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How I stopped scrolling my life away

“What did you mean you didn’t know?! I posted it on Facebook!”

How many times have you heard this statement from friends and family members?

Staying away from social media is not easy.

Everyone you know is on a few number of platforms. Even when you want to switch to an entirely new one, where would you go!? That is called the network effect. You’re “stuck” in these few places since everyone you know congregate on those same platforms...

I was a phone addict since 2011 when I received my very first mobile the HTC/T-Mobile G1. Around that time, Facebook already took over the social media reign that previously belonged to Myspace. Popular social networking services Twitter and Instagram also witnessed daylight by then.

This whole concept of posting short updates and commenting instantly on other people’s posts was fantastic, at first. I jumped right in not knowing what kind of implications this would have. Social media looked so innocent back then. It was new, it was a new way of making fast communication happen and it was exciting.

The more I continued my usage, the more I entered the infamous rabbit hole unconsciously. 30 minutes a day changed to one hour a day. One hour a day changed to 2 hours day. Somehow, social media knew exactly how to lure me back in. The more I was using it, the more I was prioritizing this task of staying online and communicating with my online friends.

It got to a point where social media became more important than communicating with my offline friends. The irony was that some of those people online, were not living that far away from me. But it was just convenient to post updates online so I didn’t need to repeat myself multiple times. I noticed this was becoming a problem, since our conversations became less significant. Our comments to one another were simple and public. Not a good development, if you want to create and maintain meaningful relationships with people.

My realization that I was spending too much time on social media, was when my girlfriend demanded my posts constantly on her Facebook wall. She demanded love quotes, poems and photos from me. She wanted to show the world how happy we were and how much we were in love. Ironically, that made us break up, since I refused to post for the sake of showing off. It shouldn’t be important what people think of us. Our relationship is our business, and our business alone.

I continued my search for a solution to this compulsive behavior. I felt alone, isolated and bored when I was not using social media. The advantage of this dark time, is that the determination to do something about it became greater. When you’re in a situation where you are simply “fine” or “okay", it is harder to maintain a certain level of motivation. However, when you’re completely fed up with your situation, in my case how social media and my phone were robbing my time, you are more open and receptive to new ways of doing things.

A Tony Robbins quote that stands out when I think of my transformation period is: progress equals happiness.

I realized I wasn’t progressing, but regressing instead.

I want to feel happy and fulfilled in life.

I want to do well in life, I want to have something to be proud of and be someone to be proud of.

I realized in order to have, I have to do. I order to do, I have to be.

It hit me that a lot of suffering that I felt when exploring my social media feeds such as feelings of jealously and sadness, was a sign of something missing in my own being. My feelings were telling a lot about myself, about how I perceive myself and how I talk to my self.

It was this image that I had of myself that needed to change.

Why was I competing with other people online?

Why would I compare my ups and downs with the constant ups that are being posted online?

Why am I comparing my chapter 2 with someone else’s chapter 9?

I realized that instead of posting a life I want to live and posting a persona I want to be, I need to start working on living that life, and becoming that person. I realized that if I don't know how to be alone, I will only know how to be lonely.

To start becoming productive, I started to learn WordPress. This was in 2013. I wanted to make a website since 2005, so the concept of “it is hard to start and take action” is fully understood by me. But when you take that first step, you quickly tell yourself: it wasn’t that hard was it!?

But there is no point of ruminating about the past, what was important is that I finally took that first step. I created a website about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. I was super proud of it and it was a fantastic feeling to share my World Cup passion with football fans all over the world.

Not only did I realize what a great feeling it was to finally produce something instead of mindlessly consuming all the time, but also that social media is not inherently bad.

It is not bad and not good, but it isn’t neutral either.

Not only did I work on myself by producing and developing skills, but also did I learn about the tricks phones and social media websites use to make us hooked. The endless scroll, the purposely chosen red icons, the like button, personalized information that algorithms choose for you to see, notifications, seeing someone has read your IM message etc. These features are all carefully designed to make us addicted.

One of the biggest lesson I learned is that social media companies explain to you constantly why you should use their platforms, (and yes, some advantages are valid), but they purposely don’t tell you how to use their platforms. It’s okay to use social media, but with limits. Social media was a great tool to promote my World Cup website for example, and I gained lots of fans because of it.

So how can you use social media and your phone, and stay in control while addictive forces are working against you?

Well for many, digital detoxes, tracking apps, blocking apps, Apple’s Screen Time and Google’s Digital Wellbeing are the solutions. The problem here is, that you are not in control. Your desire is still there. True, after keeping up with a digital detox, the desire fades away. But it is practically impossible not to be somewhat connected to the virtual world. When it comes to dumb phones, I agree they can be helpful. However, I wanted to understand and improve myself in such a way, that I can use tech for all the right reasons, instead of resorting to a simple dumb phone just because I don’t believe in myself and my ability to use a smartphone effectively.

So what I found that really combats your phone and social media addiction while still using tech for the right reasons, is self-actualization. I went through a process of introspection, a process of spending more time with just myself. This is a daunting task, since when you catch yourself telling a story about yourself when you’re by yourself, it is often not a positive one. You want to build yourself up and raise your standards.

You can do much more than just sitting around checking social media to see if people may be feeling sad just like you, so you don’t need to feel jealous. Or being in constant spectator mode seeing how people are “happy” online while you keep complaining about your own situation. Build your self-esteem and self-confidence. Work on yourself and compare yourself with your yesterday’s self. Learn to care more about yourself than about other people’s opinions about you.

A last piece of advice is to be mindful about your usage and to be constantly aware of your opportunity to choose a specific response to any trick (e.g. notifications) flying your way. Replace your reactive mode to a mindful mode. We are not dogs. We have the ability to choose our response. We have consciousness, which can empower us if we use it. But if we don’t acknowledge it, then social media can rob this power from us, and as a result, our life. Take ownership of your time and your right to enjoy your life. I know I did.

I am much more mindful about every task and very conscious about my mortality. I realize that today and time are never coming back. Life is an hourglass that keeps running regardless of how you spend your time. The feeling of producing is so satisfactory, that I can’t envision myself scrolling for hours anymore, chained to my phone and social media platforms. Helping others and feeling purposeful and significant are core values that have stuck with me.

One of the most important lessons from my transformation is that I am able to enjoy being by myself. The story I tell myself about myself when I’m by myself is a positive one, and no validation is necessary from my online friends to feel good about myself. I appreciate the people around me and my loved ones, and I’m very conscious that I remain phoneless when I’m in their presence.

I hope I have inspired you to become more mindful about your phone and social media usage. Life is short and finite. Show your phone who is the master and focus on your development and progress. You won’t believe how much your future self will thank you for that. Remember that the only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be!

Johan Versteegh

About the guest writer - Johan Versteegh

I suffered from phone and social media addiction a few years ago, and managed to unhook myself from tech. I didn’t just abstain from tech, tech is here to stay. Nevertheless, I learned how to use screens mindfully and I’m very aware of the detrimental effects screens may have on us.

My friend and I are life coaches who help individuals to recover from phone and social media addiction. We don’t just help people with stopping “liking and posting” their lives away, but help them to become a better version of themselves as well. Essentially we help people live their lives with purpose and addiction free.