You’ve probably heard the news.
Social media is eating your brain. Notifications are hijacking your consciousness. And Mark Zuckerberg controls your soul.
But how do you actually escape the magnetic tentacles of social media?
Or at least get to a point where it’s not negatively impacting your mental health.
After 24 months of experimenting here are the 6 things that work — reliably and consistently, without turning you into a social recluse.
As a former social media crackhead, addicted to dating apps and posting Instagram stories, these 6 tips have honestly transformed my happiness and productivity.
1. Don’t use your phone as your alarm
Use this alarm instead:
It beams happy sunlight into your face and plays chirping bird sounds to wake you up in the morning.
Now, instead of grabbing your phone first thing in the morning to kill the beep-beep-beep, you’ll be free to start your day phone-free — with clarity and mindfulness.
This is the most important step.
If you start your day to a frenzy of fake news & notifications, you’re giving up control of your mind before the day has even been begun.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just switching out your alarm clock.
Once you’re out of bed, the irresistible urge to check your phone will quickly resurface and before you know it you’ll be back in the Matrix — scrolling, responding, reacting…
Which is why Step 2 is a must.
2. Hide your phone at night
I have an alarm on my phone at 11pm everyday.
And 11:05pm, and 11:10pm all the way till midnight.
These alarms are my cue to turn my phone off. (And start reading on my Kindle)
And if I don’t, I have to suffer through an hour of intermittent alarms.
But I don’t just turn my phone off.
I hide it under my brother’s bed. (That’s where my iPhone charger lives.)
So once my phone’s off, it’s basically impossible to retrieve it.
And this means when I wake up, my phone is still under my brother’s bed.
I can’t just go in, grab it, and start blindly scrolling.
There are obstacles: I have to piss off my brother, bend down, reach under his bed, and then scramble around to find my phone.
These extra “frictions” make it harder to turn my phone on.
And subsequently easier for me to crack on with healthy, productive things in the morning— like meditation, exercise, work, etc.
Obviously you might not have a brother whose bed you can hide your phone under. So just hide it somewhere out of sight and hard to get — under your own bed, a flatmate’s room or the top kitchen cupboard will all work.
3. And then don’t touch it till lunch
I leave my phone in its hiding place, under my brother’s bed, all the way till lunchtime (which for me is 2pm — intermittent fasting innit).
For the first few days, this will feel like a mental tug-of-war between Mark Zuckerberg and your prefrontal cortex.
But soon you’ll break the social media addiction and your mornings will be yours again.
But what if you need your phone in the morning?
For productive stuff — like calls, or Google Maps, Uber etc.
Introducing Step 4…
4. Buy a goddamn second phone
This really isn’t such a crazy idea.
Getting a second phone — free of social media — stops you getting sucked into the Zuckerberg vortex every time you want to check Google Maps for directions to the post office.
These are all the apps I use on my second social-media-free phone:
If I want to go for a distraction-free walk around Finsbury Park, I can still take photos, navigate and journal…but without any of the distracting downside.
If I want to go out for a distraction-free meal at Flat Iron, I can still call an Uber to get there, ring my friend to coordinate and pay with Apple pay…but again, without the clawing urge to reach into my pocket every 60 seconds.
It’s also super useful for work.
There are many times where I’ll need a phone to take a call, to confirm a security code via text, or test a website feature on mobile.
Previously I’d default to my regular phone.
I’d unlock it with good, productive intentions…but then fall prey to the magic red circles and lose the next 15 minutes to unconscious scrolling.
Phones are extremely useful. They’re just also extremely distracting.
With a second phone, you keep all the utility and cut all the distraction.
And they’re really cheap! I got my second iPhone 7 for £70.
5. Install Freedom
The Freedom app is amazing.
I’ve used it for years, and it’s successfully suppressed my addictions to Facebook, Youtube, and (more recently) Chess.com 😅
Freedom lets you block off access to certain websites for certain periods of the day.
For example, I block off these websites up until 3pm (when I finish lunch):
NB: LinkedIn, Slack and GMail are on this list, too. You can check your messages after doing your more important tasks. Starting the day with an email frenzy is rarely the best idea.
And then I block these websites permanently: Deliveroo, Just-Eat and Hungry House…
You can also install Freedom on your phone to block apps.
Obviously, what you block depends on your priorities and work commitments, but Freedom is my go-to tool for cutting off distracting websites.
6. Detox weekends
The techniques above will put you back in control of your life and help you manage social media day-to-day.
You’ll find yourself much less distracted, but still connected.
But sometimes it is nice to just disconnect.
No phone. No internet. No screens. Just real life.
Taking a few full weekends off the last few months to experience nature the way we were evolved to has been beautiful. And led to several big breakthroughs around what I want to do with my life.
Detox days or weekends don’t need to be as intense as camping up in a mountain with nothing but a sleeping bag. I’ve gotten the same clarity and benefits of disconnection just chilling out in Finsbury Park for the day.
If you feel in need of a break, schedule it and just go.
You’ll thank yourself later 😁