Awareness is half the battle.
I’m not a betting man, but I would be willing to wager real money (bitcoin) that you spend more time on social media than you think you do.
These programs are designed to be addictive. You’ve probably heard all this before and think you’re already aware, but that’s the shitty part about addiction- the addict is always unaware. When people say they know they need to cut back, they drink too much, they probably have a number or frequency in their head that represents what they think is too much. In my experience, when people say that, they are usually grossly underestimating just HOW BAD the problem is.
In the AA world, they call it denial. But that sounds like intentional dishonesty. I don’t think it is. I think the real problem is lack of awareness. The alcoholic literally DOESN’T KNOW HOW MUCH THEY ARE DRINKING or how it’s affecting them and the people closest to them.
And so I’m guessing, it’s the same with most of you and your social media and/or TV consumption.
The irony of me sharing this on social media is not lost on me. But it’s not actually ironic. I just knew I’d find you here.
I would be happy to ditch Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram completely. But, I’m publishing a book soon, and these days to build a brand or to offer any value with widespread distribution, one has to go where the people are, and here you are.
So here I am.
And that’s where your friends and family are. So there’s the rub: How to stay engaged with people you care about but not get sucked into the addiction? When I was off of Facebook for 100 days straight last year I lost contact with quite a few family members and friends. Some of whom still seem pissed at me to this day for not keeping up on what’s going on in their lives. Seems they forgot about actual conversations being an option.
The secret to having control over your attention is to build awareness in your activities. One way to build awareness is to build some self directed guidelines around these activities. There is freedom that comes from self governance. I like that better than self discipline. Discipline sounds like you’re in trouble. But I’m not talking about punishment or rewards. Just awareness. Awareness gives you the information you need to make the decisions you want to make. If you’re deciding to get on social media on a whim, with no awareness, you’re making decisions unconsciously, and likely at the mercy of marketing experts. That’s why from the outside looking in, it looks like dishonesty- denial. But internally, you don’t feel dishonest, you’re simply not aware of your own actions.
Willpower sucks. It’s a scarce resource. You may be able to exercise self discipline and improve it over time, but it will always require effort, energy, and you can only exert so much energy before you’re drained. Awareness doesn’t have to require any effort at all. Practice, yes. But awareness feeds you. Exercising self discipline can drain you, practicing awareness fuels you.
So how do we build awareness without having to exercise willpower?
You just need to be brought back. Social media apps are designed to distract you, to pull you out of a state of awareness. They are the anti-meditation practice. They literally train you to be distracted. Short of having me follow you around all day and ring a bell every time you get distracted, there doesn’t seem like there’s much you can do without just pulling the plug completely. But we won’t leave social media or television. They are too important to us.
Well, there may be some solutions. Here’s what I’m trying…
Move direct communication off from Social Media apps.
Social media can be a handy tool to easily find and contact people. But unfortunately, any time I use Instagram to message Tali, I can’t seem to keep myself from giving the feed a scroll through -oh and I see a few stories to check out too…what was I doing again? Tali is taking a 30-Day social media break, so it’s been a good opportunity for us to cut the cord on messaging apps that are connected to social media.
Facebook messenger (so far) is an exception because you can use it independently from Facebook. The security of that app is pretty gross. Everything you say through your private conversations is monitored and fed into advertising algorithms to target you with certain ads. And recent history shows; that info is easily handed over to government agencies as well. You may not have anything to hide, but man…being monitored like that feels icky. We still use it because, again- it’s where we can find most people.
We use Marco Polo for video chatting walkie-talkie style. Direct, convenient, and I much prefer being able to see the person I’m talking to. Plus, it keeps an archive of your video chats which can be fun to look back on, or review for important information.
Slack has been good for professional direct communication and private chat groups. It has great organizational features that group texting lacks. You can organize conversation threads by topic and keep group messages on task by selecting out certain people for getting just the info they need.
For my more security-minded friends, I use the Signal app, which has end-to-end encrypted messaging. It works like a texting app and you can make calls through it, but with a much higher level of privacy. This is my highest recommendation for text and calls.
There are plenty of options for convenient messaging tools out there. Just make sure you are only using ones that are independently accessible apart from social media platforms. It’s hard to resist the drink if you’re hanging out in bars.
Go Forward With Intention.
Take a few minutes. Think about, and write out the things you want to get from your social media experiences. Maybe you want to follow educational or inspirational people, connect with your inner circle of family and friends, or watch cat videos on a Friday evening.
