The Journeying Engineer lying on a rock

TJE 41: The Transformative Social Media Break

Yes. Here’s yet another millennial talking about social media break, as if he found the elixir to living a good life. But seriously, I can now argue that taking a break indeed makes life better. And I decided to share this to give a case study to anyone who’s flirting with the idea but hesitates because of fear of missing out or avoiding boredom.

In my last post more than a year ago, I mentioned about recovering from a funk, or self-diagnosed depression (hey, it might be real depression). One step towards that was the elimination of distractions, that cause short-lived or even fake happiness, brought by social media.

The growth of social media platforms came at a time when I was progressing in my (past) career, while also caught in a travel bug. I was going places and growing my network. It’s so much fun to share about those! The humble-brag became the norm.

How the Bad Habit Formed

I started social media with Friendster, MySpace and even Multiply. But they weren’t that fun. And I didn’t have access to fast Internet connection then. So nope, I wasn’t hooked to social media yet.

Things changed in 2007 when I was living in Japan without a TV, but with a fast Internet connection. At that time, YouTube was still in the early stages. But then it provided a lot of entertainment already. I started subscribing to people, the early YouTube stars, and it quickly became my go-to site whenever I’m connected. I was really hooked to it that 2007 was the year when I lost interest in TV. I came back to the Philippines in 2008 a different person: one who can live without television.

So with my life tied to the Internet, I was ready to embrace the incoming apocalypse that was empowered by Facebook. To me, it just seemed natural that people of this age should have lives online and interact with friends wherever they are. When I heard about Twitter, I also made an account. Then Instagram came, I was an aspiring photographer, so I made an account too. I also had Vine and Snapchat. The growth of social media platforms came at a time when I was progressing in my (past) career, while also caught in a travel bug. I was going places and growing my network. It’s so much fun to share about those! The humble-brag became the norm. And in social media, it’s give and take. You like other people’s post, and most will like yours back. So even without any update from my end, I would still open Facebook and Instagram in my down time or waiting time and have a liking spree. My down time especially weekends spent at home would comprise a loooot of YouTube. I wasn’t that active on Twitter though.

Prelude to the break

2017 was the year when I decided to be an entrepreneur. And boy was it rough for me. I have explained in part the difficulty and the recovery process in the blog before this. What I haven’t mentioned there was that, with my procrastination, social media were convenient distractions. And so unproductive days just built up and made me sadder by the day.

Interestingly, if people were only looking at my social media posts, they would not know that I was undergoing a funk. When I shared my personal struggle to family and friends, some of them were surprised that I was “depressed.” They didn’t notice it. And that’s an example of the illusion social media creates.

There had to be a first step towards ending my depression

The Decision

I recognized that I was dealing with the situation wrongly. Things needed to change. The noise was just too much. I was still confused and sometimes clueless with my new life, but I needed to do something. And so the decision to stop or strictly control social media came. There had to be a first step towards ending my depression (again, self-diagnosed). And that was, to eliminate distractions starting from the biggest culprit.

Rule Setting

Facebook was the number one distraction I had to prioritize. That’s because it’s the platform most filled with junk, as I didn’t control it too much. I just accepted friend requests from anyone I met. Hence, I found the Facebook feed before leaving it, quite noisy.

Instagram was the other priority to cut. I love that app, and I controlled my following early on, limiting to only close friends (except the early adapters) and inspiring photographers. But because of this, it’s the app where I spent the most liking spree. And it’s also the platform where I felt most pressure to post something.

Notifications were turned off for all the apps. And I challenged myself to abstain from them even without deleting. Because that’s the goal: to reach a point of restraint that they’re just there to be accessed only when helpful. Same as how I managed to make TV completely optional. It’s just there, but I rarely use it.

There where I won’t immediately see them

Exceptions

My first love, YouTube, was an exception. It’s because I find a lot of educational and inspirational material there. So the challenge was, to avoid being caught in the YouTube rabbit hole (you know this, right?).

Weirdly, I became more active on Twitter, though rarely tweeting. I had growing interest in cryptocurrency in 2018, and influencers of the topic were quite active on the microblogging site. So I followed a bunch of nerds and entrepreneurs where I could get new ideas, updates and reading materials. At times I tweet, but without the same vanity burden as FB and IG.

