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My digital diet: How I created more time and regained control of my brain

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My digital diet

The average person spends 16 minutes on Facebook every time they login.

The Yellow Social Media Report 2018 states:

Multiplying average time spent by average usage occasions indicates that the typical user is spending almost 10 hours a week on Facebook.

10 hours a week!

Do that for an entire year? That’s 520 hours (nearly 22 days) of your life.

Now stop and ask yourself this question:

Is this time well spent?

Probably not.

As a new years resolution, I decided that I wanted to spend less time on social media and my phone. 

I went on a digital diet.

giving my brain a break

Instead of shedding kilograms of fat, I started shedding hours of wasted time online.

Now you may laugh and say, “Ha! New years resolutions don’t work. No one ever sticks to them!”

But I’m here to tell you that I didn’t fall off the bandwagon on day 3 of the new year.

It’s been 3 months and I’m still going strong with my digital diet.

But it required a little prep work to be able to stick to this. 

So here’s what I did, step-by-step, to reclaim the precious hours of my life and scale back my time on social media:

Step 1. I took a crash course

When someone sets out to lose weight, it’s a good idea to learn about what foods to eat (and avoid) and exercises to do.

So before going on my digital diet, I set out to learn all about technology and my brain. I created my own crash course/curriculum to do this.

Over several months, I read a number of books and articles and watched documentaries that explored what smartphones and social media are doing to our brains.

Crash course on tech and the brain

Here is a list of some of the resources I accessed:

• Can I have your attention? by Curt Steinhorst
• The power of off by Nancy Colier
• How to break up with your phone by Catherin Price
• Why social media is ruining your life by Katherine Omerod
• Celling your Soul (Documentary)
• Hamlet’s blackberry by William Powers
• iDisorder by Larry Rosen
• The distraction addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

These resources gave me knowledge. And that knowledge gave me incredible power.

You see, having an awareness of the strategies app developers use to hook us in built my psychological resistance. I knew what I was up against. I was now armed with strategies to better manage these addictive technologies.

Step 2. I tracked my time

Time audit

For several days, I tracked every single thing I did and for how long I engaged in the task. Every time I checked my phone or social media, I wrote it down. 

I also started to notice how I felt before and after going on social media. To my surprise, I often felt flat or anxious after spending time on Facebook.

Did tracking my time and emotions feel like a chore? Yes! Absolutely.

However, the data I gathered gave me a good dose of reality.

A few things became clear to me, which I’d previously been in denial about:

• I was spending too much time on social media
• I was messing with my emotions and energy levels by going on there
• I was easily distracted, especially when I was doing challenging work
• I was mindlessly using my devices like an addict
• Yes, I was an addict!

Those harsh realisations propelled me to take the next few steps.

Step 3. I went on a digital detox

On my bush digital detox

Over the Christmas break, I stayed in a shack out in the bush for a few days.

I had no phone reception in this location. I also left my laptop at home.

Basically, without planning to do so, I experienced a digital detox.

The first day was a bit hard going. I experienced some withdrawal symptoms. I felt slightly anxious and irritable. The urge to check social media and my email was there but I couldn’t. So I just noticed the thoughts and feelings come and go.

The good news is it didn’t take long for my brain to recalibrate.

I started to feel calmer and more in control. Slowly but surely, I felt like I was reclaiming my brainpower and regaining my focus.

Step 4. I setup an Internet Blocker App

Freedom app

When I arrived home from my digital detox, I contemplated deleting my Facebook account. I sat down and drafted a final post saying goodbye to my Facebook friends (“See you in the real world folks!”). But I never posted it.

Ultimately I decided to keep my Facebook account. Why? Because it’s a useful tool. I use it regularly for my business, to organise community events and to communicate with people.

I remembered the words of philosopher Henry David Thoreau:

Men have become the tool of their tools.

I figured I just had to get better at using my digital tools (i.e. email and Facebook). Intellectually, I knew what I needed to do. Now I just needed to implement these strategies.

