In a world filled with distractions, it’s easy to find things that keep us from being connected with what is happening “right now”. Unfortunately, I must admit that I have spent a lot of my life being distracted and often distant from the things that really matter. In 2017, a series of events occurred that caused me to challenge myself in this area and begin a journey towards what I call “intentional living”. I am quite sure the term intentional living is not an original term, but I am not certain where I first heard it. My personal interpretation of this phrase is: “intentionally making choices that allow me to fully experience the wide range of opportunities that life provides, by letting go of anything that unnecessarily distracts from or inhibits that goal”. This process includes giving space for feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, boredom, grief, stress and other emotions that we might consider negative, for too often I have found that we distract ourselves in a myriad of ways from these feelings. Even what we consider more “positive” emotions such as joy and peace can be cut short when we allow things to distract us from allowing the emotions the time to reach maturity. In other words, we develop habits of distraction that keep us from intentional living. Being creatures of a critical nature, we are quick to point fingers or talk about people we know with drug or alcohol addictions, but these are certainly not the only ways we dull our senses, dodge reality, and keep ourselves from experiencing life fully and while we are critical of others, we often are dealing with our own issues that are just as addictive as drugs or alcohol. While I could make a list of things we use to distract us, I really don’t think that’s necessary. When life gets difficult (or mundane), just pay attention to the choices being made during those times. Ask yourself questions like “When I am sad, angry, or bored what do I do? How do I occupy my time, or to whom or for what do I reach?” The answers to these questions can be very revealing. What I really want to address in this personal essay is one of my own greatest distractions, how I came to walk away from that distraction, and the lessons I have been able to apply to my own life from that experience.
Towards the end of May 2017 there was a situation that occurred in my personal life that caused me to take a step back and reconsider my use of Facebook. In the past, I have taken relatively short breaks from Facebook but was always eager to return and reconnect. (My short-term break often coincided with Lent for a season of personal reflection.) My most recent break from Facebook was a sudden, two-fold decision to offer some security for our family during a time of transition as well as to offer greater security and less interference in the life of an elderly family member. Did I lose anything when I shut down my Facebook page? Of course, I did! I lost direct contact with a lot of people and the convenience of an application designed to make keeping in touch an easy part of daily life on the go. Probably the most significant impact was that by completely deactivating my personal page, we no longer were able to maintain our business page for the farm. No one can argue that running a successful business requires constant advertising and social media provides the perfect way to keep the farm and farm products on the minds of the consumer. At the time, even knowing how not having a business page would affect our means to communicate with the general public, it seemed the best way to protect our family.
What I have gained from leaving Facebook, however, has far outweighed any loss. I would like to just share a few of the benefits:
1. Greater Peace
There is of course the simple truth that one witnesses a certain amount of negativity on social media, but the peace I experienced once I made a break from social media was more than just shielding myself from negativity. Once I began to quiet my mind from the constant barrage of information, I began to experience an inner quietness. This, in turn, has opened many doors for me to address areas of my life that I needed to address which promotes even more inner peace.
2. More Time
A glance here, a glance there, and a few minutes on Facebook was evidently adding up to a lot more time than I realized. The time I have saved by not looking at Facebook has meant more time to do other things, many which I had been neglecting. One example is that I never had time to sit down and journal or to keep up with my blog. Now I find that on most days I have plenty of time to find a quiet place and write to my heart’s content. For me, writing something on Facebook was like a diet of mostly fast food. It gave me a quick fix , but a constant diet of it wasn’t healthy. Giving myself the time to sit down, digest my thoughts, and write them for a week at a time before publishing them on my blog, has meant that the process has been a lot more satisfying to me.
3. Improved Relationships
We can use social media to encourage a friend, to comfort the grieving, to promote a cause, or to become aware of political situations that need our attention. In this manner, we do a measure of good. However, when actively using Facebook, I found that my time and attention had been spread too thin. I was giving attention to a lot of matters, but I was not giving enough attention to the things that matter most. Spending less time on the internet has helped me build stronger relationships. Unfortunately, I am limited in the number of friends and family that I can reach on a regular basis. Compared to a Facebook post that potentially reaches hundreds of people, my outreach efforts are minimal, but the connections I have been making have been more meaningful for me and I believe for my friends and family as well.
4. Personal Growth
By being more focused and having more time, I have seen personal growth in areas that I had been neglecting. This falls back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this essay when I stated that we often use things to distract us from the business of life, especially the things in life that we consider ugly or painful. Facebook was one of my biggest distractions that kept me from personal growth. I really turned to social media after my son’s death as a way to distract me from the pain of his loss. Whatever the situation is that we find difficult to handle, distracting ourselves from it is not the way to handle it. I realize that grief (and other issues) are ongoing and that there are times when we must step away from the pain and a little distraction is not a bad thing. However, when the distraction becomes the way we handle our life, then we are no longer dealing with the things at hand.
