Ep 06 | Takeaways from One Month Off Instagram

In December 2021, I (Kelly) read the book, Digital Minimalism, then decided to take a month-long break from social media that January – in 2022 – which turned out to be one of my favorite decisions heading into the new year, so I did the same as we started off 2023. 

In the book, Cal Newport gives a simple (but challenging) way to take back control of our technological lives by doing what’s called a digital declutter: 30 days of unplugging completely to then thoughtfully decide which tools to use, for what purposes, and under what conditions.

He argues that technology is neither good nor bad. The key is using it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you.

Personally, I’ve found that, at the start of a new year, I crave SILENCE – not necessarily literal silence (though that’s also nice) but space to clear my mind – and I don’t know how it works for you, but for me, Instagram has this weird way of creeping into the back of my brain at all times, making it feel like it’s constantly full of unending activity. Going into it this year, after already taking a month off last year, I knew how much it would help to silence that constant buzz.

So this year, my biggest goal was to:
Just LIVE.
Live a beautiful, quiet life without anyone seeing what I’m doing. 

I thought of the verse in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 that give so much wisdom around this, ”lead a quiet life, mind your own business and work with your hands.”

We knew for a while now that we wanted to put time and effort in towards starting this podcast, and we also had other projects that we’ve been needing to do that just take focused, un-hurried TIME. I knew this would allow me that. 

So here’s a recap of the things I’ve learned from taking a whole month off social media each January for the past two years!

1. I’m always way more overstimulated than I think

I usually delete instagram on Sundays, and have an hour limit per day on the app mostly for business-related things, so I thought I had a pretty good check on how much brain space it was occupying. Well, turns out, when I’m exposed to that much content, even in small amounts, over the course of a day, it’s more stimulating than I could have imagined, and then it continues to linger in my mind for much longer after that.

So within the first few days of being off, my brain just started feeling so clear. That’s the best way to describe it. I am naturally a person who has a LOT of ideas running through my head constantly, but turns out an excessive amount of that constant activity was from social media without me even realizing it.

2. My phone screen time minimized to Spotify and Podcasts

So quick little psychology lesson here:

There are two psychological mechanisms behind social media addiction: intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval. Social media apps are EXPERTS, literally, it’s their goal:

  1. Intermittent positive reinforcement means that, when you get unpredictable rewards for your behavior, you’re more driven to continue that behavior than if the rewards were consistent. Kind of like gambling – yikes, right?! On social media, the “Like” button is one form of intermittent reward: When you post a photo on Facebook, you may get a swarm of likes and comments, or you may get none. 
  2. The drive for social approval means that humans have an evolutionary impulse to seek and reciprocate social approval. On social media, likes and comments show social approval. Your ancient social urges push you to compulsively check your notifications to find out whether your peers have validated you with the thumbs-up button—and, when you don’t get that feedback, the feeling of distress and rejection urges you to keep checking your notifications.

When these apps were removed from my phone, I had no loop. Put simply, I couldn’t continue in the cycle.

3. I created MORE

I read more books. 
I made a lot of fires in our fireplace
I took longer hikes in our woods with the kids
I did puzzles on our winter puzzle table
I cleaned out entire cabinets and storage spaces and created new, sustainable systems in our house.
I cleaned out 7+ years from our filing cabinet, lol!

That last one actually happened because of pure boredom one day. Turns out, what I’ve been preaching to my kids is actually true. But I WAS THE ONE WHO NEEDED TO EXPERIENCE IT: boredom really does breed creativity! Less input IN allows for more space for new ideas. 

Maybe this takeaway is less about some intangible effects in my brain, and simply just the practical aspect of hours of my day not being occupied by social media or checking my email sporadically. During the times I may have been tempted to scroll, I was just learning new things, playing, or cleaning things up, instead.

That slowing and working with my hands, accompanied by the clear brain that came from not being overstimulated was just really good for my soul.

4. I was less anxious

 I thought about a couple things much more deeply, rather than a bunch of things shallowly.

I’m the person who starts or ends my day with scribbling out ALL THE THINGS – ideas I want to execute, people I need to text,  lists of things to look up later, content ideas for the future, etc. 

When I quieted the noise of consuming content, I found myself thinking about a couple things in SO MUCH MORE detail over the course of those weeks. I’d think about something for ten minutes while showing in the morning, and then jump right back into thinking about it when I was doing dishes at the end of the night because I hadn’t been exposed to hundreds of other glimpses into people’s days, news headlines, and messages. This was such a gift and I got a lot of clarity around a few things Ray and I have been dreaming and planning and praying about.

5. I got more clarity around future projects and my use of social media

By quieting my own voice and not constantly producing content, I was able to do a lot of thoughtful reflection and evaluation of how I’d been using our platforms, and how I desire to use it in the future. 

Ray and I wrote out concrete plans for content and value in the future. And I genuinely think it took an extended period of quieting my own voice on the platform to do this. But now I have so much clarity around how I want to use these apps as tools.

I went into the month with the single goal of living a quiet life, and I think I gained so much more than I even expected. That to say – if you’ve been contemplating a break from social media and various apps on your phone for whatever reason, I definitely encourage you to lean into that.

Some super practical how-to’s

  • Don’t sleep with your phone in your room
  • Really evaluate which apps you KNOW will be most tempting to mindlessly open/scroll.
    • For me, that included instagram, facebook and last year I also deleted Facebook messenger, that one didn’t bother me as much this year, so I kept it on, just removed it from my homepage 
  • Let others know
    • If you run a business online, set up auto-replies on any accounts you need to.
    • Give your family/friends a heads up that you’ll be accessible via text/phone/email.
  • Replace it with something else
    • I made a list of 10 books I wanted to read in January and a few projects around the house I wanted to complete. I didn’t make it through all of them, but I proactively either purchased books or requested them from the library so that they would be in my home as a go-to.
  • When you’re thinking about logging back on, here are some onboarding tips:
    • Set time limits on your phone – find someone who will hold you accountable to it if you know you’ll just find a way to bypass those alerts.
      • also look into this app: Opal
    • Set up Do Not Disturb or Focus hours
    • Only turn back on the needed notifications – for me, I found there were none. Truly, none!
    • Unfollow accounts on social that no longer interest you or connect you.
    • Do an email subscription purge // I go through each and add these to unroll.me
    • I try to limit my subscribe list (the ones that actually land into my inbox and that I want to read) to less than 10 – and even those I have filtered/re-directed to the Promotions folder
  • One last idea – Ray has turned his phone to grayscale – there’s science behind this one on reducing the amount of dopamine released from looking at your screen which lowers the addictive pull. I actually cannot stand it because I can’t ever find anything on it! But it works for him.

“Minimalists don’t mind missing out on SMALL THINGS, what worries them much more is diminishing the LARGE THINGS that they already know for sure make a good life.”

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Comments, questions? Emails us at podcast@rayandkelly.co

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