Another exception: since I manage the marketing of Palakape, I still use FB and IG accounts of the business. So that’s an added challenge then, as there had to be control in terms of opening the apps and just going about posting, updating and corresponding for the business and nothing else.

Lastly, I experimented with a blockchain-based blogging and social media called Steemit. It was sort of a secret hideout for me, posting about coffee, mostly in video format while hiding my face. However, I have not put out content for 11 months now because it’s still a pain to use, with terrible UI.

First 3 Weeks

Social media use was such a habit, that it was really difficult to not access them during waiting or procrastinating moments. The first week or two (or three!) still had me opening the apps from time to time, but I resisted the urge to interact with any post. I just scrolled past the feed, while telling myself don’t double tap, don’t react, get out of this app!

Some Helpful Tweaks

Here were some helpful tweaks that I did to avoid temptation:

  • As mentioned, all notifications were turned off.
  • I moved the apps where I didn’t immediately see them. It used to be that the social media folder was at my smart phone’s front page. A simple mind hack was to move the folder to the last page.
  • Facebook already has a separate Messenger app, and so I use that to update with people close to me. And that’s where I greet most connections on their birthdays, no longer in their wall. Speaking of…
  • You can download your Facebook calendar to be incorporated in your smart phone’s. At first when I didn’t know this, it caused me to open the app because I didn’t want to miss greeting people. Then I thought, I should just add people’s birthdays to my calendar. So I made a quick search if there’s a way to automate this. And the answer is yes. Facebook allows you to do that. I won’t discuss it here, just do a quick search and you’ll find posts like this, to guide you. So with that, I get a notification for someone’s birthday through my phone’s calendar, and greet them on the Messenger app or other messaging service.
  • There’s also a Facebook Page Manager app, and that’s what I open most of the time to update Palakape’s page. That way, I don’t have to see personal feed and notifications. The Facebook Page Manager has some limits and it doesn’t sync immediately, but it seems to improve over time.
  • Because I open Twitter frequently to get cryptocurrency scoop, I muted some active followings to limit the topics in the feed.
  • Similarly on Youtube, I marked some videos that appear on recommendations that I know would just be a waste of time as “not interested,” or click the “X” in topic recommendations that I used to fall for but know that they’d just be useless. And as educational and motivational video history stacked up, YT recommendations eventually improved.

Getting the Hang of it

So after three weeks, the impulse started weakening, and the habit, subsiding. I was able to allot more time thinking of other things. I admit the extra time I got would sometimes go to YouTube. But overall, it made me a bit more creative, as I got to have more moments of reflection and boredom (more on this later). Pairing the social media break with effort to just keep going and learning, things started to get clarity that I overcame the prolonged sad state of mind.

A Hiccup

Portage Lake, Alaska | April 2018

I collected a few small travel experiences while away from social media, and then had this big one, that caused a hiccup. I went back to Instagram from late April to early June 2018, to post about travel. I felt like sharing photos in my favorite app! I rationalized it by thinking that I shouldn’t waste the photographs. Also, I just felt that by April 2018, the depression finally ended. So I could reward myself with a little IG fun. But no, the humble-brag mentality stepped in, that’s why. I still abstained from Facebook, but still, the 3 month break was too short for me to fully get rid of the social media itch. After this hiccup though, I did take the real break.

The Real Break

The last social media post I made was on Instagram on June 7, 2018. And nothing followed it until this blog post. There were only 2 tiny instances of hiccup, when out of pressure, I had to interact with a couple of friends on Facebook (liking and commenting). But basically, I didn’t update personal social media for 1 year and 3 months!

And I feel that by 2019, I was also able to finally control my Youtube use. Thing was, my consumption of educational topics ironically became a way to procrastinate. Haha! So it’s really the habit of consuming media that needed to be broken.

Experiencing boredom can help you become more creative.

