October 30th, 2020

Brain boundaries 101

Or how to kick the social media habit

Recently I found myself getting more and more compulsive around checking the news.

“What if I miss something?” “What has changed now?” “What else is happening?” My brain got busier and busier, wanting to know everything, afraid of missing out.

Three days into my scrolling frenzy I had to do an intervention on myself. I could feel the silky, strong pull of social media and the news; the siren call of the internet luring me into turbulent waters. It sounds so innocent, that song of seduction: “Stay informed, check up on all your friends, you don’t want to miss out, what is happening now?”

But there is a cliff and a long drop into murky waters on the other side of that lying lyric.

If you notice yourself spending more and more time being drawn into social media or the news, really check if it is serving you. Are you feeling empowered, clear, and able to take good action and rest as needed? Or are you feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and craving more?

There is a balance of being informed and taking on too much. The difference is a feeling sense in your body and mind. When you own your relationship with the ocean of information, you have a solid boat under you and can decide when to jump in to gather the bounty and to bring back and integrate. When you are being owned there is no safe haven in sight and you get tossed about by the waves in a storm.

As a former journalist, I know how much the media is designed to hook and manipulate. What does social media and the news want of you? Only your most valuable commodity. Your attention.

And if your attention is hooked watching and scrolling, you are not creating from your deepest heart’s desire. You are not learning about the deeper story of your being. You are not able to critically assess what information you WANT to access and reflect on because you are being led a path of crumbs that have no substance.

It is so easy to get derailed. And it is also easy to make new choices. But it does take some will and focus.

Here are my three steps for retrieving my own wandering attention and bringing it back to where I want it.

Notice the problem

What are you doing with your time and attention? Is it empowering or draining you?

You don’t need to punish yourself being hooked. Remember you are up against a sophisticated system using the power of computer algorithms to track your every click.

My first step was admittance to myself: “Hi, my name is HeatherAsh and I am hooked by social media and the news.” Then I was able to watch myself without judgment to see what my patterns and habits were.

Make a commitment

Once you notice your draining or mindless behavior, say to yourself “I have the power to change this.” You don’t have to know how; you just have to claim your agency to make changes in your life.

Take new action

You can go cold turkey (see below) or wean yourself more gradually. Make a plan. Be creative. Support yourself.

Because I got hooked reading the U.S. News after the Vice Presidential debate, three days in I started only looking at International News. I read the news from The Indian Times and the BBC. While I was still getting the news, I was receiving it from a different vantage point that helped break my fixation. Then over the next two days I weaned myself off both the news and social media scrolling.

One way to come back to yourself is to keep asking “Where do I want my attention? How do I want to feel?” For me the desire to write and be creative was stronger than my brain’s need to know every little detail as it unfolded (especially when I realized how little nourishment I was getting from the news.)

The go cold turkey method

Turn off your internet. Turn off your phone. Turn off your computer. Go outside. Give yourself two days to be completely unplugged. Or two hours. Start the process of saying no to yourself, and doing whatever you need to do to be successful at unplugging.

While this method is recommended regularly, you also should learn to mindfully moderate your internet usage on a day to day basis. For example, just because I unplug for four days while I am off-grid doesn’t mean I don’t fall back into old habits when I’m back at a good internet signal. Sometimes I do. The need to redirect and recapture our attention is ongoing, not something we will do once!

How will you create helpful, loving boundaries with your brain?