Learn how to take the 30-day social media challenge to create a more intentional life filled with extra free time (to do things like read more!) and less anxiety and overwhelm. To help you track your goals and the progress of your 30-day social media cleanse, you can also download a printable PDF monthly planner at the end of the post.
The social media detox challenge is a month-long period in which you evaluate the pros and cons of your own unique social media usage, implement custom measures to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative consequences to you, track your progress, and tweak the measure you implemented, if necessary. The goal is to end the month with control over your social media usage as opposed to it having control over your time and attention.
I was first inspired to do a 30-day social media detox when I downloaded and started using the new social media app Lemon8 as an alternative to Instagram. It was being hailed as feeling like the “good old days” of Instagram, when where content just felt light, quiet, and escapist… kind of like having tea in an English countryside.
These days, I have compared Instagram to feeling like dodgeballs are being thrown at me while my eyeballs are glued open. I just HATED the hold it had on my time and attention, yet I kept going back for more. I have felt that, if I just kept consuming, then somewhere along the way, I would receive exactly what I needed. It was an endless, unfulfilled cycle because, even when I DID find helpful nuggets, the high was fleeting. It never felt like exactly enough, and I just wanted more.
Why do I keep going back?
Many reasons. First, Instagram really helps me keep up with the book industry, which is part of my job. I also love the sense of community and making personal connections with people both locally and around the globe, some of whom have become real-life friends and/or provided me with great business opportunities. I also don’t mind being “influenced” to try new things by content creators here and there.
Or, so I thought. When I started sharing books on Lemon8 instead, I realized exactly how and why Instagram had become so invasive in my real life. What started out as a photo-sharing app you could scroll through for a few minutes and then go about your day, over time, had become an all-encompassing attention grabber.
The advent of Instagram stories, reels, broadcasts, lives, statuses, and more have made it something that requires us to consume mass amounts more of content just to keep up. Whereas, in the past, we could consume one or two pieces of content per person per day, we now may need to consume up to ten or even twenty per person just to feel caught up.
This has also blurred really all the lines of separation between real life and digital life. It no longer felt normal for me to have such unfettered access to people, many of whom I don’t even know in real life.
I started talking about this — on Instagram, naturally — and was blown away by how many people were feeling the same sense of overwhelm, while still coming back for more, for the sake of our most valuable resource — our time.
This was “rock bottom” for me, and I knew I had to take a 30-day social media detox challenge and help others do it too.
One thing I learned along the way is that each of us consumes social media differently, and the way the algorithms work for each of us is also different, so the social media detox challenge is a very personalized and customizable one designed to suit your unique needs and avoid your specific pitfalls. Additionally, social media brings a lot of benefits that shouldn’t be abandoned if they are serving you.
(For example, other social media platforms aren’t much of an issue for me personally. I can do my work on them and keep up with family and friends in a short amount of time, so I did not alter my usage of those platforms.)
So, what follows here is not a “no social media challenge” by which you are required to go cold turkey, but rather a guide to making a personalized plan for taking back control of your social media usage in ways that serve you.
Now that you know my personal backstory, let’s get into the details of the social media detox challenge.
First, I will make you more aware of the negative effects of social media and the benefits of a detox. Then, I will share tips on how to take a social media detox challenge and what I learned from my own detox. Lastly, you can download a printable PDF monthly planner at the end of the post to track your own detox.
30 Day Social Media Detox Challenge
New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestseller
In implementing my own social media cleanse, I did what I normally do — found a book on point to guide me along the way. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (a computer science professor at Georgetown University, author of seven books, contributing writer for the New Yorker, and the host of the Deep Questions podcast).
It had been on my “to be read” list for years. Finally, I picked it up, took notes, and share what I learned throughout this post. It was exactly what I needed to hear, so I definitely recommend you read it as the first step in your social media detox too.
It’s all about making choices about your social media usage, and happily ignoring the rest.
