Updated: Aug 29, 2022
I pick up my phone, unlock it just by looking at it, swipe to the page with my apps, and click the folder named ‘Of’ (yes I have named all my app folders in unusual ways). I swipe left to the second page of the folder and wake up; there’s nothing there. This virtual space that I am in, which is now empty, used to be home to my Instagram app. However, for my social media fast I have intentionally relocated it, along with my Facebook and messenger apps.
In this split second of awakening, I realize it was a good move on my part (pun intended). Here I was doing exactly what I didn’t want to be doing; mindlessly and purposelessly attempting to scroll.
I know you’ve been there. You tell yourself that you’re going to take time away from your phone generally, or social media specifically. Then, before you know it, in a moment of mindlessness, you find yourself reaching for your phone or blankly scrolling. It seems in the developed world this sort of checked-out activity is the number one plight of humankind these days.
In an of themselves, overusing the phone or wasting time on social media have negative consequences. The thing is, these are not “in and of themselves” behaviors. What I mean by this is that they do not exist alone. These behaviors lead to other behaviors, which ignite emotions. These emotions lead to new and less than optimal behaviors and emotions (resentment, envy, self loathing, spying on others, ect.), the cycle is endless.
And here I am arriving at the point of this blog I am sharing with you today, social media fasting has been one of the best fasts of my life. From it I have learned many lessons, five of which I will share with you here, and the rest I will keep to myself in an honoring of my own delicate and sensitive private life.
For some backstory, if you have not been following along, Niko and I are in Croatia for three weeks and we chose this time to step away from over use of technology and completely fast from social media platforms. Save working with clients privately and connecting with my closest family and friends, I have put my phone and computer away in an act of ‘being’ more and ‘doing’ less.
The fast was supposed to last ten days. Niko signed back on at day 11 for work reasons. For me, I am less excited about the journey back to social media land and now on day 15 or so I am not foreseeing when I will log back in. I know I will, I have some important things coming up and I am going to promote them. But for now, as you will read in the lessons I am about to share, I am absolutely content with not sharing my daily life with the general public.
But first, the story of how I came to be less than happy with social media…
I used to love social media…until I didn’t.
It began some time ago, I was teaching a yoga class on Bonaire and a woman came in I had never met before. She greeted me using the nickname Niko used back then for me. I felt thrown off and quickly realized that she had learned this nickname from following me on Instagram. Observing my own negative experience with this encounter I reminded myself that this was the price of sharing my life publicly.
Now don’t get it wrong; I am no one. I have very little followers and I am by no means famous or approaching fame. Actually this is what struck me the most. Here I was as no one and this kind of thing happened! How must it feel to have this happen all of the time for people who were considered ‘someone’? I knew then that I didn’t want to find out.
As the years have passed and the content of social media has evolved from sharing your day to day life to marketing yourself as someone special, I have been keyed into the impact this has had on my emotional body. At one point I followed many famous yogis. This is something I stopped the moment I realized that not only was I not learning anything from them, I was feeling all the negative feels as a result of their posts; envy, jealousy, greed, shame, self loathing. At this point I began unfollowing anyone but regular people and this helped some.
But still social media wasn’t sitting well with me.
This is when I realized that I didn’t even know most of the people I was following. At that moment I decided not to follow strangers unless we were authentically connecting.
And yet still, I wasn’t loving the social media experience.
I began to tire of seeing pictures of myself. Can you imagine Niko and I have even fought over taking “good enough” images???? I was sick of the feelings social media was giving me, like I needed to somehow sell myself. I started realizing that people were thinking my life was a whole lot better than it actually was, because of course I only post the good stuff. This realization made me sad; I don’t want other people to feel the negative feels because of me, certainly not.
Eventually there came a point that I only went on social media to post and then got off. I never watched stories or read posts, I hardly even gave a heart to images I saw. I didn’t know then, but this hurt some of my friends’ feelings. They were watching my story and engaging with my posts and I wasn’t reciprocating. Feeling a guilt I began forcing myself to engage. Only with full intention though, and only with the people in my life (and on my feed) who did not feed into my own negative internal self experience. And even still, after all of this control and self awareness and intentionality, I just have not been able to get right with social media.
In fact, it has been a year or so now that I have considered whether or not I wanted to completely come off of social media for good. The narrative goes that for the work that I do it serves a purpose, but honestly, for the work that I do it is totally counter productive. And what if I told you that of the private clients I have, I have never gotten a single one from promoting my services on social media. How do I know, because I have never used social media to promote my private work.
So the question has become, is social media really necessary or not? And how can I use it in a way that doesn’t conflict with my other values?
I am still not sure of the answer to these questions. But I know in asking them that I am not alone. Many of my friends and family and the people that I work with report the same sorts of negative feelings I am sharing here. Beyond my lessons around social media fasting, what I wish for them, for you, and for me is to know is that this is not for no reason.
What dopamine has to do with it…
If my story resonates with you it is not because there is something wrong with us, it is because this is how the human brain is wired.
The reason social media grips us so hard is that it is directly impacting our dopamine system. To make a long story short, dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays an important role in motivation and anticipation of reward. Many external triggers result in the release of dopamine, and social media is one of them.
Social media creates an external cue for the internal release of dopamine in large doses. The overuse of social media creates an imbalance in the dopamine system and, rather than what most people believe, that use causes pleasure, this use is actually more responsible for pain.
DID YOU READ THAT? As a result of the trigger/release relationship between dopamine and social media, the use of social media doesn’t make us feel good. Actually, what happens when we use social media (or video games, pornography, Netflix, gambling, etc.) is that a low level, barely detectible pain is created that causes a person (you…me) to feel a drive for continued use so as to relieve themselves of this discomfort.
