“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it.” ~ Anna Taylor
After a 10 day detox from Instagram I realised how much space I was filling up with scrolling, posting, responding, liking, commenting… scrolling. I was kind to myself. The platform is designed to be addictive. I’m not a bad person for letting things swing out of balance. What the break did was help me reset boundaries.
I love the inspiration I gain from being in the virtual space of social media. Joyful insights, creative connections, and wise teachings would not come across my path without this platform. I am grateful for having received them. And there is so much wisdom out there if we scroll with intention, openness, and good boundaries.
Yet it’s easy to find ourselves ‘lost in scroll’ just as easily as we are lost in thought! So the time out enabled me to now set up important time limits and intentionality about being in the space. To make it sacred in a way that I would approach time with a teacher. Mindful, not mindless.
For me my detox showed me that even though I had set up timers and apps on my phone to limit my usage, my mind was finding ways around them. The temporary feel-good factor of checking on likes, comments on my posts, or connecting with others that I resonate with, was too strong. The programming of the Instagram app itself was too successful!
My willpower was much stronger when I put the full detox in place and the limitations on their own weren’t effective for me.
So I am turning to my mindfulness practice to better work out healthy boundaries for myself.
Using our moments of addiction as an opportunity to wake up
In her book “When things fall apart”, Pema Chodron speaks about ‘refraining’ as a mindfulness practice. The book was written well before Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were around but the teachings are very well translated across to how we interact in this space.
Mindfulness techniques teach us how to investigate and be with desire through our seated meditation practice (such as the desire to move, to eat, to drink, to sleep are just some of them, but desires also show up as many other thoughts too). We learn to notice the desire and any thoughts attached to it, to feel it in the body and to let it pass without following it through. This training can then be applied in life when we come across desires that might not be so healthy for us.
These desires might be classified as addictions. For some addiction is absolutely life-destroying and needs deep healing and support. But addiction can also show up in our everyday lives. Addictions are those things that we physically or psychologically feel we need to do, to the point of causing harm.
As a society we seem to have amassed a bunch of addictions: to single-use plastic, for the sake of convenience, despite its negative effects on the environment; to our phones, and social media in particular, to feel connected and inspired but also comparing ourselves to others and living through a device rather than in the beauty of the world outside. And to alcohol, food, TV, 24-hour news, etc, etc.
So we can use the technique of mindful refraining to help us to create boundaries around these activities. For example, we can notice when we have the desire to look at social media and using that as a moment of waking up!
We use this as a mindfulness practice. We use life as a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is not just about sitting in meditation for long periods and achieving deep states of relaxation and calm. It is bringing what we learn on the cushion to how we relate with our thoughts, words, and actions in our daily lives. This living practice is so much deeper.
Falling down the rabbit hole
Addiction to our phones (particularly social media) is an issue that is affecting a lot of people. It may seem silly to talk about addressing this as a spiritual practice but it is an important part of life, and we need to integrate the spiritual into our lives for it to be more powerful.
I definitely find that my use of Facebook and Instagram is different. I generally use Facebook on desktop/laptop computers, and I use it with intention during my work hours. I create content and events, share information and check notifications within a defined time. There is definitely less mindless scrolling.
Due to the way Instagram can only be used to its full capacity on a handheld device, I find that I get sucked into a rabbit hole, deeper and deeper, as I comment, like, click and repeat. It feels just like when I get totally lost in a story in my mind in meditation. When I realise, I am able to drag myself back out with a big breath and an inner exclamation of “Oh my, how long have I been here?!” Often the content is interesting but the reality is that I am completely lost.
Or are we just no good at doing nothing anymore?
The reasons for the overuse (particularly of our phones) can be boredom. As a society, we have forgotten what to do with the spaces between activities. We feel we need to fill them with being productive or we just feel anxious at the idea of doing nothing.
We might be waiting for a kettle to boil, waiting for a friend to arrive to meet us, waiting for an appointment. Our phone burns a hole in our pocket. We feel we need to use that space in time effectively by checking email, socials, news, etc. We constantly want to multitask, even scrolling while walking (hence the ‘look up’ campaign in major cities). Can we just be with that space and simply be waiting?
Meditation helps with this too! It is wonderful training in being ok with stillness and space. We can learn to sit with restlessness, just as we learn to sit with desire.
We might see that this same restlessness spills over into other areas of life. Such as food. What can I do? Maybe I’ll eat something?
It could be watching reality TV for you, having a drink, buying something online, going shopping.
These are not bad things and we are not bad people for doing these things but we need to be mindful of why and when we fall into the habits of filling space.
Creating boundaries and remembering to refrain
Social media is a vibrant and inspirational place to connect with others. I don’t feel bad about myself when I am engaged with social media, I don’t compare myself [anymore]. However, I do acknowledge that it is designed to be addictive and that my relationship with it can easily become unhealthy.
There are some great digital limitations you can add to your phone to help with the remembering, although I did find these alone weren’t completely effective.
Set app limits via the Settings and Screen time section on your iPhone
You can choose to limit usage of social networking sites each day (and vary for each day too). I chose to limit to 30 mins per day except for Wednesdays and Sundays which are 5 minutes. The problem is that when the time limit is up it gives you an option to extend by either 15 minutes or for the rest of the day. If you choose the second, which I sometimes mindlessly do, you then have unlimited access for the rest of the day! Whoops.
This is a separate app that you can download for free. You install it and then set up separate profiles for each of the apps you have decided you need boundaries around. You hide the original app icons and use new ones created by Space. When you open the new Instagram (for example) icon a Space screen appears saying “Take 2 deep breaths” and waits for a good few seconds before the actual app opens. This gives you that mindful pause to reconnect with your intention for being there and can really help with the remembering refraining part!
But… once you have the app opened iPhone doesn’t close it automatically. You can double click your home button and swipe to your open apps and just go right ahead and open Instagram again from there. Hence, bypassing all those nice boundaries you set up and going all in for the addictive goodness!
I have found that I need to bring intention into how I use the platforms. I figure out specific times to engage during the day/week. I approach those times as I would a specific piece of work, task or time with a teacher. I make time to post content, promote events and activities and specific time to check in with other inspirational people or organisations that I follow. I make specific times to check notifications and respond to people just as I have created those times for my emails.
Outside of those times I practice refraining. I notice the desire to check the app and I sit with it and watch it shift or intensify, just as I would thoughts and emotions in a meditation sitting. I feel the desire, embrace it, send myself Metta (loving-kindness), and I don’t follow through with action.
The easiest way for me to control my screen scrolling time is to cut it out completely, but that is not the most powerful and rewarding in my own view. I will take more detoxes but I won’t give it up completely. I do know it is designed to be addictive and so mindful, intentional practices are the way that I choose to manage and create boundaries around my usage.
Get in touch or comment below with your own tried and tested strategies for managing your relationship with social media and your screen usage.