Negative Effects of Social Media
You’ve likely heard many times about the negative side effects of social media. In Digital Minimalism, Newport discusses the symptoms of increased anxiety it causes, as well as the inability to process and make sense of your emotions because you are never truly “alone,” but rather constantly distracted by social media.
He said that data reveals that the more time you spend on social media, the more isolated you become. And he compares social media to the addictive handle of a slot machine that propels you to keep pulling for more despite never becoming satisfied.
Ironically, he refers to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, in which she yearned for solitude to create as a woman and the fact that now, we are actually choosing the opposite.
Personally, I have, at times found that social media has impaired my focus, impacted my ability to live in the moment, made me feel angry or short-tempered, and made me feel like nothing is ever enough. That’s A LOT to give up in exchange for what it provides.
Chances are, you already knew these things. The question is when this knowledge will become enough for you to act and make positive changes… Here’s hoping it’s NOW.
Social Media Detox Benefits
Now that you know what you’re losing on social media, let’s talk about what you can gain by adjusting your social media habits.
First, you will undoubtedly have more free time. In Digital Minimalism, Newport talked about how beneficial solitude is and noted how many people do things like read more in their newfound time, which has many longer-lasting benefits.
The #1 question I’m asked is how to find more time to read. Well, this social media detox challenge can accomplish that.
Based on what Newport stated in Digital Minimalism, you can also gain improved mental health and physical health by avoiding the negative effects that social media usage causes.
Personally, I even used my newly freed time to exercise more to improve my physical health. In the few months beforehand, I had experienced the losses and serious illnesses of a young family member and several acquaintances my age, and I promised myself I would do better with the time I had.
We all know this, but it really hits differently when it occurs in your own life.
How to Take the 30 Day Social Media Detox Challenge
Now, let’s talk about how to take the 30-day social media detox challenge.
In Digital Minimalism, Newport recommends defining your own unique philosophy about social media, defining your rules, and following them for 30 days.
I totally agree with this. It’s not that social media isn’t useful, it’s that it’s taken control of many of our lives. And, when we lose control of our lives, we often need to really take a step back and implement a structured plan if we want it to change. In other words, nothing changes if nothing changes, as I love to say!
I’ve learned it’s not that much different than making any other type of life improvement. For example, saving money requires budgeting rules and losing weight requires a diet.
For me, it helped to first pinpoint what was problematic for me specifically, then create my rules around the source of the problems in order to see the biggest impact.
While every person is different, below are some tips on changes you may want to make in your own 30-day social media detox challenge.
Be mindful of specifically what content is problematic for you.
Set your phone to “do not disturb.”
Unfollow or mute people.
Completely delete social media platforms that affect you more negatively than positively.
Temporarily delete social media apps from your home screen.
Schedule your screen time.
Set time limits for your social media usage.
Keep your phone out of reach.
Set boundaries on how people should communicate with you.
Plan something to do in place of using social media.
Repeat affirmations to yourself.
Track your progress.
There are many tools that can help you along the way. For example, Freedom helps you schedule your focus time and block certain apps and sites during those times. You can also take a look at the StayFocusd Google Chrome extension and OurPact, which was made for parents but is useful to people of all ages.
You can also go right into the settings of your phone to check “Screen Time,” schedule downtime, and even set limits on specific app usage. One more tip is to set your screen colors to greyscale to make it easier on your eyes AND less enticing to consume.
Personally, once I realized that Instagram stories were what was sucking me into the app in an addictive, endless way, I became more mindful of only logging on a few times per day, muted those who posted the most on Instagram stories, unfollowed a bunch of people, and became more mindful of only consuming the Instagram stories of a select few people I really liked.
I also tried harder to keep my phone further away from me, and to get out of bed in the morning rather than picking up my phone first thing.
I consciously decided not to post anything to social media in the moment as well, in order to be more present.
