I turned off my phone and computer for 24 hours while at home, and it was a life-altering experience. (Read this article to find out how I prepared for it.) I have had limited phone and computer access before, while traveling or being out in nature, but doing this on purpose, while at home in my usual environment, was certainly an eye-opening experience.
Why I turned off my devices for 24 hours
When the National Day of Unplugging came along, I thought I would give it a try. I am always up for a challenge, and even though I don’t consider myself addicted to my phone, if I am really honest, I actually am a little (okay, maybe a little more). Yes, other people may be way more addicted, but that is not the point. It is taking precious time from my life and I am willing to look at that, because time is very important to me.
I had already deleted my Facebook app, but had to keep Instagram since it’s made for a mobile device. In retrospect, I still checked my phone way too often, and not always for a good reason—lots of habitual checking. The day before I turned off my devices I looked at the stats: I had picked up my phone 100 times that day and had spent 1 hour and 45 minutes on my phone.
The truth about burying ourselves in our phones
The most important reason why I decided to do this experiment is because I often feel sort of empty when I aimlessly spend time on my phone. It’s a weird feeling, a “something is not right” kind of thing. Can’t even explain what exactly. Just not right.
The Guardian published an article about how much time people spend on their phones, and why they do it. Max, a 28-year-old journalist, says this: “It’s like constantly opening and closing the front door, hoping that someone will be there when they almost never are.” I was having that kind of feeling—the feeling that I am looking for something, but I keep looking in the wrong place.
We need our phones (at least that’s what I tell myself)
People spend 2, 3, 4, even 6 hours on their phones every day. I spend under 2 hours (which still feels like a great deal of time), so here are my many great reasons for it:
- I write emails on my phone
- My phone is necessary for my business
- I use it to read articles
- It is my way of checking time and my alarm clock
- How about those great reminders? The phone is handy for them
- Don’t get me going on maps and directions; I don’t know how people survived before GPS existed
- My phone is my notepad
- I have to use it for Instagram
Those are all great reasons, and I am certainly not writing this to convince anyone to ditch their phone (unless you really want to). Instead, I am going to share next what happened to me when I turned off all devices off for 24 hours while at home. And then how I decided to use my devices from here on.
What I have learned from not using my devices for 24 hours
I was sort of excited for this little experiment. But about 20 minutes before turning everything off, I am not kidding you, I think I experienced some sort of withdrawal symptoms. The thought of not checking social media, text messages, and emails for 24 hours came to me through a strange sort of weakness in my upper body that I can only call fear of something. It probably was a fear of missing out, I imagine.
Here is what happened afterwards, and what I learned from it:
- I had to learn to be with myself – I turned off my devices a few minutes before 6pm on a Friday night, which is probably the best day to try this experiment. After having dinner, I realized that my Friday night go-to habit is to watch a movie; easy and relaxing. So since there was no movie, I had to be with myself.
- I had to feel what I feel – I realized how I often choose a movie so I don’t feel my feelings. I was tired and likely a bit worried about various things in my life. Since there was nothing to distract myself with, I had to do what it takes to deal with what I was feeling, so I thought of journaling. But it felt too much, so my coping mechanism was to grab a novel. Just 30 minutes into reading, I fell asleep at 8pm.
- I gave myself the gift of longer sleep – The truth is, when we are fatigued, stressed, anxious, and/or depressed, the best idea is to rest; and not to have more stimuli coming into our being (movies, social media, etc.) Ideally I would have journaled, to express what I felt, but since I was so tired, reading was the next best thing, since it put me right to sleep way earlier than my regular time. (A movie likely would have kept me up much longer, and I wouldn’t have had the extra sleep time.) I woke up 9 hours later, so rested and feeling like a different person. Then I was ready to journal.
- The start of feeling free – I noticed how freeing it is to not wonder if “so and so” texted me or emailed me, or wonder who posted what, or who commented on one of my posts. It crossed my mind a couple of times, then I realized I have to let go, I can’t check until tonight at 6pm.
- The intense pleasure of being freed – Little by little as the hours went by, I felt this sense of immense pleasure and happiness traveling through my body. I realized that I literally live in a virtual world much of my day. Even though I am only on my phone for less than 2 hours, my thoughts are within that realm so much of the time. I wondered with incredible excitement—what else could replace that, if I made the space for it?
