I have a confession to make: I am totally addicted to my phone. It was pretty innocent at first: I’d leave my phone somewhere in my house or at the office and respond to messages whenever I had the time. Then I got a smart watch on the pretense of being able to track my health statistics and manage my music playback during the day, but I also set it to notify me when I got new messages. This was probably the beginning of my addiction because I’d get notifications every few minutes, giving my right wrist an almost predictable massage from the buzzing. Being unable to discern whether the notification was spam or actually important, I’d also check my watch every few minutes in time with the buzzing, feeling compelled to finish whatever it was I was doing at the time so I could find my phone to respond.
I got over having a smart watch pretty quickly but I still felt like I needed to have my phone by my side, “just in case.” I wasn’t sure what I was worried I’d miss out on, but I knew I needed to have it, and I’d started to feel a sense of withdrawal if I didn’t check my phone every hour or so. It got worse once I started giving my coworkers my phone number to contact me if I was out of office and something happened or needed to happen while I was away. I’ve been lucky to avoid having a corporate phone, or having work emails routed to my phone, but if there was a layoff happening or a big corporate announcement taking place, I wanted to know about it. I’ve always thought that being forewarned is the same as being forearmed. However, by the time news of corporate change would have been communicated publicly, it wasn’t as though I could do anything to protect myself from it.
It was a long time before I realized that the one thing that was tethered to my phone all the time was me. It was the first thing I checked when I woke up, the last thing I checked before I went to bed. If I was by myself for even a few seconds, my phone would be in my hand, and I’d be on Instagram so I could feel like I was part of something until real people showed up again. Being connected all of the time was stressing me out, both from the content I was absorbing, as well as the desire to always be on. What if my friends thought I hated them because I didn’t respond to their invitation to dinner next week? What if someone was planning a spontaneous get together and we were about to miss it because I didn’t get the notification right away.
About a month ago, I’d read up on something called a Digital Detox, where for a set amount of time, you’d disconnect from the digital world and leave the gadgets behind. No phones, no computers, no tablets, no smart watches, just you and whatever you chose to fill your day with. It was supposed to help you stay focused, be more productive, and lead a happier life. I’ll be the first to admit, the only thing I thought I was going to be was bored out of my mind. What was I going to do with myself for a whole day without any of the digital things that I thought I needed to get through the day? Was this really all it was cracked up to be?
Hubbie and I decided that we were going to do a one day digital detox because my addiction was intense, and I needed the time to go through the motions. The rules were simple: you only get to pick up your phone if someone actually was calling you, and computers were okay if we needed them to play back movies, music, or Netflix. Otherwise, our devices were hidden somewhere they could be easily forgotten, and we set out on a Saturday without the things that we thought we needed to survive. As it turns out, there were actually a ton of things that I could do in a day for myself and even more things I learned about myself through the experience. Here are the three biggest things I learned from my digital detox.
The Fire is a More Often Than Not a False Alarm
How many times have you heard someone say, “if XYZ was easy, they wouldn’t need professionals”? While it’s a nice thought, we throw that expression around every time things get tough or difficult to handle. We almost make it sound like businesses would fail and the world would cease to exist if we weren’t constantly working on fixing the issues. We start to feel like we need to be connected all of the time, respond to emails immediately, and put out fires before they happen. I have a friend who believed so strongly that she was the only member of her team who could handle an issue that she purposely stayed at the hotel we were sharing in Los Angeles for two days of our five-day vacation to respond to emails.
While I applaud that kind of dedication to the profession, we have to remember that most of the time what we perceive as a fire is just a false alarm. For those of us working with other professionals, we have to trust that the people we work with have the same capacity for problem solving that we do. This isn’t to say that you need to give up on working hard or believing in the importance in your own work. What this does mean, though, is that it’s easy to assume that the building is burning down while we’re not there to point out the fire, but the only thing that is actually burning is our desire to know what’s going on at every second of every day. Which brings me to my next major lesson …
Wondering About What’s Happening When We’re Not Around is a Form of Stress
Being plugged in to work emails and to other people’s lives all the time is an interesting thing. On the one hand, you more or less always know how things are progressing with a piece of business, or what other people are doing over lunch, and can feel a sense of connection to their lives. However, simple curiosity often leads to an obsessive desire to know about what’s happening right now. This sense of wonder usually goes hand in hand with a sense of worry and fear of missing out. Maybe it’s missing out on knowing something great, answering a question first, or missing out on the co-experience of an event, but whatever it may be, the fear and the worry are still there. While checking emails, status updates and latest posts may satisfy the immediate sense of fear and worry, it doesn’t eliminate it completely, and enforces to ourselves that it’s normal to feel this heightened level of anxiety all the time.
So, what are we to do about it? The easiest solution is to set parameters about when we’re going to check Gmail, Instagram or Facebook during the day. Maybe it’s no phones over meals, or no checking messages when you’re having a conversation with someone. Fundamentally though, we need to tell ourselves that the notifications are just alerts with very little consequence for not responding. The more we train ourselves that there is nothing that we’re actually missing out on, the more we’ll be able to focus on the things that don’t cause us stress or anxiety.
30 Minutes Without Your Gadgets Can Make You Happier
Our first digital detox was good, but we found that we were quickly falling back into old habits. In our household, we have a full-time professional office worker/writer and a more-than-full-time business owner, so you can imagine how often our evenings are spent in front of computers working on something. It wasn’t long before we needed another digital detox, this time for three days when we only used our phones to check store hours and directions to places that we wanted to enjoy.
While three days off from gadgets was just enough to reset our busy minds, it’s not sustainable to keep disconnecting for days at a time, so we decided to incorporate the detox into our day. For 30 minutes after I wake up, and for the 30 minutes before bed, there are no phones. I fished out my old analog alarm clock to wake me up in the morning, and we found a pile of paperbacks we hadn’t read yet to cuddle in with before bed. Thirty minutes might not seem like a lot, but I had time to get in a yoga session before work, learn new ideas before bed, or just share our day. Instead of worrying about things to come, I learned to be grateful for the things I had done and be happy for the people and opportunities I had in life.
For anyone looking to give digital detoxing a try, I highly recommend it, even if it’s just at meal time. I definitely learned a lot about myself through the experience, and I was surprised at how much my mood and attitude towards technology have changed because of it. If you do give it a go, leave me a comment on Instagram (when you’re not detoxing) and let me know what your experience was like!