What I Learned from Quitting Social Media for 5 Days

The Benefits of Opting Out

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Every few months I make it a point to quit social media for a few days. I don’t compose status updates. I delete Instagram from my phone and even go so far as to disable Safari. Without fail these periods end up being some of my most prolific, productive, and creative.

We are constantly consuming and completely addicted to information. Most of this information doesn’t lead to any worthwhile change in our behavior our lives. If anything it’s programming our brains to cultivate more bad habits and develop shorter attention spans. Is the content in your inbox, newsfeed, podcast app, etc there by design for by default? For most people, it’s the latter. If you haven’t seen the interview below with former FB exec name, I highly recommend it.

When the very people who invented the damn thing are concerned about the damage it’s doing to society, it might be worth giving some serious consideration to taking a break.

Many social scientist, authors, and researchers predict that this behavior is likely to lead to unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Perhaps the greatest hidden danger of the social media industrial complex is the damage that it’s doing to our mental health. Our addiction to social media is on the verge of becoming an epidemic

Three things prompted my most recent social media hiatus

  1. Ryan Holiday wrote an incredibly thought-provoking piece about why we need stop consuming the news
  2. I was having trouble coming up with things to write about
  3. I also happened to be battling off a vicious case of the flu

1. Less Anxiety and More Happiness

Study after study has shown that people who check email frequently or use social media excessively experience greater levels of anxiety. And it can turn you into the cognitive equivalent of an athlete who smokes. My own tendencies for anxiety are probably higher than average. By day 2, I noticed my anxiety had gone down significantly. I felt calmer, happier, and because I wasn’t seeing things that everyone else was posting, I was comparing less and creating more.

2. Presence

Whether it’s an athletic or creative endeavor, a conversation with a friend, lover, or family member, presence improves both performance and the quality of any experience. Because I wasn’t documenting every moment, I was actually living it, and fully engaged in it. My meals with friends and my day snowboarding were much more enjoyable because I was present and fully engaged in both.

Want to spend less time on social media, be more productive, and get more deep work done? My newsletter could be a good fit for you. You’ll receive a weekly article like this as well as immediate access to a swipe file, where you’ll get my best tips on honing your daily habits, productivity, and creativity. I’ll also send you a guide to finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Get it here.

3. Increased Focus

Large creative projects like writing a book require intense focus. By giving up social media, I found that my level of focus increased. And I was able to sustain deep work for longer periods of time. It turns out quitting social media for a few days at a time is a great way to build your deep work muscle and experience flow on a more consistent basis.

4. Improved Productivity

Sunday was day 4 of my hiatus from social media. And I had to finish reading a 100-page book by Monday to prepare for an interview on the Unmistakable Creative. I ended up finishing two books by yesterday. I also managed to get about 2000 words written of my manuscript and edit our next episode of the podcast.

5. Opt Out

You have the ability to opt out….

Of the hundreds of newsletters, you receive every day.
Of the dozens of podcasts, you’re subscribed to
Of the status updates that litter your newsfeed each day
Of another dating app whose business model is only successful if you keep dating and don’t end up deleting the app
Of yet another Instagram post with an inspiring quote
Of the nightly news that doesn’t inform you about anything other than murder, mayhem, and political unrest.
Of the 24-hour news cycle

But we’re so addicted to our phones and the information we consume, that we’ve opted in, not by design, but by default. If you ask most people whether they deliberately chose what shows up in their feeds, inboxes, etc the answer would be no. I couldn’t’ tell you how half of what’s there got there. By opting out, completely, you make space for what truly matters, what has meaning, significance and value. Opting out is a simple choice with profound implications for your well being and success.

As you manage to wean yourself off of sources of distraction, they’ll eventually lose their appeal because you’ll be making progress towards meaningful creative work. You’ll also be more present not just with your work, but with people in your life. While I’m not going to permanently give up social media, this has convinced me of the virtues of drastically reducing my usage of it.
If you find yourself stuck creatively, or are riddled with stress and anxiety, consider giving up social media for a few days and you might just find that your creativity starts to flow again.

Join my newsletter to receive a weekly article like this one. You’ll also get immediate access to a swipe file, where you’ll get my best tips on honing your productivity & creativity, as well as a guide on finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Sign up here.

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