- Comparing to others constantly is beyond tiring – I went for a walk and I realized how much we live comparing ourselves to people we have never met and likely will never meet. My Facebook and Instagram feeds are generally filled with wonderful medical providers who I want to learn from, inspirational people who I admire, and a variety of other people who I like for various reasons. That’s all good and fine, but I think I tend to forget to look around more to the people in my life, and “being” with these people online too much of the time is disconnecting and depressing.
- Time to receive and be inspired – One of the absolute best parts of this experiment was realizing how much I let outside stimuli and information keep my mind busy—then when would I have the time to process things so that I could allow inspiration into my life? Scientists say boredom can be the root of creativity; but we are never bored anymore, we always look for something to fill us. So I got to practice how it feels to be bored and then have no phone to grab. I had experienced ease and happiness because I came alive by just being.
- The realization that I didn’t miss One.Single.Thing. – The evening came, I thought I would rush to my beloved phone at 6pm, but I really didn’t want to, so I made dinner and enjoyed a quiet evening with my family. By 7:30, I had to admit, I was curious, what was happening out there? I turned everything on, and to my relief, excitement, and almost even disappointment (all at once kind of feeling), I found that I didn’t miss anything all that important. Truly. The world went on, the news was still there, and nothing was urgent.
What followed is that I want more of this. But I have to be realistic, life moves on, and I do want to use my devices. But I want to find a way to make it work well for me from here on.
My new way of using my computer and phone (hint: boundaries)
As I stepped into the new days, I thought of the all the wonderful things I experienced in those 24 hours. How could I replicate that to my daily life?
Here is my new relationship to my phone and computer:
- I am no longer using my phone as the alarm clock, but a standalone clock so I am not tempted to open email, read texts, scroll through the news, get notifications from Instagram, etc.
- I have decided to use my social media for only 10 minutes, three times a day. I am not really strict exactly as to when, but I do use my alarm clock for a timer so I don’t exceed those 10 minutes. Within that amount of time, all of my business and personal posting and commenting happens.
- I fixed the notifications on Instagram so they don’t pop up on my phone and distract me all day long. It seems like it needs to be done manually for 8 hours at a time, but that is good enough, twice a day I can take a few seconds to go into settings and make that happen. The Facebook app is deleted on my phone, so I’m only using it on my computer where I don’t get any notifications except when I open it.
- I keep my phone on vibrate and unless I am waiting for some urgent text, I make an effort to only check my phone on the hour (9am, 10am, etc.), or less often, too, when I feel so inclined.
- Monday through Friday I practice the same thing—I only check email once per hour maximum, from 9 to 6pm, and no email check until the next morning.
- Over the weekend, I only check my phone 3 times per day, and whenever possible and desired, I turn all devices off for either 12 or 24 hours.
- When writing or working on my computer and internet is not absolutely necessary, I turn the wifi off so text messages don’t get through to my computer and I am not distracted from my work.
- I started wearing my beautiful watches again, instead of using my phone to check the time.
- I leave my phone in my car or at home when I go for a hike, to church, shopping, etc.
- I use a notebook or planner for tasks, ideas, and reminders so I don’t have to tell myself that I have to text or email someone because I may forget later.
My new motto is: Use the technology but don’t let it use you, dictate who you are, and what you do. As time goes on, these new boundaries I have with my electronic devices may change, but this is where I am at right now, and I’m excited to see how it feels and what great things it leads to.
Now, could you really do this too? Probably, and it would change your life, I promise you
How could this work for you? I know we all lead different kinds of lives. My needs may be very different than yours. But if you are really honest with yourself, is there something that you would like to be different? Maybe you find yourself being unhappy with your scrolling, or maybe you want more time to do something else in your life?
If you haven’t done so, how about trying the challenge of 24 hours with no devices? Here is that article. If you think you can’t, really think about that. Unless you are a doctor being on call or have a very sick relative who is counting on you, I can’t think of many situations that you wouldn’t be able to find a way to do this. Unless you are too afraid of it. In which case, I promise you, you will be all right, and only good things will come out of it.
After you do this, based on your experience and your life, you can make your own set of new boundaries.
I hope this brings you much happiness. And if so, please share it with me!