Last Saturday marked the final day of my 30-day social media cleanse. Both clients and friends have expressed curiosity around my experience, so I thought I'd share publicly. This article is lengthy compared to most; it feels that important. Advanced apologies to those of you who have to rally in order to read something longer than a status update. If that sounds like you, all the more reason to READ ON. ;)
The impetus to unplug (from Facebook in particular) had been building for awhile. Interaction with my newsfeed had become increasingly similar to my relationship with lattes and red wine. Totally a treat in small doses, still damn good in moderation, and pretty much toxic once dependency became the norm. Scrolling had become a chronic escape - laced with the subtle and superficial anxiety that characterizes any addiction. I decided it was high time to see what would happen if I were to quit cold-turkey.
30 Days without Facebook :: Here's what I learned >>>
The first solid day of my social media fast, I noticed an unfamiliar spaciousness in my schedule. This surprised me, as I didn't think I logged that much time on the book of faces. But as it turns out... I. so. did. It was my go-to distraction more often than I cared to admit and as it turns out, it was taking up quite a bit of mental and emotional bandwidth.
I'd check Facebook first thing in the morning, scroll my newsfeed while having a cup of hot tea. Less than an hour later I'd be back at it, tracking post engagement via my iPhone just before heading in to teach a class. After my morning workout - still dripping wet with sweat and endorphins - I'd responding with Pavlovian-like obedience to message notifications and red alerts demanding my attention. On and on it went each and every day... five minutes here, ten minutes there... mindless scrolling... precious minutes devoured by an insatiable newsfeed. Results are now in: It added up to hours at the end of each day. And as a business owner I had convinced myself that all of this was necessary. Within 2-3 days I realized with emphatic certainty that it wasn't; I'd been under a spell.
#1 ~ THE URGENCY of social media is a LIE (& I'm calling its bluff!).
This first realization was the most immediate and palpable - a reminder of something I learned in my first business course over a decade ago: what's urgent is rarely what's important. Business or not, the incessant accessibility of social media is misleading to our senses. We set up notifications as a convenience, but in reality they result in energy wasted. Not to mention, we become so reactive to external digital cues that it keeps us from being responsive to what it is we value in any given moment.
I had attuned myself to a digital fixation... a little red circle inviting me to pop-on, peruse, post, process, and re-present my virtual self to the world. And as soon as I was no longer chronically main-lining a perpetual content drip... once I abruptly quit... I felt the familiar relief and terror on the other side of any addiction. A vast expanse of unknown; the spaciousness of countless possibilities unattended to. What was "urgent" could no longer derail me from all that was important. Suddenly all that mattered was what mattered to me, now. And oh shit... what WAS that? [Cue: usual reach for phone as distraction from the answer; with Facebook disabled, my phone echoed with silence]. Suddenly I had no choice but to consciously attune myself to more internal cues.
What would a sudden surplus of time and space amount to? The most immediate results weren't what I expected. I didn't work on my book or catch up on emails. I hardly touched my laptop for nearly a week, and my phone battery lasted three solid days instead of one. I nested and enjoyed the sensation of un-invaded mental space. My home transformed into a sanctuary as I used my free time to pour attention into my three-dimensional reality. There was greater stillness within my mind. I felt more content, stress-free and at peace in my heart.
And though I wasn't trying to be productive (like, at ALL) I watched my to-do list dwindle before my eyes - primarily due to the fact that I wasn't perpetually adding to it. No longer did I have a dozen open tabs in my browser weighing me down with must-see articles, videos and limited time offers. I didn't keep up with him or her, decide on this or that, or chronically compare myself to every other woman/writer/coach/agent of inspiration within a million mile radius. I wasn't adding to my to-do list at all... I was free to source my priorities from within once I stopped concerning myself with others. Which led me to an even greater realization.
#2 ~ POPULARITY isn't productive (at least for me it sure in the hell isn't!).
Must. create. online. presence. Must. gain. more. likes. Look!, says the ad box... so-and-so has x-many likes and followers. How many do YOU have? Social proof has become the new currency and divorcing the digital onslaught suddenly freed me from a self-imposed pressure to prove myself via online metrics. I won't pretend that this is true for everyone but in MY line of work, popularity doesn't pay the bills or align me with those whom I most want to serve. Resonance. Trust. Loyalty. Word of mouth. Those who genuinely want what I bring... they respond and spread the word organically. That's how lasting relationships with loyal readers and clients have developed over the years; and it hasn't really changed much, even in the new age of social media.
