One month ago, I decided to do an experiment. To not use any electronics with a screen (I made one exception, I’ll get back to that) for 24 hours.
That might not sound like a big deal but think about it. When was the last time you didn’t use your phone for one full day? And on the same day didn’t open your laptop? Or watch TV?
It might not sound like a big deal but just think about all the things we are used to doing online. Check when the next bus leaves, find answers to all those tiny questions that are popping up in your head during one day, kill time by scrolling, and thousands of other things.
What did we even DO for fun back then, before smartphones? Did we just walk around, not knowing a single thing? I DON’T EVEN REMEMBER!
I already knew that I was using things with screens a lot, without doing anything useful. And I already knew they were distracting me from doing better things. I’m not saying you should spend all your time awake being productive, I just mean you should be aware when you are just killing time.
But I wanted to test it out. What would happen to my mind if I didn’t touch a screen for 24 hours?
I realized there were some planning and preparation needed. First, I made sure to write down anything that I needed during Sunday, on Saturday evening. Like my gym session and the grocery list, together with a recipe, I was planning to put into the world.
I also found a small notebook where I wrote “Things to Look Up” on the cover. For all those small questions I want to ask Google every day. Now I could save them all in one place and go through it at the same time.
Next, I told anyone that gets in touch with me on a regular basis that they would only be able to reach me by actually calling. I was going to redirect my calls from my iPhone to my Light Phone – a phone that doesn’t have a regular screen and is only able to receive and make calls.
I knew, that by having some way of reaching me, I wouldn’t come back to the connected world and realize that we were invaded by alien species while I was disconnected.
Or just have a lot of missed calls from a worried mother…
Oh, and the exception! The only screen like thing that I was going to allow myself to use, was my Kindle e-reader (this is probably the one electronic thingamabob that I would save if my house was on fire, I love it!).
The screen on that one is using e-ink which is almost like reading on paper. It’s not connected to the Internet (more than when automatically downloading new books) and the screen doesn’t shine that blue, electric light right into your eyeballs. I do a lot of reading.
That’s basically it. I was ready to party like it’s 2001.
On Sunday morning, after waking up, I meditated. I use an app for that (that is keeping track of how many days in a row I’ve done it) called Headspace so I kinda ”needed” to use it as the last thing before starting the EXPERIMENT.
Then I put my phone, iPad, and computer in a drawer in my desk and didn’t touch them until the next morning.
Long story short; we weren’t invaded, I missed nothing important in the rest of the world and I felt GREAT. I’ve continued to follow the same routine every Sunday since.
Long story long, here’s what Screen-Free days have been doing to my mind since I started.
It gives me time to come up with ideas
I imagine the creative process like a sponge. First, you soak up everything you read and watch and hear and smell.
Then you let it all marinate on your kitchen sink for a while, where all the things you’ve experienced can get together and play and create new interesting ideas (or interesting germs in the case of the sponge).
The last step is to squeeze the sponge, to release something completely new and fresh (well, I’m starting to think that maybe using the sponge metaphor is a little bit off in this case but you catch my drift, eh?).
I believe the different states in the process needs to take place separately from each other. First, you need to look for and take in inspiration, THEN let it swirl around in your head for a bit, THEN sit down and create, work your magic.
The problem today is that we do a lot of the first part a lot – finding inspiration – when scrolling our feeds, watching cool Netflix movies and listening to podcasts.
But we need to give some room for the other parts of the process. By disconnecting, I was able to think and reflect.
By writing stuff down on paper, I could draw, sketch and concretizes ideas that have just been floating around aimlessly in my busy, busy little brain.
Stepping away from screens gave my mind time to build stuff of its own.
It makes me more aware and mindful
When I’m not able to flee into the World Wide Web and it’s marvelous universe every time I feel the slightest hint of boredom, I start to notice stuff around me as well as inside me.
I realize time after time that inspiration is all around me. In the scratches on the table in my favorite café, in the sounds of the city, in the way the sun is shining on the ground, and how the tiny bits of dust are swirling through the sun-rays.
And it gives me time to scan my body and mind.
When I eat this, does my creative energy go up or down?
If I sit like this, does it feel comfortable and is it good for my body?
And what do I want to create?
Why do I want to create?
What good will the things that I create bring to the world?
If you create space to think, you will be able to, well, think.
It makes me procrastinate less
During my screen free days, it is much easier to do the things that I’m usually having a hard time doing – like going to the gym, doing the taxes, cleaning my apartment.
Because I don’t have as many easily accessible outs. Fun and simple things I can do instead.
And the thing is because I have time to be more aware and mindful, I can see the beauty in all those mundane stuff. I realize that if I just give them my full attention, they go from being dull have-to-do chores, into becoming experiences of their own.
When I’m on a screen fast, I realize that the act of constantly checking social media, email, news outlets is just a habit – an addiction where I’ve gotten used to getting those small, regular injections of happy feelings whenever someone like my post.
As soon as I decide that they don’t matter, they don’t.
It makes it easier to focus
I re-started a daily meditation practice about two months ago, but I often find myself having a hard time focusing. My mind is floating away from my breath all the time, being all busy and stuff.
But the first meditations after my screen free Sundays are completely different. Like night and day.
When I start the app on Monday morning to sit through the session, my mind is still and calm.
I’m able to focus almost completely on the inhales and exhales, without any stray thoughts.
I feel a smaller, but similar, difference between the mornings when I check my phone before meditating and those when I don’t.
The ones where I meditate first thing is more focused.
If you have a creative mind, any kind of stimuli will boost it up and you will start processing things into new things. And that is great! That’s what being creative is all about! You’ll come up with new ideas.
But just make sure you are in control of your mind and process. You should be able to decide when to think, and when to rest. Sometimes you need to be able to stop your brain from going a hundred miles per hour, all over the place.
Usually, that is when you need to get things done.
They make me happier
I spend a lot of the time during these days thinking about and being grateful for what I have.
It is a conscious decision to focus on the good things, rather than what I want and don’t have.
We (humans) have an inherited way of looking for things that could hurt us (like tigers and other tribe members) instead of things that are positive.
But you can change that just by consciously focus on noticing good things and acknowledging them.
It’s been scientifically proven that just as negative feelings are limiting your mind, positive thoughts and feelings are opening your mind up, making you see more opportunities, making you more creative.
And with all the extra time I’ve been given on my Sundays, I have got a lot of time focusing on all the good stuff. And that really makes me happy. And therefore more creative.
Try it for yourself!
Taking time off from being connected will do wonders to anyone, I’m sure of that. If disappearing for a full day feels too much for you, start out by just talking a long walk while leaving your phone at home. You will come back another person!