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(Week 4 of Leaving Social Media Experiment)

David Goggins is famous for his grueling physical accomplishments and no-nonsense advice. He’s run over 60 ultra marathons, triathlons, and ultra-triathlons and holds the world record for ridiculous feats like completing 4,030 pull-ups in a 17-hour period. Though not P.C. and certainly not the way I’d choose to talk to myself, his coarse advice for overcoming adversity is, “Stop being a little bitch.”

One of my favorite wisdom nuggets from Goggins comes from his mental preparation for grueling events. He anticipates where he’s going to experience adversity and makes a game plan for how he’ll respond to those moments. While training is certainly an attempt to make his body more capable, he focuses equally on his mentality; intentionally putting himself into mental discomfort to train himself how to best maintain and thrive during discomfort.

His advice resonated with me when I decided to take a year off social media. I made a list of challenges that I could anticipate. I knew there’d be discomfort in reversing a compulsion (mindlessly picking up the phone, especially during periods of boredom). I also anticipated Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), fear of not properly advocating my growing coaching practice, and even connection with my partner over funny memes. Loneliness was certainly atop that list.

Obviously society has made a major shift to online communities and technologically fed social connections. When knowing what’s happening in another person’s life, and broadcasting what is happening in mine is as easy as jumping on an app, it seems silly to create more obstacles rather than embrace the simplicity of an app like Instagram or Facebook.

As expected, loneliness didn’t take long to settle in. I don’t believe this was a self-fulfilling prophecy either. I found myself not knowing what people important to me were up to, and heard more than once, “Oh yeah, you’re not on social media anymore.” as a common response when I had missed an important or interesting announcement. I felt this most acutely with my daughter who’s off to college in Washington, D.C., and with my partner who posts some pretty funny shit on her page. Missing out on how both present their unique view on their lives was like knowing someone was appearing on television, but not being able to tune into the program.

There are also little things that I was missing, like seeing a picture of someone’s kid; a fun date night from a friend; or even announcements of a drum circle or a cold plunge. Not feeling plugged into anything is akin to spending some time in nature. It feels wildly refreshing and necessary for the first few weeks, and then all of the sudden it begs the question, “Why am I doing this...there are some things I genuinely miss about knowing what others are up to?” The reason for this feels fairly obvious. We are social creatures, we thrive off communities where our imaginations and ambitions are almost limitless, yet our physical capacities are. In other words, there will never be enough time to do it all, learn and investigate everything. Part of the human condition is to know that we need to be selective and pour ourself into things that matter, because time, attention, and capacity aren’t infinite. Being a part of community fast tracks this process and also allows one to participate and experience more without being the sole engine behind the discovery, the creation, or the conversation. This innate desire, presented me with a series of situations I'll call "gates" to pass through— an initiation into loneliness, if you will.

First Gate: Reaction without awareness.

The first gate on the path of loneliness is to be aware that the feeling is there. There was a moment where I lashed out somewhat irresponsibly at my partner. I was in the middle of moving and it brought up a lot of unexpected emotion. My friend and former housemate Patrick helped big time with the big stuff, and my partner Kristy got things all set up at home, and yet it felt like I had to do a huge portion of that on my own. Somehow that experience amplified the already lonely feeling I was beginning to experience in self-imposed social media isolation. Once I acknowledged that, it seemed to almost open an entire hallway of possibility for my emotions. Damn! Loneliness crept up and settled like fall slowly replaces summer and it was there before I really recognized it.

Second Gate: Negotiation

The second gate was watching myself emotionally-itch toward impulsively responding to that loneliness. The desire to return to social media grew. The excuses to stop the experiment had always been there, but they became more convincing. That’s where the story would have ended had my “why “not been deeper than that.

Third Gate: Self-Pity

Transparency is important to me, but also potentially embarrassing. I feel that tug a little when I admit that I started to feel a little sorry for myself. I get very few texts, and half of them are because someone was in need for some reason or another. Seeing glimpses of social media through my partner’s phone, especially when it came to family, and feeling out of the loop started to turn into a, “If they cared, they would share with me. Don’t they know that I’m doing this important thing?” This gate was important, and a little unexpected. I felt myself closing up and taking on the familiar “Fuck 'em and forget them” attitude. That's the path that feels good and self-righteous in the moment one that would close me off even further. Because I didn’t like feeling the Self-Pity, but also couldn’t deny it was there, I had the opportunity to get curious about it. In that space, I found something I thought I’d gotten rid of: “Offloading my significance and importance to someone else.” In this case, it was offloading to everyone else.