Most Important: Realizations, Lessons Learned

Here are some realizations and lessons learned that I’d like to share about this journey:

  • Experiencing boredom can help you become more creative. In the age of smart phones, ask yourself, when was the last time you felt bored? This is a very important realization to me, since in the pursuit of switching mentality from employee to entrepreneur, it’s the focus on the act of creating that really led to the a-ha moment. Do yourself a favor and watch the video below.
  • Still related to my mental shift, stopping social media helped me focus on others. Entrepreneurship is about providing valuable things to other people. As T Harv Eker put it in a free webinar a couple of years ago, “It’s about them, not about you.” He also explained this concept in item 9 of this blog post. Updating on social media inevitably added time spent thinking about myself. When I cut it, the vanity significantly decreased.
  • This is cliche, but you really live in the moment when not pressured to update social media immediately. Operative word: immediately. Giving updates is good, but the impulse to share ASAP erodes the moment before you thoroughly enjoy it. I now spend less time taking photos during trips or special life experiences. Sometimes, I skip the urge to take photos. The views, moments, feels are savored more because of that. This may not be applicable to those whose income depends on social media content so, if you’re reading this, let me know how you deal with it!
Dubai | November 2018
  • You save energy and consequently, money. With social media, you spend energy consuming entertainment and trivial stuff, and that competes with your energy to do more important, impactful, relevant and/or creative tasks. Energy entails costs. Come to think of it, you can save money by lessening time in social media! For example, think of a simplified office scenario, where you start to work at 9 AM. Lunch break is 12 PM, and you could leave office at 6 PM. One day, you have 2 important tasks that needs to be finished no matter what. Each takes 3 hours of focused time. Because you get distracted with social media, instead of finishing the first task in 3 hours before lunch, you take the break in between before being done. So instead of starting the next task after your break time, you still have to work on the first. Let’s say you finish at 2 PM. You could finish the second task by 5 PM, with an hour left taking it easy before leaving the office on time at 6 PM. But then you let yourself be distracted again. You finish at 7 PM. That’s an hour over time. You’re hungry, so you dine out before going home. Instead of being home by 7 PM, you arrive at 9 PM. At home, you feel tired and need to unwind. You watch TV, or surf the net inevitably taking more social media time. Instead of sleeping on or before 10 PM, you sleep by midnight. And you take a little snack by 11 PM because you’re a bit hungry. Instead of getting 8+ hours of sleep, you only get 5-6. The next day, you cannot be late, but you wake up late. So you skip breakfast at home and just buy something in a convenience store. Think of all the money that could be saved in that scenario multiplied by the number of occurrences. You can do away with overtime, that would save your employer money. You can do away with dining out, that would save you money. You can do away with the late night snack, that would save you money for grocery shopping. You could have slept better too, that benefits your health. And we all know how staying healthy can save us money!
  • If you’re hungry for information, you can empower yourself when social media is absent. I finished several online courses in 2018 to early 2019. Below is a snapshot of a portion of my LinkedIn profile. Except for Barista 101, all the items listed there were achieved during the social media break. Not to mention a few books read in that span of time. LOL. I guess a nerd will always be a nerd. 🤓
  • As a side note, I never really liked the news. I rarely update myself with the goings on around the world. And the reason behind this is because frequent consumption of news exposes oneself to knowledge of issues that you mostly have no control of. To me, the stress, worry, or even memory is not worth it for most news. And social media use is akin to consuming news, just mostly about the people you know. It’s not necessary to get daily updates, is it? You probably heard a quote that goes similar to what John C. Maxwell (?) said: “Most people want to change the world to improve their lives, but the world they need to change first is the one inside themselves.”
  • Finally, important people reach out to you, and vice versa. I mean, it goes without saying.

Back and in Control

The image above is a good metaphor of how the transformative social media break is. Head’s cut, as if my mind has opened up. Palakape in front, like prioritizing value provision over self image. The shirt says “Currently” like how I’m just present in the moment. And it’s in a beautiful, peaceful place faraway, which represents a journey anyone can choose to take towards a more peaceful state of mind.

Now that I feel my attitude towards social media has changed, I decided to “lift” the self-imposed break from personal accounts. And if I get caught in a bad habit again, with the lessons stated above in mind, I know what to do.

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