Clarity on Steroids

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It’s been a little over a month since I reduced my phone use when we went on holiday, approximately two weeks since I did so in my real life and admittedly I still have to feel my way through a return to normal (term time) life. I am so aware of how this post is at risk of coming across as preachy, so big caveat: this was something I needed to do, for me. Whether you need to do it is entirely down to you. Please read from that perspective.

For me, my reason, my why, which I urge everyone to have, was that I was getting my ‘fulfilment’ from all the wrong places. The inverted commas are in place because it wasn’t real fulfilment, far from it. Short story: life feels a lot real-er now and a hell of a lot more fulfilling.

The story I’d told myself was that I needed to be on phone for work. I needed to be on Instagram to get clients. I had to check my emails and WhatsApp because my clients needed me. Bullshit. For me, total bullshit. Those things in total required no more than 25% of the time I was actually spending on my phone. Some days, most days, it was tipping three hours, sometimes more like four. Now it’s more like 30 mins, 60 mins if I actually have to do something other than check-in.

After returning from holiday, where I enjoyed reading non-fiction, giving myself a much needed break from the personal development books that I love, but that tend to always feel like work, I decided to finally dive straight into reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, which had been on my to-read pile for about a month. Ahead of reading it I had binged on almost everything Cal Newport had done in the way of podcasts and interviews so I knew what I was getting and I knew I needed to be ready.

I’ve coached on phone use, I’ve read books, I’ve attempted my own detoxes before (with a degree of success) but the habit has always crept back in, always a little reduced but far from where I wanted it to be. I had no notifications, I had tried grayscale. Spoiler: that stuff doesn’t break the habit until you want to.

This book spoke to me in an entirely new way. And after reading it, I wanted to. I really wanted to. We all have messages that will speak to us more loudly when they come from a certain person or in a certain way and Cal did this for me. It was so simple. By explicitly explaining to me that I am being bought, taking advantage of, part of the attention economy, the rebel in me said “no fucking way”. I’ve been in marketing for years, I knew this stuff, but Cal’s delivery was on point for me and I felt, speaking candidly, disgusted with myself for allowing myself to be used in this way. And so I stopped.

My declutter, or detox if you want to call it that, hasn’t been textbook - I haven’t followed all of Cal’s advice. I read it all, and will read it all again. And I chose what I wanted to implement, created my own rules and haven’t been afraid to experiment.

How it’s working for me at the moment, which may inspire and which I have the right to change at any point:

  • For me, productivity (emails, Ocado shop, budgeting, writing) is now done on a laptop, in blocks of time dedicated to that. So when I have those moments of remembering something I need to do, or that niggle to check my emails, I write it down and get to it later

  • I deleted a hell of a lot of apps off my phone but definitely not all non-essentials, as is his recommendation - I still having banking apps, my fitness apps, WhatsApp, and the rail times app. I also still have email because some days I don’t want to be on a laptop and I do need to check in. There are many more that I could now delete as I have realised I don’t use them

  • Social media apps are deleted (WhatsApp excluded if you count it as that) and the websites for social media sites are also blocked, as are almost all news sites. With Facebook I have my notifications page and favourite groups bookmarked and I go directly to those pages on my laptop. I don’t follow anyone so my feed is empty should I come across it (NB: I joined FB only for groups. After many many years of not using it I finally caved when I realised there was some content - my coaching peer groups and a couple of networking groups - that would benefit me) - in truth, I can see myself leaving soon

  • If I do want to post, which to be honest I’m not doing much at the moment but will happen more after the holidays, I post automatically via an app or I temporarily install instagram, post and then delete again - it takes less than a minute to install/delete and let’s be honest I was wasting enough time on there that this is a minor inconvenience

So what are the benefits? I can’t even put into words how big they are.

It is everything I wanted, and a whole lot that I never expected. It’s like having the windows cleaned for the first time in years or putting on glasses after blurry vision. I, of course, have a lot more time but it’s more than that. Everything is clearer - my thoughts, my presence, my attention with my children, my tea tastes nicer, I look up more. I am practising Essentialism in a way that just isn’t possible when you’re tied to your phone, a slave to your phone. My phone is a tool, nothing more. And I really hope it stays this way.

For me my phone was a numbing device. Like wine sometimes was in the past, like food sometimes still is, like shopping can be. And earlier this week when I was working from home with no clients calls, a little loneliness crept in, and I could feel the familiar ache for some connection. It’s still there, I don’t imagine it will go anytime soon. Yet I resisted.

As Cal explains in the book, phones have become the slot machines in our pockets, in fact developers and designers are working hard to make them exactly that. I explain this because I want you to be kind to yourself. You started off with a device that sent text messages on a nicer screen, and had music on it. And over time this ‘innocent’ device evolved into something that no one, not even Steve Jobs, could have imagined it would be. Don’t beat yourself up over your overuse, addiction (whatever you want to call it) because, I argue strongly, it is not your fault. But however, you are at a point where you want to admit it has become a problem for you, and it is something you want to change, I can’t recommend Cal’s book enough. I’ve touched on just a tiny amount the information he conveys and there is so much more there.

In terms of what I am doing from a coaching perspective, I will continue to do sessions on this but I am introducing some changes and therefore I won’t be taking on any new clients in this area until I am three months into my new relationship with my phone. However in the meantime, if you want to reach out and share your success, or failures, in this area, I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

Yesterday my phone was in my bag for six hours and when I pinged it, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t taken it out after my early morning drive (I do have an Apple Watch so I always know if someone is trying to reach me). A month ago that would never have happened and I am going to give myself a pat on the back for that. Phone freedom, which I have previously talked about, no longer feels accurate for the impact of this change. This is normal. This is how life should be. A device shouldn’t be something you are free from, because it shouldn’t be such a big part of you in the first place. This clarity on steroids, this sense of connection to myself, I guess for me it’s a little like that famous quote from Kate Moss: “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. For me: “no social media ‘like’ tastes as good as disconnection feels”.

Nicola GibbComment