Is a digital detox going to work?

If we want to detox because we want balance and control then perhaps we need to focus on how we use digital technology and how important it is in our lives, rather than purging, then bingeing to make ourselves feel better. 

I’ll throw my hands up and admit it; I’ve tried almost every diet under the sun. Growing up in the 90s when heroin chic was cool and you come from a very, very long line of size 12 women (genes will out) was rubbish sometimes. I did Atkins (I dreamt about bread), Joshi’s Healthy Life (the ingredients cost about £80 a week), red days, blue days, green days. Yes, I even tried a detox.

It’s a funny old thing, a detox diet. You go into it convinced it will restore balance in your life, make you feel glowing and rejuvenated. It will make you readdress your priorities and feel purer. That’s the plan, anyway. Instead you get tired, ratty and very, very hungry.

The problem with a detox is that by restoring most of what is part and parcel in your life – food, alcohol etc – you are by definition NOT creating a balance. It’s a pseudo-science that tells you that if you cut something out of your life entirely you’ll stop thinking about it and eventually not need it anymore. If your skin gets clearer it’s probably because you’re drinking much more water and are focusing more on eating healthily. It isn’t sustainable and you still crave the bad stuff. There’s not even proof that detoxing removes toxins from your body.

Instead, scientists say that to achieve a balance you need to start balancing. Don’t remove one thing entirely; introduce new foods, more fruit and veg, less alcohol. The benefits will be more marked and the new lifestyle is pretty much like your own one but slightly better.

But we love the idea of a quick fix. We love the idea that, in just a couple of days, we will unlearn all our bad habits and emerge cleansed and renewed.

Thus the digital detox. We feel we spend too much time on digital devices or online. We think we’ve lost our balance. Our tried and tested method, therefore, is to cut it out entirely. Our own personal histories tells us this isn’t going to work.

What we need is a better relationship with digital devices and our behaviour. A purge and binge isn’t going to remove the problems we have with the digital world. It isn’t going to readdress our reliance on it or how much time we spend on it, but it might make us feel a bit more in control. Because control is what it is about.

When I’ve worked with companies on their internal communications, how they will deliver external communications and also friends who spend a lot of time online I’ve learnt a few things. Here are my tips to avoid a digital detox and instead regain a balance.

  1. If work email makes you unhappy or stressed it isn’t because you can access it late into the night. Email has replaced the face to face office chat and we’re more likely to put criticism or use a dismissive tone via email – especially if we don’t have to look someone in the eye while we do it. Every company should have an email strategy. If you have to send a lot of emails after 5pm or before 9am then time them. Staff should not be checking emails in the evening, that’s a poor work culture. Set the example from the top – yes that’s bosses. If a work culture is to be established then bosses are the ones     that have to keep it going. If you do have to send an email outside of work hours apologise and point out it is unusual. If you’ve got an HR department then work with them to develop a system of organisation rules that establish how and when you use email. This should include a point about holiday emails – check an email on holiday and you have to buy the office a cake on your first day back. Who wants staff who are frightened to check their mail when they are outside the office?
  2. Don’t have your email open all day. A wonderful friend of mine closes her email and sets a timer to check it every half an hour to forty minutes. She is supremely organised because of the huge volume of mail she gets so filters emails into folders. A great idea allowing you to know your priorities and what messages to focus no first. It also means your day isn’t dominated by the email ping.
  3. Leave your phone by the door. Another friend thought he was spending too much time on his smartphone in the house. We’ve all done it when we are watching TV with our other half and we’re laughing at a comment on twitter but ignoring our partner. I don’t know about you but I love my partner and don’t spend nearly enough time with him. Smartphones should be banned from mealtimes and bedrooms. Be present, you’re not missing anything.
  4. Purge who you follow, what e-newsletters you receive and who you’re linked with. Said other half encouraged me to do this earlier this year and it was a revelation. First I began with any e-newsletter than came into my inbox that I never read. Next I switched off all but the most important notifications. Then I started on Twitter. All the celebrities, journalists, noise-makers; gone. I turned down the sound and instead just follow people who are interesting. Any furore on Twitter now it barely laps at my shores. I’m much calmer.
  5. Don’t feel that you spend enough time outside? Whose fault is that? It’s not Apple’s, certainly. If you want to hear birds tweeting go and listen to birds tweeting. If you want to spend your lunch hour going for a walk instead of browsing Buzzfeed then do it. There is a whole world behind your smartphone, don’t look at it through a lens. If you feel like you’re spending too much time online then ration yourself. Put “switch off iPhone” in your calendar if you have to. You control the off button, no one else.

The digital revolution was meant to bring with it an element of control. Instead we feel as though we are being swept away on a tide of opinion, activity and a fear that we’ll miss out if we step away. Is it brilliant being online? Oh yes. It’s important for us, our businesses and it’s a great way of connecting and sharing our interests and personalities. But it doesn’t have to be all the time. The detox is an attempt to claw back control but we know from our diets that it doesn’t work in the long term. Restore a balance by defining a balance. I feel like I should say Namaste.

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