Originally published on Medium.com | 3 Feb 2019
I quit Facebook cold turkey last June and once I got through the first few weeks of addict-level withdrawal, I haven’t looked back! Social media became an addiction that really snuck up on me over the course of many years. I’m a disciplined eater, spiritual seeker, physically conscious person, so letting an addiction go unchecked this long in my life should be proof of it’s power of distraction. It took a few months to stop thinking about it entirely. I’ve gained so much mental space and clarity from being away from it, I thought I would share some of what I learned in order to help anyone else thinking about cutting the social media cord. (I wrote at length about this here.)
Walking away has been challenging, and lonely at times, especially because I moved to a new city and quit Facebook the same year. I had to remind myself often that for millions of years humans existed without knowing so much about each other, surely I could survive in a world without social media too. I went back to deactivate my account in October and have been on Instagram all of 3 times in the past 3 months. Everyone has to wrestle their own FOMO demons, so it may be different for you, take what ideas are useful and leave the rest. I wish you luck in your return back to the “real world” — you’ll find that it’s really nice here!
The Devil Wears FOMO
The “Fear of Missing Out” (aka FOMO) is one of the most insidious devils there is, and greatly warned against in most spiritual and mental health traditions. It is a form of comparing ourselves to others that prevents us from being present in the moment and focusing on our own path. It often derails us with longing, regret, jealousy, envy, sadness that isn’t based in reality. Beware this beast who will drag you by the hair behind a rollercoaster as he speeds over the rails of your heart and mind! This can even happen from seeing people paying other people on Venmo. It’s crazy how many unwanted thoughts get triggered by the endless barrage of social “connectedness.” Learn to spot it as soon as it rears its ugly head and use all the tools in your kit to avoid and subdue it. For me, that is primarily meditation and journal writing. Learn to spot the FOMO devil in all of his disguises, process the feelings that come up, use all of your mindfulness super powers and get back to the present moment as soon as you can.
Put Away Your Dirty Laundry
95% of social media is over sharing. We simply don’t need to know this much about other people. Even sharing articles or photos is a way of putting our opinion out there for others to respond to, but it really doesn’t matter. Decide to put your own laundry where it belongs and not to look at anyone else’s. Savor your own ideas and inspirations privately…like wearing the finest French lingerie under overalls- you will feel the difference (and may even carry yourself differently) but it’s no one else’s business. I write 3 pages by hand in a spiral notebook every morning, a practice I’ve kept up since reading and doing the Artist’s Way 3 years ago. I find morning pages to be a great way to quickly and efficiently process the events of my life so I can move on to enjoying more of my life. I also spend time writing on my blog and Medium, where people that want to engage with my thoughts can find me.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Persist through the pain! You will feel the withdrawal, you may feel lonely and isolated, you may feel forgotten by people you once considered friends…keep going. On the other side of the addiction is a spacious landscape waiting for you to remember who you really are. Set timelines- I started with taking the summer off from Facebook (from Solstice to Equinox) and then I found I didn’t want to go back at all and deactivated my account in November. I started to send more letters, buy cool stamps, I starting using a wax seal, I called people more often, I wrote long emails, I savor my memories of time spent with people I love. If people don’t want to stay connected with you in the “real world”- then, chances are, the relationship wasn’t what you thought it was anyway. It takes time to be comfortable without the need for instant feedback from others about every trivial event of our lives. We’ve gotten accustomed to a pointless, exhausting and debilitating social feedback loop. Break the cycle, find yourself again.
Eliminate Mental Clutter
Like a dusty bookshelf covered in knick knacks, dirty dishes and spider webs, you can’t actually get to the wisdom on the shelves of your mind when it’s filled with clutter. Clean it up! When you succeed in making more mental space, it’s incredible. You’ll want more. I’m very protective over my clean, orderly mental book shelf now. I had HEARD of this thing called serenity (or was it sanity…?)…I just never imagined that I could have it! You can too. Insist on it. Ask for it by name. Do the work to find and keep it.
Starve the Hungry Ghost
Collecting followers and likes creates a hunger that can never be satisfied because it’s not based on real human interaction- it’s literally junk food, not a healthy meal. Somehow we all bought into the illusion that it was keeping us connected, but how many of your “friends” and “followers” (what a horrible word!) are the people that would show up at your birthday dinner? Call you after your parent dies? Go to your show? Attend your funeral? Showing up for people in the real world is much different than posting an emoji of sympathy — it requires emotional availability and compassion, the qualities that being a good friend, spouse, or parent also requires. Social media is a phony digital currency that leaves us broke. Leaving Facebook has truly made me a better friend and made me value my family more than ever. Focus on what is real, true and beautiful about the relationships that mean the most to you, and feed them instead.
