Innovate Life Experiment #1: Digital Detox & Retox

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As I navigate through a transition period in my career and determine where I want to focus my energy on next, I’ve been conducting a few experiments. I call them my “Innovate Life” experiments. After spending the past seven years sprinting as an entrepreneur I realize how much time was spent innovating my business and other businesses. Very little time was spent innovating myself. Not good. I’ll share more about each experiment as my very scientific (wink) results surface.

My first experiment was not simple. It was to simplify my life. (Insert the universe’s laughter here.) My goal was to make some space. Slowdown instead of startup. So (naturally) I narrowed what I needed down to two bags and moved onto a boat. I might be taking this experiment a little too literally? Living on a boat is one way I’ve simplified my surroundings and decreased clutter which interestingly led to more clarity in the mind as well. A component of this meant slowing down and being more intentional about where I’m spending my time. So, I decided to start spending less time using technology and social media. (And now the universe is laughing hysterically.) A Digital Detox of sorts. This experiment and my curiosity of the subject has led me to some unexpected outcomes and new thought candy. Given that the last 10 years of my career has revolved around a constant digital and social media connection this experiment started out a bit … well, jolty.

Luckily, during this experiment I took a trip to the jungle in Costa Rica for a week where there was zero connectivity. This was a cold turkey approach. I had to simply be where my feet were and listen to the silence. Shocking.

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Besides the fact that I’m a certified digital addict, one thing was certain after auditing my own use of technology/social media and researching ‘digital detox’ by way of listening to podcasts, reading articles, books and having countless conversations with people who had quite a bit to share on the topic — there is not a lack of information or opinions on the subject. It’s actually quite a hot topic that seems to be on many minds.

Why?

  1. The expected reason: We’re fatigued by the amount of technology, communication and distractions. Overstimulated. Stressed by the pace. We feel out of control.
  2. The unexpected reason: There’s a lack of human connection and kindness being exchanged. Too much negativity, anger, judgment and comparison.

So what does having a healthy relationship with technology and social media look like? Of course it’s different for everyone. You have to answer that question for yourself but what I’m now seeing clearly is that our individual relationship with technology and social media impacts other people around us more than we realize.

Here are the unexpected points, main takeaways and collection of tips I’ve gathered while experimenting:

Serotonin & Technology

Let’s tackle the unexpected first. There’s a tricky relationship between technology, social media and serotonin. As a quick reminder, serotonin is that magical neurotransmitter, a chemical, that impacts our mood. The more serotonin the more likeliness for kindness.

Scientifically, serotonin is spreadable. This video explains the ‘Science of Kindness’ and serotonin concept well. If you do something nice (an act of kindness) for me not only do both you and I get a hit of serotonin but so does anyone who witnessed the act. So, technically, serotonin can go viral via technology or social media in the virtual world, right? It’s scalable. Kind of.

When it comes to social media, serotonin can spread very quickly. For example, when a disaster of any sort happens, people come together immediately online and help by donating, offering assistance, support and relief. This pace for recovery and communication wasn’t as feasible prior to social networks. We can literally accelerate the act of kindness and help. Even without a disaster, if you simply witness something positive online like a nice gesture or someone helping another person, it’s possible that you’re the beneficiary of a quick hit of serotonin.

However, technology and social media can do the opposite in an equally powerful way. We have all witnessed hatred and anger online. The tone and lack of kindness that seems to be encouraged when people hide behind their screens — especially during this political season and debate around social issues. Often times people behave in ways online that they’d never do in the real world because they feel their phone or keyboard is a security blanket. Just as we can scale/spread the act of kindness via social media, we can also accelerate negativity and hatred. Both can, and do, go viral on a daily basis.

There are now generations of people who are learning to communicate more via technology than they do in person, face to face. Millions of people are reaching adulthood with a major deficiency in interpersonal skills. There’s a deficit of face to face soft skills because many people simply aren’t required to communicate this way and therefore they don’t learn and practice the art of in-person conversations and interactions. In the future, will newly crowned adults even need to develop the skills needed to have crucial conversations or will this be done via technology?

Additionally, due to technology, older generations are not needing to use their face to face communication skills as much and therefore they’re out of practice.

Texting, emailing, instant messaging and social media have replaced the original, basic way of communicating. Yet, that’s the most effective and impactful way to exchange serotonin –  human to human in the real physical world. As we all know, when communication is done via technology there are important missing ingredients such as tone, emotion, inflection and the original exchange of serotonin. That’s kind of a big deal. Yes, we still might be able to send and receive a little serotonin via digital communication but it doesn’t have the same impact as an in-person exchange.

One of the reasons I originally fell in love with technology and social communication was because of the positive impacts it can have so quickly. Connecting, helping and sharing.

