The life-changing magic of putting down the phone.
It was the end of Tuesday and somehow already a long week. Even social media became boring – refreshing pages only recycled old content I had seen twice before. In frustration I left my phone on the coffee table and went for a walk. I wandered our neighborhood until my tired feet protested and my fingers were cold. It wasn't far but the lethargy I left with began to give way to mental energy. I felt refreshed. I set out emptyhanded again the next evening. The shift in my focus gave me an idea. If I could get a second wind after a long day of parenting just by setting my phone down and going outside, what changes could I make to my long days themselves?
I started to enforce a boundary that I'd been breaking – no social media when Baby E is awake. It wasn't easy. My days still seemed long, and the distances between E's naps stretched out. I began to spend more of the time playing with him and reading to him. When he played by himself, I washed the dishes and the laundry, and then I started writing. On warm afternoons, I scooped him into the carrier on my back and we took long walks around the park until the wind twisted his sunhat sideways or one of us got hungry.
I slowly recognized the double standard of using all my screen time when my husband, Grant, was home in the evening.
"Let's go for a walk," I began suggesting. If it was cold, conversation. "What podcast are you listening to tonight?" We snuggled up on our second-hand couch and compared notes from our days, spinning dreams for our coming summer.
As I maintained the pattern of setting down my phone, slow and beautiful changes have crept into my days. I'm closer with my family. Grant shares more about his goals for camp. Baby E is getting more adept at flipping the stiff pages of cardboard books.
I have time again. I thought I couldn't keep up with dishes, laundry, fixing the bed, getting a fresh onesie for Baby E. My habit of checking Instagram first has lessened: I find myself with a clean sink, deciding whether to pick up a book, a writing project, or branch out and try repotting my succulents.
I notice things more. The less I passively absorb images and status updates, the more my brain begins to entertain itself. I invent conversations that Baby Boy might be trying to have when he hums and chatters his incomprehensible syllables. My old curiosity begins to make a return – I wonder why some aspens are leafing out while others have only tiny red buds.
I'd love to tell you this process was easy, is easy. I get frustrated, trying to stay off my phone around people I love or during projects. Still, I believe it's worth it.
So here are the best ways I've been able to change my old habits:
Put real people first. I say I want to stay connected with people but the best way to connect has always been spending time together and talking. Our smart phones help with long distances but connecting in real time and space is vital. The more time you spend "connecting" online, the more distance will creep into your face-to-face relationships.
Set boundaries. Some say willpower is like a muscle; it gets stronger as you use it. Some say it's a limited resource. I agree with both. Like a weak muscle, you only have so much willpower at first. The more you practice, the stronger you'll become. Set a tiny boundary and keep it. No screen time before 8 am, or during lunch. Charge your phone away from your bed. Stick to it. You'll see the fruit soon.
Use it as a tool. Perhaps your biggest reason for social media is because you use it as a tool, for personal life or for business. Great! I grew up on a farm. We had all kinds of tools - wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, etc. The thing about tools is that they live on the shelf. Nobody picks up a hammer and just carries it around. You use it to pound in a nail and you hang it back on the workbench.
I don't mean to say that everyone should have a clean kitchen and multitudes of creative projects at the expense of sitting down with a little one, or for a well-deserved break. But sometimes, I think we let our time, affection, creativity and our responsibilities slide away while we grasp at phantoms on screens. Let me encourage you to be truly and deeply present in your own life: your newsfeed will remain forever but the rough and delicate beauty of this one life you have is changing every moment.