Clean the Lens
Get really clear on the reason these social networks exist in the first place. Social media is propping up a distortion of reality that is created by algorithms in order to increase ad revenue to feed a greedy corporation that doesn’t care about you (or America, for that matter), only how much you’ll buy. Is this the lens you want to see your life through? The side effect of our buy-in is a lot of personal insecurity and a dissociated culture that feels very fragmented. Is this a world you want to live in? Is this a company you trust to re-package your life and show it to you on a screen? Take some time make sure the lens you look at your life through is the one you want! Personally, I just couldn’t make any more excuses for how bad of a company Facebook had become and that definitely contributed to my decision to pull the plug.
The Joy of Not Giving a Shit
A desire for validation and connection keeps us going back, but this is where being rooted in yourself and your values is key. Social media is not real validation, like actually being honored for an achievement that you worked hard for; and it’s not real connection, like actually having dinner with a dear friend. It’s completely disposable and artificial…as easily forgotten as the next post. Letting go of the need for validation is basically zen-ninja level spiritual work, but even mere mortals can achieve a level of not giving a shit about others opinions of us. Every single hero I have from Lou Reed to Gandhi, mentions some form of this sentiment as a key to success in life. Social media forces us to live in-reaction-to the world instead of inspired-by it. Choosing not to give a shit and instead following the breadcrumbs left by my heroes, I can focus more on living a life of integrity and inspiration. Plan some long term projects or achievable goals…I started writing two books. Ideas that probably wouldn’t have come to me if my mind wasn’t so open. I didn’t have ideas for books before…is this a side effect of leaving Facebook? Very possible. They may take me 10 years to finish, but I work on one of them almost every day and it’s really enjoyable. Once you get further into your detox, pay attention to any new ideas that bubble up and follow through on them. Also, reconnect to your personal heroes, the ones who inspire you to live a big and awesome life.
Kicking a Bad Habit
Think of leaving social media like quitting a drug or quitting smoking. The temptation will always be there, maybe you will even enjoy the “smell” of it from a distance or enjoy seeing others get high off it, but you know that it’s dangerous for you to be around it too much. You may be lulled into complacency by hearing other people wax pathetic about how they have to be on it for work, you will feel like you are missing some golden opportunity (FOMO again!) and maybe you actually can manage it in a healthy way...I don’t judge. For me, it’s like playing hot potato when I already have blister scars from playing that game already. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, then we have to change our behavior to get the results we do want. Handle the addiction like you would any other dangerous substance.
The Power of Personal Power
Taking agency over my life has been a big theme for me since my divorce. In my previous life, I would sometimes be passive and deferred to someone else because I had a lot of insecurity, was frequently exhausted emotionally and wanted to keep the peace or because it was easier to let someone else do the thinking for me. This was similar to my relationship to Facebook too, but those are ways that children behave, not self-actualizing adults. Take control over your life by filling it with the things that feed your soul and actually improve your quality of life. Eliminate things that don’t make you feel good and increase the things that are good for you. Don’t expect that anyone else is going to be protecting you from parasitic technology, only you can take control of your life and decide what to engage with and what to edit out. You don’t have to use something just because other people do. We still have agency. For now. So, use it while you still can, before the robots take over!
A side effect of my detox from social media has been a lot more free time, mental clarity and return to what I call “analog” life. I spend more time in nature, writing, reading, talking to my friends….the quality of my life has improved greatly and it has made examine my relationship to all technology. I’m much more cautious; I want to curate thoughtfully, assessing what aspects of modern life are actually improving my life, reinforcing healthy habits, making me think and become a better person. The ocean of “progress” often feels like it’s drowning me, so I try to remember that I still have agency and (relative) freedom to decide what I allow to have power over me. Holding on to these “analog” values has become more important to me and I encourage you to decide for yourself what you allow to have power over your experience of the world too. Choosing to live a life of integrity is an endless process of self-examination, which Socrates, himself, was willing to die for, believing that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While I’m glad we don’t have to drink poison hemlock in defense of our right to question the nature of things, I sure had gotten lazy about it. Leaving Facebook feels like I took a positive step forward in the pursuit of an authentic and truly satisfying life.