Maybe you’ve thought about trying one, but you’re not sure how to do a digital detox. Here’s five ways, plus some great tips for sticking with it!
Several weeks ago, I shared with my email subscribers about how my brain hasn’t felt quite as sharp since having kids. I have a harder time focusing and remembering things. I’ve often blamed it on ‘mom brain’. And yes, ‘mom brain’ totally is a real thing.
But after learning more about ‘digital dementia‘, I am positive that this is also a big contributor to my forgetfulness and inability to focus.
It just happens to be a coincidence that I had my first baby and really started using a smartphone around the same time. So I’ve always made the connection back to having a baby. But I never really thought about the fact that I also suddenly had instant access to lots more information. And I have had increasingly more access to cool apps that take over the thinking for me.
That last part – the bit about apps taking over the thinking for me – is a big deal. When we rely on technology to remember things for us, we train our brains that short-term memory is not important anymore. We humans have amazingly powerful brains, and tasks as simple as memorizing phone numbers is NOT hard for us. Yet we go ahead and take the easy route by allowing your phones to do the memorizing for us.
And yes, I realize memorizing 500+ phone numbers would turn into a challenging task. But memorizing the basic, most important phone numbers you use shouldn’t be hard. Of all the people I call or text on a regular basis, I literally only know one of those phone numbers by memory: my husband’s. Twenty years ago, I probably knew 100 different phone numbers by memory.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that I often feel very scatter-brained. That is quite uncharacteristic of me. Well, I should say, it WAS uncharacteristic of me. Back in high school and college, one of the reasons I did so well is that I could easily sit and focus on reading, studying, and completing assignments. I wasn’t easily distracted and my mind did not wander.
You know the meme that talks about your brain having too many tabs open? Well, its funny but it’s also true. The increasing multi-functionality of digital devices is addicting, and our own brains try to feed that addiction by trying to emulate that way of operating. But our brains are not built the same and can’t handle it the same way. And it’s mentally exhausting.
It’s been a couple years since I first shared 10 Signs You Need a Digital Detox. So this long overdue. But I’ve recently felt I personally need a good digital detox. So I’m feeling inspired to share some ways to do a digital detox, plus some tips for sticking with it.
How Long Should I Detox From Digital Devices?
Before I share the five ways to do a digital detox, I think I should first clarify. I’m not talking about just cutting back on your daily average digital consumption. I’m talking about completely abstaining from your digital devices (as much as life allows – I realize most people rely on them for work and daily communication with important people like family, teachers, etc.) as a way to reset your habits involving technology.
So you’ll need to decide how long you plan to detox. I’m a big believer in the theory that a habit can be made or broken in about 21 days. Now, that’s not to say it’ll be second nature after 21 days. But I’ve found that the 21 day mark is generally the time when it starts to get easier.
And I’m not talking about doing a digital detox to completely free us from using digital devices forever. I am more interested in breaking that pull to constantly be on your device, checking messages and social media, browsing your favorite online shops, playing games, and the like. I want to truly be able to NOT idly be on my phone. I want to NOT feel a little surge of panic when I realize there’s no wifi or I have no service. I want to actually be able to forget my phone, even if it’s sitting right there in my purse.
Setting Digital Detox Parameters
Before you begin, you’ll also need to be clear on what is ok to use during your detox and what is strictly off limits. Personally, I find focusing on my phone has the biggest impact. And I think it makes sense to restrict social media, email, and other ‘time wasters’. So with that in mind, I set my boundaries to restrict those apps on my phone.
But maybe you get particularly distracted by your email while you’re working on your desktop. Or maybe you have trouble staying off social media when you’re trying to work. Then you should shape your own boundaries around those personal challenges.
This is really the tricky part because our work lives have become so intertwined with digital forms of communication. All I can say is be really honest and diligent when you’re setting these parameters. If you’re one to find and use loopholes (like me!), don’t give yourself any.
Five Ways to Do a Digital Detox
Once you determine what you’ll restrict and for how long, you can decide on how to do your digital detox. Here are five options.
Quitting cold turkey is one option. For some people, like abstainers, this works best. Set a start date (or just start right now) and an end date and go for it.
If, however, you are the type to do best when you completely cut yourself off from doing something, be aware that you might be more susceptible to falling back into the old routine of mindless idle digital activity.
One Day at a Time
For some people, it is less daunting to just take it one day at a time. The thought of looking down a 21-30 day tunnel feels overwhelming! But getting through 24 hours is doable. So just take it one day at a time and keep count of how many days in a row you’ve gone. And if you slip up before your detox time frame is up, give yourself grace and start again.
Gradually work up to a full digital-device free day by starting slow. Maybe the first day, you wait until after breakfast to indulge. And then the next day, you go until 10am. Each day, push it back some more until you’ve reached a full day of ‘digital detoxing’. Once you’ve worked up to a full day, you might choose to go full force on to the end of your detox. Or you might choose to take it one day at a time.
Schedule “free time” in your day during which you allow yourself to engage in digital activities that you are trying to restrict. Set alarms letting you know that your ‘free time’ has begun or has ended to keep yourself to it. Similar to the gradual method, try lessening your digital time each day until you’ve worked up to a full day.
One Habit at a Time
This is another alternative similar to the gradual method and the scheduled time method. But instead of restricting certain times of day, try restricting digital media use during certain activities or habits. For example, maybe the first day you restrict idle scrolling during times you’re talking and engaging with other people (no mindlessly looking at your phone while your kid tells you about her day). And then maybe the next day, you add on meal times (even when you’re alone). Then add waiting times (bring a good book to read!). And work your way up to a full day.
This will likely be quite a challenge. If it wasn’t you probably wouldn’t need to do it! So I also wanted to share some tips to support you during your detox. These can even be used when you’re done just to help you use your digital devices for mindless activity less.
- Turn off notifications.
- Remove social media and game apps from your device.
- Get an alarm clock and leave your phone in the kitchen while you sleep.
- Use airplane mode throughout the day.
- Pause and ask yourself what you plan to do before you get on your device.
- Do a mini meditation when you feel the urge to pick up your phone for no reason.
- Change your unlock code so you have to think before you get on your device.
- Use an actual camera (or an old phone with no service/wifi).
- Go analog (calendar, lists, etc.)
- Leave your phone in another room while you read or watch TV.
More info on Digital Dementia:
- Digital Dementia, Psychology Today
- Overuse of Technology Can Lead to ‘Digital Dementia’, alzheimers.net