I do not want to write this post. I don’t mind admitting weaknesses. I dislike admitting banal weaknesses. I am writing this post because I don’t want to write it.
I am a social media addict. This is not a medical diagnosis. Nonetheless, I mean it in a technical sense: I am sufficiently self-aware to take note of the dopamine rush I get every time I see that little “notifications” count. It’s cheap thrill. A reliable buzz. Day in, day out, minute after minute, hour after hour.
Mostly, I seek approval, which is easy to come by. Occasionally, less defensibly, I just want a reaction. Reactions are cheap on social media. Especially when you have 14,000 Twitter followers.
I don’t have a sob story about being broke in a gutter and selling my shoes for one more retweet. I am by all accounts functional and productive. Judging by the number of people who ask me how I do all that I do, I am apparently super-productive by some standards.
But I’m not happy with myself at the end of the day. I’m not OK with finishing the bare minimum of work to keep my head above water. I’m not OK with the barely repressed shame of knowing, in the back of my mind, just how many times I hit “refresh” today. I’m not OK with the diminished self-respect. More pressingly, I am not OK with the number of evenings I spend with my attention split between my kids and my phone.
I’m going to especially regret that last one. Like a diet of twinkies, it may not be hurting me much yet, but it’s going to catch up to me. And it’s not going to be an “oh, darn” kind of regret. I will hate myself. I will rage against those memories.
I am certain that Twitter and Facebook, et. al., hone their user experience to encourage this kind of mindless pavlovian response. But I don’t blame them.
I’ve been prone to this behavior off and on for as long as I can remember. A long time ago, when I had a boring job I didn’t particularly care for, it was Slashdot that I reloaded endlessly. Later it was LiveJournal. Oh, the delicious smell of fresh LiveJournal drama in the morning, I remember it still.
I am not so naive as to think that this addiction is a root cause. Social media is a distraction, a way to procrastinate. And procrastination is always a logical emotional choice to substitute something less emotionally threatening for something more emotionally threatening.
I find much of life to be tremendously emotionally daunting. This week I needed to make a quick, trivial call to my doctor’s office. It was on my TODO list for Monday. It took me four days to actually bring myself around to making the call.
The one complaint that I have about the personal planning software I use is that it enables me to rate tasks by how long they will take, but not by their emotional cost. I’ll bet a lot of people are like me and would love that feature. But none of us has the guts to actually admit we want that feature.
The items on my TODO list scare me. Sometimes I don’t even want to look at them Completing them might have an emotional payoff—maybe. Or maybe, completing them will leave me with an emotional bombshell. Like going through my inbox, and discovering a monstrous medical bill I hadn’t expected. It’s a gamble.
I don’t hate my job anymore. Far from it. But there’s still a cost to it. Most days it still takes me far too long to buckle down and just do it. And there’s still fear involved: what if I can’t think of a good topic for an episode? What if I come up with something dumb and sub-par?
Social media is low-cost. Social media isn’t a gamble. The worst thing that can happen is that there’s nothing new and I don’t get a fix. More often, there’s a fresh telltale that someone out there is paying attention to me. And I get my little dopamine shot.
But it’s not just about avoiding the tasks that frighten me. It’s about drowning out the noise in my head. The constant whirl of panic. Panic about providing for my family: is my business OK? Will it sustain, or will it suddenly vanish out from under me? Panic about doing right by my family: what about all those things I told my kids we’d do, that we haven’t done yet? Panic about my life’s work: Am I going to do some good in the world, or am I frittering away my energy on blind alleys and getting-by? Panic about doing right by myself: Should I be running right now? Practicing guitar? Meditating? Why haven’t I signed up for piano lessons yet? Panic about unkown unknowns: is there some terrible event bearing down on me that I simply can’t predict or plan for?
I can’t pretend that cracking down on my social media habits will address these root causes. But maybe it will throw them into starker relief.
And emotional muscles can be exercised like any others. Maybe it’s time I forced myself to do the kind of calisthenics that will render all of these fears less overwhelming.
I’m not going to talk about my strategies in this post. I’m a firm believer that talking about a plan is a good way to kill its mojo.
But writing this is one step. I can’t pretend I don’t have a problem anymore.
Now it’s time to kick some ass.