Let’s cut straight to the point, because I’m not in the mood for introductions: I’m taking a break from social media. Again.
This time for longer than usual, and I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am. It feels like going for a trip to a foreign land, except this foreign land is in my own home, and I get to bring all my art supplies with me, not just one (okay, two) sketchbooks.
If that piqued your curiosity, I’m glad to share the why and the how in the rest of this post.
The benefits of unplugging
I did several week-long “mind detox retreats” as I called them, and already wrote about the benefits of this practice in more depth. Here’s I’ll just mention some of them:
- More free time
- Feeling more calm and centered
- Better focus
- Experiencing proper rest (instead of “fake rest” that comes from mindless staring at the screen)
- Higher self-confidence (because of less comparing to others)
- More energy and inspiration
- Getting more shit done.
I compared notes with other folks who went on prolonged social media fasts, and we pretty much agree on this. Seems like there’s no real, actual downside of unplugging. (We can easily get around the perceived downsides through other means.)
The first two days are constant twitching and reaching for the phone. On the third day, there’s peace. The mind gets quieter. There’s no compulsion to share this thought or that thought online. After the short withdrawal phase, being unplugged turns into pure bliss.
Maybe right now it’s not the right time for you to unplug. It wasn’t the right time for me on numerous occasions, and then at some point it finally was. I kept this idea at the back of my mind, so I was able to identify when the moment came to act on it.
I’m trying to plant this idea into your mind, and then maybe, when the time is right, you might give yourself a chance for a different choice.
The choice of no distraction.
The choice of being free from outside opinions and judgements.
The choice of no bad news and hate vomit.
The choice of peace, quiet and centeredness.
The choice of being grounded in your own values.
The choice of free time to do what fuels you.
The choice of getting to know your actual tastes and preferences.
The choice of meaningful connection.
The choice of discovering new ways to have fun and play. (May I suggest Story Cubes*?)
The choice of being aware of all the choices you make by default.
I know I sound like a grandma, longing for simpler times when we weren’t all so consumed by the media. I assure you, that’s not the case. I’ve been actively participating on the internet for over 15 years. Many of the skills I have, and the work I do for a living, I owe to the wonderful people who published so much useful information for free on the Internet. I’ve met some of my closest and dearest friends online.
I don’t want to go back to the days before the Internet. I like having Internet available for me whenever I want. But I don’t want to make myself available to the Internet all the time.
Even though I have boundaries that prevent social media from sucking up all my time, there are times when I crave more than that. Like, during the times of transition and a need for greater clarity.
Like right now.
Creating space for a new vision
I need to create space so I can examine what happened, and where I want to go next.
I want to do a yearly “plan” (that’s not really a plan because I don’t do planning), and I don’t want to create it from the space of confusion and pressure.
If I were wealthy, I’d rent a cabin in the woods and spend my days in meditation and journaling, but since I am where I am, this will mean I’ll just slow down my pace with client work and put all my personal projects on hold.
I worry that some of these projects will get permanently cancelled when my vision of the year ahead forms, but that’s a risk I’m glad to take—projects that feel like a should often turn into projects that don’t, anyway.
And there is, of course, the art thing.
The online world affects our creativity in both a positive and a negative way
I’m currently in the process of redefining my relationship with art.
I’ve spent the last decade holding certain expectations for myself and my art, and now I’m realizing that this may not be what I really want, and that I have to allow for new realizations to surface.
Since the very beginning of my artistic journey in 2004, I’ve been sharing my art online. I joined several creative communities where we exchanged critique and advice, and this was very helpful in some ways, but also I feel that it has stifled my creative voice.
While I did allow myself the freedom of expression in my themes, there was this imperative of becoming more skilled at all cost. I feared people will judge my art as bad if I don’t prove I can paint realistically.
The internet provided so many wonderful opportunities for my art, and I’m extremely grateful for all of them. Being published in books and magazines, taking part in art shows across the world—it all happened way sooner than I hoped because of the magic of the Internet, and the right people finding their way to my little corner of the web.
