A few months ago, I got mad at the Internet. I deactivated my Facebook account, unsubscribed from almost every email list, and stopped writing on my blog. For me, Facebook, email and blogging were the major Internet Time Suckers and Anxiety Producers.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on the source, though. Why so much anxiety? Why couldn’t I just scroll through my Facebook feed, like a normal person, without feeling all icky inside? Why did I feel so irritable every time I picked up my phone? Why did I feel completely overwhelmed every time I published a blog post?
(If you are receiving this via email, you will need to click over to the blog to see this short, yet funny, video)
In an attempt to get answers to these questions, I launched an experiment to see what would happen if I unglued myself from my Smart Phone, stopped documenting my thoughts electronically, and stopped bombarding my brain with everyone else’s minutia.
You know, party like it’s 1999.
In a radical rage against mental clutter and distraction, I attempted to break several habits and replace them with new (old) ones:
I stopped reading emails and Facebook while my coffee brewed first thing in the morning. Instead, I unloaded the dishwasher. Or I prepared the kids’ backpacks or tossed in a load of laundry. Or I simply waited for the coffee brew.
I stopped checking my phone while in the car. Instead, at red lights and in carpool, I listened to the radio or sat in silence. My phone stayed in my purse, out of reach.
I stopped checking my phone while cooking. Instead, I read a few Bible verses, sorted the mail, or talked to my children. Sometimes, I read a few paragraphs of a book (remember books?). Sometimes, I simply stood there and allowed myself to think thoughts. Not someone else’s thoughts—just my own!
I stopped responding to emails as they arrived, unless they were urgent (we are in the middle of building a house, and sometimes the emails require an immediate response.) Instead, I sat down at my computer once a day, or once every two or three days (!), and processed all the emails at once—and then deleted them from my inbox.
I stopped taking my phone out while waiting for a table at the restaurant or for my hair appointment. I didn’t even take it out while my husband drove on the five-hour road trip to see my family at Christmas. Instead, I sat quietly. Or I talked to people. Or I picked up a magazine. Or I read a book. (Again, with the books! This was crazy town, people.)
I stopped taking pictures for the blog or to post on Facebook. I stopped trying to turn every event into a funny status or a life-lesson to be shared. Instead, I wrote in my journal or sent a text to a friend. I took pictures for my family, not for the masses. But mostly, when that golden opportunity to post that status or shoot that picture arrived, I did nothing. I kept all my witty/insightful observations to myself. I shared only in person, face-to-face, with actual people.
I knew removing all that mental clutter would transform my thinking, but I wasn’t sure how, or to what extent. I also wasn’t sure if these changes would be temporary or permanent, if I’d reintroduce some dead habits or let them stay dead forever.
But within only a few weeks, a few things became immediately evident:
1. I am not nearly as anxious or scatter-brained as I used to be. This is a Christmas miracle, you guys. For, even in the midst of the busy holiday season, while also building a house, and the daily raising two teens and a tween, I have never felt more mental clarity and inner-calm than I have the last few months.
2. People are on their phones all the time! I know you know that, but, seriously, DID YOU KNOW THAT? There have been many times the last few months, where I am with actual people, and everyone except me is looking at their phone. And there I am, sitting with my hands folded on my lap, looking around, feeling a little ignored, but mostly amused. It’s a bit like being the only sober one at a party.
3. I am less connected to people than I thought I was. Social media gave me a false sense of connection. Almost everything I knew about people, I knew because I read it on Facebook. Once Facebook was gone, I knew nothing. That’s both good and bad. Good, because I actually don’t need to know most things about people. Bad, because with or without Facebook, it is abundantly clear that I must schedule actual time to talk with or meet with actual people. (This requires its own post. I have so much to say about this.)
4. Though this blog is technically part of the Internet, I am not mad at this blog. In fact, I love this blog. And I love the people who read it. Honestly, when I wasn’t writing on this blog, I felt selfish and completely out of step with God’s will for me. Only when I silenced all the Internet noise, could I see how God had given me something unique to share with you, but I was keeping it all to myself. This revelation is huge for me. And though it took me nearly 850 words to get to this point, it’s the main purpose of this post.
For the last few years, I’ve had a very frustrating relationship with blogging. For those of you who have been around for awhile, you know I keep stepping away and coming back. Stepping away, and coming back. It’s probably been a little frustrating for you, too. Sorry about that.
While I realize there are millions of talented writers out there (most of them more talented than me), I’ve always known God gifted me to write. Not only to write, but also to publish my writing for others. I’ve known this as long as I can remember.
For me, the frustration came when book publishers liked my writing, but refused to publish my books until I “grew my platform.” Every platform-building book or article I’ve read (and I’ve read dozens and dozens) advises bloggers to become enmeshed in social media. Social media is how people are connecting (that is true) and is therefore, how people will share my posts (also true) and is ultimately how my blog will grow.
Very well. Then grow the platform I shall!
So, with an eye to ultimately publish books, I found myself in this endless cycle that looked like this:
I’d write a post.
Then, I’d promote it on social media (which involves the taking and editing of beautiful “pinnable” images, creating and scheduling tweets, attempting to outsmart the Facebook algorithms by scheduling them at certain times and in certain ways saying certain things but not other certain things, tracking “likes” and “shares” and blah blah BLAH BLAHHHH!!!!!!)
And then I’d be stuck on my stupid phone all day, because I’d have to monitor all this crap.
Since none of that is in my skill set (except the writing and maybe the taking of a decent photo), the post that should have taken me two hours to write and publish had sucked up my whole day and most of the evening, because, for optimal platform building, it is recommended that I “pin” approximately 27 times per day!
Then, I’d consider hiring a virtual assistant to handle all the marketing of the posts, so I could concentrate on what I was good at → writing! Except, oops, my blog generates approximately $zero$ income to pay said virtual assistant.
So, then, I’d consider blog ads and affiliates and e-books so I could pay said virtual assistant, so I could use my time to WRITE!
However, the researching of blog ads/affiliates/e-books requires hours and hours of internet time, and is both complicated and difficult for me to absorb, because I’m old.
Thus, I’d declare: I HATE THE INTERNET, and shut my computer and walk away.
Until I wanted to write something. And the whole cycle would begin again. Over and over. For several years.
That cycle has preceded every blog break I’ve taken in the last five years.
Being me is HARD.
The truth is I LOVE blogging. It’s the platform-building I hate. At some point in the last few years, my blogging goals shifted from writing to please the God who gifted me, to writing to please the potential publisher. I didn’t even realize it was happening. I feel so stupid and so enlightened at the exact same time.
So, what the heck does this have to do with you?
Well, everything, really.
First, as time allows and creativity flows, I will be posting here more regularly—with a renewed passion and excitement for the message and the audience God has so graciously given me. I hope you will stick around this year to read.
Second, I will be posting very little on social media (duh!). If you normally read my blog because of links you find on Facebook or Twitter, I highly recommend you subscribe to my blog via email. There’s a little box at the top of the blog where you can type in your email address. It’s super simple and free.
Third, if you learn anything from this post, I hope that it’s this: anxiety does not come from God. If you’re feeling anxiety on a regular basis, it’s worth your time to do something radical to get to the root of it. Otherwise, you may find yourself in an endless cycle of hating and rejecting the very talent or medium God gave you to do His work.
Finally, I realize in 2015 stepping back from the Internet is complicated. Most of us do our life’s work in some way on a computer or with a smart phone. I get it. But, of all the things I’ve ever done to achieve or maintain balance in life, getting away from the daily habits of incessantly checking my phone has produced the most profound results. I highly recommend it.
Here’s to a peaceful, less distracted, 2015.