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February 3, 2017

The Moment that Taught me to Stop Scrolling through Life.

It’s interesting how much our social interactions have changed in the last decade.

I once called or emailed old friends to connect, but the world of social media has streamlined that process. With news feeds, notifications, photo sharing, and private messages, we can connect with anyone we want with the touch of a button, in seconds.

But in the digital existence of instant everything, we struggle with how much information is too much information. And what are we sacrificing within ourselves to obtain it?

It’s a tough time to be an American with a Twitter account, or a Facebook account, or any social media account for that matter. Every time we log on, we are inundated with re-tweets and new phrases, hashtags, and lots of bad news. The internet is on fire with gag orders, marches, and political storms setting friends and loved ones against one another in bitter verbal exchanges.

It’s important to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in our tumultuous political climate, as knowledge is power. But it’s a far cry from peace. In a time when we have to know what’s happening so we can make our world a better place, it is incredibly easy to have ourselves in knots in just five minutes of scrolling through the virtual window to the world.

Social media, on its best days, is meant for connecting with old friends and loved ones across miles and sharing life experiences in a modern way. It’s also a great place to gather inspiration and, in turn, inspire others as we go. But it can be an incredible time-suck, vaporizing our intentions even as we seek ways to ignite them. And we all know that staring at our phones instead of looking around us is a great way to stonewall true presence.

The bigger question is, how can we help make a difference in the world if we are not connected to ourselves?

In yoga classes, we are often presented with the opportunity to set an intention for our practice and encouraged to take that intention with us. It can be as small as staying completely present in the moment for the next hour while we focus on nothing but our breath and body, or it can be as large as focusing on healing our life’s most broken parts and staying on that path until the wound is a faint scar.

No matter how big the intention is, the purpose of it is to make a conscious choice to better ourselves. If we can do that, we can perhaps make a genuine difference in the world, at least in the lives of those around us.

I recently realized something tragic was happening when I was distracted by having to “know” what was happening on Facebook. I promised my son we would make muffins. He’s five—my second—and I only have him home with me for nine more months before he goes off to kindergarten. An entire day went by with scrolling through distractions and other things, and we never made them.

I figured he had forgotten, but it turns out, he hadn’t. On his next day off from preschool, he asked if we would make the muffins today.

My heart broke.

The realization started a windfall of the hundreds of times in both of my kids’ little lives that I realized that even if I was answering questions, or playing along with pretend games, or shuffling dominoes around on the table, I wasn’t really there, not completely. In the moments when I wasn’t providing a meal, packing a lunch, bandaging a boo boo, changing batteries, or folding laundry, I was often peeking at the lives of others and justifying it as “me time.”

But this robbed me of enjoying the fruits of all my labor—the honor of being a mom to my amazing, beautiful, kind, smart, funny, and forgiving children. Reading books in silly voices and enjoying their giggles and attention. Drawing pictures and seeing inside their imaginations, while also tapping into my own. Playing Alfred to my son’s Batman, because he deserves it—and so do I.

I work hard to be a happy and fulfilled person so I can be a good mom—that’s my life’s purpose at this stage in the game. I realized that my investment in social media, though not valueless by any means, was taking my present moment away; it’s not a coincidence that the word is synonymous with “gift.”

I concluded that some checks and balances in the arena of social media were going to help me find some peace within. Limiting the amount of time I spend “socializing” online is one small goalpost in my marathon of wellness. I still want to keep contact with my friends and enjoy the support I’m generously given by my loved ones, but I want to understand that over-exposure to the beliefs and lifestyles of those I love is not always what is best for me. My strategy of allotting specific times to peruse social media (without taking hits in between) has been essential to maintaining this balance.

The connection between my exposure to the lives of 700 of my closest friends and my lack of personal self-actualization has been clear: I’ve absorbed the problems of the world and those around me, and sent my empathy soaring outward instead of into myself.

I have been lost in the sea of information and input, and every moment I spend scrolling is time I am not being truly present with my children, or reading a meaningful chapter of an important book, or focusing on my breath on a mat on the floor. The bittersweetness of the pains and joys, the ugliness and resources, available on social media is what has both stolen my personal journey, as well as provided me with the support and inspiration I need to pursue it.

The dichotomy of what we love and hate about the world outside of our own lives is difficult to understand. We both need and resist this abundance of information, as relationships via social media have become the new normal. The detachment from our FOMO is what will allow us to realize that the change we wish to see in the world truly does begin within. If we find that living for an avatar is creating some of our problems, we limit the avatar—the same as if we find that we have an addiction, we work to break it, or if we find that we have cycled in and out of stability, we seek help.

If we want to improve the way people interact, the way our children are raised, the way we influence the world, we can harness the vehicle of social media and use it to promote a more tolerant, loving, and valuable way of life. We can teach ourselves and others to put down the phones we use to send the message, and actually live our lives.

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Author: Toni-Ann Yates

Image: Flickr/Mads Bødker

Editor: Callie Rushton

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