Last fall I was challenged to “unplug” for a full week. During this digital detox, I was asked to pay attention to how I felt, notice any changes in my behavior, and watch for how many times I had the impulse to pick up my phone. The challenge helped me gain some interesting insights and learn to think twice before randomly picking up my phone.
My Wake-Up Call
I was snuggled into bed with my face lit by the glow of my screen. My husband came walking into our room and jokingly said: “I think we’ve got the zombie apocalypse all wrong. I believe it’s happening right in front of our eyes!” He may have been joking, but he certainly caught my attention. Did I really have a problem?
How often does your nightly routine resemble this scenario?
I was the last one to admit I had a problem. I felt justified in being glued to my phone because after all, I have an online business. The idea of a digital detox seemed almost silly. I wanted to take the challenge seriously so I made some changes to ensure I would have success. Do you think a digital detox would help you too? The first step is to decide how long you want to disconnect. The challenge I accepted was for a week and even though it was a bit hard at first – it really made a difference in my perspective.
What Is a Digital Detox?
Just as physical detoxing helps remove toxins, poisons and harmful chemicals from your body, digital detoxing removes the adverse effects of overexposure to technology. The health problems created by a digital overdose are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg where mental and physical health issues related to technology are concerned.
A digital detox means dramatically reducing or eliminating your exposure to technology, digital devices, and consumer electronics for a significant time. A detox can be a few hours each day, one day each week, every weekend or an entire week.
Benefits of Unplugging
Understanding the benefits was a big help in committing to the challenge. Studies show unplugging from technology boosts your brainpower, improves feelings of happiness and peacefulness, and creates more free time for yourself. It improves both mental and physical health, and since a recent study shows that 65% of Americans suffer from digital eye-strain, a digital detox can also improve your vision.
Another reason for freeing yourself of digital dependence is the positive impact unplugging has on how efficient and productive you are.
Frequent and regular exposure to digital technology encourages multitasking. Multitasking was a popular catchphrase in the 1990s which we’ve learned is actually a killer of productivity and efficiency. Distraction goes up when you are trying to do many things at once, and your results are watered down. You can become more focused and productive with a regular dose of digital detoxing.
Did you know unplugging can actually help you retain more information? While it is true the internet and constant information streams you receive every day can reveal new information, this relentless exposure to digital data trains your brain to remember only in the short-term. You become used to a constant and endless barrage of new information, so your brain ends up unable to retain information over time. Your brainpower bottoms out, focusing on nothing more than what is going on right now.
Technology also contributes to the digital death of creativity. There is a reason authors, musicians, painters, and creators of life-changing inventions often have their best ideas in the shower, or when they wake up first thing in the morning. Sleeping and showering offer moments of digital detoxing, where your brain is free to pursue creative ideas.
• Social Benefits
The possibility that Facebook, Twitter, and other electronic, virtual hangouts might not be the best places to socialize may seem comical. In one study, an incredible 82 out of every 100 people said they believe the use of cell phones while socializing is ruining the art of conversation. How do you feel when someone you are talking to answers their phone while you are in the middle of a sentence?
If hanging out on Facebook rather than speaking to people face-to-face becomes your premier method of socializing, it is time for a digital detox. Unplugging regularly leads to a better life/work balance, improves your communication skills, helps you become more people-oriented, and makes you a better social animal.
How I Made a Digital Detox Work for Me
1 Use screen limits. These aren’t just for kids! Many phones have a feature that allows you to set screen limits. They also provide valuable information to help evaluate where you are spending your screen time.
2 Turn off notifications. Notifications are a way for apps to grab your attention. They pull you in and can be a huge distraction, so just turn them off and you’ll have one less draw to check your phone.
3 Put your phone in another room when you go to bed. Wow! I couldn’t believe how much of a difference this made. I plug my phone in at night to charge and instead of doing it by my bed – I put it in my office. By doing this before I started my night-time routine, I didn’t have an urge to mindlessly scroll through social media before turning out the lights.
4 Be conscious of your reach. I had become so accustomed to reaching for my phone I didn’t even notice when I was doing it. Identify what you are thinking or feeling when you reach. Are you bored, feel ignored, nervous, anxious – determine if you are reaching as a way to buffer some other feeling. Then think about why.
5 Feelings of withdrawal? The trick is to find a new habit to replace your desire to check social media. Research has shown our bad habits are most effectively changed when replaced by new and different ones.
6 Keep a journal. Record how you feel so you can keep track of any changes during your detox. Do you feel like you have more time to do things that matter? Do you feel more connected to the people around you? Do you feel a need to adjust your priorities and shift your focus? Be sure to write it all down.
7 Remove the temping and time-consuming apps from your phone. Sounds easy, but if they aren’t there you won’t use them.
There are obvious benefits to taking a break from social media and technology. The thing I hadn’t realized was how often I was reaching without even thinking about it. I decided I wanted to be more intentional with my habits. Which means I have to be intentional when I feel the urge to reach. I have to either move my phone out of sight or turn it over so it isn’t a temptation. There is a time and place for checking social media, I found it was more important to be actively involved with who I was physically with, rather than trying to connect on a device.
How do you think a digital detox would affect you? In the comments share three things a detox would help you do.
This is a powerful ted talk that dives into the problems of social media addiction among our teens. Be sure to check it out! It’s a huge wake up call!
Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation. Penguin Press: New York (2015).
Clear, James. Atomic Habits. Penguin Random House, New York (2018).