A few weeks ago, my business coach threw down a challenge.
No social media for five full days.
No Facebook. No Twitter. No blogging.
No lurking, no sneaking, no peeking.
I had to go cold turkey. And it was going to be painful. I mean, I use each of those tools for my business! (Can you hear my whiny voice?!) They are valuable communication channels that help me connect with lots of people (in true introvert style, from the comfort of my own office, safe behind my laptop).
Why did my coach put me on a social media diet? Because he asked me, "so, how's your time management going?" While I was moving forward on many of my goals, I also was aware that my energy was scattered. And since I can't lie, I had to be honest and tell him that social media was taking up too much of my time. The Facebook and Twitter tabs were open in my browser all day, and I tended to flirt with them for 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, all day.
No wonder my energy was scattered!
So the challenge was born. I was nervous about it. It was like preparing for a vacation and making sure all the plants were watered, the stove was off, the doors were locked and someone was lined up to feed the cats in my absence. I posted my intention up on my pages and bid my farewells. At 5:20pm on that Friday, I activated LeechBlock on my browser to keep me from going to Facebook and Twitter until the following Thursday morning, and I removed the shortcut icons from my smart phone.
The arc of the experience reminded me of my time working at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Every year, from mid-May to around Labor Day, we wore the summer uniform of light blue polo shirts, dark blue bottoms (ladies had the option of corduroy knickers, which sounds awful but was really quite comfortable!).
For the first few weeks, it was a relief. Getting dressed was super easy and quick, and it was nice being able to wear shorts to work. By mid-summer, I stopped even thinking about the uniform. It was what it was. Then, sometime around mid-August, I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to wear something other than blue!! The first day back in civilian clothing, I'd wear something bright and as un-blue as I could. The cycle was complete in that I again felt enormous relief.
How is that like my social media diet? I felt the same relief at the start ("ah, so nice, I have more time than I thought and can focus better!") … then the indifference ("I'm so busy doing other things, I don't miss it") … then the impatience ("What am I missing?!?! If it doesn't get posted on Facebook, did it really happen!?!?").
The funny thing is, the only thing I'd really missed (besides the amazing posts of my wonderful friends and colleagues) was Cookie, the tickled penguin. What a relief!
I did miss other things, primarily a sense of connection with others. Working from home can be isolating, and social media provides a quick sense of community. It also contributes to a feeling of being an "insider" (see Cookie, above), in on the joke-of-the-day and sharing in our collective virtual LOLs.
And of course, part of the point of limiting social media was to diversify my communication, which it did. I picked up the phone more, met others face-to-face and spent quality time on LinkedIn (which was exempt from the diet).
Ultimately, one of the biggest "ah-has" came from a question a friend asked me: "How did you do without all of the approval-seeking?"
This question was a catalyst for my biggest awareness. I realized that I had been leaning heavily on social media for affirmation and approval. There is no consistency or predictability to the feedback one receives as a solopreneur; it's not like someone is giving us an evaluation every six months, or having regular staff meetings. Social media provides a feedback loop that tells us we're headed in the right direction (along with actually attracting clients and customers!).
When I first hired my coach, getting feedback about what I was doing was like finding water in the desert. It was like that first day out of my summer uniform, when I could wear colors again. It was more work and more responsibility, but gosh, it felt good!
And now I realized that likes, shares, comments and retweets were also the water in the desert that I kept crawling towards, craving and thirsting for.
The truth that my social media diet taught me? That water is a mirage.
I don't mean to say that the affirmation of likes and shares is an illusion. They are very real, sincere and important! It's simply that I realized I was feeding my need for approval on a steady diet of social media, rather than being tuned-in to how I felt.
If we're going to be able to sustain ourselves, our vision and our ability to serve for the long haul, it's important to feel our worth and validation from the inside out… to be unattached to how others respond… to trust ourselves.
So now that the diet is over, I'm shifting my relationship to social media. Full restriction is unwise; it definitely has its place in my life and business. That said, here's my plan:
- I'm going to set LeechBlock to deny access to social media during certain parts of the day, ensuring I stay focused on business development activities.
- I'm going to post something and then not check it until my next access time, rather than checking every few minutes for new "likes" (I feel vulnerable sharing that with you, but I KNOW I'm not alone in my approval-seeking ways 😉 ).
- And I'm going to thoroughly enjoy my self-allotted, intentional time on social media, knowing that I've taken care of business.
Even drinking too much water can kill you, so I'm going to remember to make sure I'm getting healthy doses of the real thing (inside out) and feeling satisfied without the need for more and more and more.
Have you ever gone on a social media diet? What was your experience? What do you get from or enjoy about social media? Do you think we depend on it too much for community and connection, or is it just the way the world is changing? Share your thoughts in the comments! (And while this might sound ironic, your likes, shares and tweets are always appreciated!)