A few weeks ago, one of my favorite yoga teachers Aarona Ganesan invited us to take part in a 21-day digital detox. The challenge was to not check your phone or any digital device for the first hour upon waking. No email, no texting, no social media.
I knew this would be a challenge for me since I’ve gotten into the habit of checking my phone first thing in the morning. I’ve never been a morning person, and in a way, “phone time” feels like an easy transition to wakefulness. In the mornings, with my eyes barely open, I roll onto my side and start to “check in”. I start with Instagram, then move on to Facebook, emails, and the news. Eventually I’ll roll onto my back, holding the phone above my face, engrossed in some article or scowling about a work issue that’s come up. When my fingers start to go numb, I know it’s time to get out of bed. I’m running late by then so I skip breakfast and take a quick shower. By the time I sit down to work, my mind is swirling with likes and comments, half-read articles, and to-do lists. It’s a terrible way to start the day. Keep reading for the top 3 things I learned from a digital detox.
Beginning the digital detox was pretty easy, and I saw the benefits right away. I was amazed at how much I could accomplish in an hour when I wasn’t online. I quickly fell into a routine that felt really nice. I would spend about 15 minutes tidying up – doing the dishes or sweeping the floor. Then I’d still have plenty of time for some yoga followed by breakfast and a cup of tea. It was lovely. After that first hour of digital detox, I was usually in a really good state of mind before I even glanced at my phone or checked my email. I felt clear-headed, focused, and energized at the start of each day. With all these wonderful benefits, it made me want to take a digital detox more often. That’s when I realized how insidious phone addiction can be. As amazing as the digital detox felt, I still struggle to stay away from my phone. Not just in the mornings, but at all hours of the day - waiting for the bus, in line at the grocery store, late at night before bed. But even just noticing my behavior patterns has been tremendously helpful. Here are the top 3 things I learned from taking a 21-day digital detox.
1. Time moves slower offline.
One of the things that struck me during the digital detox was how long that first hour of the day felt – luxuriously, gloriously long. It’s easy for time to slip away when you’re online. I often find myself idly grabbing my phone to check an email, and then suddenly tumbling down the rabbit hole of information. Before I know it, an hour has gone by and I’m watching a TED talk on quantum biology, or reading a recap of a TV show that I didn’t watch. It’s pretty crazy how time flies when you’ve got access to unlimited information at your fingertips. On the other hand, time can really drag offline. That’s why it’s so easy to slip away into phone time whenever you start to feel bored or awkward.
2. It’s not just me.
Before I started the digital detox, I’d been having some troubles staying focused. I used to be really good about getting my work done. I would tackle my to-do list with robotic efficiency, and spend the rest of my time relaxing. But lately I’ve been feeling so distracted, and have trouble getting my work done at a reasonable hour. I thought perhaps I’d simply run out of willpower. Maybe that’s just what happens when you get older. But the digital detox made me realize that it’s not just me. It’s not that I’ve become less focused, it’s that now I have so much more to distract me. With smart phones, we are bombarded with constant streams of information on thousands of different channels. It’s no wonder I can’t think straight. With access to so much information, it’s harder to know which way to look, to prioritize what’s most important.
3. It’s not easy.
I could go on and on about how much I loved the digital detox. And I really did. It was amazing, and life-changing, and so, so nice. But even still, guess what I did on the 22nd day when the detox was over? I rolled over and I grabbed my phone, and suddenly I was back where I started. Despite all the benefits, I still find it really difficult to resist the allure of my phone. There’s just something so satisfying about that quick hit of information that keeps me coming back for more. The hope that perhaps something exciting might happen the next time I look. It’s a constant struggle, and it’s something I will continue to work on. I am so much more aware of how we all, as a culture, are becoming increasingly addicted to our devices. It’s hard to say what’s good and bad, what’s right or wrong. There are so many wonderful ways in which technology has connected us and made our lives better. We are navigating uncharted territory, and there are no rules. But I do know that I loved doing the digital detox. It felt amazing and I want to do more. I believe there’s something more interesting to be discovered in the here and now than you’ll be able to find on your phone. We just have to practice looking.