No need to feel morally obligated about what you want to use social media for. If you want to zone out and mindlessly scroll through your feed, or get riled up in political debates, that’s your call. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but I think you should be honest with yourself and others about what you really want to do with it. Once you know what you really want from social media, you can begin to build awareness around what you’re actually wanting to get from it in contrast to what you’re really experiencing with it.
Pencil It In.
Outline a schedule of when you would get the most out of your SM experience. Schedule your TV time just like you would going to the movies instead of flicking it on by habit. Perhaps an hour after dinner is what you want to devote to any screen time. Or maybe your lunch break is your time to unwind into the Instagram rabbit-hole. Scheduling specific screen time brings awareness to it.
Setup governors in your life.
THIS IS HUGE: Tali and I recently downloaded an app called Stay Focussed. It monitors all of your phone screen time. You can see reports broken down into timelines or total daily statistics showing you how much time you’ve spent on each app. But that’s only the beginning. You can set up rules to restrict the use of any app on your phone. For instance, Monday mornings I can’t access any social media or email from my phone. It’s locked until 4pm every Monday. I can still listen to podcasts or music, check the time, anything I want to use it for is available, but I’ve set rules that prevent me from accessing any of the distracting temptations of the phone. If I forget and attempt to open Instagram during these times, it immediately closes and a message to myself pops up and says, “Checking Instagram doesn’t publish books”. I’m publishing my first of several books soon. That’s way more important to me than seeing the latest fail video.
You can set up similar governors for your television. Installing Plugin timers on wall outlets is very cheap and easy. These can be programmed for specific hours on specific days so you can only use the appliance during your own pre-set times. This can be a simple reminder to avoid impulsive Netflix binging or mindlessly flicking on the TV just because you have a plate of food in your lap. Some TV’s have sleep timers but you’d have to set it each time you turn it on, which is an unlikely habit. With the plugin timer, you can set it up once and you’re done until you need to make changes to the weekly schedule.
Are You Smarter Than A Smartphone?
I’m determined to make technology my bitch, not the other way around. I know so many people who act like they are at the mercy of their phone. They feel obligated to answer every call, every text, and check every notification as soon as it comes in (these days, that’s a constant flood throughout the day). Airplane mode is a simple fix. Or, you can use the Stay Focussed app to lock down your phone completely while doing other tasks. I like Airplane mode for walks because I can still take photos and listen to downloaded music or podcasts, but I can’t be interrupted or check social media. Same for recording my Vlogcast episodes. If I’m reading, writing, working on something, Training at the gym…I don’t need my phone. Airplane mode to the rescue! If your phone makes you feel like you’re on a leash- cut the cord. Set aside times where you can turn off the phone, or turn on Airplane mode. It’s your choice. Don’t forget.
Unpopular bonus tip: Cancel your cell service. I haven’t had a cellphone bill for over two years. That’s at the very least $2,000 that I’ve saved as a result. I use WIFI to make and receive texts and calls. I download maps before I leave the house if I need GPS on my motorcycle- same for music and podcasts. This doesn’t work for my wife because she enjoys talking to her close friends and family while driving, so we do have her single phone line. But I don’t miss my cell phone company at all.
You’d be surprised how much you can do with your smartphone even without the expense of having a cell phone bill. I use an app called Talkatone to make calls and text over WIFI. They issue you a phone number for free. Calls and texts are free. I think you can pay extra to remove banner ads or make international calls with credits, but I’ve been using it for two years without spending a dime.
I get push back on this one. Parents say they need their family plan for their kids. Perhaps. But I remember as a kid in the 80’s, my parents never answered my texts. Oh…wait…we didn’t have cell phones. Somehow I survived. I think we would set specific places and times to meet in advance. And we stuck with trusted friends and parents. I don’t want this post to turn into a moral lecture. But before you give yourself all the reasons why you NEED a cellphone. Try a fun thought experiment: List all the things you think you need from a cell service provider, then come up with a solution that could take its place. You can play this game and still keep your phone company. But you might be surprised to find out how useless this expensive service really is.
Take just this one thing.
I realize that last tip may be extreme for some of you. The primary point here is to build awareness around your electronics use. Social media and television are literally designed to distract you from your real life. I challenge you to go right now, get the Stay Focussed app, and set up even a single rule for yourself. Begin to build intention and awareness around your habits and you’ll be able to have control over them. Continue to live in distraction, and you are a prisoner to others who capture your attention like a chain slave.