Do you find yourself on Facebook or Instagram, scrollingscrollingscrolling and you don’t remember the moment when you actually picked up your phone? Are you arguing with your child when it is time for them to turn off their show or game and they whine, “But you’re looking at a screen!” Do you think about things you would like to do and then immediately wonder how you will photograph them, or what caption you might write about them? Have you looked over at your partner in the middle of a conversation and noticed that he’s actually looking at something on his phone? Felt utterly lost and disconnected when your internet is down?
If you said yes to any of these things, don’t feel bad. Everything on this list is something I’ve done personally. And also: These things are not things I even want to admit to, let alone do. I don’t want to be looking at a screen as much as I’m looking at my people. I feel addicted. I’m tired of questioning my own creativity because everything on Instagram and Pinterest looks so perfect and effortless (even though I know those photos are curated and edited. I know it, but still I buy into the image of it).
I expect you don’t want these things either.
This week for Screen Free Week I made a real attempt at going screen free in our house.
We suck at screen free
My daughter has zero interest in giving up Pokémon for a week (maybe I could have sold the whole thing a little better?) but I loved not having the “turn it off now” fight. I realized most of my life right now is on the other side of a screen. Most of my work as well as my entertainment. Lots of information I’m used to having at my fingertips (I have bad memory because of chemo so Siri and Google are my crutches). Most of the ways I communicate with my family and friends and even my partner. My grocery list, my calendar!
I’m actually pretty helpless without my little screen, it turns out.
I also discovered that I felt more calm when I wasn’t immersing myself constantly with pretty squares of other people’s lives and sound bite updates and the news. I found that when I put my laptop away before I got Stella from school and didn’t get it out again until after I dropped her off in the morning, I felt more rested and had clearer ideas when I sat down to work.
As I started shaking up our routines (to keep Stella from asking why she couldn’t use the iPad every 10 minutes) we also remembered there are other things that we like to do together, like eat our dinner on the front porch, build puzzles, and read to each other. In other words, we started connecting with each other, better and more often. It felt good.
But the biggest benefit? I stopped comparing every idea and thought in my head to the whole rest of the world. I started keeping my eyes on my own paper, so to speak, because I wasn’t looking at the places where everyone else was broadcasting their work. As a result, I could just have an idea, mull it over, let it expand or connect or do whatever it was going to do inside my own head without having it die on the vine by comparing it to what everyone else was doing. My clarity went up. My confidence went up.
That one piece about finding room for my ideas to percolate? Totally worth all the Pokemon whining. For that reason, I highly recommend spending some screen free time in your life really soon. Because your thoughts and ideas are important. Please give them some space and then get them out into the world.
10 ways to ditch your screen
Not sure where to start? Here are some ways you can unplug, starting today.
Write a letter
Not an email, but a letter. On paper. Tell someone what’s happening in your life right now. Describe that tree that blooms in your backyard only for a week. Tell them a funny thing your kid did today. Ask them how they are and tell them you hope they will write back. Put a stamp on it and walk to the mailbox to mail it.
Have a conversation
Meet a friend for coffee and leave your phone in your bag. Smile at a parent at drop-off and ask them how they are today like you’d really love to know the answer. Call someone just to tell them you are thinking about them.
Make a list on paper
Write your grocery list by hand. Or illustrate it with pictures and hand it to your kid, so they can direct you though the store (my daughter loves this!). Start a bullet journal (don’t research that on Pinterest, really really don’t).
Do in-depth research
Look something up the old fashioned way. Go to a library, use an encyclopedia, find a book on the topic and read it. Look at the bibliography and find another book on the topic and then go find that one. This is so much more interesting than reading 500 words on a topic on Wikipedia!
Talk to strangers
Ask for directions or dinner recommendations (I’ve found the best restaurants this way!). Comment on the weather, or tell someone they are wearing a fabulous outfit!
Talk to your plants
Water a plant and tell it a secret.
Go on a photo walk
If you have one, use a camera that is not also a phone. Resolve that you will not post any of these pictures on Instagram or Facebook. Maybe even get one printed and hang it on the wall.
Pay attention to your food
Eat a meal without bringing your phone to the table. Really pay attention to the way your food tastes.
Create a memory
Draw a picture of what is around you, rather than taking a picture of it. Don’t draw? Sit quietly and study it. Use all of your senses. You are writing memories to your brain right now. Load them up with as many details as you can.
Be with your emotions
Does it feel uncomfortable when you don’t avoid your feelings by tuning out online? Sit with that. Breathe it in and out. Pay attention to where you feel that discomfort in your body and then let the emotion pass through you and away.
Whether you unplug for one day or one week, or find more permanent ways to reduce your screen time, I hope you’ll consider it. It made a big difference for me.
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