Your Guide To A Digital Detox

“Digital detox” and “digital diet” are two catchphrases I’ve seen used a lot lately in the wellness sphere. I get it: 2017 is still shiny and new and for many there are new year’s resolutions to be attained.

Or maybe I just noticed these phrases used so often because frankly, it’s what I needed to do.

Living life with 100 tabs open in my mental “browser” can quickly become my norm if I allow it. Between managing three e-mail addresses, two Instagram accounts, a Facebook account, a blog, and (my guilty pleasures) Snapchat and Pinterest, I could easily be glued to my phone all day—on both productive and completely unproductive “tasks.”

At the peak of my digital dependency, I couldn’t remember my commutes home anymore because my body was on the train but my mind was busy shooting off emails. Worse, I found myself glancing at my phone while reading or watching movies and television—basically entertaining myself while I was being entertained.

I was fully in the matrix and it was time for a change.

For me these were the sure signs a digital detox was in order:

  • Decreased attention span
  • Seeking out stimulation via multitasking
  • Decreased sense of presence or “mindfulness”
  • Trouble unwinding and falling asleep at night

Some people define a digital detox as simply a period of 24 hours or more offline. For me a digital detox needed to be something sustainable that would redefine my boundaries with my online life while allowing me to still run my business and remain connected with things that DO matter.

So, here’s what I did:

Step 1: Mute notifications (or, don’t be Pavlov’s dog)

If you took a high school psych class you learned about Pavlov’s dogs and classical conditioning. The Cliffs Notes version is: if you train a dog to associate the ring of a bell with feeding time, he will eventually begin to salivate just from hearing the bell–without the presentation of actual food.

The ringing and vibrating of our smartphones have become associated with very specific psychological outcomes for many of us. If we know we just received a text message we might feel curious or excited. If we receive a work email we might get anxious. We are so conditioned to specific notifications that a simple ringtone or vibration can capture our attention and even elicit a micro emotional response before we’ve picked up our device.

I muted notifications on the vast majority of the apps on my phone. I’m also a fan of the iPhone’s “Do Not Disturb” function to allow certain calls or notifications while silencing non-essentials. The point is to break the notification-“reward” loop that increases the need for screen-time.

Step 2: Establish screen-free zones

It’s 10pm. Would you want to bring your co-workers, your boss or random acquaintances into your bedroom? So why bring a laptop or cellphone into bed and do exactly that metaphorically?

I used to think of my nightly inbox crawl as a way to unwind and “clear off my plate” so I could go to bed with less on my mind. But studies have shown that the light emitted from cell phones and other digital screens can actually disrupt the production of melatonin and by extension disrupt our sleep patterns. In addition, over time, our brains come to associate physical spaces with certain tasks or events. So the more we work and study in bed, the less it becomes associated with what it should be: a place for rest and relaxation.

In addition to taking screens out of the bedroom, I limit my phone use during specific times of the day: when I’m eating a meal, when I’m with loved ones or when I’m involved in any spiritual practice. These are things that deserve my full attention. E-mails and text messages can usually wait.

Step 3: Purge

Fact: You don’t need to know every time your favorite department store is offering 20% off dresses (and let’s be real, there’s a new “discount” every single day). In one weekend I unsubscribed to over 30 different alerts, newsletters and other subscriptions that were simply clogging up my inbox–and I’m still discovering more that I forgot I ever signed up for. Swiping away junk e-mails is a huge time waster and I’m happy to be doing less of it.

And then there’s social media. It was easy to unfollow, unlike and unfriend businesses and organizations that served me content I was no longer interested in. But there are also people–hundreds people who I have wildly different relationships with, if any at all. So I had to ask myself a couple of questions:

1. Is the connection I have with this person genuine?
I thought of it this way: If the person in question lives in the Tri-state area but I can’t remember the last time we had a cup of coffee together or caught up in some meaningful way, do I really care about where they had drinks last night or need to see their latest vacation photos?

2. Does the content they share add any kind of value?
What’s my general feeling when I think about the content this person typically shares online? Are they just plain bad at social media (e.g. dark and blurry pictures, uploaded en masse, leading to seemingly endless scrolling)? We all are familiar with our own pet peeves. Bottom line: I’d prefer to reserve my patience for in-person interactions rather than online ones.

Before I took these steps I wondered if I would feel “out of the loop” or even be less productive. Instead I feel more connected with myself, more inspired to complete creative projects and more present with my family and friends. Yes, my response time is less immediate–particularly to work-related messages. But in reality, I’m truly busy–busy tasting every bite of my meal, connecting with people away from “Pavlov’s bell” and enjoying the non-digital brand of sharing that really matters.

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