From Resolution to Habit

Social Media IllustrationsIt was almost one year ago when I posted about my (pre)New Year’s resolution. And since it has almost been a year, I figured I would give an update, just in case anyone remembers or cares. (Read the original post here.)

I have, in fact, kept my resolution to be less dependent on social media/my iPhone. In fact, within a couple months of making this resolution, a friend told me she had decided to give up Facebook for Lent. At the time, I felt somewhat smug: I didn’t need to give it up because I had already majorly dialed back my social media usage. After the 40 days were up, I asked her if she missed Facebook, and she said that she didn’t; she had deleted the app from her phone and felt no urge to download it again. After breaking the habit, she wasn’t eager to start it again.

It reminded me of my relationship with food. By cutting out most carbs and sugars over the past year, not only have I lost weight that I thought I would have to carry around forever, but I’ve lost the urge to eat carbs and sugars. No more crazy cravings, no more roaring hunger. Even though I could “afford” to cheat a little, I don’t want to.

These aren’t just “I wish I could” resolutions that look good from the perspective of December 31st. While it feels too grandiose to say that they are paradigm shifts, they definitely take resolve (hello). What we consume—both physically and mentally—contributes to our lifestyles, and if you want to be more than one of the huge percentage of people whose resolutions are laughable, you have to be willing to make a shift—and not shift back.

When my teaching position transitioned into a year-round, full-time job late in the spring, I realized that I needed to tighten down on what free time I had left. While I didn’t feel the need to cut out social media altogether, leaving my phone in a different room overnight and in my purse when out with my family wasn’t enough. So I made a new, mid-year resolution: only check Facebook once a day. What this looks like is that I now check my notifications once (usually in the morning), and if I have a couple spare minutes, I scroll through a couple new posts. I even moved Facebook out of my iPhone’s home row, so it’s not a one-click option anymore. While it bothered me at first that I wouldn’t be as “in touch” anymore, I find that I really don’t miss it. If ever I’m curious about whether a friend finally had her baby, for example, I’ll search for that friend. I am no longer a social media tool; it is a tool that I can use when I choose.

Call me a bad Millennial—it won’t hurt my feelings—I’ve always known I was more of an old-fashioned girl. With my kids getting older and closer to that age when they’ll want smartphones of their own, I resolve to be the example of a person who uses technology responsibly, and I hope they will follow suit.

A Resolution I’m Eager to Make


Four years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions”—and I don’t. Or didn’t. Anyhow, the point is that I’m not one of these people who is eager to start the new year on a new foot or new shoe or new path or whatever. (Actually, the post was about books—and you’ll see my 2017 update in a couple days.)

In general, I’m very happy with my life, and when I want to make a change, I go ahead and do it, no matter the date. So maybe that’s why I’m making my change today—two days before the new year. How very gauche of me.

It started with a video I saw on Facebook. In fact, I get a lot of my blog fodder from Facebook, so before I trash social media, I owe it a big thank you. Before you read on, please watch the video below. It’s well worth the 15 minutes.

There is so much here that applies to my life and the lives of people around me. I find it interesting that the guy (sorry, don’t know his name) brings responsibility back to corporations. I hope that I do the job I’m supposed to do as a parent, and my children won’t have a lot of these issues. One friend remarked that it’s not just Millennials who are the problem, and I would have to agree, although when I was growing up, I never received a participation award. (Or if I did, it ended up in the trash because it wasn’t worth squat.) I can’t help it that my son’s baseball team gives him a trophy every season for just showing up, but here’s what I can do something about: my own participation on social media.

One of my former clients wrote for people who were self-employed, and many of his articles centered around time management. There are apps that can help people limit the time they spend on social media or that will post for them on a predetermined schedule. Basically, it’s all about us managing rather than being managed by the social media that we use. He also wrote about only checking email at prescribed times because as soon as someone sees that you’ve answered an email at 11:00 P.M., they’ll start expecting you to be available then.

