Do you ever find yourself spending more time on the internet than you intended? Do you often go down a rabbit-hole of researching a topic, learning more about it than you really need to know? When you feel nervous or overwhelmed by all the things you need to do, do you reach for your phone to check email, scroll through social media, or play a game? I certainly have experienced all of these things, and I recently have decided to create some boundaries around my internet use.
Since the beginning of January, I have instituted several internet boundaries. The first one is that I don’t get on the internet in the morning until after my meditation practice. This is something I already tried to do, succeeding most days, but I now have made it non-negotiable. The second one is that I stay off the internet during at least one hour before going to sleep at night, which not only makes for a more restful evening routine, but also has the advantage of decreasing blue light exposure, which apparently can interfere with circadian rhythms. Finally, I have started taking an all-day internet holiday once per week.
I have heard the suggestion of taking internet breaks from various sources, the most recent being a podcast interview with Courtney Carver (author of the recently published book, Soulful Simplicity) that I listened to during December. I felt inspired by the interview, and the timing was perfect since I already had been thinking about intention-setting for the new year.
Creating boundaries around my internet use, including the weekly internet-free day, supports two of my main intentions for 2018. These are: find a better balance between input and output of information, and prioritize simplifying my life (nothing major, right?). These intentions are quite broad, so it’s helpful to identify specific actions, such as the weekly internet break, to support them.
I love learning, and more than ever before there is a copious, ever-expanding flow of information and ideas being shared by intelligent, talented, creative people about topics in which I am extremely interested. While this is a nice problem to have, it’s still a problem! I think it has become vitally important to be selective about where and how we invest our time and attention.
Another aspect of my goal of balancing input and output is to engage with less material, more deeply. If something isn’t worth taking notes on (my idea of fun!), contemplating, writing about, and/or incorporating into my life in some way, or doesn’t bring me a lot of joy (of course, sometimes I just want to be entertained and have fun [of the non-note-taking kind]), then I must reconsider whether it is worth investing my time and attention to consume.
Simultaneously with reducing input, my intention is to increase output. While my yoga classes provide a delightful opportunity to share what I learn about movement and embodied meditation, I would like to be more intentional about communicating useful information and ideas. I think this will have the advantage of encouraging me to better understand and synthesize ideas from what I am learning and create the possibility of providing more benefit to others.
So far, I have had four internet-free days, and the experience has been quite eye-opening. On these days, I find that there seem to be many more hours in the day. It makes me realize that if I have projects I want to complete, staying away from the internet is a powerful first step! I also have experienced a pleasant, spacious feeling mentally, and a generally less anxious mood.
It’s been interesting to note times when I feel a desire to grab my phone and play Scrabble or Sudoku; since that’s not an option, this urge leads to a pause during which I can ask myself: what emotion, feeling, or activity am I trying to avoid? Sometimes I find that I do feel a need to take a break from my current activity and do something self-soothing, like go for a walk or take a bath. Other times, I realize that I will feel better if I proceed with the task at hand, perhaps in a slower and less perfection-seeking way.
Other times I have experienced an impulse to use the internet include occasions when I want to look up some piece of information; at these times, it’s easy to just make a note so that if it’s still relevant the next day, I can look it up then. It’s amazing how accessible information is now, and also how non-urgent my knowing any particular bit of new information invariably is at any given time. It feels like a useful exercise to be okay with not knowing things. As someone who didn’t grow up with the internet, I remember when this was a much more frequent occurrence!
Pausing when the urge to get on the internet arises is something that is carrying over into the rest of my week. The practice of noticing impulses to go on the internet without following them on the internet-free day seems to help build the mindfulness necessary to pause rather than habitually reacting, creating the possibility of making a more conscious choice of whether to get onto the internet or not.
Another benefit of spending less time on the internet is that it provides more time, space, and desire to come up with my own ideas and practice creativity. I sometimes find that the wonderful information and inspiration available on the internet can decrease my own motivation, making me feel like my own work doesn’t matter, won’t add anything special, or can’t possibly be as good as what others are already doing.
In addition to no internet, my personal “rules” for my internet holidays include: no computer screen time, e-readers, podcasts, audio books, or internet radio/video. I do allow the use of my cell phone as an alarm clock, to receive calls or texts (I have no landline), and to time my meditation practice and sometimes yoga practice or interval workouts. Some of the things I omit don’t necessarily involve the internet; for example, I could use my computer off-line and my e-reader to read books already downloaded. However, this set of rules seems to best create the kind of break I want this day to provide and has been working well for me so far.
Some of the activities I find myself doing during these pleasantly expanded-feeling days are: walking outside, experiencing the sounds and sights of the outdoors without the distraction of music/podcasts/audio books; extended time for the practice of yoga, other forms of movement, and meditation; reading, and sometimes taking notes on, physical books; journaling and other long-hand writing; cooking; cleaning and decluttering; and spending quality time with my dear husband.
While the internet is an incredible tool, and I am very thankful to have access to it, creating boundaries around its use and taking intentional breaks are practices I would highly recommend experimenting with for yourself.