I am an addict, and I suspect most of you are too. Not drugs. Not booze. Not gambling. Something a little more deceptive, ever present for most of us, and arguably just as dangerous to our wellbeing.
That’s right. Our smartphone.
And more specifically for me and this blog, the social media apps on my iPhone.
Like many of you, over the last 15 years I’ve been swept away with the tidal wave of social media apps. It’s just become a part of the fabric of life. It’s just what we do. Like smoking in the 1950s. And that worked out well for everyone, right?
With most addictions, the first step is recognising you have one. And this is not an addiction people like to admit.
If you’ve ever confronted a partner, child, sibling, friend or parent with a line that they are ‘always on their phone scrolling on social’, I bet it’s been met with a firm: “No I’m not!” as they angrily, slyly slip their phone back into their pocket… For about 5 minutes until the compulsive addiction takes over again. Awks.
And before you think I’m judging you, I’m not. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. The addict in denial, and the well-meaning yet equally important person pointing it out.
For me, it happened about a year ago. One of my kids was innocently trying to show me something while I was performing the critical, lifesaving task of… Checking Instagram. I snapped at my kid. I mean, WTF. I reflected later that day and I just thought, what a d*ck. This is not how it should be with my most precious relationships.
So like I often do when I need a solution to a problem, I sought out a book. And the brilliant book I found was Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by the wonderful Cal Newport.
Without ruining the premise of the book (that you should read), the outcome was effectively a decision to wean myself off non-added-value social media apps. Namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in my case. This could be TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat in your case. What can I say, I’m old school.
The irony of you possibly reading this via a link from LinkedIn is not lost on me by the way. But in my case, LinkedIn is a tool that serves a specific purpose in my professional life. I can’t argue the same for the others.
Say bye bye to temptation
Part of this process was deleting all shortcuts on my devices. Out of sight, out of mind. Just like chocolate, beer, and sweets on the kitchen bench… Remove the temptation.
I’m not here to preach, but I did want to share with you what has happened as a result of this gradual, habitual change. Put simply, I’m wealthier, healthier and wiser. And I have zero FOMO.*
*(Fear of missing out)
Let me give you some specifics…
Almost one year on, my usage of these platforms has gone from as much as 10-15 hours a week to less than 1 hour. Put another way, I’ve basically created a day a week for myself. Score.
From being a prolific poster of updates, I’ve not posted anything on Insta or Facebook since March last year.
A life-changing Private equity (PE) deal at ramarketing. New cars. Several holidays. Magic moments with my family and team. A trip to see England in Qatar. I’ve had no shortage of quality content, that’s for sure.
It’s not been easy I can tell you. But it’s gotten a lot easier as each week and month has passed. That’s the power of habits.
Being less bothered about the thousands of tenuous connections has given me the headspace and intention to focus on the relationships that really matter.
Ditching the shallow for the meaningful has been a revelation. I’m closer to my wife, kids and best friends than ever before.
I’ve been able to spend “Quality Time” with many of the top tier people that really matter in my life. As a result, I’ve been able to savor these meaningful, face-to-face conversations.
It turns out I don’t even have one ounce of regret for not liking someone’s post about their lunch or political opinion. Who would have thought it?
Getting the steps in
For many years, I just figured walking was for old people. It’s not. Although I still don’t understand those poles when trotting down on a flat path.
One good thing that came from the pandemic was a more regular focus on walking to simply escape the lockdown drudgery.
But rather than be glued to my phone while walking (or even listening to a podcast), I’ve learned to walk and do nothing. It’s genuinely liberating stuff.
The lack of distraction is brilliant for problem solving and thinking of new ideas. Ideal given my day job. This fabulous quote captures it:
“Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.”
I’ve also found that this type of walking leads to thinking of others, being more empathetic, and conscientious.
I’ve meditated on a daily basis for about six years now. One of the challenges I’ve found is transitioning that feeling of being present and in the moment during that 10-15 minute practice, into real daily life. Mainly because my annoying monkey mind never lets me.
Less time with my phone has given me the attention bandwidth to delve deeper into the art of mindfulness, both from a learning and practice perspective. As a consequence, I just feel more awake, and alive. It’s like the sensitivity of my attention has been heightened.
I’m feeling and seeing my emotions come… And go. I’ve battled for years with being too reactive, and this whole process has helped me enormously.
In a world where every social app is fighting for your attention, this process has led me to feel less distracted and more in control of where to focus.
The undeniable power of a glowing screen
Despite all these benefits, what I’ve also learnt is the real addiction that lurks beneath these superficial social apps:
The clever tech of that glowing screen combined with increasingly intuitive software that knows you better than you know yourself.
So while I’ve weaned myself off these apps, I’ve found that I’ve gravitated towards other tempting apps. Glowing, grabbing, unlocking, hovering, pressing and scrolling.
These habits are my compulsive addiction. Habits that will take years to undo.