So I setup an Internet Blocker app called Freedom. I configured the settings so I would be locked out of social media for the majority of the day.

This one off, one time action (i.e. setting up the blocker app) turned out to be a game changer. I no longer had to decide whether to go on Facebook or not. The app was doing the hard work for me.

Step 5. I cleaned up my social media account

Too good to be true

Have you noticed that everyone has perfect, amazing lives on Facebook and Instagram?

It’s easy to forget that people generally only share the best bits of their lives on social media. It’s all a big show. Everyone is constantly in performance mode!

Why is this a problem?

One thing I had learnt back at Step 1 (the crash course/education stage) is that it’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a highly curated Facebook or Instagram world slightly dangerous.

So I did several things to protect my psyche:

1) I unfollowed some people;
2) I deleted some people; and
3) I started following inspiring experts (e.g. world leading neurologists, comedians and artists).

Step 6. I created a toolkit of strategies I could easily access

tech speed bumps

In her fantastic book How to break up with your phone Catherine Price talks about the need to install speed bumps when going on a digital diet.

Speed bumps are small obstacles that force you to slow down and think carefully before going on your phone.

So here are a few speed bumps I installed:

Speed bump #1: WWW

This is a simple acronym to get you thinking about three questions before checking your phone.

W: What for? What are you picking up your phone to do?
W: Why now? Why do you have to do it now? Can it not wait?
W: What else? What else could you do right now besides check your phone?

Speed bump #2

Another strategy I employed was asking myself this simple question:

How am I going to feel after going on here [social media]?

Based on experience, I knew the answer was likely to be one of the following:

• “Anxious”
• “Depressed”
• “Flat!”
• “Meh”

Step 7. I showed FOMO the door

FOMO show it the door

Instead of worrying about what I could be missing out on online, I reframed my thinking.

I contemplated what I was missing out on in real world.

If I spend my precious life energy on social media, what am I going to be missing out on in real life? What awesome new skills and projects can I work on if I don’t go online?

I brainstormed a list of screen-time alternatives:

• Learn a new language
• Learn to cook plant-based meals like a pro
• Take my fitness and health to the next level
• Write a book
• Create artwork 
• Write a comedy show
• Create new talks and online courses
• Participate in online courses
• Get through my growing stack of library books

The benefits

By spending less time online this year, I’ve been able to do the following:

• I created a new product (the Procrastination Emergency Kit)
• I’m mastering the art of plant-based cooking
• I created a new mind map on strategies for plant-powered living
• I am learning a new language (Italian)
• I’m exercising more

But not only that, I feel much, much better about myself. Why?

• I’m not constantly making upward comparisons
• I’m no longer multi-tasking (switching from my work to Facebook)
• I’m able to focus for a sustained period of time

To sum up

Going on a digital diet has been life changing for me. I’ve reclaimed my mental environment. I’m in control of technology rather than technology being in control of me.

Like someone who starts eating lots of vegetables and exercising after being sedentary and eating junk food for years, I feel fantastic. So even though they say most diets don’t work, the digital diet is one diet that I will be sticking to!

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5 thoughts on “My digital diet: How I created more time and regained control of my brain

    1. Hey Cam,

      Thanks for your kind words. My laptop died recently and I had several days without my Internet blocker app. I started checking social media more than usual and I noticed the impact this had on my mood and ability to focus (it wasn’t good!).

      Anyway, my blocker app has been reinstalled on my new laptop and I’m back on the focus bandwagon 🙂

      Dr Jane Genovese

  1. Ahhhh! I feel like my brain has been hijacked by social media. It is so addictive! I find it hard to focus …

    I will try some of these strategies. Wish me luck!

    1. The strategies are worth trying, for sure! I noticed a huge difference in my wellbeing and productivity as a result of following those steps.

      Good luck! And just remember, keep at it!
      If you fall off the bandwagon, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on!

      Dr Jane Genovese

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