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DIGITAL DETOX: How to Create Healthy Digital Habits & Boundaries

I’m writing this article in a café. Its 8.35am on a Friday morning, there are 19 people in the café that make up a diverse subsection of the population- both genders, all ages, various socio-eco groups. Of those 19 people, right now in this very moment, 12 of them are on a device, head down, their faces lit by the glow of their screen. If you’re reading this right now- you’re either on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Maybe you’re at home, maybe you’re at the bus stop, maybe you’re lying in bed starting or ending your day.

In a modern society fueled by the consistent need to be online, wherever we are, our devices are never far from our side, and rarely out of our line of sight.

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Mobile usage has skyrocketed in the past decade with our daily usage hopping from 0.3 hours per day in 2008 to 3.3 hours a day in 2017. This precipitous jump has been caused by a number of trends; from the explosion of social media, to constant usability improvements that have turned mobile devices into intuitive extensions of ourselves.

As yoga teachers, wellness practitioners, health enthusiasts, traveling nomads, seekers of life- we are not immune to this radical engagement and reliance upon technology. We may however, be more aware of our habitual behaviors and their instant and residual repercussions.

For entrepreneurs, freelance workers, or anyone who is following a dream, building a career, or trying to make a name for themselves in the real and online world, it is easy to be swallowed up by the demands of digital media. Updating your status, sharing Instagram stories, tweeting, pinning, chatting, replying to emails, creating newsletters, invoicing, scheduling, planning, collaborating, communicating- it all requires screen time. Calls are made on skype, meetings are done on zoom, reminders of these appointments are sent via various scheduling apps to multiple devices.

From the moment our phone alarm rings at the start of the day, we do everything from grocery shopping and paying our bills, to diving into the online worlds of close friends and complete strangers alike, all at the click of a button or tap of a finger. We may be waiting at the dentist, in line at the grocery store, waiting to collect our children from school- it’s all too easy to spend this seemingly vacant time checking notifications or scrolling mindlessly; our devices hoover up the quiet snippets of time that life offers us.

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While our devices may appear to offer a respite from boredom in these apparently irrelevant moments of time, habitually checking our devices is a slippery slope to technology addiction. As technology rapidly expands to encompass every area of our lives, the need to monitor our time and usage becomes increasingly apparent. Technology addiction is real, and studies are showing the rather alarming side effects of our digital obsession.

The design of smartphone applications and social media keep us lucratively hooked 24/7. Algorithms filter the ideas and opinions you’re exposed to, while the data trail you leave from searching comes back to explicitly target you later. The virtual world is full of features purposely designed to infiltrate your thoughts, drive your consumption or just stay engaged for longer periods of time. Smartphones and apps resemble slot machines in their design. As a result, the average person checks their phone on average 150 times a day, often unconsciously.

We are programmed by the alluring temptation of a reward- a notification, a message, a like, a share. We have become neurologically programmed to seek the pleasure that bite-sized pieces of content provide.  We walk blindly into a dopamine loop: “With every photo you scroll through, headline you read or link you go to, you are feeding the loop which just makes you want more. It takes a lot to reach satiation, and in fact you might never be satisfied. Chances are what makes you stop is that someone interrupts you.”

How to Create Healthy Digital Habits and Boundaries

There is also an apparent obligation factor that drives the impulse to check personal devices: we might miss something of ‘crucial importance’ or we might offend someone by not responding quickly enough or reciprocating a cartoon-like gesture.

The dilemmas are real. Or, are they?!

Not all screen time is evil. The question at large may not even be how to minimize our time online, but how to use it productively and create healthy boundaries and relationships to technology and social media. How can we increase our productivity, monitor our self-care needs, foster real connections and use these tools effectively? How can we reap the benefits our gadgets offer us, without becoming mindless slaves to their lucrative agendas?

Steps to Create Healthy Digital Habits and Boundaries:

Have Tech-Free Days

18-24 year old women spend 88.5 hours a month on average on their phones. Tech-free days or ‘digital detox’ days are gaining momentum, especially in the wellness world, encouraging you to leave your devices behind and get outside, spend time with those you love, try something new or focus time on things you love. We are so intrinsically connected to our devices that it is astounding how liberating it can be to leave the house ‘unplugged.’ With so much of our daily life dedicated to time online, taking significant breaks are necessary to enable you to truly switch off and properly unwind. You know the saying- ‘There’s no Wi-Fi in the forest but you’ll find a deeper connection!’

