THE AVERAGE INSTAGRAM USER SPENDS 44 WORKING DAYS PER YEAR ON INSTAGRAM.

Our phones have become a part of us. An extension of sorts. We tend to use them without even thinking.

But the real problem is deeper: we’re always connected.

Do you remember the last time you had nothing to do for thirty minutes?

Most people don’t. We’re not bored anymore. It’s a massive problem for the creative industry because creativity arises when you’re bored. That’s when you start seeing things originally and pondering on ideas.

But if the problem is connectivity, why can’t we just disconnect?

Why We Are Always On

Because we want to belong.

A few millennia ago, we lived in small villages. People spent all evenings together, hanging out near fire. They feasted, talked, and played.

We don’t have that luxury anymore. We have more ways to connect but less real connections.

That’s why we watch our friends’ stories and text them all the time.

And then we wait.

We desperately wait for them to reply.

That’s where habits come into play. Each time we get a push, we experience a thrill because it triggers our social cues. Our brain releases dopamine, a neurochemical responsible for happiness. Repeat this cycle for thousands of times, and you get a tech addict.

And don’t get me wrong; the Internet gives us a bunch of good things.

But as everywhere in life, there’s no such thing as free lunch.

By spending too much time online, we lose our identities. We lose ourselves and become a part of a whole. An average whole.

How to Disconnect

It’s pretty straightforward: just stop using the Internet that much.

You don’t have to become a monk. You just need to have some time when you’re offline. A few hours a day will do the trick. One day a week is great. And if you can go offline for a few weeks once in a year, that’s even better.

It sounds simple, but it’s actually hard.

I tried quitting Instagram five times. I knew it was ruining my life, and I always wanted to quit. I just couldn’t. Somehow I still found myself in the app, mindlessly scrolling the feed.

Two years ago, I gave it one more try. I lived in California back then and was going through Boost VC accelerator with our startup, Storyline. Demo day was coming up, and we worked for 12 hours every single day.

I started using Instagram more.

I’d sit in the basement and work on some challenging task, like figuring out the right positioning for our product. I’d start writing, work for about 10 minutes, and get stuck somewhere in the middle, as it usually happens with all creative endeavors.

That was my trigger.

I’d pull up my phone, open the Instagram app, and scroll, mindlessly staring at a screen for a few minutes. I’d see a nice picture and tap like. Or even send it to someone. That was the reward; my brain released dopamine and I got a little bit happier at the moment compared to when I was trying to come up with a strategy for our startup (ironically, the startup failed).

Then I read Hooked, a short book by Nir Eyal on how to build habit-forming products. I loved it and immediately started applying ideas from the book to my life.

One evening, I noticed I was going through the same behavior. Armed with some knowledge of habits, I started observing myself.

I watched how my hand started moving. How it pulled up a phone. Unlocked it. Opened Instagram and started scrolling the feed.

I was fascinated. It wasn’t me.

Once I realized this, I started noticing triggers (like challenging intellectual task) more often. And I replaced the action (opening Instagram) with a short walk around the block.

It worked like magic.

I started being more focused, more creative and stopped feeling guilt and frustration with myself (as we all do after wasting hours on some stupid shit, right?). I still log in to Instagram once in a month but it’s not killing me anymore. I broke the chains.

Tactical Advice

Here are some ideas to help you disconnect more easily:

  • Log out from everywhere, on all devices. It will make it a bit harder for your little dopamine fucker in the brain to get to his stuff. It seems like a small change, but don’t forget that you spend a month on Instagram per year. No change is small.
  • When you get to the office, don’t start working immediately. Chances are, you’ll fall into the distraction trap (even if you have a well-structured plan in front of you). This one took me some time to figure out. I used to rush to my laptop and get to it. Don’t. Take some time to think about what is important, and what you truly want to work on right now. Not only it will boost your productivity, but you will feel like you own your life instead of life owning you.
  • Split work by the context of the task. If your job requires lots of communication, then put all those errands in one bucket of time (noons work best for me). In that case, you won’t get sucked in by Facebook each time you need to message someone.
  • Split work by the context of the environment. I do all my creative work on the iPad. Each time I do this, my neural pathways for this context become stronger. So when I open the iPad, I don’t want to fuck around on Facebook anymore (confession: I have an iPhone for that).
  • Buy a Kindle for reading. I used to read on my laptop or iPhone, but I’d open socials or email every few minutes. Kindle solves this problem because it doesn’t have apps.
  • Don’t take your phone with you every time you leave the building (or go to the toilet). Believe me or not, the universe will not collapse. Nobody will die in 30 minutes without you. People used to live like that for quite some time.
  • Read physical books. Reading helps me get in the zone. And reading a physical book just feels different.
  • Write in a notebook. Longhand writing on paper is a perfect way to start your morning if you have a wake-up-check-socials issue. You don’t have to write novels; just think on paper and be yourself.
  • Work out. Two hours of boxing gets all the shit out of my head.
  • Meditate. You don’t need some fancy app. Just sit comfortably, breathe like you always do, and do nothing. Thoughts, cravings, and urges will start popping up in a few minutes. Just watch them. Do not act on them, no matter how important they may seem. Trust me, you won’t forget the essential stuff.
  • Walk. Think about the buildings and the people around you. Everything is so interesting if you look closely enough. Zoom in.
  • Eat without phone (and with people). It makes the food taste better. And when you really listen to people instead of staring at your phone, it shows that you respect their time.
  • Be exposed to nature. Somewhy, I don’t want to use my phone when I observe the beauty of nature. Do that more often.

Start with one or two items from the list. It’s gonna be tough at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Take the stairs and look up.

Thank you very much for reading my work.