emerge and realised that this relationship is rather problematic. It’s time to do something about it. So I’m deleting these apps from my phone, removing the remaining temptations from my browser and initiating a 30-day social media detox. Here’s why.
There’s something to be said for social media and its ability to show us the results of the labour of others. While oftentimes this can leave us in a negative comparative state, other times it can inspire positive change in our own lives. Seeing this video and the effects the detox had for Matt inspired me to give it a try to see how it impacts my wellbeing.
While a social media detox can be beneficial to everyone, thorough reflection showed me that I desperately need this. My behaviour towards these apps has become increasingly problematic and started to have a negative impact on my mental health. Checking social media has essentially become a bad habit and possibly an addiction.
I’ve caught myself a few times mindlessly scrolling through social media, or hopping from app to app in search of some sort of satisfaction knowing only that I’d recognise it when I see it. When I don’t find it on Instagram, I check Twitter, Facebook or more recently TikTok. Killing time, in the abyss that is my iPhone. But why would I want to do that? Time is a precious commodity that we have a limited amount of, and it’s the last thing we should be wasting.
Countless times have I checked social media while waiting for a slow webpage to load or in anticipation of a meeting. While preparing my dinner or on the toilet. Let’s be honest, I’m not alone here. This means that these apps are robbing me of the small moments of quiet I have throughout the day and the thoughts that come with them. Ironically, the best way to sum this up is with a Tweet from Shower Thoughts:
The shower is the only place I don’t use technology, which is probably why I am able to think so clearly.
— Shower Thoughts (@TheWeirdWorld) May 20, 2020
I frequently find myself checking a WhatsApp message only to realise a few minutes later that I’m a few posts into my Instagram feed, not knowing how I got there or what prompted me to open the app in the first place. This is the biggest sign of a bad habit, which I’ll go into more detail further down.
When I do find myself without my phone, like when it’s charging in another room or I purposefully distance myself from it, I start experiencing a sense of anxiety. Like there’s an extension of myself that’s missing. The inability to compulsively check my feeds acts as a stressor, aggravating this uneasy feeling further. The fact that I jump at the sound of a notification is testament to this.
The worst of all is that I’ve been here before. Not with my phone, but with another addiction – cigarettes.
Stopping smoking was the best decision I’ve made in my life so far and wouldn’t be possible without the help of the book Allan Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking. Instead of promoting nicotine substitutes, the book advocates a mindful approach to relinquishing your addiction. When I was addicted to nicotine and still smoking a pack a day, the reason I was able to achieve this awful milestone, was habit. Everyone says it right? It’s a bad habit.
But what is a habit really? A habit is “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Habits can be good or bad, the latter generally accompanied by some negative side effects like mentioned above. Essentially, habits are the tasks our brain complete on autopilot, like checking your Twitter feed while waiting for the kettle to boil or having a quick smoke before a meeting. They work like this:
MIT researchers identified a neurological loop that exists at the core of every habit which consists of cue, routine and reward.
The cue is what triggers the behaviour in the first place. My personal cue has always been wait time. Waiting for a bus in the morning or for a tv show to start in the evenings used to be filled by a cigarette but has subsequently been replaced by a scroll through social media.
This is the behaviour itself. The default we fall into when experiencing the above-mentioned cue, like checking social media or smoking. It’s the easiest aspect of the loop to identify so if there are any habits you want to change, start here.
This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the why to the routine. It’s the dopamine we get from social media and the nicotine hit from cigarettes. It’s what reinforces this loop and keeps us trapped in it.
And the companies who created these apps know this. They profit off our attention, so they had to ensure they got as much of it as possible. Some studies liken the neurological effects of social media to that of slot machines and cocaine.
Only by recognising these patterns in behaviour, can you start to replace these vices with new, healthy routines. This is what I hope to achieve in the next month. I’m quite excited for this little experiment. I can’t wait to see which habits I pick up to fill the time or where my thoughts take me in my short moments of stillness.
You may be asking: If social media is such a bad habit, why don’t I delete it forever?
Unlike smoking, with its serious health implications and absolutely no benefits, social media still has a lot to offer, providing we use it correctly. It gives us the opportunity to connect with friends and family, it brings us closer to our role models, and it gives us the opportunity to learn something new. The problem comes when it takes over our lives and we lose control over how we interact with it.
So Im taking back control of my time and my thoughts.
I’ll write a follow up in a month’s time and share what I’ve learned.
Would you give up social media for a month? Let us know in the comments!
-Inspired by Matt D’Avella-