I recently went on a short vacation. While I was away, it was a good time to reflect on my use of technology. Aside from obvious things, like finding restaurants or checking our flight status, I often found myself reaching for my phone or tablet to fill down time.
But, since I was outside of my usual routine, being away made it easier to be reminded that we get to choose how we interact with our devices and what content and media we consume. So, while I was disappointed about how often I reached for my phone or tablet, I realized I have come a long way in the past year with respect to content.
About a year ago, I did what you might call a digital detox by stepping away from screens for 2 weeks (aside from work). The process was illuminating, and I highly recommend disconnecting from technology for a period of time, but, this post is about the kind of detox that came afterwards – gradually – that may be more important.
What am I talking about?
I think every person should take a step back to look critically at the actual content you consume and remove anything that doesn’t serve you.
Have you ever spent time online, whether on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or certain sites or magazines, and afterwards you feel bad about yourself?
When I first joined Instagram, I started following a blogger who posted great recipes. She was also very fit. My initial thought was “this is great inspiration for staying active”. And, in many ways, she was a good role model. She lifted heavy things and ate real, whole, nutritious food. She emphasized feeling good inside and treating your body well. All good, right? Well, not really for me, because when I started paying attention to how I felt after seeing her posts, I actually started to feel bad about myself. I would compare myself to her and start having negative thoughts:
“I’ll never look like her”
“How come she can do it but I can’t?”
I’m sure I could fill pages with the automatic – and destructive – thoughts that would run through my head while viewing images that should be inspirational but in fact have the opposite impact. And once I paid attention, it became obvious that there were many accounts that left me feeling lesser than. So I started unfollowing them.
At first it felt weird, and I started to question whether I was over-reacting or being ridiculous, but it made my experience online much more healthy and positive. I noticed a difference right away.
Then I turned to magazines.
I have a subscription to Texture, the app that gives you access to over 100 magazines. I started paying attention to what magazines I was reading and how they made me feel. It was quickly apparent that a lot of them have the same negative impact. They left me feeling bad, comparing myself, and in many cases, wanting more.
Even the less obvious magazines had the same impact, like home organization. Sure, they don’t have celebrities and models on every page, but they showcase the perfect home with everything in its place. And it would make me feel just as bad. I would look up at my bare walls, the piles of books on the floor, and the boxes that haven’t been unpacked in two years, and I felt ashamed. But wait, the magazine says, the solution is right here! Buy this product and you will be completely organized and have your life together.
The formula works: make the consumer of this media feel bad then offer the solution.
Except it’s almost never a solution.
So, just like social media accounts, I started to unfollow magazines as well.
At first I felt uncomfortable and wondered if I was being irrational, but it was one of the best things I have done for myself over the past year.
Perform a Digital Detox
Assess the Impact
Pay attention when you consume media. Is there content or certain people that leave you feeling bad or ashamed? Are there inspirational accounts that make you feel worse about yourself? Do you feel the pull to consume or buy things that you would never have thought about otherwise?
Test Removing Content
You don’t have to do anything dramatic or rash. Try unfollowing or take a break for a while and then see how you feel. It’s not permanent. Think of it like an experiment and really pay attention to what happens. Try to let go of guilt if it’s an individual you like or respect. Unfollowing a person does not mean you like or respect him or her any less. It just means you won’t see their content.
What else leaves you feeling bad?
Maybe you have friends online who travel the globe and you feel envy when you see their stories. You don’t have to have their content show up in your social media feed in order to maintain a relationship.
Perhaps there is a tv show that has a similar effect. Stop watching for a few weeks and see what happens.
If it Doesn’t Serve You, Why Keep it Around?
There are so many positive and worthwhile things that can fill up your days.
- In-person interaction
- Calling a family member or friend
- Creating something
- Learning something new
- Giving back in your community
- Walking outdoors
These are examples of things that nourish and restore you. They build you up.
Focus on making more time for these kinds of things and it pushes out the things that don’t serve you.
Removing toxic content is an easy, low-risk experiment that can have significant benefits. It’s a small step that can lead to transformative mindset changes.