Guide to a Digital Detox

When's the last time you disconnected for a day? The last time you wrote a handwritten letter? Memorized a poem? Or simply have been in a completely dark room with no screens? If you're like me, you might be shocked at your answers. During this time, as much as I like to stay connected with my friends near and far through zoom, FaceTime, text, email, or instagram DM, there are so many benefits to doing a digital detox that make connecting so much sweeter.

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Having easy access to news, social media, and other forms of entertainment at all times isn't always a good thing. In particular during this time, it can make you more anxious than informed. Plus, using your phone as the main source of entertainment creates missed opportunities in the present moment. And not being present ultimately depletes you of your mindfulness in observing the little things around you.

While our phones have made our lives so much easier, think about how exhausting it is to be available all the time. People can connect with you on all different channels with notifications that interrupt at any time. The nature of notifications is to distract... they are little snippets of information that disrupt your focus. These notifications beg for your attention and typically involve some type of instant gratification (for example: "_____ liked your post.""See _____'s comment in your group." "Snapchat from _____"). The instant gratification aspect is why notifications are so addicting and generally, why people spend hours immersed in apps like Instagram. However, psychologists teach that the reliance on instant gratification and digital reassurance is only a side effect of the bigger problem at hand. Psychologists argue that the main problem here is that notifications are interruptions that intersect your flow.

The Importance of 'Flow'

Your flow in psychology can be described as "the mental state which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity." In the 1980s and 1990s, psychologist Mihayl Csikszentmihályi and others began researching flow after Csikszentmihályi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. It was out of mission to understand this cognitive state that flow research began.

The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the "optimal experience" in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and "depends on the ability" of the individual. One's capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals not only leads to the optimal experience, but also to a sense of life satisfaction overall (Csikszentmihákyi, Mihayl).

Listen to Csikszentmihákyi explain the concept of flow in this Ted Talk.

Since the original research about flow, many scholars have referenced this idea. In particular, Daniel Kahneman Israeli-American psychologist and economist used this thinking to dissect and disrupt the assumption of human rationality prevailing in modern economic theory. Kahneman's book "Thinking Fast and Slow" highlights his work on psychology of judgement and decision making. In his book, he discusses the psychology of people in the workplace, how flow plays into productivity, and how important decisions are made and the psychological tendencies behind them.

Check out Kahneman's book here.

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How to Disconnect

When deciding to take time to disconnect, start with a time frame you can handle. Whether it be for an hour, a day, or even a whole weekend, plan what seems feasible for you.

Start small with your phone's built-in timers. A lot of smartphones provide time limit settings that you can customize to suit your needs. For iPhones, you can go into Screen Time settings to adjust time limits for certain or all apps, as well as designate downtime hours where only the apps that you choose to allow and phone calls are available. You can also limit who can contact you during downtime hours. Instagram also has its own time limit settings you can set within the app.

Next, notify your close friends and family that you are taking time away from your devices. This makes sure that no one panics when you don't answer for a while!

Leave space between you and your phone. For a lot of us, we feel 'naked' without having our phone on us at all times. Instead, try leaving your phone out of things in your life. Small ways to incorporate this is leaving your phone at your desk when you go into a meeting, keep your phone in your handbag at dinner, or designate a room in your house (maybe your bedroom) that no devices are allowed.

Designate a device-free time. You can make this work for you in small or big ways. If your schedule allows, you can allow times between 8pm-8am to be notification free (only allowing for emergency calls). Or if your work requires you to be readily available, maybe designate an hour between 7-8 for a phone-free dinner.

Silence your notifications. Your iPhone finds every possible way to get your attention. While you are working on something, silence all of your notifications until you are finished. This makes you so much more productive and helps increase your work flow.

Embrace hobbies. What did you do with free time when you were younger? Think about the things you would like to get better at- is it cooking, baking, running, yoga, painting, gardening? What simple pleasures do your devices distract you from? The mindful breath of fresh air on a chilly spring morning... the birds chirping loudly at dawn... the aroma of your brewing morning coffee... the simple pleasure of handwriting in a journal. Embrace & be mindful of the little things.

Maintain Digital Mindfulness. After your digital detox, keep your phone's built-in timers on. Practice a disconnected hour each day. And remember, distractions starve creativity... make sure you're giving your mind room to wander.

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Happy Disconnecting! xx Jaclyn


Csikszentmihákyi, Mihaly; Harper & Row. "FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience(PDF). 2015.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

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