And indeed, daily breaks from the phone have been a practice of mine for as long as I can remember. I know and understand the benefits.
Until last week, however, I’d never done a full-on digital detox– meaning no social media whatsoever– of any serious and/or challenging length.
(And trust me, when you run a digital business (or two), it’s awfully hard to imagine unplugging from what often feels like your professional and financial lifeline by doing this. Fear is often a good justifier/excuse for not doing what you know needs to be done.)
Last week, however, I hit a breaking point.
A coach I’ve been working with– because even the best coaches need coaches themselves; this is the first one I’ve worked with for my own betterment in a while– saw that I was near a breaking point in terms of how hard I’d been pushing myself, the stress I was under, and the almost unbearable effects it was having on my physical and mental well-being.
(Not that my health care and personal wellness professionals hadn’t been pointing to the same thing for months. They had. I just didn’t listen).
By mid-last week, I was feeling truly awful in a number of very significant ways.
And so my coach ordered me, in no uncertain terms, on to a 48 hour digital detox.
“But what about x deadline, y newsletter, all this usual stuff I do all by myself, every week, with no help? Those things have to fire to social media, and if I don’t do them, I’ll be letting everyone down.”
“Nothing that you are doing,” she said to me, “can’t wait a few days.”
And so, at the instruction of my coach, in addition to 48 hours of digital detox, I also offloaded anything work-related, digital or not, that didn’t feel easeful or like an invitation, for the next three plus days.
Perhaps if I hadn’t been feeling so terrible, I would have ignored these instructions, as I had ignored others so many times before. But this time, I did not.
And let me tell you, after 48 full-on hours off digital, and three-plus full days not working, the things I learned were profound.
1) It wasn’t nearly as hard to let go as I thought.
When I clocked out of Facebook (my most active social account) with a post saying I’d be offline for 48 hours, I was stunned to discover that it wasn’t actually that hard to not check-in thereafter.
To say this surprised me is a massive understatement. I expected that this effort would be something painful, compulsively challenging and outrageously difficult to do– and that the little blue icon would be calling me constantly.
To the contrary, once I was truly on digital detox, I felt a huge wave of relief. I had no idea how significant it would feel to not feel obligated to check in every hour (or half hour, or fifteen minutes) to what was going on online.
Indeed, the ease was so significant that when my 48 hours were up, I kinda didn’t want to go back.
2) You notice a lot of interesting things when you aren’t checking your phone all the time.
On the first day of my digital detox, I happened to be in the supermarket looking for something to actually read (on paper. for real.).
And in the process of checking out the latest yoga and personal development magazines, I saw one of my oldest friends– someone who actually spoke at my wedding– on the cover of a new magazine called Mantra. Quite the accomplishment.
On day two of my digital detox, while wandering through the bookstore to look for something to actually read (on paper. for real.), I came across not just one but two new books written by friends of mine that were stacked almost on top of each other in the personal development section of the bookstore’s new releases.
For a moment each time, I got to celebrate these great successes of my friends. And I’m not sure I would have seen them if I’d been standing in line instead, checking my phone for the latest post on Instagram from someone I’ve never met in person.
It’s funny how when you’re nose down in social media, thinking you’re catching up on all the latest news, you actually might be missing really important, really significant things that are right in front of you in real life– things that matter to you and to your actual, real life friends.
And that was a major blessing of this digital detox.
3) There’s an insidious competition to social media that you don’t notice until it’s gone.
I generally think I’m pretty good at steering clear of online competition despite my very active presence on social media. My feed is very clean, almost 100% positive and full up with positive people, and I generally block or unfriend anyone who fills up my feed with negativity or gratuitous posts of humblebragging.
Curiously, however, what I noticed within a few hours of the start of my digital detox was an overwhelming sense of relief that I wasn’t, even semi-consciously, comparing myself to others all the time.
Instead, I got to focus on how I was doing– like really doing– instead of how everyone else was presenting themselves as faring in the world.
And once I got down to that, some really interesting things started to happen.
4) I discovered:
a) that I have more time than I might have imagined, and
b) that my self-care has been totally out of whack.
Let me just say this out loud:
Both days of my digital detox, I had time to take a nap.
Now, if you don’t think this is revolutionary, consider that with two kids under the age of four, one of whom sleeps in the same bed with me for most of every night, I’ve been sleep-deprived for the better part of the last several years at least.
And yet every day, I’ve found myself so overwhelmed with work, personal and family responsibilities that I can’t even remember the last time I tried to rest during a workday, even for a few minutes.
But the second I signed off for my digital detox– and this is saying something– I actually collapsed (and that’s the right word for it) on my couch for three and a half hours. I had no idea how much time had actually passed when I finally woke up, many hours later.
And the sad catch was that I was still exhausted.
At this point, I realized how necessary it was that everything else wait while I found the time to recover a bit.
And you know what? The sky didn’t fall, my business didn’t dissolve, and the world didn’t come to an end.
But I DID have time to take better care of myself.
By the end of my digital detox, I had begun to make a dent on my absolutely neglectful self-care over the past few months, and resolved to make more time for more self-care in the immediate future and for the long haul.
And the only explanation for that additional time I had (and will have going forward) was that I wasn’t constantly checking in on Facebook.
5) I finally felt able to practice the “less is more” mantra.
Not all that long ago, I finally finished reading Arianna Huffington’s wonderful book Thrive. In that book, Arianna talks about the need for all of us to start measuring our success by what she calls a Third Metric, instead of the first two traditional metrics, namely money and power.
Instead, she recommends we do less to welcome in more, in the form of wisdom, well-being and wonder– her Third Metric for success.
Never before this digital detox did I truly understand what she meant.
During my digital detox, at the suggestion of my coach, I started working with some new mantras just for the hell of it.
One of them was “the less I do, the more I make.”
If you’re like me (and many of my clients are), the mantra you’ve been living with for a long time is something like the exact opposite of this. Something like, for instance, “I have to do more to make more.”
And the latter, if you’re a true extreme Type-A, will lead you to break yourself in pursuit of the money you need to survive, to drain yourself until there’s nothing left, to put your own needs dead last in favor of doing more, more, more for everyone else.
I know of whence I speak.
And that, it turns out, is no way to live.
Result: call it coincidence or not, but a series of serendipitous things happened while I was on digital detox and taking care of myself in major ways for the first time in years.
New clients arrived. Old clients returned. Our landlord, without asking, cut our rent by $100 a month out of the blue. And a book deal I’ve been working on for some time went into the final stages of the offer process.
Much of this happened while I was (ahem) napping on the couch.
My coach encouraged me to think of it like this:
When you are full to the brim of others’ energy, needs and wants, to the neglect of your own, there is no room for growth.
When you are tapped out, there is no room to welcome in anything new.
When you are burnt out on every level, there is no way to accept any offer of more, better experiences– not until you turn off, tune out and renew.
And if you do not periodically empty out your body and your soul of all that pressure and all that gunk, your own progress will become impossible.
So what did 48 hours of digital detox teach me?
Answer: pretty much everything I needed to know to shift my life for the better right now.
And it’s led to some major resolutions going forward as to how I intend to change my life, my work habits, and my investment in social media.
Now I want to hear from you. Have you done a digital detox recently? If so, what did it teach you? Post your thoughts in the comments below.
Have a great week. And try, if you can, at least once this summer, to do a major digital detox yourself.
All the best,
PS. We’re in the midst right now of my incredible Summer Coaching Flash Sale, where I’m offering 20% off my coaching packages to all new and returning clients. Interested in getting started? Click here to begin.