But the sad thing is, I don’t know who I am without this.
It’s painful to write that sentence. I became the citizen of the Internet before I became an artist, and I never gave myself the time to evolve apart from it—apart from other people.
I don’t know how I am when I don’t think about publishing my work.
After all these years, the act of creating became intertwined with the act of sharing. I can’t even pretend that what I'm creating will be for my eyes only, and this causes performance anxiety. I'm not sure where my authentic artistic voice ends, and the desire to be liked and admired begins.
Like the kids growing up today—whose parents put up their baby pictures on Facebook—who will never know what it means to have real privacy, I forgot what it’s like to create without any thought of other people’s opinions.
I was sure I was being authentic and free the entire time, but now I feel called to something even truer. I’m deleting things from my gallery that don’t feel like “me” anymore. I’m putting a hold on the commercial stuff I’ve been planning to do, until I’m sure I really want to do it.
I’m retreating into my studio to create in total privacy, for the first time in a decade.
I’m allowing myself to experiment, to mess up, to go wild and to push back all the thoughts “Will anybody like this?”, “What if they think I can’t draw?”, “What if people think I’m a fraud, and not a ‘real artist’?”
I’ve had enough of that crap.
Operation: Creative Clarity Retreat
Don’t worry, I’m not deleting all my accounts and moving to Tibet.
I want to perform an experiment unlike any I did before, and it’s simultaneously exciting and frightening, which is always a good sign.
I’m giving myself a container of 31 days in December during which I’ll have no contact with social media, news, videos, podcasts, forums and blogs. (Except my own blog, of course.)
I don’t think 31 days is enough to solve my relationship issues with art, but it’s a good start, and I can always change my mind and decide to extend the experiment to 3 or 6 or 12 months if need be.
(See? Scary! I have no idea what will come out of it.)
I admit that I’m not sure what I need. I’m only aware of the next step, which is to create more time and space for re-connecting to my artist self. That’s the only instructions I’ve been given, and if I want to find out what comes next, I must do what is asked of me.
I’ll read and write e-mail during my sabbatical, and I’ll publish new posts on this blog regularly. If you’re on my newsletter, you’ll get all the updates on new posts and other stuff I have in the works. (If you’re not yet, and you have a feeling you’ll miss me if I’m not around on social media, I recommend getting on the newsletter.)
This is just the beginning
This morning as I was writing about this retreat in my journal, what came out was so much excitement about the month ahead, and a hint that this will become a yearly tradition—except, next year I’ll be able to take time away from work and e-mails as well, to have a truly unplugged creative retreat.
I know, it sounds crazy. Just the thought of it fills me with so much hope and delight.
Now I know that I have to account for this in my yearly not-a-plan, to make sure I save up money and prepare everything on time.
Will I manage to do it? I have no idea, check back in a year! ;)
I have trouble finding a goal that will inspire me, since I’m not into that usual six-figure-income-one-zillion-subscribers online business thing. But this goal—an entire month just for relaxing and art making?
Sign me up!
What are your plans for the holidays?
How do you plan on staying sane during this season of family gatherings and all the SALE SALE SALE noise?
I hope this practice of mine inspires you to unplug, at least for a week, and feel for yourself what it’s like. I can talk about it for days, but there’s nothing like actually experiencing it.
Let me know in the comments whether this has sparked some ideas for you.
Update: Read how my social media fast went in this post.
If you're reading this years after it was first published, I want to draw your attention to a newer article Creativity in digital isolation which takes this topic even further.
In 2020 I turned my Creative Clarity Retreat into a way of life, and didn't post my work on social media for 6 months. I would've never imagined this at the time of writing this article in 2015. It just goes to show that if you prioritize your mental health and well-being, you might arrive at some pretty radical solutions.
If the online world has been overwhelming for you lately, I recommend reading my article on why it's great to detach from it.