It’s a balmy Summer evening, you’ve got a homemade cocktail in hand in a cute cup, your loved one or family member (or housemate) by your side and the sun is this glowy golden pink colour. You’re on your balcony or in the garden, it is lockdown after all. Without even thinking you reach for your phone, take a story snap for Instagram and put a song over the top. You maybe even do a boomerang or selfie. You then take another photo, and post to Twitter. Maybe a Snapchat or a TikTok, too.
After finishing doing so, you scroll though Twitter and check the top trending topics. A WhatsApp message pops up from your friend so you check that, reply, and then think “ok I should live in the moment now.’ But then the curiosity grabs you in a conversation lull, and you grab your phone again and mindlessly scroll. Before you know it it’s dusky, cold, you haven’t spoken to your loved one, family member or housemate in a good twenty minutes, so you decide to go indoors. Where you scroll your phone some more.
Listen, I get it. I’ve been there. The reason I can describe that so accurately is because I know exactly how it looks, how it feels, and how hard it is to quit. You’re tired of wasting all your time on your phone, but you also struggle to turn it off. You could never quit social media entirely, but you know you need to re-evaluate how you use it. I’ve been here many times, but in the last year and a half I’ve learned some tactics that I’ve got infinitely better at consuming. It sounds like a silly victory to celebrate going through an entire dinner meal without checking your phone once – but it’s hard to get out of the habit of. I’m completely changing my relationship with social media every day as the months go on, and I know you can (if you want to), too.
It’s really hard to quit social media entirely. What we currently know as our entire existence is based on it. Even if you managed to find the strength to do so, you’d be met with not only excessive questioning of “what? You’re not on Instagram like, at all? How?” Whenever you went out, but also be passive to thrown around comments like “oh no I read it on Twitter” or “i only know this because I saw it on Instagram” or be forced to watch the latest TikTok. It’s too deeply engrained in society now that unless you live off-grid, or have an entirely offline job, you’d struggle to delete it forever. The bigger issue to tackle is to take head on attack onto an addiction. Because it is probably the biggest addiction of our generation.
You realised somewhere along the line that while you were on the train, while you were waiting in line for a coffee, while you had two minutes on a toilet break at work – that you could alleviate boredom by checking your phone. So you got addicted to it. It became far too easy to keep the brain busy with endless social media and consuming of content in those mere minutes of spare time, than to live in the moment you are in.
So how do we grow from this? How did I change my outlook on social media – even as someone who’s job relies on it? Part of the change for me came from travelling in Canada. We had no internet, at all. The only Internet we had (it was a Trek America trip, by the way) was on a dongle, that we could access as a group for maybe an hour every couple of days. We also could access wifi in local cafes and McDonalds when we were near one – which we weren’t always. This meant going days with no internet, and in a foreign country to boot. So how did I work around it?
Well I pre-warned my loved ones and friends that I had no internet. Meaning whenever I turned my phone on, I had less messages to reply to. Having only mere minutes on the internet each time meant I had to choose how to use it. For me this meant putting my business emails, my husband and my family first. Usually, no time to just scroll Instagram or twitter.
When I got back I implemented this ideology into my day to day life. I set those who I really wanted to see new content from on notifications on Instagram so I could see their content specifically without scrolling, and I spent overall less time refreshing Twitter, but instead used the search bar to look at the topics I wanted to see and retweet. The area I personally struggle with the most, is before bed. I can now manage my day to day output much better – thus in turn boosting my productivity, but I often lie in bed scrolling before I fall asleep. Now look, this wont work for everyone, but for me the most effective way to stop this is to watch a brand new tv programme or movie I’ve never seen before. Something that grabs my attention. George and I also have a rule that in the evening if we are watching a show or movie together, we put our phones down and watch in the moment together.
But what about travelling? The temptation to want to share everything when travelling is often even greater than at home. This includes festivals and concerts and well.. anything of substance that you want to share. Well, I’ve been an influencer for ten years – and one of the most effective things I’ve learnt is how to ‘batch shoot’ or get stuff done quicker. So when I’m at a concert, I might spend the first ten minutes ‘batch shooting’ some photos of me, the venue, the band.. so I’ve got the content and then I can spend the rest of the hour and a bit with my phone in my pocket watching it. I do this for pretty much everything – especially when travelling. When George and I were in the Maldives and we were desperate to relax but also to share everything because it was just so insanely beautiful, I often took an hour of the day to shoot everything I wanted on the island. Then I left my phone and camera in the room, and actually relaxed.
This is an ‘influencer’ approach to getting all the content, but it means you actually leave the social media behind. I then mostly edit and upload on a later time schedule, not in the moment. Well, this is ‘my’ influencer approach, I’ve been on plenty influencer trips where the others just sit around the table refreshing their feeds and not talking to me. Sometimes it can hit influencers the hardest, and I’ve tried my best over the years to not judge this addiction, but to continue to stimulate conversation and ask questions constantly until we can engage in conversation. If you have the strength to be this person when others are scrolling – sometimes a push is all they need to put it down and talk.
So how do you begin to change the idea of filling boredom gaps? Well I found when I was in Canada, that having those ‘gaps’ forced upon me meant I was able to allow my brain and my body time for creativity. We actually really need those moments of clarity to be able to work more efficiently, and get more done in the long run. If you ‘reward’ yourself with time scrolling your phone on your work break, you’ve actually filled your brain with even more clutter, when a more adequate reward would have been allowing it to clear.
Think of your brain as your desktop computer. The more you let the random files, screenshots and memes build up, the less you can see your actual work in-between the cluttered mess, right? So don’t treat your brain the same.
There’s loads of ‘offline’ things you can do to help yourself retrain your brain away from a constant social media presence, but you don’t need me to tell you to read a book or do yoga. It’s been said a thousand times. And actually, this ‘advice’ can often be more damaging, because if that’s not you, or what you do – you’ll then feel worse about yourself. I spent too much time consuming content like this that told me to read a book or to meditate or to do yoga – none of which are things I massively enjoy (sorry about the first one being so controversial, I love books but I’m really funny about reading them on my own terms, don’t ask – stubborn taurus) and I felt worse about myself. Like I was a failure because I couldn’t switch off my Instagram to do yoga like everyone else. So then I just scrolled social media more, and got more unhappy.
Just find your thing and do what’s right for you. You don’t need to broadcast that to anyone – and you certainly don’t need anyone to justify your actions for you. I mean sometimes I just spend 45 minutes pretending I’m on Strictly Come Dancing and dance around my office with my phone and computer off. No, I really do this, I don’t do yoga or meditation. And that’s how I like to spend my time! And that’s okay!
I don’t think everyone has to be forced cold turkey like I was, but actually I find putting my phone on airplane mode from time to time can do the world of good. If this idea scares you, start with just half an hour. Build it up from there. I’m known to turn mine on airplane mode for an hour at a time in the middle of the day. Even an hour a day completely offline can help you live presently, and without comparison.
“Cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process.” – John Waitzkin