Learning to Be: 7 Days of Insight from a Digital Detox

Digital Detox Can Change Your Life

In the past, I have talked about the need for gratitude in a world with a negative focus. The mental picture I have for trying to stay thankful and positive some days is this: You are canoeing on a river. The world around you may be beautiful, but you can't enjoy it because there are little holes in the canoe. You could choose to plug the holes and appreciate the beauty of being out on the water, but often you spend your time panicking about sinking or just bailing water from the boat.

Tackling negativity requires a shift in perspective; instead of focusing on the water flooding in, it is helpful to look for the cause and make structural changes to our lives.  In my life, negativity often enters digitally, through social media, mindless distractions, and an endless stream of depressing news; therefore, I have decided to plug those holes and enjoy the river. For one week, I eliminated all media-related activities that detract from being present. This included Netflix and YouTube, television, movies, smartphone games, all forms of social media, news websites, all forms of click-bait, and mindless rabbit-trail style websites that can distract me for hours. I also turned off notifications on my phone to remove any home-screen temptation. My goal was that, by subtracting these distractions, I could assess how much space media takes up in my life and confront the stressors that I use technology to escape.

As a 21st century North American, a certain amount of leeway was necessary. I still needed my computer and phone for work but limited internet usage to 2 email checks a day, work-related tasks, and music. I replaced all other media with books, music, and movies at the theatre (if needed). Since connecting with people is important, and not something I consider a distraction, I allowed texting and messenger apps. 

Day 1

I lived with a lot of music. Historically, Netflix has been my constant companion during hours of repetitive tasks in the studio and, as I found myself constantly twitching for my computer, I realized how dependent I am on background noise.

I was reminded to eat mindfully. Since taking time to enjoy and savor food increases pleasure and helps prevent overeating, removing distractions allowed me to notice how cursory my mealtimes had become.

I rediscovered reading as creative fuel. Social media helps us compare ourselves to others— the opposition to creativity. As I read books related to my field, I enjoyed easy inspiration and excitement about my work as a visual artist.

 Day 2

 I realized how automatic my interactions with social media are. I started checking my notifications in the morning before my brain was fully awake. I also noticed my mind concocting "status updates" throughout the day.

I enjoyed the simplicity of a life that is full of things I like. In the void left by all that digital filler, I had to be intentional with what I did with each day.

I noticed hunger and allowed it to dictate my mealtime schedule rather than the habit of eating at certain times.  

I found room for downtime. I realized how much better my day is when I spend an hour or two reading, meditating, and praying.

 Day 3 

I noticed how long a day really is. With little left to do but productive things, it’s easy to get it all done.

I found more clarity in my yoga practice. The lack of distractions made focusing on my intention easy during asana and meditation.

I optimized my bedtime ritual. Without screen time, I slept better and noticed my stress levels were reduced.

 Day 4

I found more room for empathy. With lower stress and less on my plate, I had more patience and emotional space to bear with people in my life who are struggling.

I discovered positive loneliness. Social media allows us to feel connected with each other while keeping us isolated; without it, there is time to crave real interaction.

 Day 5

I was reminded that nothing motivates like boredom.  

I embraced relaxation. At the end of an incredibly productive week, I rewarded myself with a long soak.

Day 6

I enjoyed meaningful connection with others. To cap off the week, I invited friends over for wine, food, and games. It felt truly refreshing to spend time with people in the absence of social media.

I paid more attention to others when my phone was not a distraction.

I was able to identify stressors in my life, acknowledge them, and move on without prolonged worry or anxiety.

Day 7

I felt more connected with my partner. In a week with less filler, there was plenty of time to spend enjoying each other's company.

I had time to plan ahead. I looked forward to reintroducing media in a controlled way. I came up with the following guidelines for myself that could also be useful for anyone looking to set some boundaries regarding their digital intake. 

  1. Leave most media use for weekends.
  2. Post on social media platforms once a week.
  3. Enjoy phone-free moments, dedicated to rest and stillness. No screens before bed.
  4. Set times each day for checking email and social media. Leave phone notifications off.
  5. Fill the extra time with good habits: working out, quiet times, and nourishing meals.
  6. Remember that social media is truly anti-social. Connect with real people.

With limited media usage, I finished 2 books, had amazing gains in my art practice, fostered healthier habits, felt more positive, experienced lower stress, and saw benefits in my yoga practice as I became calmer and more focused. The greatest realization was that by simply turning down the volume, I was tapping into a fuller life. It turns out that when we decide to look up from our task of eternally sinking, when we banish the inward flow of negativity that threatens to overwhelm, the view can be breathtaking.

"There is a direct relationship between self-nurturing and our capacity for a sustained creative flow. […] This means we must treat ourselves as finely tuned mechanisms. We must learn what makes us thrive and give ourselves a diet of those nutrients." —Julia Cameron