Becoming a digital minimalist is hard. If you are reading this, chances are you are pretty convinced of its benefits, but struggling with implementing it in your life. Here are some practical tips from my experience so far:
1. Identify yourself as a “digital minimalist”.
There is a good amount of research demonstrating that our behaviour is strongly linked to our self-identity. Someone who self-indentifies as an ‘athlete’, is less likely to on-a-whim eat a handful of donuts compared to someone that does not. When we give ourselves a label, it becomes in the self-interest of our egos to uphold that narrative.
“I have chosen to be a digital minimalist, and digital minimalists do not spend evenings scrolling Twitter or Facebook. Therefore, I shall not scroll Facebook or Twitter.”
You would be surprised how many times I have said that to myself over the last couple of weeks, and how effective it has been in curbing the urge for novel, distracting stimuli.
2. View your smartphone as a tool, and assign it a dedicated place.
My smartphone now has a defined place at work, and at home. At work, I leave it in my locker. I can look at it during my lunch hour, and when I finish work. At home, it goes straight into a drawer in the living room. I can look at it after 8 PM, for a short while, before it goes back in the drawer, where it stays overnight. It does not come into the bedroom.
3. Implementation intentions are important. Write a digital minimalism manifesto/guideline for yourself.
Sit down with a nice cup of coffee, and run a thought experiment – in an ideal world with no limitations, how would you like to spend your time online? How much of your mental bandwidth do you wish to dedicate to Facebook, Twitter, or keeping up to date on the rumours and developments of your favourite sports team? Think broadly, and assume unlimited time, energy and attention for implementation. Aim high, and then follow tip #4.
Then work backwards, and engineer implementation intentions. An implementation intention is a specific plan that defines a pre-determined action to a given situation.
"When situation X arises and I want to do Y, I shall do Z".
- “When I am bored, and I want to scroll Twitter, I shall note my desire, and then not proceed.”
4. Be kind to yourself and play the long game.
Habit change is hard. Staying away from your phone sounds simple and trivial, but I have found it a harder challenge than my previous efforts to go to the gym regularly or improve my diet. The key difference is how effortless, mindless and easy it is to look at our phones. It is so ridiculously easy to slip and fall into our old ways. Our current mental models, routines, and habits have been moulded by years of unconscious, repeated action. Of course it will be hard to change things.
The aim is not to be perfect. The aim is to be better than you were yesterday, without any implementation intentions. This applies to all kinds of habit change. It is so easy to give up because we “broke” and
ate a cookie-pizza spent 40 minutes watching cute dog videos on Instagram.
Failing, and falling into old routines are is a part of the game. Instead of viewing it as a single entity and seeing it as an abject, abhorrent failure, look at the bigger picture. Yes, you might have ‘failed’ and spent that last hour mindlessly browsing your phone this one time, but what about the bigger picture? Turns out, on the whole this week, you only did that on one day. Whereas previously you did that every evening. Therefore, you were successful six out of seven (85%) times. That is pretty phenomenal achievement early, and deserves celebration on the whole, not derision because of one apparent failure.
PS: I am writing this on a Monday evening, after my second weekend of digital minimalism. I went on long walks, read uninterrupted for hours and did a ludicrous amount of laundry. This morning, I felt genuinely refreshed from the weekend and found myself having an inordinate amount of energy for a Monday morning. The experiment feels good.