Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Conclusions & Confessions - a Month into my Facebook Fast

I am four full weeks into my Facebook Fast ("Why I Did It" is posted here - "2 Weeks In" is posted here).

The addictive, habitual power of checking FB on my smartphone and iPad, and whatever neurochemicals it kicks off, are nearly gone. I don't long for it or jones for it (like, say sugar, or diet pepsi when I have fasted from them).

I do, though, see more clearly how life has changed in the era of Facebook. From the perspective of being off of it...

I am definitely missing out on social news and events. Things are happening, parties being thrown, that I am not privy to. I do have a little bit of FOMO on this front. This goes to my point in my last post that Facebook has truly reached a ubiquity/utility status. We have long passed the tipping point.

I am the odd one now for not being on Facebook. When I talk about it at parties, some people find it odd, or project their anxiety if they were off it, or might feel I am being "holier than thou" like a vegan Crossfitting triathlete. I assure you I am not holier than anyone. Just, perhaps, more sensitive.

It is definitely forcing me to communicate more consciously and directly. I cannot just blast out news for everyone to see. I must overcome my shyness and avoidance (and holy sh*t can I be avoidant at times) and communicate. It's good discipline, though. I have written more one-to-one emails than in a long time, had several lunches and dinners to reconnect, and even wrote a hand-written letter (Hi JS!). To do this, I must actually value the goal of the communication enough to do it. There is no way to just blast off everything I am doing to the masses.

I titled this post as Conclusions and Confessions. That was the conclusions, here are the confessions.

I paid a LOT of attention to how many Like and Comments my posts got. Silly how valuable that currency can feel, but I know I felt it. I could feel poorly if no one Liked or Commented. I could feel great if many people did. I will guess I am not alone here.

I thought a LOT about whether to post something or not. As most of you know, I'm the "Nice Guy Therapist" here in Seattle, and it's been something I've been in recovery for for a long time. I spend too much time thinking about my impact on others. So imagine how much mental gymnastics I had to go through to decide not only what to post. How would it negatively impact certain people? How would it positively impact certain people? Since I have basically my full social circle on Facebook, this includes Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, religious folks and atheists. It certainly got me to limit what I shared. My 5-year old son seemed to be a place no one could argue with.

I was spending a LOT of time worrying about things beyond my control, and which did not impact my life directly. I feel horrible for the suffering and problems all over the world, but I didn't realize it was taking time and attention away from me, my own spiritual work, reading books, playing with my son, cleaning my house, thinking about how to improve my own health, or focusing on my family's financial well-being. There was a paralysis of having my attention turned constantly from one thing to the next.

I was slowly narrowing down who I saw anyway. To survive on Facebook, I was doing what I think most people do - I was starting to block certain voices. I couldn't start the arguments, or constant negativity, or quite frankly, constant positivity! When things didn't feel hunky dory in my normal human life, it was hard for me to celebrate those who seemed, well a bit over the top. Facebook knows this echo chamber exists, and it doubles down on it by displaying ads and sponsored posts that correlate to your friends. Very right-wing? You'll get lots of content you agree with. Very liberal? You'll get things you agree with, too. This narrowing merely means the chance for our opinions, minds and souls to change and grow are limited.

Facebook is thus becoming the same post-modern subject individual world that Don Miguel Ruiz describes as our "mitote" in his book The Four Agreements.

Anyway, that feels like enough transparency for one day. Soul-searching and confession is hard work.

I would love to hear how Facebook has changed you and your life and relationships, too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lessons Learned Two Weeks Into my Facebook Fast

So it's been about two weeks since I started my Facebook Fast and I'm back to report on the experience.

The first thing I can tell you is Facebook + Smartphone = very addictive habit.

Holy moly, I did not realize how I had subtly become one of those people who pulls out his phone everytime there is more than 2 seconds to kill. The number one thing I have realized through this break is how pervasive and unconscious the habit was. If I hadn't taken the app off of my iPad and my smartphone I would not have been able to do this.

In line at Starbucks, during commercials on a TV show, in (sorry) the bathroom - there were so many times when "just gonna check Facebook for a second" would go through my mind - because it had filled in all the cracks of my time.

The second thing I have learned is Facebook is a medium of indirect and passive communication.

What do I mean? Well, you may not know this about me, but I can be a little shy. No, really. When I need something, or want something, or am upset with someone, I get incredibly anxious about communicating it (hence I know so much about Nice Guys and People Pleasers).

Want some emotional support? Simply write "Feeling so sad today" and people will jump out "Why?" "What's wrong?" "How can I help?"

Want to indirectly call out someone? Simply write something starting like "When will *some* people grow up and get past the drama???"

This passivity and indirectness wastes a lot of time and energy, in my experience.

The third thing I have noticed is I think in Facebook posts now.

When I have a bon mot, or a funny thought, it's "this will be great to post!". Kid doing something cute? "Post it!" Amazing sunset? "Post a pic!". My brain actually processes my life through the lens of Facebook.

Do you get how profound that impact is? We can as human beings choose the lens we look at our experiences through. A more spiritual one might be to look for Love in this moment, or to find the beauty, or Spirit in it. Or to "be here now" to steal from Ram Dass. But no, I am looking at every thought and moment thinking "Facebook worthy?".

The fourth thing I have realized is Facebook has achieved ubiquity and utility status.

I have missed some social news. I have missed some invitations and events. I have realized I don't have active email and snail mail addresses for all my friends anymore. Why? Because of course I could rely on Facebook. "Everyone is there." Right? Well, not at the moment.

I know there's been a lot of controversy about the Facebook Messenger App. I can see it more clearly now. If you can become the utility underlying all social communications you pretty much rule the world. Pretty insane to think how quickly this has all come about.

