I deleted instagram and facebook from my phone for 90 days — and survived

I had a serious addiction to my iphone. Every time there was a lull in my day, whether it be I was standing in a line, waiting for a plane, having a meal and the other person left the table, whenever I was left with nothing but me and my thoughts, I would pick up my phone and head straight to facebook and instagram. The worst part was, I rarely even realised what I was doing, such is the ingrained nature of habit.

6 months ago I left our home in Australia and began an around the world trip with my husband and two children and it started making me look up and take more notice of the world around me and what was so polarising was that everywhere I looked, there were people staring at their phones. And unfortunately, I realised I was one of them.

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So I started researching about social media addiction and measuring my phone usage and was shocked to learn that I checked my phone 124 times on an average day. I spent an average of 1 hour and 47 minutes a day on facebook and instagram. I told myself that it was necessary for work, and honestly, about half of it was. But the other half was a pure waste of precious time and brain space and I wanted to reclaim it back.

I won’t go into all of the research here about how damaging excessive social media use is for our brains and our physicality, a simple google search will show you (and maybe scare you) and tell you all you need to know by people way more qualified than I am. Using our phones all the time limits our memory capacity, thinking process and creativity because of the learned reliance on technology. We are actually getting more stupid by using our smart phones. What I will tell you is why I decided to go radical and delete the apps and what 90 days without it felt like.

At the beginning of November I went to London to go to a conference and visit friends and used the trip to try to be engaged with people individually and personally and not through my phone. You know when you try not to eat chocolate and everywhere you look you notice chocolate? Well, much the same with phone usage. All I could see everywhere I turned was people walking along the road looking at their phones, stopping to take selfies, messaging other people instead of talking to the person seated across from them. I did the recommended things to try and cut my usage, I moved the apps to the last screen on my iPhone so that I didn’t see them when I unlocked my phone, I turned on Grayscale so I no longer saw things in gorgeous colour, I had all notifications off and my phone on constant silence. But it wasn’t enough. I still reached for it. I still woke up and opened my phone in the morning, poured my coffee and picked up my phone again with the cycle repeated all day.

I like to think of myself as a super productive person. Actually, I pride myself on being a super productive person. I take time and the use of it extremely seriously as such a finite resource and so I was frustrated with myself that I seemed so weak minded when it came to my self regulation of it. Firstly, I’m not alone in this issue, and secondly, the devices we use and the apps that we install are wonderfully designed to give us all sorts of feel good chemicals that keep us coming back again and again to get that next little hit.

I go all in on things when I commit and so I whole heartedly decided to break my addiction with a 90 day digital detox. I told my husband and he laughed and suggested I perhaps try 3 hours before committing to 3 months, but I knew it had to be a big break if it was going to have any sort of lasting effect. I’m slightly ashamed to say that when I picked up my phone and crafted my last instagram and facebook post and then deleted the apps, turned my phone off and put it in my bag, my heart was beating way more than I wanted it to. I mean seriously, turning off social media for a few months shouldn’t be a big deal, but I was nervous. I went to bed and woke up the next morning, unlocked my phone and remembered there was nothing on there. I wanted to check it so badly. I wanted to see what the reaction was to my going off social media. Did anyone actually care? The notion of self importance that I would think people would actually need to know what I was up to on a daily basis through my posts is embarrassing, but that was my world.

The day after that I boarded a catamaran to sail the coast of Croatia with my family. The most “insta worthy” photos I could imagine! For the 72 hours after I switched off my phone, I thought about it every hour. Pathetic right? Then I found myself sitting on the front of the yacht, cuddled up to my husband, the kids playing in front of us, and one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen and I was sitting there enjoying the warmth on my face and soaking up the moment when I realised suddenly that I wasn’t taking a photo. There was no need to jump up and capture (thus ruining) the perfect moment we were having so I could post it on instagram, I could just be satisfied to be and savour the moment in present.

For the first month I didn’t use my phone at all other than calls and texts. I was still on facebook messenger to chat with people directly and would go onto the two facebook groups that I managed for work and comment on any posts and engage and then get off as quickly as possible. I set up an auto responder on my email so I only checked them every Tuesday and Friday and would address everything at that moment.

After that month I started feeling completely different, like a fog had cleared from my mind. I started having ideas flow so beautifully and had note books everywhere starting to be filled with random thoughts and ideas. With such a high consumption of messages through social media not only are we in a bubble that gets reinforced everyday by feeding us similar content that we’re guaranteed to enjoy and not be too challenged, but we’re also consuming so much content that it’s hard to hear our own voices so loud and clearly.

Wanting to go ahead being really conscious about my consumption, I deleted most of the apps from my phone and kept ones that I could read when I was waiting in an airport or wanting some downtime of an evening. I have HeadSpace, Harvard Business Review, Mashable, TechCrunch, Medium and Australian Money Magazine and have found a drastic difference in reading good news and varied news to open my mind up again. On facebook, everyone is given a platform and whether content is thought out or not, or even true, it’s given equal opportunity for our consumption. I’ve read 16 books in the last 3 months, learnt new things, had great experiences and laughed more with my family than I ever have.

I will be honest and say that on one hand it has been easier to do this experiment while I have been travelling and away from normal day to day work. But on the other hand, I’ve never had more content that I could post at by exploring 14 different countries while offline.

My business has not grown at all while I have been offline. Not one single bit. And there in lies the conundrum. With my experiment, I don’t think it’s possible at all to run a thriving online business and not actually be visible online. It’s a necessary medium to help us to connect to other people, provide value and to promote ourselves and our services. So, after 90 days of a beautiful digital detox, I am coming back into the online world. As I’m typing this article, I haven’t yet reinstalled my apps and I’m a little nervous to go back on. Will I be strong enough to resist the pull and not fall into the excessive checking again? Will I have any followers left on my accounts? Can I actually create content that’s worth consuming so if people read what I write it’s actually useful?

I have a strategy, of course, because what type of time productivity advocate would I be without one? I’ll be pretty conscious with my social media so that I am only sharing certain elements of my personal life to connect with people but still be able to intentionally hold so much of my life just for our family. When I post anything I’ll be asking myself the questions:

  • Is this helpful for my customer?

  • Is this in line with my brand?

  • Will this help people to feel good?

  • Why should anyone care?

As people who post on social media I think we have a responsibility to each other to create content worth consuming and not to waste one another’s time and brain space. I have set times of the day for engaging in social media and a time restriction for each session.

My recommendation? Step away from the phone. Install the apps Checky or Moment or if you have an iPhone you can use the Screentime function and measure your usage so that you’re aware of how you’re spending your time. Then, you can decide whether or not you’re happy with what you’re doing or if you want to incrementally lessen it. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re on social media. Are you mindlessly scrolling or are you reading things that are helpful for your life and well being? If something or someone makes you feel a way that you don’t want, unfollow them. Take control over your consumption and spend your time the way that you want. Hopefully you can do that without taking 90 days off completely, but if not, it’s been some of the best 90 days I’ve had and I’ve so loved being lost in the world with my family with no witnesses to our memories other than us.

We live in such a wonderful world filled with people and we crave connection. Not the online kind, the real life kind. Talk to people in line in the coffee shop, talk to people in the elevator. They may look at you really strangely but most people I’ve found are grateful and amused by a real life interaction and we’re not having anywhere near enough fun exchanges with the people in our periphery. So put down the phone, look up, find a human, and have a good old fashioned chat.

Originally posted on Medium

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