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Updated: Jun 23, 2020

We’ve all been there, mindlessly scrolling through our feeds looking at the highlights of other peoples curated lives which leaves us feeling worse and worse with each scroll. 30 minutes later we feel inferior and doubting our own journey. We must understand that this is not our fault. These platforms are designed to compete for your attention and keep you scrolling for as long as possible. Our brains are very susceptible to novelty, and combine this with our primal needs for social connection we can fall down a pretty deep rabbit hole.

One question I have recently started asking to the performers I work with is “what is your relationship with social media like?”. The digital age has brought about some positive changes for humans over the last few decades, such as providing a voice for the otherwise unheard, and bringing together communities in order to bring about social change. However this has come with a cost. With all this digital connection we are constantly on display and always online. Comparison, jealousy, and loneliness are just a few of the symptoms of social media. Around 1 in 4 students struggle with some sort of mental health issue and this is due in part to the creation and maintenance of an online persona. As psychologist and economist Herbert A. Simon says: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. This rings true now more than ever as our attention is being competed for and if we do not form a healthy relationship with social media we risk it affecting not only our performance, but our well-being. Our brains are not meant to be bombarded with all this stimuli so we must learn to reduce the noise in our lives.

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention"

All is not doom and gloom however if we learn to become aware of our triggers and habits that may not be conducive to our overall mental health. Social media can be a useful tool and it is unrealistic to think we should completely go off the grid (unless you’re one of the few that got away, koodos to you!). So instead we can form a healthier relationship with these tools and live a life more balanced and on our terms. Here are a few tips to start that process:

(1) Question why you are scrolling

Too often we are mindlessly scrolling through our feed without really understanding what the point is. Next time you start to reach for your phone stop and ask yourself “why am I going for my phone”? Is this just a habit? Are you bored? Lonely? The more we question the why behind our habits the more we can understand and develop better ones.

Another thing to question is what triggers your need to check your phone. Pay attention to the subtle details of your habits such as always going for your phone whenever you feel sad, which in a way is your mind unconsciously trying to protect you from the reality of the present. But it does not equip you with proper ways to deal with your emotions. Try meditation instead!

(2) Pay attention to how you feel after

How do you feel after you go through your feed? Do you feel satisfied or happy? Most likely if you really pay attention you will notice that you tend to actually feel worse. There is an illusion of sustenance in this age of instant gratification and the more we are aware of this self perpetuating cycle we can break free of it. Keep a log of your experiences and see if you can start to notice some trends and patterns.

(3) Social Media Sabbath

Every once in a while we should have a planned day of abstinence from the things that have alot of power over us. This is a good way to gauge how much of a hold social media or your phone has over you. I like to use Sundays as my day away from social media because it is a natural day of recovery. Sometimes I plan a week off of social media, especially when I start to notice my mental health is being affected from seeing all the unrealistic standards and lives being portrayed.

Try it out for yourself. Plan one day out of the week to completely go cold turkey from social media. If you find it difficult to last one day, you may have a social media/phone addiction. Don’t be too hard on yourself though, remember these things are designed to hack your attention and it takes some time to form better habits. Be patient and start off with smaller more realistic goals such as going offline for an hour to start.

(4) Limit your use

There are great apps nowadays that actually can help you form healthier habits. I like to use Stay Focused which is very customizable to your needs. You can set blocks for specific days, and or certain time limits of various apps. I have a block on social media after 9:00 PM and it even allows to have a personalized message that pops up when you click the blocked app to help keep you on track (mine pertains to staying focused on my own goals and well-being rather than on someone else's). I also blocked one full day a week which is my “social media sabbath”. I have found myself more productive, and spend less time needlessly and mindlessly scrolling. What's more, seeing your monthly usage data can be quite eye opening (and scary)!

(5) Out of sight, out of mind

One time tested psychological trick is to physically remove the thing trying to hold your attention. I keep my phone charging in another room when I sleep, and I try to keep it out of arm's reach when doing some work or even watching TV. For those of you who like to use your phone for an alarm there are many alarms you can buy for cheap that can replace your phone. So that is not an excuse ;).

Plan ahead and create the space for more mindful phone use. Next time you are out with your friends or family, see if you can just have your phone in your pocket instead of on the table. Practise tuning into the present (and what you are potentially avoiding by using your phone) rather than drifting away to a digital world.

At the end of the day, it is you who must decide whether or not your relationship with your phone and social media is hindering or helping your performance and well-being. It all starts with being honest with yourself and understanding that we all struggle with it, but it is becoming more and more clear that the individual who can hold their attention the longest, without getting distracted by a thought, feeling, or in this case a ding of a phone, holds great power in this age of attention poverty. Time to reduce the noise my friends!

As always, feel the force and don't force the feel.

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