Thanks to technology developing at a rapid rate and an ever-increasing amount of apps available to download on smartphones, many of us spend whole a lot of time staring at the screens in our hands. In fact, according to a recent study, the average Brit checks their phone 28 times a day, adding up to 10,000 times a year.
When we’re using our phones and tablets, a go-to destination is social media, and while these apps can be brilliant for keeping in touch with loved ones and connecting with new people, their prominence in our lives isn’t without consequences. It’s been reported that 60% of people who use social media feel it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way.
I am definitely one of these people. While I enjoy seeing what family and friends are up to online, it’s not unusual for me to feel down after a social media scroll. While I’m happy and proud of what I’ve achieved so far in my life, I tend to compare myself to others and seeing everyone else’s highlight reels can make me question myself and dwell on the things I haven’t yet accomplished. When I’m having a bad day, instead of focusing on the goodness in my life and trying to make myself feel better, I’ve historically ended up getting into bed, reaching for my phone and scrolling through posts showing people living seemingly 'perfect' lives in an act of self-sabotage. For years now I’ve checked my phone, and social media, countless times every day – even though I know it’s not always good for me - but recently I decided enough was enough and enlisted the help of an expert to change that.
Shahroo Izadi is a behavioural change specialist and author of The Kidness Method: Changing Habits For Good and she believes that social media usage is something many of us need to think more about.
“With social media, there’s nothing in place to stop us [using it compulsively] - it’s unprecedented, this change in behaviour around it. Everyone has a way of eating and, as we get older, we know ‘this doesn’t agree with me’ and ‘these are my treats’ and I think we can apply the same thing to social media,” she told me.
During our first conversation, Shahroo and I spoke about the fact that for a long time, checking social media has been the first thing I do in the morning. Of course, I’ve always known this is a bad habit, but hearing Shahroo’s take on it made me realise how unhealthy it is.
“When we haven’t even opened our eyes yet, to see a bunch of people in bikinis, it’s just not going set you up to look for all the amazing things in your own life,” she told me.
Shahroo set me a simple task.
“Don’t check your phone until you’ve showered. I know that sounds like a small change but it’s going to feel really weird and you’re going to be in withdrawal,” she said.
“While you’re in the shower I want you to notice how much you’re thinking about what might be on your phone and I want you to notice how often it’s actually interesting or useful when you finally check. Think about whether you could have waited another hour.”
So that’s what I did. The first morning, when I woke up, my hand instinctively reached to my bedside table for my phone and it felt strange going even ten or fifteen minutes without checking it. In the shower, I realised I probably wasn’t missing out on anything too interesting and when I eventually looked at my social media feeds I was proven right. What was a more important realisation, as I scrolled through images of people who had already hit the gym at 7am or made an amazing breakfast, was that it made me feel unaccomplished and guilty – emotions I really don’t need to inflict on myself at any time, let alone before I’m dressed in the morning.
As the days and weeks went on I found I naturally stopped checking my social media feeds until I had arrived at work and sat down at my desk. I moved the shortcuts to them from my home screen and began only checking the likes of Instagram and Facebook at certain times a day when I was feeling relaxed and happy. If I was feeling down, I avoided my thumb’s impulse to click on them, because I’d learned that would only make me feel worse.
Shahroo's suggestion was a tiny change to my morning routine but the knock-on effects were amazing. I’ve found that seeing less images and posts from other people has stopped me constantly comparing myself to them. A month after my meeting with Shahroo, I feel like I’m no longer a slave to my smartphone and I don’t miss seeing what every single person I vaguely know is doing via Instagram - in fact, it’s freeing to ignore all of that and focus on my own life.
Catching up with Shahroo, we spoke about how obvious her advice was in hindsight.
“Unless you put yourself in a situation where you’re testing yourself like this, it’s just an autopilot thing,” she told me.
“These things are addictive and they’re designed that way. It doesn’t mean that you’re irreversibly addicted to them, it just means that you’re on autopilot and if no one says anything, you’ll probably just carry on as you are.”
So if you recognise a bit of my story in your own life, try this simple social media habit change – it might just transform your self-esteem, too.
Shahroo’s Top four tips for getting a healthier relationship with social media
1. “Don’t check your phone until you’re ready in the morning, and also avoid it for the last ten minutes of your day. That trick has helped so many of my clients.”
2. “Delay it. If you know you’re checking mindlessly, tell yourself ‘I’m going to give it 20 minutes’ and then check. Not only is this good because delay strategies help us to deal with cravings, but technology is trying to create frictionless environments for us to use, so your job is to create friction. If you want to get control over it you need to create steps that help you think ‘Ok, maybe this isn’t the best idea in the world right now.’”
3. “Keep a separate phone without social media. I have an old phone that has just music and an alarm clock, with no sim card. I go for walks with it and that’s the only phone I keep in my bedroom. If you have access to another phone I highly recommend doing that.”
4. “Dare yourself to do an activity every day without your phone. This isn’t about becoming anti-tech, it’s about realising that because of apps like WhatsApp there’s a presumption that you will always be responsive. Just because someone’s messaged you, it doesn’t mean you need to message them right back. Try to identify what requires a response and reaction now and if something doesn’t, try to slow down the process.”
The Kindness Method: Changing Habits for Good by Shahroo Izadi is out now.