Social media has become a staple in everyone's life these days. What once seemed like a hangout for mostly tech-savvy folks has crept into every crevice of our daily existence. Every company uses social media to further their agenda. People use it to read and express their opinions on a variety of topics. Even those who are typically not considered technophiles, like our parents and even grandparents, use social media to keep in touch.
I've been using some form of what's known as social media nowadays since I began regularly using the Internet in the mid-90s. It started when I signed up to a few chat rooms and spent hours talking to people from all parts of the world. Instant messengers like ICQ and AIM were always on when I was online. I eventually began using today's popular services like Facebook and Twitter when I was moving away from my family and friends.
I enjoyed using these services, and they enriched my life in many ways:
- It was incredible to be able to finally talk to people from different countries and learn more about their culture and way of living. Communicating with people from other parts of the world might seem trivial nowadays, but in the mid-90s people were shocked when I told them my stories about chatting with someone from England or Australia every day.
- I met lots of incredible people online, many who I still consider good friends to this day. Although I haven't met a lot of them in person, they're still people I can talk to whenever I have a bad day or want to share my victories.
- I got back in touch with long-lost friends I hadn't spoken to for years, even decades. One of my favorite moments was when I moved to New York City and noticed that an old friend I knew since I was eight years old lived in New York City too, and it turned out she lived less than 10 minutes away from my new apartment.
- When I moved away from my family for the first time, it helped ease my fears of people separated from them. Relocating is stressful - even more so when you're by yourself thousands of miles away. It helped to have those that I care about the most have their presence easily felt online.
However, these services have a dark side to them, and have also affected me quite negatively:
- It formed a bit of an addiction with me where I found myself spending way too much time using social media. I wanted to be online at all times and check my feeds and chat with people. It took away a lot of time I could have used more constructively.
- I noticed that I started to compare myself to what others were doing. If someone posted an achievement they accomplished, I would sometimes feel jealousy or envy. Even in times when someone was struggling with an issue, I remember feeling relieved that it wasn't happening to me, kind of like a "sucks to be them" mentality. These are feelings that we should not cultivate, ever.
- Whenever I had a less-than-great day, I would find myself spending hours looking back at my past. I would be looking at old pictures and posts that I wrote years ago, wishing that times would be like they were back then and completely ignoring that I had lots of struggles back then too. It's okay to reminisce about the past, but we often do it using rose-colored glasses.
- Recently, due to the increased number of people using these services, it's a lot easier to be bombarded with negativity and hatred online. Topics like politics, religion, and sports seem to bring out the worst in many. Even though no one was directing that negativity towards me, the energy of those messages would seep into my consciousness, and I would carry that with me throughout the day.
I wanted to break free from the cycle of wasting too much time on social media, not compare myself with others who are on a different path than I am and escape the cynicism and gloom that is pervasive online. As many of us tend to do, I began searching for solutions online and see how others dealt with it. The one thing that kept on coming up over and over again was the term "social media detox". Essentially, it means cutting yourself off from all use of social media for a period, anywhere from one day to a few months, to reset yourself and give yourself more opportunities to find other useful ways to use your time and energy.
This strategy can be useful for those who are experiencing more severe symptoms of addiction to social media. Personally, I don't recommend the "all or nothing" approach for most people. As I mentioned, there are a lot of positive experiences to be had with social media if we can keep things under control. We shouldn't eliminate something if it can bring good into our lives.
I began to write down a few areas that I noticed could improve with my social media usage. Then I implemented a few small habits (check the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise, which I've written about before, for more information) every day. Some of the tactics I implemented were:
- Making sure I only follow people and brands that add something positive and beneficial to my life, eliminating all the noise and negativity.
- Making sure my phone wasn't interrupting me all the time.
- Keeping track of how often I was on social media during the day and using that data to change my habits.
- Finding help by joining forces with others who wanted to accomplish the same.
The results I continue to get to this day are astounding:
- I spend significantly less time checking social media. Before, I would wake up, grab my phone and spend almost an hour just browsing my feeds without moving out of bed. I would also open social media apps on my phone multiple times per hour. Nowadays, I have fewer things to look at so I spend a few minutes during the day to go through things. It's significantly freed up my time to do better things.
- I feel motivated and inspired after browsing my feeds. After checking my social media accounts in the past, I noticed a shift in my attitude and behavior because of all the bad emotional energy I was getting. Cleaning up my feed made it so that I now feel stimulated and driven to accomplish positive things in my life.
- I feel happier, in control and more fulfilled with my life. Thanks to having more time and mental energy to do the things that will move my life forward, great things are happening in my world that I can directly attribute to cleaning up my social media accounts.
Small steps for your Practical Good
If you feel like your usage of social media is leaving you drained, upset or with a general feeling of anxiety and stress, it would greatly benefit you to take some time to clean up your social media accounts.
You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain, so start taking back control of your time on social media. I hope that you put the time you save and the positive energy that you regain to good use and that you realize all your passions, goals and dreams.