Yet over the past few years, I’ve personally felt that my iPhone and laptop have not only taken over my life but often times they also make the world seem darker.  Whether that’s being exposed to negativity in my facebook feed or inundated and overwhelmed by my inbox. Or simply just the frequency of constant inbound and outbound messages from multiple outlets all day, everyday. It has left me feeling like the tail is wagging the dog. I’ve become fatigued with the noise and pace and it’s made me think hard about what benefits and joy it brings. (That is a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say.)

Part one of my experiment: I set aside 30 mins and set out to manually spread some serotonin. Here’s what I did:

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I simply started focusing more on how I could help. What happened? From giving advice to someone who is about to have a job interview

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… To helping a restless baby sleep in Australia, the type of information exchange did run the gamut.

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This made me feel more helpful, valuable, happier and lighter. It also made others feel pretty darn good as well from what I can tell. The exciting part is that everyone who witnessed these acts were also exposed to a potential hit of serotonin. So basically, if everyone started doing this we could make kindness and feel good chemicals go viral? Pretty much. That’s powerful.

Give it a try. It works especially well if you’re in a not-so-great mood or if you’re experiencing the infamous afternoon lull. What do you think would happen if you told your facebook friends you had a few extra minutes and asked how you could help them? Is it safe enough to try? Let me know how it goes. The experiment continues …

Digital Detox

Cutting back on the amount of time I spent using technology and social media was my other objective. After having a conversation about this topic, ironically on Twitter, and speaking with many people and trying various methods I netted out with a list of things that have worked. To feel more in control over my time spent using technology and social media in effort to address my digital fatigue and do a bit of detoxing, I implemented the following tips.

Digital Detox Tips:

  • Turn Off Push Notifications – both visual and audible. All of the sounds – the buzzers, rings, updates, etc. They’re one of the top distractions not only to you but the people around you. I realized how annoying these notifications were and I turned everything off except silent text message notifications. I rarely have any audio notifications enabled. Try it. You can always revert back to the buzzing if needed.
  • Digital Dead Zones: These are like No Fly zones. There are certain times and places when it doesn’t make sense to be using your phone or laptop. For example, don’t bring your phone or laptop to bed. Again it’s a distraction for not only you but the people around you. Studies show that the lumens from the screen impact our ability to sleep. For many people, the first thing they do when they wake up is look at their email, facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc. This allows the outside world potentially dictate your mood before your feet even hit the floor. During meals is another time to refrain from being on your phone or laptop. How many times have you seen people having dinner at and they are all on some sort of digital device – not saying a word to one another.

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  • The Unfollow Exercise: We all have those moments when we scroll through our feed on a social media channel and cringe when we see certain people. Either they annoy us, they’re constantly negative or we never did really know them or like them to begin with. Do yourself a favor: UNFOLLOW. If you have the physical “ugh” reaction when you see their updates, then simply remove them from the equation. It’s incredible how powerful those moments of negativity can be. They can dictate our moods. Peace is one click away.
  • Set Triggers & Limit Access: To be more intentional about when you look at social media networks on your phone, put your social apps on the back page/screen of your phone so you have to willingly flip to the back page in order to get to them. Hopefully, this process starts to serve as a trigger and you’re able to catch yourself. Some people I spoke with even deleted the app from their phone and set up adult restriction blockers on their laptop.
  • Manage Expectations. Turn your ‘Out of Office’ email notification bounce back message on when you’re done working on Friday and before you begin working Monday morning. Then don’t check your email. If it’s not possible to not check your email at least the person sending you messages will be notified that’ you’re out of pocket and they won’t expect a response right away. I spoke with someone who started doing this and instead of being on email they’re using the time to read books and learn about new things.
  • Gamify Your Detox: Add some competition and reward to the process. Example: while at dinner, have everyone stack their phones in the middle of the table. The first person to grab for their phone has to pay for the entire bill.
  • Selfish Serotonin If you have a few free moments, try asking your social media audience how you can help them. Serve up some good old serotonin! It sounds fluffy but I bet you it makes you feel good and you end up doing it more than once.

I’m still experimenting but what I’ve come to realize is that we need to evaluate what a healthy relationship with technology looks like for ourselves. This includes both HOW MUCH time we spend using technology but also HOW and WHERE we are spending that time. How does it make us feel? That’s a question I’m asking myself more often in general.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these topics. Please share any insight you may have!

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Other resources from my experiment and research:

Note To Self Podcast – Take a look at the Infomagical series about information overload.

Digital Detox – Great resource for Digital Detox retreats and other related info.

Kindness Boomerang Video – The video has 23 million views for a reason.

A few interesting tools to assist with digital detox. (I don’t fully support all of these but they’re fascinating):

Delete your Facebook newsfeed (plugin)

Delete it all. Eek!