A while ago I noticed that my anxiety levels felt through the roof for no particular reason. My neck and shoulders were in a constant state of stiff or sore. I felt foggy brained and tight in the chest. Several times a day, I had to consciously tell myself to soften my jaw or remove my shoulders from my ears.
I would sit down innocently enough to check something on Twitter or Facebook and lose an hour without realizing how or why. My motivation began to deplete. I wasn’t getting anything of value done and still managed to feel like I’d run a marathon at the end of the day.
The worst thing about it? I was stressed! The endless cycle of fights, insults, news (almost always bad), and finger pointing was wearing me down. I was unwittingly absorbing all the negative energy on my screen. And for what?
I realized that my digital world was controlling me. I needed a detox.
When Screen Time Makes Your Life Worse
I realized that I was filling my day with things that were not serving me. I am a podcast junkie. I think podcasts are the greatest things since sliced bread and there are so many smart, creative people providing incredible content.
But what was I spending all my time listening to?
I needed to do an honest digital inventory to try to get at what I was doing to hold myself back.
As it turns out subscribing to (and mostly keeping up with) fifteen different political podcasts is not good for one’s mental health. It also serves very little purpose for someone who does not work in politics or live in their home country where they could actually volunteer or get involved in things they care about.
I was well-informed, but I was also outraged 70% of my day.
Do I want to work in politics? No, and even if I did, I can’t because I don’t live in the United States right now. Do I want to write about politics? Again, no.
So why am I devoting so much of my life to listening to others pontificate on the issues of the day while simultaneously getting myself worked up? It didn’t make sense.
Twitter At Your Own Risk
In addition to political podcasts, I liked to hop on Twitter where I followed all the journalists and political pundits. I knew everything that was going on. Thaaaaat’s not a good thing.
I could (and have) spent hours a day just watching the news, dramas, protests, and rallies unfold in real time. I caught myself getting swallowed by the vortex and delete Twitter from my phone, only to add it back a couple of days later.
To an outside observer, I probably looked like someone who was simply “on their phone” too much. In my mind, however, I was engaged in serious issues, formulating my own (super important!) opinions, arguing with morons, and actually living an entire experience. It wasn’t useful.
Taking a Digital Inventory
I needed to clean house and reconfigure my digital library and habits. I sat down with myself and answered a few questions:
- What are my goals?
- What do I want to do professionally?
- What is going to add the most value to my life right now?
I was supposed to focus on starting a consistent fitness routine and devoting large chunks of time to writing, but I wasn’t following through.
How much of my media consumption and use was geared towards any of those things? Maybe 10%. Not only did I need a digital detox, but an entire digital makeover.
A Digital Detox in 4 Easy Steps
Here are four things I did to get myself on a better track.
Step 1: Update Podcast Subscriptions
I eliminated all but two political podcasts from my library. This was way more difficult than I thought it would be because there are so many good ones.
Any podcasts I did not consistently listen to were also deleted. After a little bit of Googling and vetting, I replaced these shows with podcasts that were directly aligned with my goals and would help me improve either personally or professionally.
The difference between driving for an hour while political pundits shout about the state of the country and driving for an hour while listening to someone tell a motivating story with actionable tips was night and day.
Step 2: If You Can’t Beat It, Delete It
I was mindlessly scrolling through my personal Twitter account several times a day and finding myself caught in a negative feedback loop.
It was hard to not believe the world was a horrible place every single day after spending more than fifteen minutes on my Twitter feed. I knew this, and yet I would still check. ALL. THE. TIME.
It had to go.
I check my professional Twitter account from my computer, but don’t follow any political stuff on there and thus have a tremendously different relationship with that account.
In terms of my personal account, I don’t check it as often (or my professional one for that matter) and every time I do, I’m closer to deleting it altogether. There are too many awful things about the site to outweigh any possible benefit.
Step 3: Peruse With Purpose
I don’t get on my computer unless there is a good reason. Nowadays, I’m online either to take a class, write, or do marketing for my blog. That’s it. The bulk of my Facebook use is responding to pictures I post of my kid and engaging with our amazing Facebook community.
No more mindless scrolling. No more aimlessly researching for hours in lieu of actually doing things. Yes, there are 10,000 healthy breakfast recipes on Pinterest that I would love to add to my wonderfully curated Healthy Breakfast Board, but I can’t be doing that for hours on end.
I have a one-year-old daughter who needs my attention. More importantly, she’s watching me. She’s seeing my relationship with technology and mimicking it. I need to do better for her so I try to be mindful about catching myself doing mindless scrolling, particularly in her presence.
Step 4: Take A Course
There are plenty of online course offerings available to help fill any gaps in knowledge you may have. This is one way the internet is actually incredibly useful and a good way to refocus your energy. Imagine if you took all the time you spend fighting with idiots on Twitter and converted it to learning a new skill?
I have a Master’s in Communications – from 2006. A LOT has changed since then. To address this, I’ve signed up for a variety of courses on Udemy. Slowly, but surely, I’m catching up.
I looked at my goals and made a note of all the skills I need to be successful. I’ve blocked out at least ten hours in my week to learning. If you don’t want to (or can’t) pay for coursework from sites like Udemy or The Great Courses, find a free one like this one for Excel that I will be starting soon.
The point is to change the way you view the internet. Convert it from a cesspool to the useful tool it was intended to be.
Moving Ahead With Better Digital Habits
And that’s it!
Shifting my mindset and reorganizing my life around my goals has made a tremendous impact on my day-to-day. I feel more productive – like I’m actually using my time in a purpose-driven way.
I’m not cringe-reading political Twitter for hours on end and subjecting my brain to the daily disaster porn of cable news. I stay informed of the major events of the day, and then I keep it moving. I have to.
We learn early on to be mindful of what we put in our bodies. It is equally important to pay attention to what we feed our minds.
Look at how much time you spend on the internet fighting with strangers. How much time do you waste scrolling Instagram to see who is living her best life or comparing yourself to others? How many hours have you lost to celebrity gossip or cat memes?
I firmly believe we can all do a little better and it starts by turning off the autopilot feature our brains currently run on when it comes to our phone and social media use.