Digital dieting is better than digital detox

Digital dieting is better than digital detox

The New Year is often filled with resolutions on how to be better, do things better, achieve more, go more places, do more things…

Often our annual resolutions come with one or another form of ‘detox’ that we hope will change our habits and ways of ‘doing life’.

After a bit of effort (and an attempt to bolster our willpower levels with super-human feats of determination) it is not long before ‘life’ gets in the way and maintaining our resolutions becomes too much hard work.

Without always realising it until we’ve picked them up again and subconsciously slipped back into old automatic habits and behaviours.

Anecdotally, a lot of us know that we spend too long on our devices and in front of a screen. We open an app and get lost of hours, afterwards regretting the time we could have spent doing something else or being somewhere else or talking with someone else.

We also either recognise or sense that we are losing focus and attention – both at work and at home. Johann Hari investigates this in his book ‘Stolen Focus’.

A recent Guardian article feeds back on research questions they put out to the public on how much time they felt they spent online. It seems a lot of us are in the same boat – feeling that we are consumed by our digital media and are more addicted than we’d like to be. From the article, you can sign up to their weekly newsletter, where you can receive tips and tricks on how to ‘break up with your phone’.

This could be an interesting series to engage in, but with a caveat that making longer-term changes to your relationship with technology is not just about ‘breaking up with your phone’, it is also about understanding what is driving your relationship with and using your devices (and apps).

Digging below the surface of our behaviour can have interesting consequences. Our excessive phone use could be:

  • a means to mitigate loneliness
  • an escape from reality
  • an inability to be bored
  • a fear of missing out
  • a way to signal your identity to others (especially if the technology is new)
  • etc

Like any other potential addictive or compulsive behaviour, understanding the underlying cause of excessive digital tech use can empower you with more of a chance of overcoming the addiction/compulsion and making a lasting change.

A better option than engaging in a digital detox is building better digital habits and finding ways to reduce digital engagement – much like limiting calorific intake if going on a food diet. James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’ book could be a good place to start in building your personal digital habit changes.

Putting boundaries in place that reduce our access to a device, app or game can be very helpful in reducing the amount of time we spend engaging in digital habits. An example would be removing social media apps from your phone, but leaving them on your laptop – providing an extra few steps in the process of accessing the content can reduce your use. A time-based boundary could be only allowing yourself access to social media during your train ride home from work. 

A short-term digital detoxes has its place in showcasing the effect the behaviour has on your life – both in terms of what you are missing out on in ‘real world’ interactions, but also in how that behaviour is making you feel from a positive and negative perspective. In her book ‘Dopamine Nation’, Dr Lemke talks about the benefits of short-term detoxes (even a 24-hour detox) as a way of highlighting the impact the behaviour has on your body and mind. 

However, creating a strategy and building actionable steps into your daily life is a much better longer-term solution. From a digital perspective, think through things like: 

  • what notifications you will allow to remain on
  • how much time you spend with your phone in your field of vision/nearby
  • whether you check your work emails after hours
  • what apps you have on your phone (including social media)
  • if your phone goes with you into the bedroom at night
  • what ‘rules’ you have around phone use in social settings
  • if you reach for your phone while waiting for someone or something
  • if you go anywhere without a phone – so you have time to re-engage with others/nature/etc.