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Set Social Boundaries

Try setting rules around having devices out when you are in real face-to-face conversations or social situations. The days of a phone just being a phone are long gone, so chances are you use it to keep track of the time, play music, take photos and a zillion other things that have made it seemingly necessary and certainly appropriate to have on you all the time. Taking an hour or two away from your devices to catch up with people in your life that matter doesn’t mean the digital world will fall to pieces whilst you aren’t there! Try implementing a no-phone rule on dates or in meetings, or a no-devices-at-the-table rule when you’re with others. Studies have shown that the mere visual presence of a cell phone is enough to distract us. The best option- remove the temptation and enjoy time with real human beings.

Update Notification Settings

Notifications are one of the main reasons that we compulsively check our phones. It is near impossible to ignore the bells, lights and whistles that accompany each and every update. If your push notifications are set to default you are most likely being bombarded with a deluge of alerts from Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Gmail and dozens of other apps. Pop over to the notification settings on your devices and turn off everything that isn’t essential. You will be instantly amazed at how much this frees up your mental space.

Let go of having to capture everything

Have you heard the saying that if you don’t post it on social media, it never actually happened?! We go to great lengths to plaster our lives across other people’s screens. You don’t have to photograph each smoothie bowl you eat. You don’t have to film each yoga flow you do at home. You don’t have to take a selfie of you and your bestie at the beach. Moments can just be moments! Have you ever felt truly disappointed when you saw something special and didn’t have your phone to capture it and post it on Instagram? We have lost the ability to simply enjoy things for ourselves, just as they are. Photos make great keepsakes, but we don’t need to capture every minute of our existence. Experience the joy of viewing the world your eyes not just through your screen.

Make Your Bed a NO TECH ZONE!

Do you charge your phone each night on your bedside table? Do you use it as an alarm to wake each morning? These common habits make it all too easy to jump on your phone the moment you wake up or before you drift off to sleep, both of which can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Try keeping your phone out of your bedroom at night and try to limit usage of all devices for at least an hour before you go to sleep. If you are on your devices in the evenings, try apps like Slux or Night Shift that can reduce the blue light from stimulating your mind and disrupting your circadian rhythms. If you do sleep with your phone next to you, make sure its switched over to aeroplane mode.

Practice Good Old Self Discipline

How often have you gone onto social media for a reason, only to end up scrolling aimlessly for 20 minutes?! How often have you said ‘just one episode’ on Netflix and three hours later you are halfway through a season?! How often have you said ‘just one more email’ only to look up and realize the sun has set and the day has disappeared?! If you are concerned about your digital usage, then it’s up to you to set some boundaries. Allot 30 minutes a day to social media and stick to it. Make 5pm a strict cut off for emails and work-related tasks then close your computer down. Anxiety may arise in the beginning, but rest assured these boundaries are healthy and essential and the rewards are far better than smile emoji’s!

Prioritize your Home Screens

Our tendency to check social media and dive into apps is also propelled by the sheer ease in which we can do so. Chances are your social media apps are on the home screen of your phone, whilst your computer tabs, bookmarks and ‘favorites’ allow you to access these platforms with the click of a single button. Try switching your home screens and bookmarks around so that these types of apps are less accessible. On your smartphone, pop them in a folder and move them off the first screen. On your desktop, log out of programs when you are done with them. The extra few steps needed to access them will make you think twice about opening them a zillion times a day. You’ll find that instead of reaching for your phone, you will be more present with the world around you.

Focus Focus Focus

For many of us, time online is essential for our business, and even time on social media is key for our growth, expansion and income. When you are working, try to move your phone to another room, close down all unnecessary tabs, and set aside time to focus on set tasks to avoid distraction. This practice allows you to work through your tasks more systematically rather than hopping from one thing to another without actually ticking anything off.  Even when we’re not looking at our phones, they still can distract us. Researchers have found that when a person’s smartphone is nearby, their performance on cognitive tasks suffer. If you do use social media for your business, use scheduling apps so you don’t need to get on there everyday. Set rules around when and why you are online and remember your time is valuable.

