With an irresistible force as strong as a black hole, digital reality can suck you into a Never Never Land where you lose all track of time, sense of dimension, and gravity of importance. Without question, digital engagement can be addictive. In fact, university students have described digital media as a “drug.”
In a major research study, more than 1,000 college students around the world were asked to go without media for a 24-hour period. They used terms like “addiction” and “withdrawal” to describe the decidedly distressful experience. Imagine itching like a crackhead because you can’t use your phone. Without their digital accessories - for just a single day - many students reported feeling sad, lonely, depressed, or even “dead”.
Do you too sometimes feel like you can’t resist the call of digital media? The truth is it’s not easy to disconnect - for almost everyone, not just you. Scrolling through email, typing out text messages, and looking at rising blog statistics can fire up the brain’s dopamine reward system creating a pleasure-inducing hit that has even become clinically addictive for about 6% of the population.
Isn’t it a relief to know you’re not alone?
There are many practical fixes for digital madness to help reduce the insanity. But like any addiction or unhealthy habit, digital fascination tends to return to haunt you again and again. That’s certainly happened for me.
So how do you uproot digital overwhelm once and for all?
In addition to taking practical steps like time tracking and using effective online tools to block the internet, it’s vital to make a deep change at the core level of your being if you wish to see lasting results. This means taking time to look deep within.
Let’s begin by looking at impermanence, the memory of which can naturally snap you back to your true priorities. Then, let’s move on to exploring what drives excessive digital involvement.
Appreciating the Fragility of Life
Life is comprised of moments. These moments of time are extraordinarily precious because - in a material sense - they are limited. No matter what your age, when you go to sleep at night, you don’t know for certain you’ll wake up in the morning. You don’t know how or when you’ll die. But there is one certainty: death awaits you.
Life flickers in the flurries of a thousand ills,
More fragile than a bubble in a stream.
In sleep, each breath departs and is again drawn in;
How wondrous that we wake up living still!
Although we have a vague awareness that we will die one day, usually, we don’t allow our way of life to be affected by this ever-present possibility. Often, we live on automatic pulled hither and thither by whatever arises around us like a leaf blown about in the wind.
Instead, you can use the reality of impermanence to infuse your life with clarity, meaning, and purpose. Remembering impermanence will naturally help you get your priorities straight, make the best choices possible, and waste less time in the digital realm as you come to appreciate the preciousness of each fleeting moment. As a result, you'll feel happier and more content too.
The secret is to reflect on impermanence each and every day. Spend a short period of time - maybe 5 to 15 minutes each morning - reflecting on impermanence by bringing to mind the display of change occurring around you. For example:
- Flowers blooming and then fading.
- The arrival of a new season.
- A shift in political leadership.
- A birth, death, or separation.
- A friend’s sudden illness or disability.
- The loss or gain of possessions or wealth.
- Shattering world events like earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes.
- The fading of a celebrity.
- Changes in your body.
- The uncertainty of your own death.
- The way that nothing truly stays the same for a single moment as atoms move wildly though invisibly about.
Close your reflection by cultivating gratitude for the day ahead. Then make a vow to use the day’s passing moments wisely. If the idea of death is too strong for you, reflect instead on change, the preciousness of life, and the gift of time you’ve been given in this life to actualize your full potential as a human being.
Bringing about a real change in the depth of your heart by contemplating impermanence - not just once, but often - will make you think twice before whiling away time in unnecessary and unfulfilling digital involvement.
Cultivating a Sense of Self-Worth from Within
All man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit, quietly, in a room by himself.” - Blaise Pascal
Another way the digital world entraps people is by playing upon their insecurities and need for validation. Constant digital involvement makes you feel wanted, included, “liked,” “befriended,” “encircled” and even loved So much so that the idea of sitting quietly on your own, without a digital hook-up, can stir a rising panic. Or, as the students said above, leave you feeling sad, lonely, anxious, or depressed.
In another scenario, as a blogger driven by the number of visits and comments on your blog, you may react by feeling compelled to do more: more social media, more comments on other blogs, more blog posts, more guest posts, more, more, more. Until finally it starts to get out of hand and you find yourself digitally engaged day and night.
Digital engagement seems to multiplying our need for external validation 1000-fold, driving us like a relentless boss to spend more time online than we ever intended.
One part of the solution is to cultivate a sense of self-worth and value from within rather than falling prey to external validation.
We all have a genuine need for attention, acceptance, affection, appreciation, and a sense of permission to be ourself. However, many of us did not have these needs fully met as children. Thus, as adults, we may be ruled by deceptive brains messages like “I’m not good enough” or “My value depends on being perfect” or “No one likes me.” These incorrect messages can drive us to seek external validation, which the digital world will eagerly supply. But, sadly, it’s often in a superficial way.
Here are some questions for reflection to help you begin to dig out the underlying personal forces that compel you to go digitally overboard. Spend some serious time reflecting or journaling about them. You may want to explore this over the course of a week or even longer. Be honest with yourself. Understanding yourself is the basis for realigning your digital engagement in a healthy way.
- What drives you to spend more time online or hooked up than you intend to?
- Which of your needs are being met online?
- Is there an underlying emotion or thought pattern driving your over-engagement?
- Is there something you’re avoiding - an activity, a feeling, a relationship - when you go online?
- Are you afraid of missing out on something if you’re not online?
- How do I validate, nourish, and appreciate myself?
- Do I spend time on some form of self-appreciation and self-care everyday?
- What new messages can I create and regularly feed myself to counter any mistaken beliefs I’ve developed about myself?
Writing a daily gratitude or accomplishment list is a simple and effective way to consistently validate yourself and redress these mistaken ideas, rewire your brain in a positive way, and increase your clarity and confidence. In your gratitude list or gratitude journal you can include:
- Whatever you feel grateful for each day.
- Your accomplishments for the day. Don't forget the small ones, they count too!
- The ways you validated and took care of yourself during the day.
- The positive changes you are making both unhooking from digital overload and countering any negative self-talk.
- Affirmations and positive messages to yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with having some of our needs met in a healthy way through our digital connections. The ability to communicate and connect with people all over the world via digital means is amazing, isn’t it? We can use our digital involvement to feel empowered and enriched as long as we also value our time, know when to stop, and have a positive sense of self-worth that doesn’t depend exclusively on digital validation.
Use these two methods - reflecting on impermanence and cultivate a positive sense of self-worth - regularly and especially when you feel compelled to do more than you desire in the digital realm. They’re meant to cut digital overwhelm at its very roots.
How do you manage your life so you don't become overwhelmed by digital engagement? I would love to hear.
Thank you so much for reading. I would be so grateful if you were to share this post! May you be well, happy, and safe – always. With love, Sandra