Fourth Gate: Self-Abandonment

While this isn’t the fourth gate I went through, it’s the fourth gate I noticed. Deep down, I was outsourcing my significance to something beyond myself. Social media had been a great vehicle for this. Let me be clear: Social media can be a great place to brazenly embrace yourself and show the world who you are. I’d felt very good and aligned with this in my own interactions. The problem was, my own self worth was being “financially funded” more by how I perceived how other people were seeing me. I had almost no self worth that was funded by my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. In fact, the social media part had really covered up the fact that I wasn’t feeling very awesome about myself physically. I’d been able to cover up that fact with a supplementation of social media. When I intentionally dried up the external source of "self worth," I found there wasn’t much of my own flowing in. The drought was palpable and alarming. This was particularly alarming considering I had spent so much of 2022 on a solo journey discovering and cultivating these parts. And it’s not that anyone took them away. I had willingly let them go. It’s not even that I didn’t recognize the value. I experienced first hand what they can do for you. It’s just that I failed to realize that the sources had dried up. It remind me of a bunch of rivers flowing into a lake of self importance. Water was flowing in, but not from every source. When I damned up the external, I was a little surprised that there was only a trickle coming in from the most important source, me. The only renewable source that I had control over wasn’t really producing much. That well had dried, and the only way I could really see the reality of it all was to have turned the others off.

Fifth Gate: Tending to the Roots

What lights you up? What fills you with energy and passion and doesn’t depend on any other person? That was my question to myself. Reading inspiring literature. Playing music. Moving my body. Listening to my body. When I started bringing these back in, I noticed that loneliness subsided. It helped me realize I wasn’t so much lonely because I was missing other people; I was missing myself. The answer was obvious, but it didn’t so much reverberate and get answered in my head. It got answered in my heart.

Sixth Gate: Be the Change You Hope to See in the World

If I wanted people to reach out to me, I had to be willing to do that thin first. I sent random Marco Polos and texts to people that crossed my mind. The crazy thing is, I got almost immediate responses every time. I caught up with folks I cared about and was truly interested in what was happening.

If I wanted my partner to be affectionate, I switched from feeling sorry, to reaching out being affectionate with my hands, my words, my kisses. If I wanted a bridge built, I better damn well be willing to start with my side of the cliff. And here’s the key: Not doing it because of a covert contract that it would yield this result, but because it fed my soul.

Seventh Gate: Gratitude for What Comes

This is all about noticing. If I want to gain an appreciation for how many red cars there are on the road, I start noticing red cars. If I want to feed negativity, I start inventorying all ways life disappoints or that people are “less than what I expect.” If I want to start feeling uplifted, I start inventorying all the things, big and small, that I can feel grateful for. Watching for those things helped me pay attention to all the times my partner was saying “Thank You” or when the cat was brushing against my leg. Of course he still bit my hand (playfully) when I’d go to pet him, but the perspective change helped a lot.

The greatest source of gratitude of all: being willing to be uncomfortable for a while to see what was on the other side of it. More learning about myself, a greater understanding of my roots, and less baggage to carry. All of this goes without saying what I’ve been able to do with the time and energy that hasn’t gone toward social media. Website enhancements, more writing, more consistency, more healing, and space for self exploration. Goggins was right. Doing the thing doesn’t make the thing easier. Planning for what can be expected helps make better decisions when the uncomfortable comes and the ego has a better chance of jumping into the driver seat and derailing what your higher self had in mind all along.

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Oct 05, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This might be my favorite blog post ever. I want to cheer you on and cry for you all at the same time. So much insight you are gaining AND seeing. I love it and YOU so very much. I don't want to share this on social media as it seems ironic..but I do have a few people I keep in touch through email so? you're ok with that, right? Also...this could be the introduction to your book I keep hoping for.

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