It’s not a detox. Or is it?
Today is Dec 8. I am taking break from social media (specifically, Facebook and Twitter) that started nearly three weeks ago, the week before Thanksgiving. I had planned to take the week of Thanksgiving off from #dayjob to work on another project, and take a break from social media at the same time in part to help my focus, and in part because I felt that social media was very, very bad for me in multiple ways.
By the end of Thanksgiving week, I had decided to extend my social media break through at least the end of the year, and re-evaluate then. The ten days or so I had been offline were not enough to really judge its impact yet. Now, after about 20 days offline, I think it likely that my social media break will be much, much longer than just to the end of the year.
Exiting social media has not happened in a vacuum. It is in the context of a number of other changes I’m making to my daily routine — sleep schedule, journaling, and reading. First, my sleep schedule, since it feeds into the others. For many years, I have gone to bed between midnight and 1am, and gotten up between 7:30 and 8am, getting around 7–7.5 hours of restful sleep most nights. I am trying to shift that earlier, with lights out by 11pm (probably moving to 10:30 soon), and aiming to get up around 6–6:30. I am using melatonin as a sleep aid, to help shift the schedule. And I am trying to awaken naturally, not relying on an alarm. My alarm clock is still set for 7:30, just in case — and that case is coming up more often than I want. But the goal is to get to where I get sufficient sleep and awaken naturally.
The first part of my new morning routine is journaling. On paper. Writing just for myself, while the day is fresh, every single day. I don’t feel I yet have a rhythm of what to write about, and I could be more introspective, but it starts with the habit, and I have yet to miss a day since I started doing this.
The second part of my new morning is reading — specifically, reading challenging, difficult books. One of the worst aspects of my social media habit was that it made reading challenging books very difficult. Now, I love reading nonfiction that really makes me think hard and learn, but the kind of books I like require sustained concentration, with long-term rather than short-term reward. And when my brain is accustomed to the immediate junk food hits of intense dopamine from social media, I’m constantly fighting — and usually losing to — the low-grade, low value distraction. (My first difficult reading challenge book is Gödel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter, and I will write more about that later.)
Besides my morning reading routine, I am establishing other reading routines. I am now reading fiction on a Kindle Paperwhite at bedtime. I have a different fiction book on the Kindle on my phone, to read when I am out and about and might otherwise turn to social media apps. Finally, I have a paper copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on the back of the toilet, a return to the old bathroom-book days of yore from before when we could just get on our phones while pooping.
I plan to expand my morning routine in the future, once my sleep habit is stabilized. First, I want to start a guitar practice routine — pure technical exercises, not play-as-practice. Second, I want a daily exercise routine, something that has been very difficult for me historically. But I understand that trying to take on too much greatly increases my risk of failure. Small success is not as good as big success, but it’s better than total failure. And I am still a long way from declaring this effort a success!
But right now, the thing I’m missing today is the habit of public writing. On Facebook in particular, I had a good habit of writing long-ish, thoughtful posts that many people found insightful and engaging. And I had an audience. I want to have that sort of daily public writing routine again, but without all the negativity and baggage that comes with the rest of Facebook. This post is my first attempt at it. I can start posting on Medium, and see if I can add public writing every day to my routine, without the toxicity of engagement. It feels almost unfair to my readers, to ask them to read without mutual engagement — but is that any worse than reading a book?