Clients gained through product launches, social networking campaigns and/or Yelp! had rarely stuck around. I had been "buying" into the idea that online marketing and visibility was key... but the truth is, it had never translated into dollars and/or the quality of engagement that delivers meaningful results. I was gaining more "likes" and "engagement" but how is that productive when: 1) it doesn't create meaningful or lasting connections and 2) it continually keeps me from doing what I am designed to do. And even if heightened visibility via social media will somehow lead to long-term payoffs, it certainly doesn't feel worth the current full-time investment it's requiring. Not even close.
Upon logging off, my productivity did go way up... but with an unexpected twist. By sequestering myself from the incessant pressure of the online rat race, my priorities shifted pretty considerably. For a month now I've been doing what I feel genuinely called to do versus circumnavigating the maddening insistence of what so much outside influence would have me attend to. I'm being more deliberate in my choosing of who and what I want to spend my attention, time, and energy on. Which led me directly to another realization:
Too much social media makes me anti-social. Generally speaking, my empathic sensitivities can lead me to be somewhat resistant to social engagement. And sometimes I even use "introversion" as an excuse to justify what is something else altogether - emotional avoidance. Well as it turns out, Facebook had been giving me another convenient excuse to do just that - hold friendships and relationships at an arms length. About a week into my fast I noticed a largely-foreign desire surfacing in me. I yearned to see people in the flesh... to reach out for real-time connection. I called friends. I set up tea dates. I enthusiastically dropped in for eye contact and deep sighs of appreciation. Leading me to the most obvious of ah-hahs.
#3 ~ CONNECTION will never replace intimacy (yet it was certainly keeping me from it!).
Without a doubt social media offers us connection. When it comes to maintaining associations from a distance, I am a big fan of technology and its virtues. Real-time photos of far off family members, snapshots of other worlds, global exposure of social causes, and courageous ones who inspire me from afar... all of these are invaluable connections that I missed during my hiatus. Things I'll continue to enjoy moving forward. Having said that:
I'd saturated myself in connection and used it to bypass deeper levels of intimacy. I'd been trading-in the rich vulnerability of one-on-one for the safe distance of virtual engagement. As we all know, intimacy delivers riches that digital connection could never afford us. To be intimate is to offer the gift of full presence and raw truth without diluted distraction, filters, or (and this is of utmost importance) the need for collective validation. True intimacy requires a level of confidence, courage and authenticity that online networking will never be able to replicate.
All things considered in my own cost-benefit analysis of social media, Facebook is starting to become a cluttered wasteland of diminishing returns. And yet so many of us (me included) consider it utterly indispensable. When I shared with friends and colleagues that I was going social media free for thirty days, I heard the same thing again and again" "Wow, that sounds fabulous! I wish that I could do that. But I HAVE to be on Facebook. Ya know... for business." This I get; I've uttered those words verbatim. Yet now I'm starting to question this entrepreneurial assumption, particularly as the landscape of social media shifts. Times they are a-changin, and Facebook is no longer the grassroots marketing forum that it used to be.
#4 ~ VISIBILITY isn't guaranteed (unless you wanna pay for it via engagement or dollars).
Social media has changed dramatically in the past five to ten years. It's reached a critical mass of dependency, leading to more advertisers and algorithm-directed content. More algorithms = less customization, resulting in a force-fed experience. For example, on my newsfeed (even my on Close Friends feed, supposedly customizable) I longer see an equitable sample of posts from people I've selected. I see posts seemingly at random or via avid junkies. Friends that post inconsistently aren't even visible much of the time, no matter how I tweak my settings or how far down I scroll. On my main newsfeed, space previously devoted to people of my choosing is now reserved for ads... featured posts from colleagues willing to pay for visibility.
It is rapid progression toward an engagement-reward model where "being seen" on Facebook is reserved for like/share-happy addicts, corporate entities with marketing teams, and/or pay-per-click advertisers. It's an at-your-fingers digital slot machine that feeds on attention. Constant engagement is king. Therefore, for those of us who want a life outside of a newsfeed, Facebook's relevance is rapidly diminishing. We are slowly and incrementally being cast into the shadows while simultaneously being robbed of choice; and when choice is compromised a tool rapidly begins to lose potency. We no longer power it. It powers us.
And yet having said ALL that, I'm not done with Facebook. Not yet anyway. Its benefits still weigh in heavily; and there are many things that I missed while I was away. People and opportunities that made me fall in love with social media in the first place... I'm not ready to give those up. My intention here is to share with you how exactly I will be more conscious moving forward. Engaging less and investing more in a life outside of the cries of hungry news feed.
