How I Made More Free Time: Limiting Social Media

If you follow me on Instagram, you have likely heard me mention recently that I dramatically limited my social media use. My January restriction from IG and Facebook (I have a Twitter but never use it, and stopped using Snapchat a while ago) was simply that I do not go on them except for between the hours of 12 PM and 5 PM.

I am typically pretty busy between those hours, which limits potential use even further, the end result being that I simply do not have time to mindlessly scroll, and (mostly) only have time to make intentional actions, for the most part – write, respond to messages or otherwise engage with people.

Why the dramatic restrictions? What was the benefit?

I Was Throwing Away Time

  • I noticed my average usage time was way out of control. I checked the IG activity log one day in December and it was THREE HOURS. How did my main hobby turn into IG scrolling? That is not the type of person I want to be – passively consuming other people’s ideas, lives and products while sitting on my ass. No thanks.
  • I need more time. I feel constantly pushed in multiple directions, and too tired to engage in the active creativity I am passionate about.
  • If you need more free time, looking at where you are spending it is a pretty obvious place to start.

I Was Mentally Exhausted and It Might Have Been Affecting My Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is pretty complicated, but basically it can be a driver of satisfaction and pleasurable feelings we get when we do things we like, or when we anticipate rewards. Dopamine is a necessary component of healthy brain function and a huge part of habitual behaviors, motor function.

From Psychology Today:

One of the best described roles for VTA dopamine neurons is in learning about rewards. VTA dopamine neurons become activated when something good happens unexpectedly, such as the sudden availability of food. Most abused drugs cause the release of dopamine and this is thought to contribute to their addictive properties.

Dopamine doesn’t just kick in when we accomplish something, but when we anticipate the possibility of the goal, and is even stronger in its effect when the goal is delayed a little, but then kicks in later.

That’s great for hunting, but not so great for seeing you have new comments on your IG, resist checking, and then check later and get that sweet, sweet validation of online interaction. This is not inherently bad, but if you go through that dozens of times a day, you may get burned out.  There is a good argument to be made that your dopamine reward system should be protected at all costs, personally I think one should, as much as one can, limit activities that potentially spike dopamine, if those activities really aren’t contributing to one’s life. It’s a little more complicated than that, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

For more info on this important topic, Charles Duhigg’s groundbreaking book The Power of Habit will help you understand more in depth why neurochemicals like dopamine are such critical factors in our behaviors.

You know that feeling you get when you watch 4 or 5 hours straight of a show you like? Kind of wired, tired, and depleted all at the same time? That’s kind of how I was starting to feel. Sometimes I would get home from work and training, sit down, pull out my phone, and suddenly an hour had gone by, and I was even more tired, but not relaxed in the slightest.

I Needed A Habits Reset

Checking social media was becoming a reflex. I would sit down on the toilet, or on the subway, and before I even knew what I was doing, my Instagram was open. I wasn’t in control.

I want my habits to be reflective of my goals and values. I want my habits, conscious and unconscious, to help me be the person I want to be. I need more time for writing, more time for outside gym workout hours (programming workouts for clients and remote trainees), and more time to spend relaxing with my loved ones so I can be the person I want to be, every day.

Me after 3 hours on IG

A habit of unconscious consumption of what boils down to a LOT of advertising (the average person sees between 4,000-10,000 ads per day) doesn’t make me a better thinker, writer, artist, athlete or coach. It just doesn’t. It likely encourages me to compare myself to others, feel more isolated, and dislike myself more.

I also really needed more time for writing, I felt constantly behind, uninspired, and writing always felt hard. This social media experiment lead to an important discovery:

The passive consumption was actively draining my mental energy WAY more than I realized.

Less Consumption, More Energy

About a week into this experiment, I started noticing something that really shocked me: I wasn’t tired when I got home.

I’m always tired when I get home. I get up around 5:30-6:00 AM, train clients all morning, then get to my workout around 2:00 PMish, then train for about 2 hours. MY day out in the city is usually between 9 and 11 hours long, which isn’t bad historically for me (I don’t work evenings nearly as much anymore, and when I do, they’re less than two clients).

Lady on the right staying old school with the flip phone; excellent tactic

But here I was, getting home, and still having energy to do things that motivated me, like write or clean, or talk about production with my roommate/co-producer. It seemed downright magical.

While there were some other factors at play (more consistent pre-bed rituals and wake up rituals like writing while drinking coffee), nothing else had changed as dramatically as my social media use.

Consciousness Is Key

There are many great things about social media, especially because I have friends around the globe, through competing in strongman,that I rarely get to see, and my family is all around the country, social can be a great way to stay in touch. I love seeing pictures of my nieces and nephews, my sister’s derpy dog, and what my strongman friends are up to, not to mention that lots of great coaches and thinkers are sharing valuable educational info on social media, for free, all the time. It’s a goldmine, if you know how to use it.

My 12-5 PM restriction was a semi-arbitrary one that I knew would help me understand my consumption habit better, and would automatically free up valuable morning and evening time for writing and other activities (it has). I’ve broken my own rules a few times, but that’s not discouraging, it’s just more data for me to reflect on.

I may change the time restriction in February, to experiment with different parameters, but I know one thing – this process has changed my perspective on social media use forever.

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