And, I posted less and engaged less on social media overall. Yes, this means I will miss out on certain things, including potentially important business and personal connections, but overall it’s become worth it to me.
Long ago, I also disabled all notifications except for texts and phone calls, and I never once looked back.
Lastly, a few months ago, I completely deleted Reddit after realizing it was a more negative space than a positive one.
What I Learned From My Social Media Detox Challenge
First, I have to note that I am unlike the average social media user because it’s part of my job as a full-time blogger! While most of my income comes from these long-form articles on this website and my email newsletter, I still run many social media accounts to promote my work and engage with readers.
I also feel the need to consume a lot of content in many forms (blog posts, email newsletters, podcasts, social media content) in both the book and blogging industries to stay up to date in my line of work.
That being said, when I really thought about how much I consume and create under the guise of work, it felt shocking and unnecessary. I felt like I was pushing myself too hard to do it all, as well as wasting a lot of time on social media when I’m bored or need a break.
A few early changes I made were unfollowing a few hundred people on Instagram (I was pretty ruthless about this and even considered unfollowing my husband since I follow him on my personal account), muting people who share too many Instagram stories, leaving Instagram chat groups, and simply being more mindful of my consumption and making a choice to consume each time I picked up my phone rather than just consuming.
To be honest, it was hard to unfollow people who have supported me and my business in the Instagram community, but I pushed myself through it for the greater good of the experiment.
Of note, I removed social media notifications years ago, but that’s another great early step you can take. It actually shocks me now when I see other people still getting them, as they are so disruptive to our daily lives.
When we went on a long weekend trip, I was especially mindful of not posting anything about it until we came home, which was also a game-changer for being more “in the moment.”
As soon as I implemented just a few Instagram changes, I immediately noticed feeling like a weight had been lifted from me. It really did feel like my Instagram usage was more of a choice.
And I didn’t feel like I was “missing out,” either on a work or personal level. I reminded myself there are many, many ways I stay up to date in my industries that aren’t as obtrusive as dozens of Instagram stories and direct messages.
It was still difficult at first to balance work and pleasure on social media, especially when I was traveling, since it requires a lot of content editing and posting. But, I also knew this was something I only do a few times a year.
After a few weeks, I started to notice a shift in my mindset about social media. Whereas I was previously looking at Instagram as a place for inspiration and connection, I started seeing it as something designed to take hold of our eyeballs and not let go.
And, when I suddenly had HOURS worth of more time in my days, I was able to clearly quantify how much time I had been wasting on social media. I then put my social media work at the end of my workday, so that I could maximize my time on other tasks.
Later in the month, when we went to a Phillies game on an absolutely gorgeous Spring day, I only picked up my phone to snap a few pictures, and it felt easy and natural not to grab my phone every half-inning.
I even noticed how many fans were being broadcast on the screen and didn’t even know it because they were staring at their phones! It made me feel bad that it was such a beautiful (and expensive) day for fans, but when some of them experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment of being broadcast, they didn’t even know it.
It was not a perfect month by any means. Some nights I still scrolled without reason or dove into rabbit holes of researching something insignificant. But, it was definitely an enlightening one in which I made improvements I intend to maintain. And, I will continue to re-evaluate my social media usage and adjust it over time.
In closing, I’ll note that, in Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport asked, if social media charged you by the minute, how much money would you be willing to spend on it? This question really stuck with me. I knew my answer was pretty minimal, and it shows how little value social media was bringing to the table for me.
The 30-day social media detox challenge will help you evaluate the pros and cons of your own unique social media usage, implement custom measures to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative consequences to you, track your progress, and tweak the measure you implemented, if necessary.
By using the teaching of Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, you will stop focusing on why you use social media, but rather on how you use it, in order to gain more free time and improved mental and physical health.
The journey will necessarily be different for each unique person, as we all have different social media needs and struggles, but the result will uniformly be one of control versus lack thereof.
To help you along the way, download the monthly planner from my Reading Journal and get started today.
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