If you can relate to any of the above, I invite you to JOIN ME. Question the fallacies that drive social media addiction: a false sense of urgency, fixation on metric validation, trading connection for intimacy, and unconsciously giving your attention-as-currency to what is rapidly becoming a digital money machine.
Social media doesn't have to be a fixating time-suck... it can be softer, more fluid and playful... and in support of everyday living in real life. Scrolling is a choice, not a necessity.
When you feel a digital reflex kick in, here are 3 very simple steps at your disposal:
1. Move cursor, top right.
2. Drop down menu selection: "Log Off"
3. Scroll the newsfeed within that bold & beautiful heart of yours...
& share in real time.
It's Day 11 of my 30-day cleanse, and I'm noticing how many people associate the term "cleansing" with fasting and/or extreme dieting. I'm getting a lot of wide-eyed wonder that may be a bit misplaced. There are oh-so-many ways to clear the body of toxins and countless detox plans out there... many of which require pretty hard core deprivation. It's a little crazy-making for many people to consider weaving a cleanse into their daily lives. So how have I been doing it? By educating myself and carving out a unique plan that works for me.
Admittedly, having a live-in partner in crime (& cleansing) does make the process easier. Thus far we've abstained from all carbs, grains, soy, gluten, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, and most sugars (disclaimer: we're allowing a bit of honey and raw cacao here and there - rebels that we are). We're still eating loads of veggies, many fruits, fish and lean meats. Next week we will kick things into hyperdrive a little, letting go of meats and doing a short stint of raw juicing... but only as long as our bodies respond willingly. Starvation isn't on our agenda. The final phase will add in the final elements: purging and clearing of physical space + a much-needed digital detox.
Now that I've passed through the homicidal hrrummph! of withdrawal... things are really humming along and I'm reminded again why I do this. CLARITY. No, not in some holier-than-thou kind of sense... but literal clarity. My mind is sharpening and opening up to new possibilities. My emotions are leveling out; way less irritation, way more joy. And my physical energy is buzz-buzz-buzzing at a natural high from the time I wake up until my head hits the pillow at night.
No more dramatic crashes or cravings throughout the day. Way less knee-jerk responses to the heart-hunger that gnaws from within. Just the space to ground and be me, without the perpetual interruption of chronic imbalance and need.
And yes, of course my body is changing too... a thick layer of chronic inflammation is dissipating, making me look and feel lighter. Add to that, my systems are already functioning more optimally; I'll spare you the gory details there!
Why am I telling you all this?
This post isn't only a shameless share of self-celebration (which I encourage us all to do from time to time!)... it's also a reminder and call to action for any of you out there who've been wanting to cleanse or clear - literally or metaphorically - but aren't sure you can do it. May this post be a reminder that in ANY arena of your life you'll be much more likely to take the leap and reach your goal if you take authority and personally author the steps along the way.
Be open to the knowledge of the experts; heed the cautionary wisdom of the experienced. Yet if outside perspective has you in a holding pattern, you might need to give them both the finger and chart your own course.
Just some clutter-free food for thought.
Today's a shit storm of emotion for me... my keep-your-shit-together dam is bursting at the seams. I'm on day two of a detox and for those of you who've never been through one, take it from me... it's not for the faint of heart. MY idea of a cleanse does not involve starving; only abstinence from substances that provide solace outside the realm of nutrition.
And so... all of the ugly I've been masking, all the feelings I've been stuffing, every deeper craving I've disowned in the past year is coming up like a surging fountain spilling at my feet. It's pooling there, creating a mirror for me to look into.
Let's just say I'm not really loving everything I see.
So why do it?...
This choice (what some might consider self-denial) is becoming my annual spiritual departure from just that... the daily denial of self. Without my habitual addictions there's nowhere to turn from the honest-to-god truth inside. No sweets to sooth an ancient anxiety. No caffeine to conquer my raging resistance. No grains to soak up the beautiful ugly messes I've made.
Just me, no longer running from self.
Seeing it all for what it is.
It's deeply uncomfortable.
And it's profoundly worth it.
Over the course of the next month, I know from experience that I will continue waking up to myself in ways that I have been avoiding. However uncomfortable it might be, burning through these early days of discomfort will do more than clear my body of toxins, it will clear the same from my heart and mind.
I get my courage from sharing with you.
So thanks for listening.
P.S. Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be in advocacy of cleansing as a right of passage, per se. It's in support of *whatever it is* you brave in favor of the truth.