FaceBreak: Week One

There is always a target behind the target, a motivation behind the impulse, an unmet need behind the behavior. I first learned and practiced being aware of this in the years I spent speaking to teenagers. After hundreds of schools and conversations with tens of thousands of kids, some trends became evident. Someone wants to talk about being teased or bullied at school? You probably need to first address issues of self worth, lack, and identity. Someone feels angry and victimized by everyone around him? You’re likely not dealing with someone who needs a quick fix, but who simply and desperately needs to feel heard, have his experience validated, and his pain recognized. Someone finds it difficult not to gossip or spread rumors about others? You must discuss fear and shame. This first week away from Facebook was about looking for the target behind the target, examining my triggers, and noticing what happens in the moments right before I want to get online. What unmet need am I trying to meet when I post to Facebook? What motivates the impulse to get online and scroll through my NewsFeed? What am I really after?

Have you ever done this? I found myself, at one point a couple of weeks ago, scrolling through Facebook on my computer when I absent-mindedly reached for my phone… to check Facebook. It was as if my right hand animated itself independently of my brain to see if I’d gotten any notifications in the half second since I last looked at the screen right in front of my face. I told myself: This is the behavior of a crazy person. You have to check yourself. Time for a break. A study released a couple of years ago says most people check their phones about 150 times a day. One hundred and fifty. That’s roughly 10 times every waking hour. 150 times every day we, at the very least, glance at our email, social media, messages, apps, and/or voicemail inbox. What are we doing?! We are either the most in demand generation of all time, or we have an addiction problem. I suspect it is the latter. As with any addiction, when we’re stuck in the loop our brains begin to send a chemical reward in the form of dopamine whenever we see that alert, that notification, that like. Someone is looking at what we’re putting out there, they like what they see enough to double tap, and we’re hooked. That dopamine rush that we would get if we took a drug, tasted our favorite food, had great sex, or did something we love, that rush trains our brains to want more of whatever caused it. The psychological addition is troubling, but the emotional implications are even worse. More on that in a bit. Someone who uses drugs or alcohol to numb emotional pain can get caught in the cycle of addiction because the dopamine released after that drink or that line gives the brain immediate gratification, so we go back for more. When what caused that release was the immediate gratification of seeing a notification on Facebook, our brains want more Facebook. Here’s the thing, though: We’re not simply looking at the screen, we’re looking for something. I’m not genuinely curious about what my second cousin’s ex boyfriend’s roommate is doing on vacation this week. I’m not legitimately concerned that if I don’t get on Facebook, I’ll miss something important going on in the world. If that were the case, I would check it once. Not 150 stupid times. So… what am I really looking for? I’m doing a little experiment to find out.

This fall is shaping up to be a pretty intense one for me, so I decided to take a month to deactivate my Facebook account and really focus on the projects demanding my attention, because I can’t (and don’t want to) half-ass any of this. Here’s my fall: Leading a 200 hour yoga teacher training, planning a citywide summer 2016 trip to Kenya with Africa Yoga Project, helping plan and put on the Music City Yoga Festival, writing this blog, and training for a half marathon. I do not need to be checking my phone 150 times a day, right now. One glance at Facebook takes me away from whatever task I’m working on for longer than I spend looking at the screen: There’s the time I take to open the app or navigate my browser, the time I spend actually looking at Facebook, and the time it takes me to to get re-engaged in whatever task I abandoned, which will be longer or shorter depending on that time I actually spent away from it. Because our brains are wired to do only one thing well at a time, and in spite of how much we talk a big game about multi-tasking, we’re really quite shitty at it. I’m either engaged in a task or I’m not. So, a big part of this Facebook break is for the sake of productivity. But the other part, the big, deep, scary, vulnerable, let’s stare all your triggers and insecurities in the face part, that’s what has me most interested. You see, I want to press pause on the moment right before I would normally get online, look critically at that moment, and figure out what is bubbling under the surface. I ask myself a few questions: What made me want to check right now? What do I feel is lacking from this moment? Am I trying to distract myself? From what? What would happen if I sat with this discomfort rather than going after that rush? In my first week off, here are some of my findings. (This is all highly scientific.)

  1. I’m simply procrastinating, and procrastination is little more than fear in fancy pajamas. So, what am I afraid of? I’m afraid that someone will figure out that I doubt myself and they will think I’m faking it. Truth? Sometimes, I’m faking it. What would be the worst outcome of someone knowing that sometimes, I fake it? They would know, they would tell everyone I care about that I’m a phony, I would lose all credibility, I’d never be successful at anything I ever try to do ever again. (I’ll call this the Shadow Dilemma- fearing the monstrous shadow of the tiny mouse.) What is the more likely outcome of my being honest that I don’t have all the answers that I would like to have, and I’m still learning? I would probably hear the words, “Me too.” Moment of solidarity and understanding created, lights turned on, all shadows gone. Not alone. Mutual respect hopefully sustained.
  2. I’m lonely. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I thoroughly enjoy alone time and have never had trouble keeping my own self company. I also love being single. I love that if I want to hop on a plane and fly to Dallas, I hop on a plane and fly to Dallas because I don’t have to run the financial implications or scheduling past anyone sharing my calendar or bank account. I have an intimate circle of close friends. Here’s the other side: I’m tired of the bullshit dating games, weary of the booty call scene, uninterested in dead end relationships, and I sometimes crave the comfort that comes from having the person who knows you best and loves you most in the room next to you. Naked. With coffee and cronuts. Because that’s what Sunday mornings are for. (Is that too specific? I don’t care.) Sometimes, damnit, I just want to find my partner but, in the absence of that kind of love, I go for the dopamine. I feel a sense of lack, of loneliness, and I get on Facebook or Tinder or Instagram because I know my brain will get a dopamine hit if I post something cute online and a bunch of people comment and then I won’t feel sad, anymore. Ugh. So, what happens if, instead of getting online I sit with this feeling? Can I sit here and let this loneliness crawl into bed with me until it gets bored and leaves? As it turns out, I kind of can. It’s not cute. But it’s also not forever. In fact, it usually goes away in less time than I would have spent online. Then, I can go get the dopamine from a bike ride or a run or get my own damn coffee and cronut, thankyouverymuch.

Fear and loneliness. My triggers are fear and loneliness. Now that I know, the real work begins. The next three weeks of this FaceBreak are about sitting with fear and loneliness without fighting, running away, or grasping for distractions. They only thing I know for certain about fear and loneliness is that they love the darkness, so I’m turning on the lights. I’m hanging cafe lights, stringing Christmas lights, and posting up a fleet of tiki torches. If fear and loneliness come calling, they’re going to have to make it past this canvas of twinkly lights and join my party. I can’t stop them from coming, but I sure can make it too bright for them to stick around.

Next time you do something online mindlessly, check yourself. Ask yourself why you feel compelled to do that thing at that moment. What is the target behind your target? What is your trigger? Do the work with me, won’t you? We have twinkly lights at this party, and it’s just getting started.

4 Comments on “FaceBreak: Week One”

  1. Well done and perfectly said, my friend. Some inspiration for me and many others to ask those very questions.

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