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Switching off and moving on

Features

The Social Challenge
Edwin McGreal

A few weeks ago when I told Niall Dunne of the Mayo Mental Health Association that we were running a series on social media and getting four of our writers to talk about their own experiences, Niall had a suggestion.
Could we take on a challenge for a week, he wondered. Put the phone away from 9pm and not look at it again until 9am the next morning, for seven days.
It wasn’t a radical suggestion like going off social media for a week and it wasn’t meant to be. It is meant to be sustainable.
Hopefully it will be but it certainly was liberating and incredibly revealing about my own use of my phone and social media.
I have very itchy fingers when it comes to my phone. If the phone goes bing, then I am like a fireman responding to an alarm, on the job straight away.
So when it came to 9pm every night, I decided the only thing for it was to actually turn off the phone, therefore to resist the temptation to check it every now and again. The night was far more relaxing.
The first few mornings when I’d be up early with the kids I found myself wondering what would be sitting on my phone waiting for me once 9am came. What life or death events might I have missed.
Funnily enough 9am would come and the world hadn’t stopped turning. I might have messages but none that couldn’t wait.
It felt like an epiphany.
In the week gone, I’ve tried to restrict my phone use during the day as much as I can too. To be more precise, I’ve been more mindful of when I’ve been using my phone. I get great enjoyment of WhatsApp groups, especially around an event like a Mayo match, so I was pretty active around the Leitrim game.
The US election being on this week means I may just have had an odd look on Twitter after 9pm on Tuesday night but the thing I was learning fast as the week was going along was not about hard and fast rules but about personal behaviours and staying in control.
So going online when I needed to or really wanted to – but thinking consciously about it and not doing it as a reflex action and wasting time going down the rabbit hole of Twitter or Facebook with nothing to show for it but a lowered attention span.
In the week gone I’ve reduced my phone usage by 25 percent and a good bit of the usage is work related.
I tried to read more often, to decent success. I’ve a pile of books beside the bed now to get through and am striving to leave my phone in the kitchen on silent more frequently, not just going to it automatically to pass the time. By having it on silent, I am deciding when to check it, not being summonsed by notifications.
I got out for more exercise and whilst I used to be a big fan of listening to podcasts when out on a run, I decided to just be alone with my thoughts. It was great for clearing the head, thinking and switching off.
Because that’s the key – you don’t always need to be on. Your phone and social media are capable of being brilliant resources – once you use them the right way.
Now, the hard part, to sustain it!

I Nominate
Seeing as it was his idea in the first place, I think it is only right that Niall Dunne, Manager of the Mayo Mental Health Association, should walk the walk after talking the talk. Those Parke fellas are always ‘on’ so lets see if he can cope without his phone from 9pm every night.

The rules
Participants must turn off their phone and stay off all social networks from 9pm to 9am every day. Participants should turn off notifications on apps; make more phone calls instead of just messaging someone; commit to more exercise with less reliance on music, podcasts etc; more reading of books.