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Pay attention to what you pay attention to
From scroll to soul, becoming intentional with social media consumption
We've all been there. You sit down for a quick social media scroll and before you know it, hours have passed. It's a common problem in today's world, and one that I too struggled with. Paying attention to the way we spend time on these apps can uncover interesting insights about our behaviors.
My biggest social media attention sucker was Instagram Reels. It was my go-to for my doom scrolling sessions. As my fingers kept swiping up and my eyes kept moving down the screen, it felt like getting sucked into a black hole where time seems to disappear. The endless stream of videos, each one more addictive than the last. I only came out of the dopamine black hole after my phone died.
When I peeled my eyes from the screen, heavy from focusing on a small rectangle for hours, I would realise that my shoulders had drooped, my chin was touching my chest and my breathing had become shallow. Taking a deep breath, I'd look around trying to reorient myself to my surroundings. It was a daily ritual - every evening, as soon as I got home from work, I'd reach for my phone and get sucked into the infinite vortex of social media, like clockwork.
But having a problem and doing something about it are two completely different things.
It is an uphill battle to eliminate mind-numbing social media distractions because our brains are wired to prioritise pleasure. I tried to add friction by using the in-built app timers on my phone. I would set a one hour timer that would pop up on my screen reminding me that I have wasted 60 minutes on the app. But the moment it came up, I would tap to ignore it. I was on a dopamine frenzy scrolling one post after the other and no paltry notification was going to stop me from getting some more of it.
It not only affected my productivity because I would whip my phone out in between work meetings but it also affected my sleep as Instagram was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. I would wake up groggy with lack of sleep.
After failing to curb my distractions I realised that eliminating them is not the solution.
It wasn't until I took a step back and tried to understand the kind of content I was wasting my time on. I found myself scrolling through posts and reels of random influencers dancing to the next pop trend for hours on end, all carefully curated by the algorithm to keep me hooked. I had falsely convinced myself that Instagram was the only way of staying connected to the world, that I needed to know what was happening in my “friend's” life - the ones who I hadn’t talked to in years.
However, I had no connection to the influencers and the endless scrolling was draining my energy. This realization flipped a switch inside me - I had been wasting my time in my search for connection.
The problem with paying attention to the dopamine feeding apps is that it is an escape from the present. Even though this escape is only temporary, it leaves a trail of feeling worse than before. And giving attention to something that isn't fulfilling or nourishing in any way, is a recipe for disaster.
By paying attention to what I was paying attention to, I made more intentional choices about how I spend the precious time and energy, like spending time pursuing passions that spark joy.
Now, I instead of scrolling through Instagram, I spend time writing and connecting with my friends. The ecstatic joy of completing an essay and publishing it is 10x better. Writing keeps me busy and it keeps me away from my phone. I have made more connections through writing than I made through doom scrolling.
There is a sense of satisfaction to actively create content than to passively consume content.
Social media distractions can waste hours of your life with meaningless content, leaving you feeling empty and disconnected.. By paying attention to our distractions, and understanding our why, we can gain insights into ourselves. We can uncover our consumption patterns, understanding what truly serves us and what drains our energy. Your attention is precious and there are a lot of vultures vying for it. Pay attention to where you are focusing it.
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PS: Every once in a while I will download Instagram to check up on friends and enjoy a few minutes of Instagram reels. I don’t enjoy it the same way as before and I feel proud that I don’t have to fight myself to delete it.