I fought getting a smart phone for a long time; I was a latecomer when I purchased my first iPhone in mid-2012. That was also when I was new at being a mom of two and deeply post-partum depressed. Overall, it was kind of a perfect storm. I got sucked into all sorts of games (that I have since deleted) and stopped doing a lot of things that I love. Did I become addicted, as the guy in the video says? It certainly is easy to just sit and scroll through posts on a phone when you’re exhausted, but I’m not exhausted anymore. I have the energy and motivation to do other things now, but the simple act of opening my Facebook app (itself an amoral action) can suck valuable minutes and hours from my life and the lives of my loved ones. That’s not to say that there aren’t great things on Facebook (after all, you might remember that that’s where I found the above video). The problem is that logging on to wish a quick happy birthday to a friend or to check my notifications can lead down a rabbit hole that costs me an entire afternoon—and costs my children my attention.

So here are some things I’ve decided to do:

  • Use an alarm clock

Yep. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I threw my old one away after being swatted to the floor one too many times. Fortunately, as the guy in the video says, they’re cheap. I’m going to start leaving my phone charging in the kitchen at night. That means that if you want me, you’d better call or text before 9:00 because I go to bed early during the school week. It also means that I should get better sleep, which will lead to better energy when I wake up, a rested brain, a nicer Sarah, etc.

  • Leave my phone in my purse

Yes, I do carry it with me everywhere. I like to take quick snapshots of my kids, and I use my calculator and dictionary apps almost as often as anything else—so it does have its uses. But there is absolutely no reason to check emails or IMDb or Facebook when I’m out to eat with my family. If I show my boys the attention that they deserve now, I hope they will learn that habit and carry it forward in the (far distant) future when they have their own phones.

  • Not post to social media the minute something happens

I was going through photos recently, and I found one from my younger son’s first trip to Disney World. There we were, all in a row: Thomas holding the baby and our older son sitting in between us—and me on my phone. I can tell you exactly what I was doing, which was posting photos from the trip we were on to Facebook. Instead of just enjoying the trip. What difference would it have made if I’d waited a few hours? I’ll tell you: I would have been looking at my children instead of my phone. No more! Take pictures, yes. Post to social media? It can wait until later.

I don’t want to be one of those people who is oblivious to what’s going on around her, sporting a premature dowager’s hump because I’m stooped over my screen. I want to enjoy people watching (it’s funny—admit it) instead of my husband telling me I just missed something hilarious. (Or if I do miss it, I want it to be because I was in my book, not in my phone.)

I hope that by implementing these small changes, I will help address some of the other issues mentioned in the video. Being a good example is key. Not to mention that I think I will be a happier person. I’m a bookworm who loves scrapbooking and adult coloring books, but while I still do read a lot, my other hobbies have suffered in recent years. That photo I found from Disney World? That was from New Year’s 2013—and I rediscovered it because I’m almost ready to start on my 2013 scrapbook. Part of the reason I’m nearly four years behind is because I’m a busy mom of two, but I can’t use that excuse for everything. I can reduce a lot of my busyness by limiting my time on my phone. And after all, the recipes that I love and the videos that are so funny will still be there later. And if you think that it’s something I absolutely must see, tag me. I will look at it after getting my kids to bed and before plugging my phone in—across the house—for the night.

Are You Too Busy Posting About How Much Fun You’re Having to Have Fun?

A woman reading SMS messages on her mobile pho...

A woman reading SMS messages on her mobile phone while standing on a bike in traffic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One morning last week, I was watching the morning news and happened to see a segment with a therapist talking about social media accounts (Facebook, specifically) and how negative an impact they can have on relationships.

Now, of course, many of you, my faithful readers, read this on Facebook. So I am by no means saying we should give up this platform. But it was enough to get the old thinking juices flowing.

The therapist mentioned that many people are so busy posting updates about what they’re doing – that they’re not really doing anything. Except for updating social media, of course. There were other reasons that he went into for why Facebook can be bad for relationships – like coming across an ex and stirring up old feelings – but it made me start to think about my life and how it’s changed – not since I signed up for Facebook, necessarily, but since I got a smart phone.

