Since I’ve been in quarantine, I’ve been hooked on my devices. In fact, it feels like my iPhone has become an extra appendage. It follows me wherever I go, even in bed sadly. Despite my best efforts at times, I’m addicted. That’s not an exaggeration.
Late last week, it occurred to me that I was spending the majority of my time in social feeds, email and text. I was incessantly scrolling and staring at screens hour by hour, day after day. Not only has my attention been hijacked but also hours of my time have seemingly vanished. I have been living in a ‘digital haze’ for weeks.
I know I’m not alone. The average American spends eleven hours a day interacting with media. That number has to be higher right now given everyone is home, stressed and bored. We’re not fully present. We’re not able to focus and sustain our attention. And we’re not able to listen. Our devices are always calling out to give us a hit of dopamine or numb us from our current emotional state. Many of us have become slaves to technology. Myself included.
By late last week, I had reached the point where I was approaching digital burnout and craving a break. I had enough. My mind needed a respite from social media, technology and screens. Given the sense of overwhelm and desire to become fully present, I decided the best remedy would be to take a digital pause. In other words, ditch hyperspace for a few days.
A digital pause (aka detox) is a period of time when a person stops using any digital device including smartphones, computers, and social media. They can be as short as a day and as long as a month. Digital sabbaths have also become a thing. These rituals have gained popularity over the last few years as our time on devices and the internet has increased.
Last weekend, I completed a 60+ hour digital pause. This was my first in nearly a year. I went without any devices from 6pm on Friday to 8am on Monday morning. It was exactly what I needed. I was reminded how important it is for my mental health and spirit to take a break.
So how did it work? On Friday morning, I texted my family and told them that I would be offline and to call my wife if there was an emergency. I also explained my decision to my wife so she could support me throughout the weekend. Given my complicated relationship with devices, she welcomed and even encouraged this decision. Around 6pm, I powered off my iPhone and iMac and put them away in a kitchen cabinet. I wanted to make sure they were out of sight and out of reach.
As soon I powered off my devices, I was forced to be fully present until Monday morning. At first, I had feelings of FOMO and anxiety. I was worried about not being able to clear out my inbox, catch up on articles and miss the banter on text and Twitter. I felt like a fish out of water for the very first hour.
Once I began to cook dinner, I suddenly became more present and began to embrace the pause. I also took a brief moment to set my intentions for the weekend. I made a quick list of things I hoped to focus on: spending quality time with my family, meditating, reading, journaling and cooking. I was now ready.
Throughout the weekend, time slowed down for me. The hands on the clock seemed to decelerate. This is a wild and weird dynamic. Paradoxically, I felt like I had a long weekend despite not actually having more time. I’ve had similar experiences during meditation retreats. When we decompress, disconnect and fully tune into our inner and outer states, our relationship with and perception of time changes.
I was also able to make progress on some projects I’ve been putting off. Not having my phone by my side helped me focus for longer periods of time and achieve deep work states. It was much easier to enter into a flow state while reading, writing and meditating. I was able to get more accomplished in an hour than I typically do. I was amazed how much I was able to finish despite not having access to devices and the internet.
I was also able to give my body a chance to rest and recover. I cooked healthy and delicious meals (including an olive oil cake!). I largely avoided processed and junk foods. I completed light exercises. I took walks with my family. I kicked off each morning with a long meditation before sunrise. I even gave myself permission to take a nap which I rarely do.
The quality time with my wife and daughter was the biggest gift. I wasn’t on edge. I wasn’t checking my phone incessantly. I wasn’t looking at the clock. I wasn’t thinking about that email I had to write. I wasn’t emotionally distant. Quite the opposite. I was able to give them my full and undivided attention. I was able to enjoy and recognize the small and simple moments. I was emotionally available for them. Being together was enough.
By Monday morning at the end of the pause, I was fully relaxed, recharged and present. My mind was clear. I no longer felt the urge to reach for a shot of digital dopamine and/or numb my emotional state in an endless scroll of feeds. I was naturally high. I was excited to dive back into work. I was ready to rock and roll.
This pause provided ample time and space to reflect on my relationships, the life I want to live and how technology impacts those. As a father, husband and entrepreneur, I feel a deep responsibility to fully show up daily for my family, friends and the founders I serve. I also feel a responsibility to create structures that prioritize social, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being every day rather than once in a while.
Let me be clear: these digital pauses are not a panacea. For the vast majority of us, they do not crate long term, sustained behavior change. However, I fundamentally believe these pauses are necessary. They provide an opportunity to go inward, to wake up, to ask questions, to set new intentions and of course to learn about ourselves. That is often the spark for change and growth.
Giving ourselves permission to rest and recover is key to unlocking personal and professional development. The best performers in the world combine high intensity training with deliberate rest and recovery. Many of us work 40, 50, 60 hours a week over and over and over and over. And when we get home, we’re still staring at screens and our brains are being bombarded by bits.
That’s why these digital pauses are important. They give our mind (and even body) a mini vacation. They also create an opening for contemplation and change so we can eventually show up more fully your family, friends, coworkers and, most importantly, yourself.
I enjoyed this pause so much that I’m planning another one this weekend. I hope you’ll consider joining me.