What I Learned From Trying (and Failing) to Quit Instagram

I spend so much time on Instagram that I wouldn’t be surprised if my fingers have been conditioned to believe that my iPhone is an appendage, just as much a part of them as the palm of my hand. I don’t even know what I’m actually doing — I suppose just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling (and scrolling) through the discover feed in pursuit of something new. But this is so rarely actualized because Instagram knows me better than I know myself, so it consistently feeds me tweaked versions of things I have already seen.

Every so often, I will uncover a new brand or person or meme and that will fill me with delight, but mostly I just weather pretty bad tension headaches and small-screen-induced blurry vision that make me wonder why, if I know I never feel great (physically or emotionally) when I come out of an Instagram hole, can’t I just stop?

I used to be pretty good at this. I’d only really spend a bit of time on weekends scrolling through the app. Sometimes I’d log in just to post, then leave for days. How great that must have been for my vision, my mental clarity, the general illusion of space in my brain! But now? Now I’m just a monger, generating self-serving “stories” that tell of my eating habits and swelling tendencies and the way in which I decorate my wrists (and vases!). I miss the old me, she who could attend a dinner sin phone and not even realize she didn’t have it. She who could sit down to write a story, not unlike this one, without maniacally flaring her fingers as if she were a withdrawing addict in need of a fix.

“Just. One. Scroll,” my opposable thumbs seem to say. “Then we can go back to work.” But no!

Determined to learn how one can incentivize herself to stay off Instagram (beyond moving the app’s icon around on my home screen), I staged one of those half-assed experiments I am so good at executing wherein over the course of a week, I resolved that I would keep away from the app and hopefully live to tell about it with a few insights and tips for those who are similarly eager for reform. I did not last an entire week (as a matter of fact, I lasted the sum of one day), but I did learn enough to think twice before throwing myself back into the vortex. You can see what I mean below.

An excellent way to start your day on the wrong foot is by reaching over immediately after you wake up and grabbing your phone to do literally anything. Read email, answer text messages, or especially dilly dally through photo sharing apps that maintain the uncanny ability to make you feel less whole before the clock strikes 9 a.m. By resolving to sleep with my phone in another room, I had no choice but to wake up and confront first myself, then my ankles, then my bathroom before I could so much as look at my phone. Thus:

Lesson #1: If you sleep with your phone outside of your bedroom, it can’t play a leading role in the happenings of your bedroom (and also, you are like 50% less likely to develop a headache before breakfast). 

Eager to get on Instagram last Saturday afternoon, I kept stopping myself by visiting my own photo album instead. This was interesting because looking through my own photos satisfied the hankering, which is when it occurred to me that I might just need various bouts of visual stimulation. Coffee table books are probably good for this too. Which brings me to…

Lesson #2: If you know why you’re leaning on your social media app of choice, you’ll probably find it’s not really about the app.

Saturday was the only day that I remained completely offline. On the other days, I merely limited my time spent in-app, and I don’t know if this is just me being dramatic, but I am pretty sure my brain circuits felt…what’s the word…longer. I carried thoughts to their endpoints, didn’t forget what I was talking about mid-sentence and perhaps most impressively, actually heard people when they spoke to me!

Lesson #3: My attention span is ostensibly longer when I’m not using social media.

When visual stimulation wasn’t all I was after, what did incline my hankering to get on Instagram was wrapped up in my own sense of boredom. What I found from engaging with the app from a place of lack and therefore vulnerability (i.e. I either want to be doing something different from what I am doing right now or I am not doing anything right now and want to feel engaged), is that I was substantially more inclined to consider making a purchase than at any other time. I guess I was looking for something to fill up the lack? This is, perhaps, what makes social media such a strong transaction peddler.

Lesson #4: Using Instagram when I’m bored perpetuates the possibility of unnecessary purchasing.

And for my final learning, which I do not feel I need to explain:

Lesson #5: You really shouldn’t eat ice cream while you are scrolling through Instagram lest you want to finish an entire pint in under 20 minutes.

(P.S.!!! Just learned there is an app called “In Moment” that will lock you out of any number of social media apps once you have hit your self-selected limit for the day. I learned about it on Instagram.)

Images via Leandra’s Instagram Stories. 

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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