In my attempt to slow down, I spent part of the weekend on my bed reading The New York Times. It was lovely to page through the paper with no urgency or purpose other than to enjoy a good read. I didn’t expect to be challenged or to learn something about myself, but that’s exactly what happened when I read Teddy Wayne’s piece called “The 7-Day Digitial Diet.”
When you commit to disconnecting, you wean yourself off the Pavlovian dopamine rush of external affirmation and information, but it must be a deliberate choice.
I saw myself in those words. I know exactly what he means by “Pavlovian dopamine rush of external affirmation.”
This month, I have for the most part stayed off of Facebook in an effort to hunker down and be more productive with my writing. It’s been good for me, though I have missed out on some goodness. I have a friend who just had major surgery, and her sister posted an incredibly funny video of a post-surgical swearing in on a “unicorn code for life.” It doesn’t make sense, I know, but trust me, it was funny. I popped on to watch it after I read a blog post that referenced the video. I also missed the writing prompt for my Thursday night group because I didn’t check our group page before last week’s meeting. Just yesterday I missed the birth of a friend’s baby until a mutual friend sent me a text telling me that the new baby’s picture was on Facebook. So, yes, I do miss things.
But when I read Teddy Wayne’s piece, I realized that what I miss most is the external affirmation. I like getting lots of “likes” and comments when I post a picture or an update on what I’m doing. Even this weekend, I was tempted to post a picture Dave and I took at dinner because it made me happy and I wanted others to see it and be happy for us too. But why? The experience was ours. Was it less real because I didn’t post it and get 86 likes and 13 comments? Of course not. So why the need to broadcast that activity? I am apparently someone who thrives on having a cheering section. Post something on Facebook and await the applause! I’m not saying that’s how everyone uses Facebook. I am saying that I realize I have been using it that way.
It occurs to me that I set up my Facebook account back in July of 2008, just weeks after doing my first Ironman. I had resisted joining until then but I wanted to post pictures from my race. I wanted to shout, “Look what I did!” Apparently, my need for external affirmation goes back at least that far.
I don’t want that anymore. I don’t want to need or crave that external affirmation.
I don’t want to be off Facebook entirely because it is valuable for staying connected, and it is a good source for information about what’s happening in the world and in the lives of my friends. I also don’t want to became a Facebook lurker – someone who looks but rarely, if ever, posts. There has to be a middle ground somewhere. I want to find that middle ground of being a contributor to that community (just like any community I’m in) but not needing the pats on the back or the applause to somehow validate me or whatever I’ve just done.
This practice of quieting things around me and focusing on what matters is paying off, I think. I’m getting stuff done and learning about myself. This realization about my need for affirmation, though not pretty, is an important step in the right direction. Now that I know about it, I can try to address it.
Funny note: My first draft of this piece ended with, “That’s progress, right?” Then it occurred to me that I was once again seeking affirmation by those words. Ugh. Hold habits die hard.