Learning from a 30 day Internet Challenge
By Randy Hampton
I spent the month of April without the Internet and phone apps. No, it wasn’t because I forgot to pay my cellular bill. It was a choice. It was another one of my self-imposed 30 day challenges. Like any good 30 day challenge, you’ve got to make the rules up front. Emergencies were excluded from the challenge. Email is a requirement for work. I also made an exception for maps and traffic on my phone - I live in Honolulu for heaven’s sake and you’re a crazy person to take to the streets without any clues.
The month started out pretty strong. I’d made it through a month of being left handed in March, surely staying off my phone a few times a day couldn’t be that tough, right? For the first few days of the month, I definitely had a pretty strong feeling that I wasn’t missing much and was feeling confident about my pursuit.
By day 5 of the challenge, it became obvious that this change was going to be much harder than some of the other things I’ve done. I was drawn to the “only for a second,” “no one is looking” kind of behaviors. I checked a baseball score and chastised myself for being weak. We really do beat the hell out of ourselves when we go through changes. If I cheated, did I fail? This is a critical question for addiction clients. If I’m stopping drinking or drugging but I have a drink or use again am I really back to the beginning? I know some of the 12 step programs have the philosophy of back to zero but does that accurately reflect life? If I was using the Internet about an hour a day and I used it for 40 seconds, is that a failure or was it progress toward a goal? I guess it’s just our perception of all of it. The best approach for the mind is to learn from each mistake and be able to identify and avoid future triggers. My momentary weakness was triggered by boredom and isolation. I learned something.
I’m not trying to compare staying off the Internet to quitting drugs or drinking. They’re different. If I cheated, it was really no big deal. If someone trying to quit heroin cheats, they risk losing much more. It isn’t the same and I’m not attempting to minimize addiction issues. Just being clear.
Through the month, I heard about things I was “missing” like Tiger Woods winning the Masters or the fire at Notre Dame cathedral. I also knew that I was missing some things that would have been important in any other month - the NFL draft, stock market updates, and the local news. I was surprised that I survived without most of these things.
One interesting learning is around our choices affecting loved ones who also have expectations and reactions to the changes. For my wife, me not spending time staring at my phone meant that I would have more time to spend with her. While that was my intention, it didn’t quite work out that way in the real world. My anxious mind had reached for the phone in the past to unwind or distract, now it was looking for other distractions. I was playing video games, listening to music, or trying to find a project to keep my mind occupied. Even though the intentions of the challenge were good, they didn’t materialize. Isn’t that the way it is with change? When we do something major in our life, the people around us have expectations that we will somehow be the person we were before or a better version than we are now. The brain takes time to adjust, so big changes don’t just happen right away. It’s important to talk about expectations of others when we’re trying to change our own behaviors.
The rest of the month was a mess. I’ll admit, I cheated way more often than i should have. During the moments of boredom, I found myself grabbing the phone and looking at news items or a sports score. I’m pretty sure there was a lot more failure than success in this 30 day challenge.
The difficulty that I had in April with staying off the Internet really did serve its purpose. I do the 30 day challenge stuff to push my brain. The times I fail are the times that I can learn about myself. Sure, “I didn’t look at CNN.com" is different from someone struggling to quit alcohol or pornography. I can’t compare my challenge to someone else’s struggles. After 30 days, I’m back on the Internet. What about the people who are still in the fight for their relationships, their careers, and their lives against something that doesn’t end after just 30 days. What I know is that the road to change is paved with daily struggles. However, the most difficult journeys lead to the greatest rewards.
Whatever you’re trying to change… keep at it. You don’t go back to zero if you fall down. Zero is just a number. And nothing is the same once you decide to begin. Welcome to a new month.