I do a lot of soapboxing about how critical it is to maximize control over your time and attention.
I talk about it all the time on my podcast.
I write articles about it.
I speak to groups of people about it.
My friends can attest to my inability to shut up about it.
But they don’t mind, because they are all people who care just as much as I do about the huge disconnect between the way we say we want to live and how we actually end up spending our time.
So the short version of why I want to leave the internet is that I want to wrest back control of my attention and time from email, facebook, and the never-ending hamster wheel of work. I talked the talk in episode 9. Now it’s time to walk the walk.
But this isn’t my first I’m-quitting-the-internet rodeo.
People Who Have Quit the Internet
Is it possible to quit the internet? Of course. I’ve done it before. Aziz Ansari (who was already famous) is now also famous for having quit the internet. Paul Miller got internet-famous when he quit the internet for a year. 1Please tell me the irony is making your soul shudder just a little bit.
Paul says, “I wanted to discover how many of my problems in life (lack of productivity, constant distraction, a sense running as fast as I could just to keep up) were the internet’s fault, and how many of those problems were just my own inherent faults.”
Aziz says, “Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. […] It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute.”
When I quit the internet before, I was more of an Aziz. My life-long people-pleasing joined forces with the aftermath of a controlling relationship to create a perfect internet zombie. I spent my days slogging through “supposed to dos” for this site, feeling more and more miserable by the minute. I filled all the time-I-wasn’t-working with Aziz-style dopamine hits – seeing new things to feel better.
So the first time I quit the internet for a month, it was about escaping the supposed-to-dos and the dopamine loops. This time, I’m still escaping something, but the scene has changed a bit.
Why I’m Quitting the Internet… This Time
I don’t have a problem with dopamine addictions this time around. I’m not falling victim to dozens of Facebook binges per day. I’m not reflexively opening my inbox and then doing nothing but being more anxious about yet another to-do that I don’t want to do.
I’m also not struggling under a work load I didn’t thoughtfully, and actively choose.
But I am struggling.
This time I’m more of a Paul-Miller-internet-quitter. I know none of the problems in life (overachieving, people-pleasing) are the internet’s fault, however the internet does amplify my abilities to race toward self-destruction.
Have you heard how people are working themselves to death in Japan? Literally. It’s happening so often, it has a name: KarÅshi. Stress from overwork leads to heart attack and stroke. The first time I heard about it, I thought, “Wow. I can’t imagine working so hard that it kills me.”
But if I’m honest with myself, I’ve come perilously close to the edge a few times in my life. I can’t define “the edge” for you, but I could feel my mental health radically de-stabilized. And each time I’ve felt in danger of actually losing control of my mind… I was in full over-achiever mode.
Join me on a little tangent so I can get around to explaining how I might actually be a candidate for working myself to death.
I work very hard to automate my values, and that involves eliminating as many decisions as possible. Or, rather, I make the decision a single time and eliminate opportunities to have to make it again in the future. E.g. I don’t buy foods I don’t really want to be eating. That eliminates making a choice not to eat them later in the kitchen. I don’t have a smartphone. That eliminates the choice to constantly check in with dozens of apps, an inbox, message alerts, and text notifications. I do a six month weight lifting & cardio routine, so I don’t have to make any planning choices about my fitness. Ever. I participate in intermittent fasting. I don’t have to hem and haw about what and when to eat. Ever. I divide my income into spending categories. When the balance in those categories hits zero, I stop spending money on those things. That eliminates the need to make case-by-case spending decisions.
My boundaries in other areas of my life are less firm. I know that a burning desire to “crack open the bones of life and suck out the marrow” 2macabre, maybe, but credit to my friend Angie for this riveting descriptor combined with my people-pleasing, over-achieving tendencies… mean that I inevitably take on more than is reasonable. And I realized on my run tonight that a go-getter like me is fully capable of working themselves to death. Especially when exposed to an online-onslaught of opportunities to people-please and over-achieve. Which is why I’m quitting the internet.
Bye Bye Commitments
The internet isn’t all I’m quitting. I’ve done my best to empty my calendar of commitments. It’s not perfect. I’m still doing my work exchange hours – the equivalent of earning rent money. I said yes to a few things before I put my quit-weeks on the calendar; I haven’t cancelled the two that are more like play to me.
But I’m taking a big step back. Hitting the reset button. Giving myself space to get some clarity on which of the many things I’m doing in my life don’t actually fit (unless I want to work myself toward the edge of death. Or at least toward the edge of mental sanity).
I’m going to try to quit the internet more often. The last time was 19 months ago. Since I’m not actively working on dismantling my over-achieving and people-pleasing right now, I fully expect to end up right back where those two bad habits lead me. And probably fairly quickly. I’m okay with that. I feel like these cycles are baby steps in the direction of the me-I-want-to-be.
Why You Should Quit the Internet
If you’re curious about quitting the internet for a month or a few weeks or a year – do it! Here’s how I prepared last time I quit.
Quit prep this time was easier. Because I’m not trying to escape fully-saturated Pavlovian dopamine triggers this time around, I don’t need to get phone numbers, maps, and weather forecasts. If I want a recipe or a weather forecast, I fully intend to look it up. But I’m not touching facebook, email, or even text messages. I do have a Pavlovian reaction to those three interfaces.
Really, I guess this time I’m quitting knee-jerk seeking of opportunities to people-please and over-achieve (and therefore over-commit) that flow into my life via email, facebook, and text messages. Since the internet amplifies my ability to over-commit, I’m going cold-turkey. And I’ll be using all the free time to come up with iteration #86,789 of Operation-Yes-Life-is-Amazing-But-Please-Stop-Doing-So-Much. And to finally give time to things (people, activities) I say are my priorities, but that have been collecting dust on the shelf for a good long while now.