“Mom! Put your phone down. Too much screen time is bad for you,” my 9-year-old lectured.
I inhaled deeply through my nose and began slowly lowering my phone, preparing to make my irritation verbal. However, we were both surprised when, “You’re right,” fell out of my mouth instead.
How could I honestly argue with her? She was right.
I had recently taught my daughters what the word “hypocrite” means, and you better believe my oldest, the 9-year-old, responded in faux innocence, “Is that like when you tell someone they are too young for a phone and social media, but you check yours all the time and spend too much time on Instagram?”
Sometimes having a sharp kid bites you in the butt.
I knew I had been addicted to checking social media on my phone for quite a while. I justified it to myself, deciding I needed an account to share my writing with a larger audience. I further deluded the truth by claiming it was an excellent source of motivation for my training as an ultrarunner, as I followed many professionals who post daily photos and synopses of their workouts, diets, and run-life balance. I’m not comparing myself to them or feeling competitive, I’d think, while clicking ‘purchase’ on a new waist belt a certain runner wore.
I knew I had a problematic relationship with my phone when I started feeling the need to sneak peeks at my social media account throughout the day. If one of my daughters went to the bathroom, I’d think, I have a minute or two, I’ll check my phone. But I’d usually still be staring at it when she returned. I knew I wasn’t setting a good example for my kids of what a healthy relationship with your phone looks like. Yet, I wasn’t doing anything about it aside from feeling guilty when I got “caught.”
I had also noticed a shift in my thinking. I’d be out on a run, enjoying the scenery and good vibes that come with moving through trees – but then I’d stop. I felt compelled to take pictures of uniquely shaped branches, sprawling vistas, or sometimes even selfies. Other times, instead of just soaking in my surroundings, I’d be lost in my own mind trying out different captions for the pictures I’d taken on the run so far. I was thinking in Instagram, as if captioning was another language!
All these signs had been bouncing around in my head for months, waiting for me to acknowledge them, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the plug. I’m not sure why. I guess that’s what addiction is; you continue doing something even though you know it isn’t good for you.
When my daughter confronted me with my own words about the pitfalls of screen time, my subconscious must have recognized it first as the perfect moment to make a change. When I surprised us both with, “You’re right,” I became consciously aware of what an exemplary opportunity had just been presented. It was a way out AND a way to set a better example.
I invited my daughter to sit next to me and figure out how to shut down my social media account and take the app off my phone then and there. It was harder than I thought and even involved us looking up some “how to” videos online in order to finally close the account correctly. It’s clear that the social media apps do not want people to leave. When it was finally done, we smiled at one another. Freedom!
In the days following, I had to adjust my mindset a bit. I was curious to see how getting off of social media would affect my life – particularly my running. With trail running being such a big part of my life, I was curious if my motivation would wane at all when I no longer had professionals to emulate or an “audience” to hold myself accountable to. Would I still want to do that extra hill repeat or climb that big peak if no one was going to know that I did it? Would I still feel self-confident if no one was clicking an arbitrary heart below my pictures?
It’s now been six months since I bowed out of the last social media app I was using. A lot has changed, but none of what I feared. I am no less motivated without external validation. I have about an hour extra of free time a day that I now dedicate to other passion projects, like writing, playing with my kids, and learning a second language. It was such a relief to experience what I had hoped was true – I run solely for myself.
I expected to miss social media. I expected some withdrawals and maybe even momentary regrets at deleting my account. I thought it would hard – at least at first.
It. Never. Was.
I don’t post pictures of me scaling a mountain at sunrise anymore to collect hearts on Instagram. Instead, I simply watch the sunrise from wherever I happen to be, then carry the experience around in my own heart. It’s all the motivation I need.