Ditch the Comparison

Let’s face it, screen time can be enjoyable- a voyeuristic view into people’s lives that intrigues us more than we may like to admit. Not only are we the voyeurs, we can also be the exhibitionists. Never before have our lives been so publicly broadcast around the world. It is as equally fascinating as it is concerning. What we see are highlights of people’s lives; edited, filtered and captioned appropriately. We compare ourselves. We judge or feel judged. Our self-worth falters. If your time online leaves you feeling depressed or anxious it’s time to make good use of the unfollow button. Follow accounts that uplift and inspire you. Ditch ‘friends’ that don’t support you. Control what you are consuming and refuse to let social media dictate your self-worth. Life is already an emotional rollercoaster, don’t let your digital time exacerbate it.

More time for you!

Less time online opens the door to all kinds of opportunities in your life. By limiting your screen time, think of how you can fill those extra hours. Scrolling can often be a default action we turn to in moments of boredom or spare time. Think of the things you love doing- yoga, hiking, being in nature, swimming, writing, playing music, dancing, socializing, exploring- these things feed your soul! Consider time online (outside of productive work/creative time) to be wasted idle time and instead, fill these precious minutes and hours with activities that fuel you. Try a new class, explore a new part of your city, join a club- jump into the real world and bask in what it offers. Who knows, maybe the people around you will start to join you.

Utilize Apps:

Technology and social media giants are beginning to offer solutions that allow people to monitor their online usage in an effort to promote positive wellbeing. Apple recently announced an app called Screen Time and new tools in iOS 12 set app time limits, monitor usage, and keep users from checking notifications at bedtime. Google announced similar controls for Android P at Google I/O, including an app timer, wind down feature, and usage dashboard as part of its Digital Wellbeing initiative.

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Extensions can also help you use sites like Facebook and YouTube in more targeted ways. Distraction Free YouTube removes recommended videos from the sidebar. News Feed Eradicator blurs out Facebook posts for users who want to use the app only as a utility for things like events and groups. Ad blockers can also assist you from getting distracted from unwanted advertising that appears on the websites you visit.

There are also a number of apps specifically designed to help you focus and cut out digital distractions.

Thrive

Thrive Mode blocks all apps, notifications, calls, and texts except for “VIPs” that you have designated. Thrive also has an app control panel to monitor your usage and set goals for how often you use specific apps.

Freedom

Freedom allows you to create blocklists and schedule time away from the apps that may be most distracting. Since there is a Freedom app for both iOS and Mac, it’s easy to create custom block lists for all of your devices.

In Moment

In Moment tracks and provides historical data on your social media habits. In addition to telling you how much time you’re spending on each platform, In Moment allows you to set limits on your daily social media usage.

Space

Space helps you set goals to be more mindful of your screen usage. When you install Space, you’ll complete a short questionnaire about your smartphone habits and goals. The app then sets screen unlock and time use goals. The app will send notifications when your screen time is increasing and will reward you with different achievement badges when you meet your daily goals.

Off the Grid

Off the Grid completely blocks your phone for a length of time you determine. Should you get the urge to use your phone after you’ve activated Off the Grid, it’s going to cost you. The app will charge your credit card $1 for each time you end your session early.

JOOL

The JOOL app encourages daily reflection and tracking of your sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and diet, and then offers insightful analytics about the elements that lead to you being at your best. Recording this daily is a good reminder to pay attention to the things that lead to sustainable performance in all parts of your life.

It’s safe to say that technology is only going to keep invading our everyday lives in more and more meaningful and thoroughly distracting ways. While reducing our screen time can be beneficial, what also matters is how we utilize our screen time. Working, learning, being creative- these can be positive attributes of screen time. Being mindlessly absorbed in our devices when we are walking down the street, eating a meal or standing in an elevator is the inconsequential screen time that is worth bidding farewell to.

Hopefully you’re feeling inspired to look at your digital habits and perhaps give them a minor (or major) overhaul! As yoga teachers it is so important to take good care of ourselves. Discover more ways to avoid burnout as a yoga teacher here.

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About Brandon

Former corporate sales rep turned nomadic entrepreneurial yogi. Street food ninja, avid outdoorsman, craft beer geek, and live music junkie. Co-founder of The Yoga Nomads.

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