What I learned from my time offline
Having spent the four-day Easter weekend offline I’m back in the digital world (this post explains more). And I’m a little wiser for it. My online break wasn’t revolutionary in any way but I did learn a thing or two about myself and my use of social media and the internet.
To make it easier for me to not be tempted to log on I switched off my computer (not something I do very often), turned off all my email notifications, collected my social media apps into a folder and moved it to the last page of apps on my phone. Out of sight, out of mind.
As I expected I didn’t experience any great pangs of separation anxiety or FOMO at not being able to check what was happening in my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. I did wonder what my friends on Instagram were up to, how they were enjoying their weekends, but that was more curiosity about people I care about than a feeling of being left out. And I knew that when I was back online I would be able to pull up their feeds on my phone and see what fun they’d been having.
What I discovered that I found most interesting was the decrease in mental chatter, something I hadn’t really been aware of. The layer of internal chat that ran through my head daily – what and when am I going to post, would that make a good pic to post, what’s everyone up to, I wonder if anyone has liked or commented on my posts – was removed by the knowledge that I wouldn’t be on social media for several days. Without needing to factor in posting I had no call to think about it, and this created more brain space. The result being that I felt a little calmer and more relaxed than before.
I noticed the times when I might pick up my phone to have a quick flick through my social media apps, just for a look rather than for a specific purpose, as I no longer had this option. Instead of instantly trying to find something else to do in that moment I just let it be, pausing to look out the window or daydream. I didn’t have a tremendous realisation, no lightning bolt struck, I simply allowed that space in my mind and my day to be there, without filling it.
Google makes it easy
Being unable to check things or research online was more challenging than being without social media. The internet is my go to place for any question I want answered, for research, and for information so I either asked the hubbie to find out for me, made a note to check when I was back online or otherwise realised that I wasn’t that desperate to know the answer after all. It’s so tempting to quickly nip online to check something that I think it made me more reliant on it than I realised. It’s so easy to log on for one reason and some time later emerge from the rabbit hole and wonder how you got to where you are from the site you started at. By not being able to Google instantly I had to be patient, more resourceful and more thoughtful of whether I really needed the information I thought I did.
Mindfulness and intention are key
What I really learned from this time offline is that mindfulness and intention are key to keeping a balanced relationship with our social media and internet use. Taking a break of a day or more to be offline calms the mental chatter which gives us more brain space. This can then help you feel more calm and less scattered or stressed.
But even more important is being mindful on a daily basis of how we’re using the internet, how often we’re checking social media, how much brain space we give it when we’re occupied elsewhere. Taking ourselves off automatic pilot where we reach for the phone to scroll through Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, with no specific intention, is crucial for keeping a healthy approach to and relationship with the online world.
The internet isn’t a bad thing, it just is. I’m a pretty big fan of it as it enables me to run this business, for you to read this post and for me to connect with so many interesting, inspiring and downright lovely people through social media. So much of life and work is conducted online that we need to find ways to manage our use of it in a way that’s sustainable, healthy and is suitable for each one of us. What works for me might not be right for you, what’s important is that you use the internet and social media in a way that enriches your life, not detracts from it.
Putting it into practice
Since logging back into the online world I’ve kept my email notifications switched off on my phone and my social media apps are staying in their little folder, just so I have to make more effort (and therefore be more aware) every time I check in with them. At weekends I plan to spend less time looking at a screen than I do during the week and be mindful of how much brain space I’m giving over to thinking about being online.
I’d love to know how you feel about your relationship with the online world and what you do, if anything, to be more aware of how often you scroll through your favourite social media. Tell me what you think in the comments below or on one of my social media posts.
PS If you’re wondering what I got up to in those four #EnjoyTimeOffline days I spent several hours reading, a considerable amount of time in the garden planting flowers and sowing veggie seeds, crocheted another row on my granny stripe blanket, we had a day at the seaside in the sunshine, enjoyed a delicious pub lunch on Easter Sunday and I took a couple of naps too. All in it was a very lovely weekend.