Toward the end of 2015, I was feeling a little on edge. My mind was unsettled, anxious even. It felt like there were so many things pulling at my attention; from the important to the mundane to the downright egocentric.
Fear of missing out and comparing myself to others are two strong feelings that come up for me regularly when I’m in the throes of a good binge on Instagram. I often find my mind swirling with thoughts like “I wish my house were that tidy and white and stylish” or “I wish all my kids wore adorable handmade bonnets all the time” or “I wish my business had 50,000 followers” or “Why doesn’t my creative space look like that”, “wait, do I have a creative space?!”, and on and on and on.
Often times I’m scrolling in the dark, my face and mind aglow with so many of these depleting thoughts.
All while I’m nursing my beautiful, healthy baby boy. Who’s wearing a hand knit sweater. In the home we own. After a fulfilling day at work in the business that I built from the ground up. I mean, get a grip lady!
So I quit and took a social media sabbatical for 14 days.
My specific problem was this: I was distracted by what everyone else was doing on social media. Constantly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, I was repeatedly bombarding myself with beautiful images of what other people were doing. I love a lot of things about social media: the connection to others, the inspiring imagery, the access to new information.
But in spending too much time on social, I was letting feelings of envy, self-doubt and FOMO creep in. Worst still, I wasn’t making anything myself. For all that time spent consuming other people’s content was time NOT spent with my own creativity.
Specifically, it was time NOT spent reading, writing, baking, sewing, knitting, staring at my nursing baby, or simply being alone and quiet with my thoughts.
I was checking Instagram almost reflexively throughout my day. First thing when I woke up. While I waited for the coffee to brew. While I brushed my teeth. At stoplights. In line. While I ate my lunch. While I nursed my son.
This last one was the kicker.
One night, as I was nursing him before bed and mindlessly scrolling though those beautiful little squares on Instagram, I had a moment. He had stopped nursing, and who knows how long it was before I noticed. When I did eventually look down at him, he was smiling up at me with those big, beautiful eyes of his. And I nearly missed it. Missed it because I was looking at someone else’s perfectly curated pictures of motherhood.
To call this a wakeup moment is an understatement.
Shortly thereafter, I made the decision to quit social media for a bit. A social media sabbatical, I called it.
For two whole weeks, I stayed off all my personal social media accounts.*
I was expecting this to be a difficult time. Seriously, so many points in my day were marked by checking in on Instagram and Facebook, that I didn’t know how I would feel without them there as crutches.
That’s what social media had become for me: a crutch. A way to decompress and be distracted from my own thoughts. A way to not be alone when I was feeling lonely. And instead of taking notice of those feelings and doing something about them, I was distracting myself from them.
Now this isn’t always a bad thing. We need a break from ourselves sometimes, for sure! But when it becomes a mindless, habitual, mind-numbing thing, it’s time to take a look at what’s really going on.
So, what happened during my 2 week Social Media Sabbatical.
I didn’t miss a thing.
But I did learn a few valuable things about myself. The big thing is this:
I enjoy creating content to share with others. I enjoy consuming the content made by others.
But one has to happen more than the other. In other words:
In order to feel grounded and connected with my best creative self, I need to be creating more than I’m consuming.
In order to help set myself up for success, I’ve placed some boundaries around my social media consumption and sharing. I developed some new boundaries around my personal & business accounts, and have a new strategy for what I will (or will not) post.
Some of the habits I developed during my social media sabbatical:
- Leaving my phone in another room
- Reading an actual book, from start to finish, while nursing and before bed.
- Logging out of Facebook and deleting the app from my phone.
- No longer taking my phone into my baby’s room at night.
- Not checking Instagram first thing in the morning.
Two weeks went by really fast, and for the most part I didn’t miss social.
I had to stretch outside my comfort zone a bit in those moments when I would normally be scrolling. Oftentimes I would challenge myself to settle in and let my mind wander; this is something I had no problem enjoying before social media! Other times, I would simply choose a different activity. I got so much knitting and reading done in those two weeks!
My mind felt clearer, and I was less distracted. I felt more grounded, present.
When the two weeks were up, I was a bit reluctant to log back into my social media accounts.
Ultimately I did check in on what a handful of friends had posted on Instagram, but for the most part I hadn’t missed anything earth-shattering.
And because people knew I wasn’t on social, they told me about their stuff in person. Amazing! In this age of social media. it’s all too easy to assume that everyone knows (or cares) about what you’re posting, tweeting, sharing, and gramming.
Now it’s been a few weeks since I’ve returned, and I can already feel myself slipping. Checking my phone idly while I have 2 minutes to wait for something. Feeling like I “need” to post something. Wanting to feel distracted for a moment.
And that’s okay. The point is, I got some clarity and know what it feels like to be creatively grounded. And I can return to my mantra again and again when things feel shaky.
Create more than you consume. Create more than you consume.
How about you? Have you ever taken a social media sabbatical? Have thoughts about creativity and consumption of other people’s work? I’d love to continue the discussion with you in the comments!