When you hear the words ‘healthy’ and ‘consume’ in the same sentence, what’s the first thought that pops into your mind?
Most people will likely answer food. Nutrition.
But in 2020 we’re consuming more online content daily than ever before, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. Some statistics show that internet use went up as much as 50-70%.
Personally, I know I’ve had weeks where I’m spending almost twice as much time behind a screen as I was before. Yikes.
How much is one thing.
But how conscious are you of WHAT you’re consuming online? Polina Marinova, author of The Profile newsletter says its best. It’s easy to fall into a spiral of consuming a “junk food content diet,” which plunges you into crazy thought patterns and anxious feelings.
And in neglecting our content diet, we neglect our mental health and overall well-being.
How to Take Control of Your Online Diet — The 3 C’s
Improve Awareness – Start by tracking how much time you spend (or waste) online on a daily basis, with an emphasis onWHERE your time is going.
You must first be aware of what you’re eating before you can decide what healthy diet changes to make. The same applies to your online diet. You need to take note of how you’re consuming content online before you can make any impactful changes.
Try keeping a journal on hand, and consciously logging what you spend your time online doing every single day for an entire week.
Combine that list with data leveraged from your phone itself on how much time you spend online. Many operating systems now provide you with a weekly screen time report, including a break down of which apps you spent time on most (click for instructions: Android or iPhone). Use your journal or a note entry to help you track time spent on a computer or tablet to make sure you cover all your bases.
You may think you already know what you spend your time on, but it’s an interesting experiment to try for a week. You might be surprised.
The danger of our online diets, is that we set out to accomplish one thing, but can quickly find ourselves spiraling into more negative temptations that are harmful to our mental health — without fully realizing it’s happening.
Be proactive — Don’t make your content consumption a passive activity. Dictate what you will and won’t consume, or else it will be decided for you.
In a world of predictive algorithms, addictive apps, and deep oceans of information, if you don’t consciously choose what you will spend your time on, it will be decided for you.
Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study for 6 months in Paris. At the time, I didn’t find my consumption of Instagram particularly healthy or beneficial for my mental state…too many unrealistic and constant comparisons had me feeling inadequate. As you’d expect, it bled into my overall happiness.
One day on my routine 40 minute metro ride, I took a look around me and decided to be more present in my surroundings. I deleted my account, trading Instagram for a French novel, vowing to completely immerse myself in the culture and in my current experience rather than drown in the online world.
My mental health was much better off for it.
What I learned from that experience, is NOT that we need to cut ties altogether with technology (in retrospective, I was a bit extreme). There can be so so many benefits.
But if you don’t take the time to decide how to use your time online in an intentional manner, you become a victim of the psychological pitfalls that affect us all.
It’s easier to be a passive consumer than an intentional user, especially if people that you know seem to be doing just that.
But dictating what you will and won’t consume is about the most empowering decision you can make.
Check your habits — Set goals and add a strategy behind your conscious content consumption.
Even if you’re aware your content consumption could be healthier, it can be an extremely difficult habit to correct. Back to my Instagram example, the reason I deleted my account altogether is just for that reason.
Technology is very addicting.
I had tried to fix habits before, only to end back in the same place. A clean break was what I needed at that time.
Now, since I’ve re-introduced certain aspects of the online world back into my life, I’ve found a one lesson to be particularly helpful in conquering bad online habits. It has nothing to do with will power or strict time limits and all that.
It simply comes down to inspiring, educational, goal-centered consumption.
Here’s a few questions to ask yourself as a guide.
- What am I interested in learning about?
- Is this content inspiring, empowering, or informing me about important matters? What is the source?
- How will what I consume help me in my day to day life? 5 years from now?
- What do I need in my life?
- What goals do I have? What do I want to accomplish in the next 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, etc.?
- Who do I want to interact with online.
- When I tracked my consumption, did I find certain types of content made me feel worse? How can I eliminate this content from my diet, but still leverage tools to consume what’s positive for me?
The first step of finding good content to consume is asking yourself any questions at all. But having life goals to align these questions helps more clearly define new habits to create for yourself.
In addition, it provides a more measurable, tangible incentive.
For example. I want to grow this blog — how can I consciously use the online world to help me do that? I’ve shaped my behaviors around that, and I’ve found the habits haven’t been as hard to shift as I thought, because I am excited and motivated by my goal. Find your equivalent!
Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of consuming a “junk food content diet.” Be aware of what you’re consuming, take control of what you do and don’t wish to consume, and back it up with your personal goals to help you follow through.
Your mental health and overall well-being will thank you for it.
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