One of my New Year Resolutions for this year is to establish healthier habits surrounding my social media usage. I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with social media. As a digital creator and marketer, I can’t exactly quit it, but I also know that it occupies far more time in my day than it really should. I find myself mindlessly scrolling the same posts throughout my day when there are things I would much rather be working on. Social media use—especially on our phones—has been likened to “carrying around little dopamine stimulators in our pockets,” and can cause legitimate, harmful addictions. Critics have also said that social media (and screen use in general) is contributing to an increase in depression and anxiety, but a recent study from my alma mater, BYU, indicates that it’s not the quantity of the time you spend on social media that makes a difference, it’s the quality.
So while I have a long way to go when it comes to creating a healthier relationship with social media this year, here are some of the things I’m trying to put into practice.
Social Media Fast
In 2018, President Russell M. Nelson extended the invitation to take a break from social media for ten days. Accepting that invitation helped me see just how often I was reaching for my phone or logging into Facebook on my desktop. It was surprisingly hard to fight the urge, and it really opened my eyes to how much of an influence social media had on my life. I’d love to say that week and half cured me of the social media impulse and resulted in healthier habits, but alas, I went right back to my regular usage when that time was up. But what it did do was help me think about it more intentionally. I was much more aware of the time I was spending on social media, and I made more deliberate choices about how, where, and when I used it—at least for a little while. That effect has waned somewhat, so perhaps it’s time for me to do another social media fast.
If you’d like to try a social media fast, here’s a few things that might aid in your success:
- Give yourself a visual reminder, like writing it on your calendar or taping a sticky note to your computer monitor.
- Temporarily deactivate your social media accounts.
- Delete apps from your phone. You can reinstall them after you complete your fast—if you want to. You may find that you’re happier without them.
- If your job requires you to use social media, you may want to set individual fast days instead of a whole week. You could turn off social media for the weekends, for example, or commit to avoiding social apps during your vacation.
Limit Your Social Media Platforms
There is no rule that says that you have to be on every single platform. Even as a professional marketer, I am not on Twitter. I find that it’s a toxic environment for me, so I made the decision several years ago to delete my account and I haven’t missed it. I also don’t use SnapChat, Tumblr, Reddit, or TikTok. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends (who are scattered all over the world thanks to my year living in England); I’m on Instagram because I love to follow my favorite photographers, artists, and equestrians; and Pinterest because I like to learn new things *cough* and because I’m a link hoarder *cough.* (Don’t judge.)
My point is that you can choose which platforms you want to use based on what value it will provide in your life. If you find that it truly helps you foster meaningful and happy relationships, go ahead and use it. If it inspires you and helps you improve your talents or learn new skills, stick with it. But if you’re on a platform just because it’s popular, you might want to delete your account. If you feel like you’re going to miss out on something important, you’re not—if it’s truly important, the news will find its way to you.
And something else I’ve discovered is that friends and fandoms often post the same things to multiple platforms, so I really don’t have to be everywhere. If most of your connections use a particular platform, maybe that one is all you need.
Choose Your Friends Wisely
I recently heard a skit by comedian Zoltan Kaszas in which he bemoaned the fact that we can’t have acquaintances anymore. We feel obligated to connect with everyone we meet on social media, whether or not we’re truly interested in staying in touch.
But just as there’s no rule that you have to be on every platform, there’s also no rule that says you have to be friends with or follow everyone on social media. You don’t have to accept every friend request you get—and I’m not just talking strangers, either. Finding a random person you went to school with 15 years ago but haven’t seen since doesn’t mean you have to reconnect. Even people you interact with regularly—coworkers, classmates, neighbors you only talk to when you bump into each other at the mailbox—don’t have to be on your friend list.
You also don’t have to stay connected with people who make you feel bad about yourself or consistently engage in negative conversations. In fact, you shouldn’t.
I am a firm believer that our efforts to be friends with everyone contributes to the loneliness and isolation so many feel these days. Energy and time are finite resources. We cannot possibly cultivate close, meaningful relationships with every single person in our life. It is absolutely okay to focus only on the friendships you truly want to nurture—I dare say it’s even imperative.
If you feel awkward rejecting a friend request from someone you see regularly but really aren’t interested in seeing their updates, many platforms now have a mute or unfollow feature that allows you to stay connected without seeing their posts.