5. Less Room for Interference and Misunderstanding
We think we are being clear, precise, loving and that there is no way that anyone can misunderstand our words or our intent. We believe that everyone on our friend’s list understands our heart and knows that we only want what is best for our friends, family, and even the world in general. We think that there is no possible way that anyone would use what we have written against us or use information they glean to try to interfere in our lives. It just wouldn’t happen to us. Unfortunately, I found that attitude to be very naïve. There are people who want to hurt us and who will hurt us intentionally and there are people who don’t intentionally want to hurt us, but who do. And, we unintentionally hurt others as well at times with the things we say and do. That’s true whether we use Facebook or not, but it only stands to reason that the more we post and the broader our audience, the more likely we are going to hurt or be hurt by something that is written. There’s a time and a place to share information and to share our hearts. However, sometimes, it’s just better to step back and take a break.
6. Learning to Live life with less validation
Did you ever stop to consider that every time someone “likes” a post on Facebook that it’s actually a form of validation? One of the things I have been working on since I left Facebook is learning to live without the need for validation from others, living my life as I see best whether anyone understands, cares, or agrees with our choices. Validation is nice but freedom from needing validation is even nicer.
7. A Better Night’s Sleep
With all the positive affects of less screen time, it only makes sense that I found my sleep to more restful. I really began to recognize this when we would travel to our home in South West Virginia where cell phone service is very poor and where we did not have any internet for about six months. (We now have internet service in Laurel Fork but it’s about as reliable and fast as the old dial up service we had 20 years ago and our cell phone service is even worse than internet service.) Getting online is almost more trouble than it’s worth when we are there and I have found that I put my phone down for half a day or more without even missing it. That’s simply not the case when I’m in Staunton, as I have my phone with me every second in case someone calls or texts or I need to retrieve information. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder if leaving my devices alone when in Laurel Fork was actually a key element in my sleeping more soundly.
After I began to see the affects that less internet time was having on my well-being, I began to do a little bit of research and found that scientific research actually backs up many of the things above that I have learned from taking a social media break. Rally Health has this to say:
- Vision. Staring into a screen for extended periods of time can cause “computer vision syndrome.” You’re probably familiar with the symptoms: strained, dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches. Poor posture can also cause neck and shoulder pain.
- Sleep. Studies link heavy computer and mobile phone use to more sleep disturbances. University of Gothenburg psychologist Sara Thomée, one study's lead researcher, says the blue light from digital devices suppresses the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, keeping us from having restful sleep.
- Addiction and reward seeking. Dopamine, the “feel-good hormone,” is part of the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits. Playing video games turns on similar brain regions as those linked to cravings for drugs and gambling, Ditto for social media — every time we see a new post or get a reaction to ours, it’s like a hit of brain candy.
- Weight. Even two hours of TV a day can increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease in adults. (Computer use doesn’t seem to have as strong a link.) There are probably several factors to blame, including less active time, less sleep, and seeing more ads for unhealthy foods.
- Overall health. Most of the time we’re on our screens, we’re sitting down. Sitting for hours at a time boosts the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. One study found that spending more than four hours a day in front of a computer or TV more than doubles your likelihood of dying or being hospitalized for heart disease — and exercise won’t reduce the risk.
The following article from Huffpost provides additional information on the affects screen time has on our sleep habits:
Screen time at night keeps adults from falling asleep and sleeping well due to cognitive stimulation and sleep deprivation. Your brain’s electrical activity increases, neurons race and divert you from calming down into a peaceful state of mind for sleep.
In addition the physical act of responding to an email, text, or video increases the tension in your body which results in stress. Your body then produces the stress hormone cortisol released by the adrenal gland aversive to sleep.
Fuethermore, the brain naturally creates the hormone, melatonin, that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Too much light from video screens at bedtime affect the melatonin production giving the body the impression you aren’t ready for sleep. In addition the screen emits light that suggests to the brain that it is still daytime which contributes to insomnia and sleep deprivation. Holding a device such as a smartphone close to one’s face increases this effect giving the brain the wrong signal as if it’s not time to go to sleep. The best advice is to stop watching TV or using smartphones and other screen devices an hour or two before bedtime to give your brain a rest and the correct signal that it is time for sleep.
Harvard Medical School scientists concur that specific wavelengths of light suppress the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain. The National Sleep Foundation in Arlington, Va surveyed 1500 randomly selected adults in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany, Britain, and Japan showing that at least two-thirds of those people who watched TV in the hour before bed didn’t get a good night’s sleep on work nights. The circadian clock, the body’s biological time keeper that is synchronized to the 24-hour day is thrown off by this interference with the light -dark cycle. This light exposure delays the melatonin that should surge forward.
So limit your screen time and get a good night’s rest. You’ll be happy in the morning
If you have stayed with me on this essay and have made it this far, I want to stress that I am not judging anyone for their use of Facebook or any form of social media, nor am I trying to convince anyone to make changes they don’t want to make. I am simply sharing the benefits I received unexpectedly with my time away. I intend to return to Facebook at some point in the future but I hope that this blogpost will serve as a reminder to me to do so with moderation and not to forget the things I have learned. Most of all, when Facebook or any other distraction keeps me from living fully and embracing all aspects of life that make up “intentional living”, I hope that I have the wisdom to step back, take a break, and focus on the present.