Creating Alignment by Putting Down the Phone

I wanted to share this with you in case any of it feels familiar. In case you feel triggered by social media, or worry that it affects your creative process, or interrupts your aerial practice, or you feel like it’s distracting you from your higher purposes. I can say that significantly reducing my social media use has been extremely positive for me, life-changing even. Of course, this is just my experience, so take from it what you will. I have included a form at the end for your questions and ideas.

You may have noticed I have been a little bit MIA on social media. I’ve permanently deleted Facebook, I’m absent on Reddit, and I’ve been using Instagram minimally. I do hope to maintain some consistency in posting helpful drills for you, but I have de-prioritized social media for my life and business. I wanted to share some of my process with you in case you’re also experiencing negative affects of social media.


Growing concerns

Why? I had started over-valuing the feedback. I began to place more value on digital social feedback, because with face-to-face interaction made rare by covid, it became my new social world. I wasn’t getting the number of likes I thought I should for the size of my following, and let me tell you, I really let it get to me. I started to form an aversion to posting because I didn’t want to see how poorly I’d perform. I absolutely took it personally, and it felt terrible. 

In addition to this anxiety, I was increasingly unamused with the environment Instagram provided for my creative works. Anything I posted would be surrounded by ads and other peoples’ random content, would be subjected to a validation game, and would be seen by somebody occupying the 3-second attention span frame of mind that social media apps trigger. 

I also developed this toxic feeling like I was trying to win something every time I shared something. The comparison impulse grew strong. I don’t know how I fell into this, and it is totally out of alignment with my values, but it nonetheless felt like there was something to prove or someone to beat. I criticized myself for this fault, and I take responsibility for facilitating this attitude, however, I have come to realize that to a large extent social media was bringing it out in me when in other circumstances it wouldn’t have surfaced. I was facing the trigger over and over. I could either put enormous effort into transforming my basic reactions, or I could simply put the phone down. 

Furthermore, I was becoming increasingly concerned with the way social media was informing my relationship with aerial arts. I felt such a pressure to film and share my aerial work, that I had interfaced heavily with my phone when I should have been present with what I was actually doing. I was so caught up in capturing good content that I was losing the deep, natural love I’d felt for aerial silks as a beginner (When I first started aerial arts, I barely used social media). It was stopping me from getting into flow, or if I got into a flow state, running back and forth to my phone would cut it short. Cue disappointed sigh from my soul.

Most unsettling was that I knew I was doing exactly what Instagram wanted me to do. I spent time in the app. I used direct messages more commonly than text messages. I posted abundantly in stories, and periodically to my grid. Really I was perfectly aligned with Instagram’s goals, but out of alignment with my higher values and my greater creative purposes. Knowing that I was doing exactly what Zuckerberg wanted me to do made me uneasy, and it made me want to rebel against this thing that had so successfully hooked me. I wanted to reclaim my mental-emotional space and my creative process.

“Detoxing” and moving forward

So I took a break. I had taken a few breaks in the past, only to return to compulsive scrolling and posting (I’m particularly an Instagram stories maniac). One way or another, when these breaks ended, social media always snuck back into my life. I never had a plan for returning in a sustainable, healthy way. This time, it felt like the change was going to be more substantial. 

I have to admit that my first four weeks were uncomfortable, strenuous even. While previous breaks had me feeling GOOD, spacious, inspired, and productive, this time I felt anxious, like I was missing something important. FOMO was not usually an issue I had. All of a sudden it was. My guess is that because I was pretty much at an all time usage-high before this break.

The first two weeks also corresponded with my last two weeks of my moon cycle–so my mood was lower and my compulsive urges were stronger. I don’t know about you, but before I really removed social media use from my life, I would use it quite a lot more during the days before my period. I felt my compulsiveness ramp up. Is it to soothe higher levels of pain and anxiety? Can we get some research on that?

Anyway, I found myself wondering if it was possible that I was having literal withdrawals in the absence of the hundreds of daily serotonin bumps I’d been getting from social media. My sister, who had recently read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, informed me, “He compares it to a slot machine.” I think that’s exactly what I needed to hear. This piece of information gave me the inspiration I needed to keep going.

As my break went on, I found social media substitutes for the missing hits of serotonin. I watched talks on YouTube and texted friends and family abundantly. In fact, my screen time didn’t change at all since dropping social media, but I did feel much better with my new choices. A 40-minute talk on YouTube demands continual attention, unlike the frenetic 60-seconds or less videos and pictures I had been scrolling through mindlessly. 