I have been really focusing on setting boundaries lately in my personal and professional life. Social media use is no different. Setting boundaries for when, where, and how long you check you phone can be so helpful in cutting down on social media use. For example, leaving phones in another room when you gather for dinner means that everyone can be present and and engaged in conversation with the family, and turning phones off at least an hour before bedtime will help you sleep better. Setting time limits for how long you’ll let yourself spend on social media means you’ll have more time to do the things you’re really interested in doing. Even scheduling in specific periods of time when you’re allowed to check your accounts will let you keep in touch with friends without feeling guilty about how you’ve spent your time.
If you, like me, lack the self control to stick to self-imposed time limits, you can enlist the help of a blocking app or browser extension. I really like StayFocusd, a Chrome browser extension that lets me set time limits for sites on my block list. When that time expires, the extension blocks the site so I can’t use it for the rest of the day. You can also “go nuclear” and block time-sucking sites for a set period of time, and it’s even possible to run the extension in an incognito to discourage sneaking in through the back door.
If you have an iPhone, you can use the Screen Time setting to set daily limits for app categories. You can also set a password so you can’t just bypass the limit, and you could have a trusted friend or family member set that password for you so you don’t cheat. Personally, I find that Screen Time categorizes apps differently than I would, and sometimes it limits an app that I don’t want to limit. So another solution I’ve discovered is that both Facebook and Instagram have an option to notify you when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on the app. It won’t block the app at that point, but it does trigger a reminder to put your phone down and do something more meaningful.
Find Better Boredom Busters
Most of the time, we mindlessly scroll social media because we’re bored. Instead of reaching for your phone when you need a break, train yourself to reach for a book. Or pick up a pencil and write. Or draw, or paint, or play an instrument. Call a friend and invite them out for lunch. Play a board game with a family member. Go for a walk. Take a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn (try edX, CreativeLive, or Udemy). We’re so busy looking at social media and coveting other people’s lives that we aren’t living our own, but then we wonder why we’re so dissatisfied. It’s your life! Go live it!
Turn Off Notifications
I’m a bit noise sensitive, so right from the earliest days of my smart phone usage, I turned off all social app notifications. If the constant dinging of your phone is enticing you to check your accounts every five seconds, you might consider turning notifications off, too. You do not need to keep a running tally of likes and comments in real time. They will be waiting for you when you check in during your scheduled social media break.
Also, a 2017 study by the University of Chicago showed that merely silencing your phone isn’t enough to counteract its distracting influence. Students who silenced their phones still performed worse on cognitive assessments than those who left their phones in a different room. Apparently, the mere presence of a smart phone is enough to make us less… well, smart.
My sister once said something that really made me think hard about how I use social media. She said, “I only want to post things that are uplifting.” I thought that was so profound that I’ve tried to adopt the same goal. Instead of filling my feed with silly cat videos (don’t get me wrong, I love silly cat videos), I try to share things that are encouraging, helpful, or faith-promoting. I want my time on this earth—and my social media habits—to be spent helping others and serving God. I’m not perfect, but I do want to be a force of love in a world that wants to tear everybody down.
As you engage on social media, take stock of the type of legacy you’re leaving. Do you start or participate in conversations that are combative and divisive? Do you share things of value or frivolity? Are you more worried about how you’ll look than how you’ll make someone else feel? I think a great rubric for measuring our social media posts is the 13th Article of Faith:
I don’t want to give off the impression that I think social media is bad. It can be used for lots of good things, like keeping in touch with friends, sharing the gospel, and improving your career. The trick is to find an appropriate balance so that we’re not letting it run our lives.
As I said at the beginning, these are very much things I’m still working on. I currently do not have what I would consider healthy social media habits, but I want them and I’m willing to work for them. The great thing about life is that even if we slip up and spend more time and energy on social media than we need to, we can try again tomorrow.
Will you join me?
Pick one of the tips above—or your own idea—and commit to trying it for ten day. At the end, take time to think about the difference it makes in your life. Did it work? If so, keep going! If not, make an adjustment and try again. Eventually, you will find a system that works for you.
And if you’d like more tips on establishing healthy social media habits in your family, Sarah M. Coyne, PhD., one of the researchers from the aforementioned BYU study, has developed a curriculum for teaching social media literacy to your children.
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