Finally, in two weeks off I feel like I have a great deal more of my mind back.

By that I mean, I realize I was spending a huge amount of my brain power thinking not only about who knew what about MY life, but tracking the lives of several hundred people. SEVERAL HUNDRED!

I'm a psychotherapist by trade, and remember my supervisor (the amazing Alexandra Onno) once saying (in regards to our work) - "That's a lot of psyches to hold space for". And that was just about 25-30 clients a week. Not the 338 people, which is the average number of Facebook friends a person has according to recent research.

There is space now for other things - reading books, exercising, talking with my wife, praying, meditating, just being in the moment!

I encourage anyone out there to try this, just as an experiment. I'd love to hear your experiences, too.

My best to you,
Peter Hannah MA LMHC

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Facebook Fast - the Fascinating Response from Friends

So I am about a week into my Facebook fast. I'll be writing about some of my experiences with it in a future blog post.

But the thing I wanted to share quickly was a response I got from a half a dozen friends - the SAME thing - when I posted that I was going offline (from FB at least).

"Are you OK?"

They were sincerely worried. I guess in this day and age, removing yourself from the electronic town square (and announcing you are doing so) must seem worrisome.

I am OK, by the way, but I am definitely wanting to see more clearly the impact of Facebook on my life, my mood, my habits, my productivity, my marriage - everything. And the only way I know how to do that is by stepping away from it fully for a while.

Anyone else tried a Facebook fast?

"I Don't" as an Optimal Way For Saying "No"!

I was bowled over this morning reading a great article in Business Insider that held a good tool for the Nice Guys and the People Pleasers of the world. It was an approach to saying No and turning down requests I hadn't thought of before.

Here's the pertinent piece of the article:

Overworked and overburdened is a recipe for unhappiness. So if you want to be happy, get some quick wins by saying no.

But say no the right way: say "I don't." Believe it or not, using the phrase "I don't" is up to eight times more effective than saying "I can't." It's more than doubly effective versus a simple no.
The Journal of Consumer Research ran a number of studies on this difference in terminology. One of the studies split participants into three groups:
  • Group 1 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should "just say no." This group was the control group, because they were given no specific strategy.
  • Group 2 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the "can't" strategy. For example, "I can't miss my workout today."
  • Group 3 was told that anytime they felt tempted to lapse on their goals, they should implement the "don't" strategy. For example, "I don't miss workouts."
And the results:
  • Group 1 (the "just say no" group) had 3 out of 10 members stick with their goals for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 2 (the "can't" group) had 1 out of 10 members stick with her goal for the entire 10 days.
  • Group 3 (the "don't" group) had an incredible 8 out of 10 members stick with their goals for the entire 10 days.

What do *you* think?

Take care, Peter

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why I'm on a Facebook Fast

The concept of doing technology "fasts" or "breaks" has interested me for a while.

I think taking time off from something - whether it's news, video games, porn, or social media - can be a good way of understanding what impact that usage is really having on you.

So two days ago I entered my second ever Facebook Fast.

It's pretty simple - I wiped the Facebook app from my Android phone and my iPad. I swapped in a profile photo that says "ON A FACEBOOK BREAK - CALL OR EMAIL ME".

Why did I do it? Here's my personal thoughts and experiences on Facebook's impact on me and my happiness:

#1) Facebook made me unhappy through comparing my life to other's lives. Well, not really my life to their actual lives. My life to their carefully curated highlights. I call it "Facebook Envy". Articles about this have been coming out for a while, from the Time magazine, to Psychology Today, to the New Yorker.

#2) Facebook made me unhappy through focus on the many, many things in the world that we should be fighting for (or against). I call this particular one "Outrage Fatigue", and it may be related to being a liberal psychotherapist in Seattle. In any one day, I may see posts linking to articles, videos, petitions and fundraisers to fight Monsanto, global warming, racism, sexism, war in the Middle East, a teen dying of cancer, GMO's, the honeybees dying, homelessness, and more.

Each one trying to cut through the torrent of information to get my attention (and probably time, energy and money, too).

I'm tired. Tired of over-focusing on the bad. I could probably really focus on one (I have a friend who has focused all her energies on gun control, for instance, to great effect) but the constant whipsawing leaves me sad and overwhelmed.

#3) Facebook has made me unhappy through.....isolation! I know, that one seems counter-intuitive, but hear me out. I have seen the pattern play out more and more lately. While I *know* more information about my friends and what they are doing, I think I see them less. And when I do, there seems to be less to talk about. There are no surprises anymore.

I hear that this is impacting high school reunions, as people get together and the news they would have shared is already shared. Even with people they haven't seen in person in years. It takes some of the impetus and drive away from actually getting together in person!

I'm focusing on seeing more friends in person, and writing letters during this Facebook Fast.

#4) Facebook has made me unhappy by being a huge time-suck. It was famous for being the most "sticky" website ever. It truly is. One can be on it for a looooooooooooong time each visit, if you care enough, or have nothing else pressing, The problem is, it fills in time (and takes will and impetus) that might be better used for, say, blogging, or exercising, or something else creative (rather than consumptive).

I've already gotten more done in these two days than is average for me in a week. Crazy.

Finally #5) My Facebook use had me *way* more un-present in those typical weeknight evenings with my wife, We're married with a kindergartener, and if you're a parent you probably know the drill - homework, dinner, bathtime, books, bed. Followed by two tired parents on the couch watching TV. At least in the past we'd be half-focused on TV and able to chat, comment, talk, backrub, etc. But with the iPad and smartphones running Facebook, we looked more like teenagers.

Instead, last night we watched a whole movie ("Fault in Our Stars", BTW) with no checking for the whole 2 hours. What a nice experience!

Well, that's it for now. I will blog about the experience of being off of Facebook and what other impacts I see.