Three lessons from an experiment in breaking up with social media 

Wondering how to create more space for your career change or to focus on your career direction? Feeling pressured by lack of time, yet you’re still scrolling?  Here are three lessons, from my experiment in temporarily breaking up with social media, to help you create more time and energy for your career explorations.
Here’s a question for you.

How do you feel about social media? Greatest thing since sliced bread? Ambivalent? Hate it? All of that and more?

Regardless of your answer, how long do you think you spend on social media each day?  A rough guess. 10 minutes?  Three hours?

I would bet that unless you don’t have it on your phone the answer is longer than you think.
(Have you already thought about flicking away to another screen to check if something more interesting is happening elsewhere? Go on, I can take it…)

Where is all my energy going?

Back in the summer I was feeling more and more exhausted. I was busy with exciting career change coaching and facilitating, and had completed an accreditation in women’s leadership coaching that had taken a lot of my time during the previous months. It was all great work and I knew I was craving a bit more space. What I hadn’t noticed is my reliance on social media had steadily grown over that time.

I felt disconnected by working in my home office and my focus on my training had reduced my spare hours for playtime. I’d also finished performing in a musical show we’d rehearsed for five months and was missing the people from the company. So I plugged the gap by turning to social media. Checking in regularly to see how people I knew were doing.

What I hadn’t noticed is how regularly I was ‘checking in’. It was every time I walked to the kettle to make a cup of tea, and every time I went to the bathroom. I checked in after settling my daughter to sleep. I flicked it on when I was waiting for a pan to boil on the hob. I had a quick look while I was getting dressed in the morning. I scrolled mindlessly in the evening, even with the TV in the background. 

I felt so drained.

Add in parenting (who knew schools could dish out so much admin for the parents), work and home life plate spinning… you can guess, it wasn’t pretty.

 Experiencing comparisonitis – inspiration and action killer

I was also suffering from comparisonitis. It’s a term coined by Melissa Ambrosini. That insidious compulsive act of comparing myself to other people. For me it was mostly a comparison with other entrepreneurs and freelancers who clearly had this business stuff cracked. Why else would they be posting fabulous content and gorgeous expensive images of themselves over and over on social media? Of course my mind wasn’t looking at their websites all designed in 2020 during a pandemic and assumed they must be successful because they looked like they should be successful.

The thoughts in my head crowded in and they weren’t nice ones. I was not like them. I didn’t have what they had. I wasn’t showing up like them. It must be because I wasn’t good enough at my work or not cut out to be a business owner. I’d never be like them. I was never going to succeed like they had. I didn’t have the energy or the mental space to see those thoughts for what they were. Utter nonsense and incredibly unhelpful, so much that I started reducing the action I’d been taking instead of using their stories to inspire me.

Ouch.

Decision

The day I flew out to Turkey for our family summer holiday, I sat in the taxi and deleted my social media apps from my phone. Cold turkey. I felt sick to my stomach and weirdly liberated.

For the following two weeks I felt the freedom of leaving my phone in the safe or left on airplane mode so I could take photos. After the first 24hrs of feeling massive fear of missing out, it was incredible! Yes, I was on holiday so it was easier to step away, but I found it so freeing and it opened up so much mental space that I decided to stay off social media until the end of the school holidays. I figured that would be do-able.

It was. And so was the first couple of weeks back into the term. And the next week. You see where this is going?

Here are my biggest lessons.

1. Do a time and energy audit

I’m so busy!’, ‘There’s never enough time to do…[fill in the blank]’, ‘I’m so tired’, ‘I don’t have the energy’ and every time we repeat these over and over we reinforce the message that we are not in control of our time. 

I get it. There are kids. There are work responsibilities. There are housemates or family to care for. Or the handle to fix on the shower door. Or the phone beeping at you waiting to be checked. Someone might have posted an exciting video to YouTube. The more you tell yourself that you don’t or can’t, the more you’ll start to believe it and hand over the wheel of your life to whatever is leading you instead of getting behind the wheel and consciously choosing.

So do an audit of your time. Download an app that will help you see how much time you are spending on your phone each week. Have a good look at how much time you’re spending at work, or watching TV, or mindlessly scrolling, or chatting to friends. It can feel like mindless scrolling winds your brain down but it’s not always as simple as all that.

When?

When do you go on social media? When you feel bored? Boredom is a fantastic tool. It helps your brain make new connections (it’s why you can remember those ‘tip of the tongue’ names when you stop thinking) and gives you space to have your own ideas and get curious. Kim John Payne (author of Simplicity Parenting) says ‘Boredom is often the precursor to creativity…’  It’s in my most bored moments the best ideas start to bubble. Boredom is a gift. Don’t give it away. 

Or when you feel lonely? Give someone you know a call. Go on Meetup (or similar) and sign up to meet with others at a local group. Make a plan. Our brains love anticipating fun so give it something to look forward to.

