Ever noticed how dogs behave when they’re taken for a walk — easily distracted, stopping to sniff and/or chase everything along the way, the smellier the better?
That’s our minds on social media.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Are You Missing Out?, there’s no question that social media has created exciting opportunities for us to connect, stay informed and build community.
At the same time, it’s being integrated into our lives so insidiously seamlessly that most of us haven’t thought to come up with strategies for using it in a balanced, conscious way. It’s starting to take a noticeable toll on our productivity and emotional wellbeing.
DON’T BLAME THE MESSENGER
Social media isn’t inherently good or bad: like any tool, it simply depends on how we use it. Here are some practical tips for training yourself to use it in a more mindful – i.e. conscious and aware — way:
1. Resist the siren call.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous and devious creatures, portrayed as femmes fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
Social media does the same. It calls out to us with the lure of instant emotional gratification (which makes it ideal for avoiding our to-do list): Someone might have posted a funny video! Or commented on my post! Or “liked” my comment on their post!
Ulysses had his men tie him to the mast so that he could not jump into the sea. Jordan Cooper, founder of Hyperpublic, says: “Everytime I have the seemingly physiological impulse to reach into my pocket and pull out my phone to check one of these attention routing services, I have trained myself to holster the iPhone, and then spend that moment focused on one of the many line items with a red circle that indicates “in need of more.”
How can you set yourself up for success in resisting that “seemingly physiological impulse”?
2. Resist the “tweet and walk.”
In 2012, Pew Research found that 55 percent of adult cell phone users access the Internet on their devices. With the growing prevalence of mobile apps making it easier to access your online accounts from anywhere, it may soon be impossible to make eye contact with anyone while out and about.
The irony of frequently signing on to be sure you don’t miss out anything is that you’re likely to miss a real-time opportunity right in front of you. As much as possible, limit your social media access to when you’re at a computer.
3. Set boundaries.
For better or worse, information is food for your brain. And just as you feel sluggish when you overeat, unfiltered ingestion of social media – due not only to the sheer volume of information but the emotional fallout associated with it — can leave your psyche feeling bruised and overwhelmed.
Here’s a revolutionary idea: Set limits on when and how often you access social media — either certain times of the day or a maximum number of sessions per day — and establish a time limit for each session (set a timer to keep yourself honest!). Be realistic, however, and set yourself up for success: initially, at least, make your limits approximate to what you’re already doing. This is more about conscious usage than it is about cutting down.
4. Set an intention.
Before each session, set a simple “micro-goal.” Whether it’s to find something useful to retweet or share, to make a new connection or to find inspiration, having a clear intention raises your antenna and leads to feeling purposeful rather than aimless and reactive.
5. Check for shallow breathing.
Deep inside our brain is an almond-shaped region called the amygdala, and its job is to trigger the fight-or-flight response when it perceives a threat to our survival. The amygdala, however, is not the rational, thinking part of the brain and sets off a lot of false alarms.
In fact, it might very well interpret shallow breathing – something that happens when we feel insulted, angry or upset, i.e. when we’re on social media — as a threat. So check in regularly with your breath and train yourself to inhale deeply with each click.
Although none of these suggestions require dramatic changes in your routine, they do require something a little elusive: your full attention. Surely the pay-off, however — a greater sense of control and well-being – is worth it.