Unlike 99% of posts on Instagram, these talks brought real value to my life. In fact, I became so inspired by an interview with former Secret Service Agent Evy Poumpourus that I bought her book Becoming Bulletproof (and I highly recommend it if you are working on or want to work on personal boundaries, self-accountability, and/or influencing people–call your local bookstore to see if they have it or can order it for you before you look for it). 

Having a book was a game-changer, and once I had it, my YouTube consumption dropped to zero. As my period passed, I started to feel much more comfortable with the whole not-checking-my-feed thing. The tension dissipated. I finished one book after another.

My social life flourished. People were texting me to go climbing and go for walks and hikes. 

I immediately saw improvement in my aerial training. I had beautiful morning sessions in which I listened to music and trained in the sunshine. I didn’t interrupt myself to take video. I focused on how things felt. I did try to take a video at the end of two sessions, and guess what, they didn’t save and it was triggering. So quickly can digital technology ruin my mood (I also tend to run my storage high, which results in things not saving).

Intentional interfacing

In his book Digital Minimalism, Newport confirms and clarifies the intuitions that had me suspicious of social media. Yes, social media companies have designed their apps to be as addictive as possible so that they can maximally profit. Yes, social media does impact our relationships, creating illusions of connection through frequent “lightweight touches” that makes us less inclined to initiate meaningful interaction (such as phone calls or time spent together in person). He also expanded my understanding of unhealthy digital media consumption, which meant I had to reconsider my texting habits and 20 perpetually open tabs. If you’re curious about this book, I do recommend it, however he is an MIT professor and the writing leans academic, so it’s a bit heady. It’s a great reinforcement if you’re in the process of downsizing your digital media use.

Although I had already permanently deleted Facebook (it’s so junky, so I barely used it), stopped posting on my personal Instagram account (I overused it), and stopped scrolling when posting to my business account, his book prompted me to take it further. I reconfigured my phone to remove and reduce most alerts and badges, establish longer Do Not Disturb periods, and I now *practice* intentionally checking the phone for all texts instead of picking up and checking immediately (it’s a work in progress). I hadn’t realized how strong a sense of urgency my phone instilled in me until I tried this. I do feel a pressure to be continually available. Our culture facilitates quite a bit of spontaneity (not necessarily in a good way). 

To calm myself, I reminded myself that emergencies are extraordinarily rare. And guess what? Literally on Day 1 of my new texting minimalism, I received an alarmed text from a friend informing me that her friend had passed out and hit his head and was still unconscious (she contacted multiple people with no response). Realistically, there was nothing I could have done other than say to check his pulse and airway and start CPR (things she already knew but could have used help with while a high dose of adrenaline compromised her ability to think). The friend came to when she screamed and ended up being okay, all while I laid in bed ignoring the illumination of my phone across the room. 

If you’re worried about missing an emergency call, you can add selected friends and family to a special list that allows phone calls during Do Not Disturb. You can also allow any number that calls twice in a row to override Do Not Disturb. Instruct your friends and family to call instead of text if there is an emergency.

One of Newport’s key points is to utilize technology to facilitate what you really love and value, rather than allowing digital media to replace what you love and value. He recommends that you work backward from your real values: figure out what you WANT in your life, whether that’s time in nature, presence with family, books, a beautiful relationship with your aerial practice, etc. Carve out time for these things and scale back digital media to make way for them. Without the meaning and satisfaction provided by those valuable activities, he argues, minimizing digital technology will be extremely difficult and uncomfortable, resulting in boredom and anxiety. 

It became increasingly clear that avoiding social media actually wasn’t that hard as long as I had something meaningful to turn my attention to. This is what has led to greater alignment in my life. With the newfound time and existential dread no longer quelled by Instagram, I’ve been writing a lot, reading books, working on creative projects, practicing singing and making songs, and going outside with my friends. Some huge, huge changes have taken place. I’ll write more about that in another article.

For aerialists this can all be very difficult. Our art is very visual and we can learn so much from watching others. I have not finalized the role of social media in my life, especially since I have not figured out a new venue for my artistic projects (my blog may have to suffice) but overall the effects have been life-changing and well worth the initial discomfort. I didn’t realize how much input from other aerialists I was really taking in, and how it was actually too much. I needed more space to really just focus on my practice. I will write more about the benefits, but as you’ve probably noticed if you got this far, this post is already really long.

If you’ve got a voice in your head that says you should use social media less, I’d say to trust that voice, and go for it! Trust that the benefits are coming for you. The newfound space could open up some extraordinary things for you. My experience has been life-changing. My life is headed in a new creative direction. I had no idea how much using social media was holding me back, creatively, socially, and spiritually. Don’t worry about what you might miss. Imagine what you stand to gain.