Notice how you feel

Start to notice how you feel after being on social media. Do you feel energised and ready for a new activity that doesn’t involve your phone?  Or do you feel a bit flat, drained or exhausted?  Or feel like you’re missing out and quickly pick it up again only to check a different social media platform or hit up YouTube? Pay attention to those feelings – those are clues for you. 

In her book ‘How to Break Up with Your Phone’, Catherine Price refers to some statistics, frankly those concern me:

According to a 2016 Deloitte survey conducted in the United States, the average American checks his or her phone an average of 47 times each day. In the 18 to 24 age bracket, this number shoots up to a whopping 82 times per day.

What that means, in terms of time, was clarified by research published in 2015 on hackernoon.com. Americans spend an average of four hours a day with their phones. That’s 28 hours per week, basically the same as having a fairly busy part-time job!’ 

What could you do with all that extra time and energy?  

You could explore a career change, take action towards developing your career plan, do a fun activity, write that book you’ve been putting off, join a sports club, learn a new skill, play games with your family or friends, go for a run, cook all the recipes in your recipe book, write a song, go for a swim, plan a trip…

2. Be aware of comparisonitis 

If only I had what they had’, ‘If I looked like that I could do it too’, ‘I could never…’ Much like the thoughts above, these drain your mental energy and keep you stuck in thinking like a victim. Social comparison is often a huge source of dissatisfaction in people’s lives. It can even get in the way of you getting clear on what you want because you’re taking in a constant stream of what you’re being told you should want.

Stop.

Developing a plan for your career or designing your life the way you want it can feel like a big, epic task and a long one. It’s easy to push it under the carpet and hope it will go away. The more you give space for these unhelpful critical thoughts, the less likely you are to believe change is possible and so you won’t take action. And guess what? You won’t change either.

Checkmate.

You are not other people. You are you. You might not believe it today but you have a unique set of skills, strengths, experiences and interests. ‘I’m nothing special.’ – oh, but you are my love, you are. You are special.

You have huge value to offer the world by being who you are and what energises and excites you. By focusing your energy on what you’re brilliant at. I get it, you don’t always know – so get asking! Try things out. In Glennon Doyle’s fabulous words, ‘Don’t be fancy, just help people.

Stop comparing yourself to someone else’s journey. Their highlights or need for approval from others are not going to help you succeed on your path. 

Because your path is not their path.

Get back behind the wheel of your life and career and ignore them. Love them, delight in their special moments and stop using them as a guidepost for your life and work.

3. Decide, then act. Immediately.

Yep, it’s that simple.When you’ve done an honest audit of where your time and energy are going, and how much time and energy you’re spending on your phone scrolling, watching and taking in information, you get to decide what to do about it. Then do something about it. Straight away. Don’t give yourself time to talk you out of it. Because you will, if you don’t take action. Quickly.

It’s as simple as that. Here are a few actions you could choose to take.

Detox

You might decide to take a ‘social media detox’ as Liana Fricker of Inspiration Space refers to it. A short period of time away from social media to regroup and create additional space to help you make decisions about what you want to do next. Or even to begin the process of exploring what you might want. Both need time and energy.

Break

You might decide to take a break from your social media life for a longer period of time or do what I did and take apps off your phone so you can consciously choose to spend a short amount of time on social media for a specific purpose. Watch out for the sneaky ‘I’ll just log on in my lunch break’ – how much more energising could your lunch breaks be if you didn’t? Even more so if you don’t really ever take a lunch break anyway – those few precious moments could be spent chatting to a friend, being quiet (perhaps reflecting on the day so far) or preparing for your afternoon.

Declutter

Decide if you could delete some of your social media apps and keep the one or two you find most helpful or fun. Or the ones you know will help you stay in the driver’s seat and design your work and life in line with what you really want – when comparisonitis has been put in its rightful place. The bin!

Or consider unfollowing acquaintances or celebrities who make you feel small and encourage your ‘victim’ thinking of ‘I can’t’, ‘I couldn’t’, ‘If I just do what they do then…’ Try instead to keep the people who inspire you, who make you feel it might be possible for you to make the adjustments you need to create what you want.

Quit

Go bold. Delete the lot. Go get a flip phone.

Yes, people really do.

One word of caution. If you want to change your career or develop a new plan for your career path it can be extremely helpful to have some access to social media because it will give you opportunities to connect with people you might not otherwise have access to. This isn’t a rule, and if your audit suggests you’ll gain far more by removing them than you might gain by keeping them, then by all means go ahead and create the space and time you’re craving. It is not impossible to connect without it. If you do decide to use social media for your benefit then LinkedIn is a great place to start.

Whatever choice you make, it doesn’t have to be forever. It’s OK to make the decision ‘for now’ and decide in two weeks or six months or two years that you want to change it again. And it’s absolutely OK to keep doing what you’re already doing and make no changes – just keep your awareness open to those voices in your head trying to tell you you ‘don’t have time’. Because you have more than you think.

Which of these lessons are you going to experiment with to create more time for you to explore and design the career path and life that you really want? Let me know by replying to this email. I always love to hear from you!

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