When did you first really start using social media? For me, it was back when Myspace began.
(That was 2003, by the way.)
So for nearly two decades I’ve been publishing my thoughts online and connecting with others over everything from politics and astrology to punk music and creativity.
I use social media to promote my business, stay in touch with family, and make new friends. So what happened when I ditched it for three weeks?
Three weeks may not seem like that long a time, but for someone who’s been deeply connected to the web for about 50% of their life, it felt … significant.
Despite the greatness of social media, it seemed there was a spanner in the works: me.
As a trained copywriter, someone versed in academic research, trained professionally in the fires of customer profiling and consumer focus groups, I’m used to gathering data. Gathering opinions. Gathering it all, and listening carefully so that I can create something from it.
One of my greatest strengths is also that I am an empath; it’s what helps me be a good mentor, tutor and writer.
Combined, these things mean I’m emotionally and cognitively trained to look for, listen and consider other people’s opinions. And social media is full of opinions.
Maybe you have a similar challenge, if you’re a sensitive person or spent a long time being trained (willingly or otherwise) to consider other people’s thoughts. It’s tough, right? There’s a lot of voices and it’s noisy!
It came to a head when, scrolling Instagram one day, a post caught my eye.
The caption ground my gears. Someone was complaining (extensively) about a situation in their life which they then admitted they had caused. The ‘oh how difficult it must be’ comments were nauseating and only pissed me off further.
It was so minor and yet I sat there, slowly stewing in irritation at this person’s story. I couldn’t stop reading nor could I stop feeling utterly annoyed.
Hearing my muttering, my partner leans over and asks:
It was as if someone had tapped me on the head with a brick. Because that’s all it was: a stimulus, and I was responding.
There was nothing of benefit there, no true connection, no education, inspiration or entertainment. Just an example of classical conditioning: a bell rang, and I started salivating.
And while it had been on my mind to take a social media break for a while, in that moment I knew I had to take a break – because I had to find out what the fuck was going on.
I chose three weeks because it felt comfortable; two weeks would be like a holiday where you only get into it on the second Wednesday, and a month was overkill.
I deleted Instagram and LinkedIn apps from my phone, logged out of Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook on my browsers, and deleted Messenger.
I continued to use Pinterest, mainly because it’s less of a ‘social network’ and more of a magazine-style app.
On my final day before the break I let people know I’d be off. And that was that.
In the first 24 hours of the break, when I ‘couldn’t’ use social media, I suddenly began to notice exactly when it was I reached for my phone.
I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear it was when I was bored. That was it. Not seeking education or inspiration or value but just bloody bored.
As soon as you notice a habit, it becomes significantly easier for you to begin to manage it. After all, how can you make choices about something you’re not aware of?
I recognised that my brain had worn in a pathway, one leading from the problem of “I am bored” to the solution of “look on social media.”
Now I knew about the pathway, I could start to redirect my brain. I began to read (a lot more). I went for walks. I painted more and cleaned the house (!).
Essentially, when I wasn’t using social media to curb my boredom, I did two types of thing:
- Things I normally avoid doing, at pain of death (cleaning).
- Things I love doing but take time, effort and have slow pay off (reading, painting, walking).
(This is important for my business too. You’ll see why later).
I thought I’d cracked it. But then, something happened.
I got sucked back in.
I thought I’d logged out of all social media sites on all my browsers. But as I was researching a blogger for my teaching, clicking on her Instagram link to look at her stats, I realised (too late) that I hadn’t logged out of all of them.
As soon as I landed on Instagram, an alarming banner of red popped up in the bottom corner. Hearts and speech bubbles clamoured for my attention. Someone had tagged me in a photo, someone else had followed me, and there was just enough information in those notifications to get me interested, but not enough to tell me what the hell was going on.
So I caved, and I checked my notifications. And then I felt so low.
Because I didn’t want to be at the whims of a little heart shape or a bell icon or a ping or a buzz. I didn’t want to feel compelled to look at those updates. I didn’t want it!
That’s when I realised what this break was really about.
Pushing something away does the job, but it doesn’t bring you any joy. It’s only when you draw yourself towards something that you start to reap the true benefits.
So that’s what I decided to do. I decided to draw myself towards something instead of simply pushing away all the stuff I didn’t like.
I had already made a list of ‘Reasons I Want to Spend Time Away From Social Media’. But now I also made a list of ‘Reasons I Want to Spend Time By Myself, For Myself‘.
The list included:
- To hear my inner soul voice loud and clear
- To reset myself to a place where I want to be, not think I ‘should’ be
- To imagine, create, dream and inspire myself
- To focus, define, refine and specify my aims and dreams
This list gave me new purpose and strength. Instead of spending time finding ways to fill the gap that social media scrolling had left, I used my time more consciously and intentionally.
I sat down with my business and thought, I mean really thought, about what I wanted. Because my business and work is more than simply a business. It’s a way of living. It’s much, much bigger than I’ve ever recognised, and my path is to now start putting that into practice.
I went back to basics and thought about what I want from life, from community, from friendships and inspiration.
It’s easy in our work or social life to ‘worry’ at things: fiddle and pick and over-think everything. Why do we do that?
We meddle with the little stuff for one simple reason: it’s easier than tackling the big stuff.
Just like my attempt to change the boredom-social media pathway in my brain led me to activities that I love but have a slow payoff, this new list led me to tackle those big, deep subjects at the heart of my life and work which normally I would skirt round … because they’re hard. What do I want? What do I do? Who is this for? What am I trying to achieve? Big stuff, right?
And this was crucial.
Because despite taking a social media break to avoid ‘opinion overwhelm’, I spent more time during my social media break reading email newsletters, researching interesting subjects online and watching informative YouTube videos than I have done in the last few months. Seriously.
More importantly, I acted on this information. I set out what I wanted to achieve, I found what I needed, and I put it into practice – from a new household budgeting method to running through the SOSTAC planning system.
See, I thought my empathy and professional training meant social media overwhelmed me; that there were too many opinions and too much information. But that’s not the true story.
Other people’s opinions are only overwhelming when you do not know who you are or what you’re aiming for. It’s impossible to seek, select and use information effectively if you don’t know what your goal is – it’s like trying to book a holiday when you don’t know where you want to go.
Social media communities can bring so much joy, education, inspiration and wonder to our lives, but only if we are completely clear about who we are and what we’re aiming for.
There are so many ways in which you can get to know who you are and what your goal is. Reflective journalling has worked for me, as has therapy and going to a coach. What this social media break gave me was the opportunity to reset and remember that voice coming straight from my soul, but which hadn’t been loud enough to drown out the clangs and whistles of Instagram notifications.
And now that voice sounds like a big brass band. 🎺
Hello! I’m Eleanor and I’m on a mission to spread creativity throughout the world. You might like to sign up for my weekly email updates or browse my blog for more ideas on living your most creative life possible.