More and more people are coming to us wanting to renegotiate their relationship with social media. They report feeling out of control and frazzled by the energy spent crafting the perfect comment and monitoring responses. They regret the hours consumed roaming internet rabbit holes and watching clever videos.
Ring any bells?
Facebook is like potato chips.
As humans we have developed a lot of unconscious and automatic mechanisms that serve us well most of the time, but on occasion we can be unwittingly triggered in not so good ways. For example, salt and fat are essential nutrients, but not in party-size bags consumed at night on the couch. Likewise, social media drips luscious chemicals into our brains with a promising ping of connection and novelty. But this promise is unfulfilled when it interrupts a meal with a friend, or escalates into a distraction 24/7.
Facebook and potato chips are designed to hook us into a relationship someone else wants us to have based on their agenda. The saving grace is that we do have a choice. We can consciously decide how these activities do or do not contribute to our well being, and then choose based on our agenda.
What's the impact on your quality of life?
We know a retired woman who lost both her legs, and went on to become a well-respected book review blogger. She spends a lot of time connecting with people online, and it has substantially enriched her world. We also know a couple whose relationship was strained because of all the time spent online versus connecting as a family.
The amount of time you spend on social media should be in proportion to the amount of goodness it brings into your life. Ask yourself, "How life enhancing is the return on my investment of time and energy?"
Consider the opportunity costs. Are there things you are not doing now because of the time you spend on social media, such as:
If you don't already know, track your social media time for a couple of days. Note when you start and when you finish and include the time spent following links and watching videos, as well as how frequently you engage with it (2?, 10?, 50? times a day).
What might you do if you had this time—an hour, or four, or five—to spend on something else, uninterrupted?
Create your own Quality of Life Guidelines.
Inhabit your independence and consciously decide how you want to spend your precious time on earth. This applies to social media, as well as just about all areas of your life. The following strategies will help you figure out your personal guidelines.
~ Take a break. It's good to get a breather from just about everything in your life from time to time, especially social media. Try regularly turning it off for day or two, and on occasion, for a week. This time away will give you a perspective on its impact, and allow you to more easily hit the reset button. We've written about unplugging and electronic Sabbaths in several other essays.
~ Clarify your purpose. By understanding what you really want from social media, you can better determine what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. Once you have honed what is truly important to you, you'll find that you can easily disregard 99% of the other stuff.
If you find your reasons for being on Facebook and the like are to feel less lonely or bored, or to distract yourself from difficult feelings, figure out if you are ready to explore the root causes of those issues. If so, look for support to help you engage with what's really going on.
~ Preset boundaries help. Setting up limits in advance relieves the pressure of having to decide moment to moment what to do. Figure out when, how much time, and other parameters that structure your behavior. For example, we recommend turning off email notifications whenever possible.
~ Find support. This is kind of ironic when it comes to Facebook, right, but really what are friends for? Ask for help in breaking unwanted habits and connecting in more rewarding ways. You might also want to install the various computer programs that will monitor and limit your online behavior.
~ Friend yourself. What would you wish for you if you were your own best friend? What advice and encouragement would you offer? Brainstorm the things you want to do (like the tango!) and be (more relaxed!), and spend your time and energy pursuing those dreams. It is when you are more fully living your life according to your own guidelines that your relationship to social media will most naturally find its place.
Make a list of all the things you love doing and that are important to you. With those priorities in mind, now estimate how much time you actually have for social media each day.
Edit your social media experience so that you are left with only the juiciest, most gratifying connections. Be zealous in your cuts. What do you notice one week after redesigning your social media along these lines?
Ironically electronically yours!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
Please pass this along to other interested people. Your feedback is much appreciated.
If you find our work useful or inspiring, consider making a gift via PayPal.