Don’t just believe my words, notice for yourself and see. The next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your IG or Twitter feed; stop. Close the app immediately and tune into your physical body. Depending upon how sensitive you are, you may or may not need to repeat this multiple times before you become of aware of what is going on. The minute you quit the app there is a drop in emotional affect. By this I mean that you feel just subtly worse than you did before.
When we fail to notice the subtle drop in our affect, what happens is that we fail to realize that the tools we are using are responsible for us feeling bad. We incorrectly blame our negative feelings from social media use on personality flaws or self control issues, rather than recognizing that this tool is designed to create the urge to keep using it in order to keep us out of pain.
As a side note, one of the things I find most interesting about dopamine is that it is also a vital neurotransmitter for movement. Who among us hasn’t wished to have more motivation or drive for activity and exercise? If you are currently feeling this way, as though you want to, for instance, work out more, but don’t seem to have the motivation, look at your use of social media (or video games, online streaming, etc.). If you are creating trigger/release dopamine relationships with these kinds of activities, then quite likely this is one big reason for your lack of motivation in movement. There is science behind the statement “put the phone down and go outside”.
The point here, as I finally get to my top five lessons learned from social media fasting, is that if you have mixed feelings about your involvement in social media use, you are not alone. Additionally, you are not to blame. While you can of course develop more self discipline and be more intentional (I mean who doesn’t need more of these things?), even this is only to a point. The tools you are using are specifically designed to impact your physiological system. You are not super woman (or man). You are human and what you do, how you do it, how you feel about doing it is not all within your control. We are involved with our environments, and they have a direct impact on us that is sometimes completely out of our control save for not using them at all. All of this said, you can always choose to fast from the things that you think may be causing you pain. Not because you need to deprive yourself of enjoyment, but because fasting offers space to see if what you think is enjoyable actually is or not. Fasting can help us get to the root of our pain. This is as true for food as it is for social media. Sugar tastes great, but when you go without it for a long enough time, and then eat an apple, you realize the overconsumption of sugar has been withholding you from the enjoyment of the most simple and divine aspects of the natural world. Read this paragraph again.
So without further ado (yes I get it this is a long blog), here are my top five lessons I am willing to share with you about my social media fast. Rather than wanting you to learn so much from these lessons, what I wish is that they serve as inspiration to check in with yourself about how social media is impacting you, and to ask yourself questions about what true enjoyment is and how you want to go about experiencing it.
My top five lessons from social media fasting…
Social media is a problem, but it is not THE problem…Many tools in our environment are designed in such a way that they impact the dopamine system and keep us in a loop of using, feeling bad, and using some more. During my fast I found myself (especially in the beginning) picking up my phone and clicking apps like ACORNS and COINBASE on a nearly compulsive level. It was obvious there was an absence from my lack of social media use, but I could easily fill that gap with other mindless time wasting if I wasn’t 100% mindful.
When I stop wasting time, I have a lot more extra time…I read more than many people I know, but when I am not on social media, I read even more. Add to this how much more present I feel during time with my daughter and other family members, and the amount of work and studying I do when I am less distracted, and I see that I should literally never use the excuse “but I just don’t have enough time”… for anything, ever. Time is not my issue.
My comparing, critiquing, critical mind is much more quiet. And my restful, in the moment mind is much more active…Do I need to say more? You get it. When I am not constantly confronted with the day to day lives of people I know and don’t know, I am thinking way less of how my life stacks up. It’s actually awesome.
I connect more specifically instead of generally…This one is really personal. If you know me, you get it. Why? Because I never call you and I hardly text you. I just am not a connector. I get lost in my own little world and am quite content there. Or am I? I don’t really know anymore. But being off social media I find myself texting (I still don’t call much) the people I love so much more often. And the pictures I take, for one I don’t need to edit or censure to share, I just send them on over to my loved ones and involve them in my life personally much more. To be honest, this lesson is perhaps what I have gotten most out of during my fast.
Nothing bad has come from it…It is not often that I cannot find the down side to something. As most of us are aware, the majority of things have up and down sides. As I have been fasting from social media, armed with this knowing, I have been paying close attention to what possible down side there is in regard to my absence from these platforms. I can honestly say there is none. In fact, more than ever I am keyed into the (what I believe to be false) narrative that Creators need social media in order to promote themselves. As I have already written way too much I won’t go into this more now. But if you want to talk about it, send me a mail and I am happy to discuss (firstname.lastname@example.org).
These are not the only lessons I have learned, as I have already written, the rest of the lessons I have learned are personal, but there is one final thing I will say publicly:
No matter what you may think about my life; that I travel, maybe you think that I am tan or in shape or something, maybe you wonder how can I live this kind of life that you see on social media and you cannot, whatever it is you may think about my life as portrayed on social media, please know that it is FAR FROM PERFECT.
Niko and I argue. We stress about money. We have struggles over parenting. I worry about eating too much or getting enough time for myself. I struggle with motivation and self discipline. I question my purpose and the work that I do in the world. I battle negative habits and tendencies and past memories and experiences. I worry about the future. I am by no means enlightened or perfect and my life is anything but. And so please remember this; it is normal to be flawed. No one is happy all of the time and no one has a perfect life, and definitely not me. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying. Of this I am sure. Social media is a one dimensional reality no matter how you look at it. Try not to ever forget that.
May this and all of the work that I do in the world benefit humanity in some way.
Until next time, live mindfully, be well.