Most of us know the perils of multitasking and the fallacy of even thinking you can multitask in the first place. Most of us also know the slightly diabolical role our cell phones play in distracting and luring us into multitasking – even if only for a second – simply because it beeps or flashes at us. And there is certainly a lot of discussion about how much power social media has to suck us into false realities.
I used to think I was above it. I would boldly profess that I didn’t need to look at my phone every time a notification went off. Then I realized that I wasn’t above it. I was right there in it like a Pavlovian dog. My phone flashed or beeped. I checked it. My brain said, “Don’t do it”. My arm reached out seemingly on its own to fetch my cell phone for me. “Good arm, good arm.” At least I was well trained.
I thought I was more evolved than to have become a nicely trained pet of my social media cell phone notifications. That didn’t feel so good, especially for a guy who has always prided himself on being slightly more capable of thinking for himself than a lemming.
I needed some help. Who knew what else my arm might start doing on its own if my phone kept notifying me?
I found a few cell phone productivity apps out there that turn off social media for specific periods of time. Those sounded cool and seemed to work well for people, but I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I would be using technology to curb my technology problem.
Could I actually do this old school style?
I was going to give it a shot. I manually turned off all of my social media notifications. Suddenly, there was no flashing on my phone. There were no beeps. There was an eerie calm. This was weird. I kept looking at my phone waiting for something to happen.
I checked into my social media accounts frequently every day. I wasn’t tracking it, but if I was tracking it I think I was on some sort of hourly schedule. OK, maybe I was tracking it. Of course, I convinced myself that I was checking it this frequently just to make sure that it still worked. I wasn’t seeing or hearing those prompts on my phone anymore.
The silence and lack of flashing was killing me. I didn’t accidentally turn off social media completely, did I? That would be bad. I wasn’t sure exactly why it would be bad, but it didn’t take much for me to convince myself that it was indeed bad. I think the technical term for it is FOMO. I never thought I was a FOMO kind of guy.
Whew. To my relief, when I logged in every time, I got to see that I had new interactions. OK, I’m still good.
I got pretty busy with work and family. That might have been a blessing in disguise. I still checked in multiple times a day on a few days, but I had a couple of days where I didn’t check it until the end of the day simply because I wasn’t thinking about it. That was weird. When I did that, I was of course rewarded by seeing more interactions since they had accumulated. That was awesome.
I don’t think I checked it multiple times a day even one time during the week. That was interesting. Maybe more importantly, that frequency reduction didn’t seem to be having a negative effect on my interactions, while simultaneously having me feel a real sense of relief for the first time that I wasn’t a slave to my notifications. This felt pretty good.
That programmed urgency I used to exhibit before turning the notifications off to check and respond, check and respond, check and respond had subsided (and more quickly than I would have thought).
Landmark event. Something crazy happened. I forgot to log into my social media on a couple of days. Not that I would want interactions to suffer, of course. But for the first time in a month, I wasn’t being driven to the phone by the interactions themselves. I was deciding when to go in. I was in control. Not my cell phone. Not those notifications. Not my right arm.
The fact that I forgot was the trigger that helped me feel as though I had actually changed my habit. The Pavlovian dog could indeed be re-trained. And maybe most importantly, the Pavlovian dog was feeling less stress. Was it really this simple?
Social media is important for lots of reasons these days, so I didn’t want my new habit to result in losing important interactions with people. So I started doing what I did with everything else I needed to do. I just added it to my list of things to do every day. But when I wanted to do it. I was in control again.
Originally published at www.inc.com