My fiancé approached me on Friday night and suggested we go a full day without any screens. No phones, no computers, no tablets, no TV. I was up for the challenge. In fact, I even got a little excited. What a fascinating journey it will be to watch my mind!
My main goal going into it was to get to know the nature of my mind a bit more. Here's what I learned.
From the moment we agreed to take on the challenge, the thoughts started to creep in. Well, more like flood in.
I don't think it will be that hard. I bet I can do it no problem. I'm not worried about anything, other than people trying to contact me in the case of an emergency.
Right away, I got to see my mind's first attempt at scaring me. It immediately brought about the "emergency" scenario. Of course, this wouldn't be the only time it did that, as I'm all too familiar with its games.
For me, this was a great insight into just how dramatic my mind can be. What would your mind have said after committing to a day without screens?
Fast forward to the morning of, and there we were, waking up to each other, with no phones in sight. We had turned them off and hidden them the night before, along with our laptops, so that we didn't have access to any devices. No TV either.
Waking up was nice. I felt a sense of freedom, like I was about to cleanse my soul by removing my dependency to screens. Just me, my fiancé, and an open day ahead of us.
As I went about my morning business - brushing my teeth, using the toilet, drinking water, and the normal stuff - my mind found it amusing.
Ah, this isn't so bad. In fact, it's nice to be able to focus on these simple matters without needing a screen nearby. I like this!
As we got ready for the day, my mind seemed to be on my side, telling me to get out, enjoy the weather, and focus on my fiancé. Who needs any screens, anyway?
Okay, I thought. I'm good without any screens. Let's do this!
So off we went on a few errands - phones left behind. At this point, it started to feel a little wrong. Leaving the house with my right pocket empty, and no way to call in case of an emergency? This was a big step. My mind didn't like that. It felt vulnerable, naked and exposed.
What if we get stranded on the side of the road and need to call for help? There my mind went again, being all melodramatic. I smirked at it and continued out the door. We were prepared, and committed to finishing the entire day.
Once we were out and about, being without a phone was no issue at all. My mind gave me virtually no trouble since it was preoccupied with running errands and driving. It wasn't until we got back home in the afternoon when the real difficulty set in.
It was at this point when my mind kicked into overdrive. A sense of claustrophobia swept over me as if I was trapped in a room where my devices normally act as the way out. Only this time, there were no devices. There was no way out.
Enter thoughts of panic.
What if something bad happened and my family is trying to reach me? Now my mind cues up images of 13 voicemails and 50 missed text messages.
Okay okay, calm down. The chances of that happening are very slim. At this point I was able to rationalize and take control. I wasn't going to let my mind fall into this trap, though it sure would have without my intervention.
Once I dealt with the irrational fear, a more subtle challenge arose. It was called boredom.
It's only 3 o'clock and we've done everything we needed to do. What on Earth are we going to do the rest of the day without digital entertainment? No phone, no computer, no TV for the next nine hours!? Holy shit!
The afternoon was the most revealing time, because it was when our excitement had worn off, our tasks were done, and our energy levels were lower. Now, more than ever, we needed our screens.
Sitting on the couch was difficult. That's right. Sitting down on the couch was hard. Where do you look? What do you do?
Wow, I thought. I am so addicted to my screens that I can't sit on the couch without feeling like something's missing.
I was simultaneously grateful for doing the experiment and learning just how dependent I was. I took every moment of boredom to practice being with whatever I was doing. And that was the true blessing that came out of it.
The most special part about going screen-less for a day were moments of presence with my fiancé that we wouldn't have otherwise experienced. Without any screens to look at, we turned to each other.
We told stories, we played games, and we just held each other. Without screens, there was nowhere to turn but towards each other.
When you're deprived of something you rely on, you're forced to turn elsewhere. It's up to you where you turn. Do you find another vice? Or do you turn to something or someone special that you've always had around you?
As the day came to a close and we got ready for bed, we both gave each other a smirk. Instantly, we knew why each other was smiling. We were both excited to get to bed so we could wake up and check our phones. We were genuinely excited to see what we missed.
Without judging ourselves here, we found it fascinating to watch our conditioned minds become giddy at the promise of resuming our addiction.
Sad? Maybe, but that's not the point. The point is, we took notice of this pattern, and we recognized that it's just that - a pattern. It's not us. It's not me. Your dependency on your phone is not you. It's just a pattern. And it can be broken.
Now, after almost a full day back with all of my devices, I reflect on the experiment.
For starters, I'm now hyper-aware of just how much I rely on my screens to entertain my mind while doing something. They've become a crutch, or better yet, a vice.
Would I try another full day without access to any screens? Maybe, but I don't feel it's necessary. I think I learned enough to tell me just how reliant I am on my screens. I knew I used my phone and computer a lot. But spending a day without them told me just how much a lot was.
Rather than going another full day, I plan to try several hours per day, or perhaps cutting it off before bed.
There's nothing holy about going a day, or a week without screens.
What's holy is watching how your mind reacts to it, and deciding that you have the power to change your relationship to these devices.
What's holy is recognizing that perhaps you have a dependency on something, and instead of judging yourself, taking one or two steps to improve your relationship to it.
If you enjoyed this journey, I recommend you give it a try. Take something you use often - for most people, the phone is a good place to start - and hide it for a day. Just make sure to watch your mind throughout the experiment. You'll be surprised just how much you can learn from it.
Live with substance!