Sure, there are people who only use Facebook on a home computer, and that takes them away from their family at home. But then there are others – like me – who almost always check on the phone – at a red light, in line at the grocery store, and of course, when the person you’re with is just boring you to death. Ouch. What happened to letting our minds politely wander? There’s nothing that says, I couldn’t care less what you’re saying than looking down at a phone and getting absorbed in what’s trending right now.

When did we have to start filling every “empty” moment with making sure we know what’s going on in the world of social media? There’s an appropriate time and place for it, sure, but I’m afraid that my kids and their friends will grow up without the luxury of knowing how wonderful so-called boredom can be. I fondly remember times when I had nothing to do, so I went outside and dug for rolly pollies. Or I walked laps around my bedroom, composing a new scene in my current story. Boredom is the birthplace for creativity. Of course, Pinterest is a great place for that, too, but we’re raising a generation of sharers right now. What happens when all the creators are gone?

Facebook and other social media do have their positive uses, of course. I have friends who are primarily members to promote themselves professionally. I do this myself, but I also post pictures of my kids because my out-of-town in-laws like to see what their grandkids are up to. That’s all well and good. But when smart phone and social media usage start replacing time with family, then we’ve somehow mixed up our priorities.

This therapist guy mentioned whole vacations that seem documented to-the-minute on Facebook. I’ve seen any number of them, and while I enjoy seeing some of the fun things my friends are up to, I have wondered: When do they have time to enjoy what they’re doing if they’re on Facebook updating their statuses so much?

And of course, I am guilty of this, too.

Sarah's Photo Books

Sarah’s Photo Books

Here you see a couple photo books I created of two of our most recent vacations. (Shameless plug: these aren’t cheap, copier paper photo books but high-quality, custom photo paper books made by Fuji, and you can create your own here.)

While I was creating the book on the left – a surprise Disney World trip for my kids – I noticed something that horrified me: I was paying attention to my phone instead of my kids in an embarrassing number of pictures. We were at Disney World, for crying out loud. It’s the happiest place on Earth, yet I was focused on reading updates of what my friends ate for dinner.

Now, granted, having a smart phone when you’re stuck in a two-hour line can be a great distraction. Disney also has a great app that helps you explore the park, so I could say, “Oh yeah, I was just using that.” But that would be a lie.

I’m not saying that smart phones are the devil and we should throw them all out, and neither should we do that with social media. But, as many people have noted, we need to make sure that we don’t get so sucked in to this virtual so-called “social” world that we isolate ourselves from the people that we really want and need to spend time with in the first place.

I think that sometimes, we are so self-centered, so stuck on the idea that we have to absolutely let all of our friends know what cool stuff we’re doing right now that we actually miss out on living in that moment. And what a shame that is.

Now, when I created the second photo book, a great trip with extended family in Washington State, I noticed something else. It was a bit of a letdown at first. You see, I remembered chasing my son and little niece through a mall in Washington. I remember their grins and giggles. I remember going lots of cool places and tasting great, new food. But somehow, I didn’t capture all of these moments photographically. I kind of kicked myself for missing them.

But you know what, I think that’s okay. I remembered a trip to the zoo that Thomas and I took early in our dating years. I made it a point to take a picture of all the wildlife we saw there. Why I thought this was so important, I can’t tell you. A photographer I am not. Any good pictures I’ve ever taken were completely by accident. So when I looked back at all these photos, I realized that I had no idea what I’d been trying to capture, nor could I remember enough of the day at the zoo to even take a wild guess. Why? Well, because I’d been trying so hard to get photos of the fun that I missed the fun altogether. (Thank goodness there weren’t smart phones or Facebook back then, otherwise I really would have made a fool of myself.)

I’m not saying to quit taking photos or to quit posting your events. But what I am saying is that it’s okay if your friends don’t see your kids sitting in a neat little row at the ice cream shop. I promise, your kids will enjoy their ice cream more if you don’t interrupt them.

And for those memories that you missed capturing on your phone or camera – those are likely the memories that will stick with you and your friends and loved ones the longest. Because you were too busy enjoying the moment to worry about how many likes and shares you might get on Facebook.