Social Media … Don’t Let it be the Boss of You

I have a confession to make.

I don’t like Twitter.

It hasn’t always been this way.

In fact, there used to be loads of things I loved about it.

The ultra-live news coverage, often from the heart of the action.

The collective jokes, the hashtag banter.

And, as a writer, the ability to connect with readers and bloggers.

But over the past few months, for me, the negatives have started to far outweigh the positives.

I’d been aware for a while that I wasn’t getting nearly as much pleasure from Twitter as I used to but I pushed these feelings of unease down, listening instead to the fears in my head. Fears that typically went something like this…

You have to use Twitter.

All writers use Twitter.

The first thing a publisher asks these days when they’re thinking of signing you is how many Twitter followers you have #TrueStory.

If you don’t have any Twitter followers, you’ll never get a book deal again.

And then you’ll be homeless – and starve.

But then I got a grip of myself.

And it dawned on me that actually, life is way too short choose to do something that makes you stressed and unhappy.

So, I logged out of Twitter and Facebook and set myself the experiment of seeing how I felt after a couple of weeks social media free.

Would absence make my heart grow fonder?

Or would my temporary separation lead to something more permanent?

Here’s what I found:

More time

The first and most obvious thing I noticed during my social media detox was how much time I had. All of those little I’ll just see what’s going on on Twitter interludes soon add up. And although at first I felt restless and twitchy without my regular scroll, I soon got used to it. And I soon grew to love the great vistas of uninterrupted time that opened up in front of me. I started reading books in one or two sittings – something I hadn’t done for years. I watched films on Netflix without reaching for the pause button every so often just to see what was trending. I was able to completely immerse myself in the story I was reading or viewing – and it felt great.

Greater attention span

This greater attention span spilled over into other areas of my life too. On train journeys, I took to gazing out of the window again and thinking and dreaming. Instead the slightly jittery feeling experienced when jumping between news feeds and notifications, my brain relaxed and expanded and new dreams rushed in.

Clear-headed

This clear-headedness helped bring greater clarity to my work life. Choices I’d been mulling over for months suddenly seemed simple. My whole life felt more simple some how. And simple felt great.

Better Sleep

Feeling clear-headed didn’t just help me when I was awake. I found I was sleeping a lot better too. Studies have shown that staring at a screen before you go to bed does the opposite of making you unwind. All of those dopamine hits. All of those, just one more minutes. I got back into the habit of curling up with a book and it was bliss.

Quality interactions

But probably my favourite part of my social media detox was the change in my interactions with others. Funnily enough, this had been my greatest fear, prior to giving up.

Would I feel really lonely without a bit of Twitter banter or Facebook messaging with my friends and family?

The answer, was a big, fat, resounding NO.

Because coming off social media forced me to find other ways to communicate with people, you know, like talking, face-to-face. And on the phone.

When we ping someone a message or ‘like’ something they’ve posted we feel as if we’ve connected with them, so we’re less likely to call or meet up. But my social media hiatus made me realise that nothing beats the connection of a proper, social media-free conversation.

Hilariously, when I met up with my sister for a coffee and told her what I was doing, she started throwing pointed glances over my shoulder. At the table behind me, a woman was sitting pouting, while her companion took picture after picture of her on his phone, presumably for Instagram. They barely said a word to each other the whole time they were in there.

Then we looked around at the other people in the cafe. At every single table there were people tapping away on their phones. None of these people were on their own – but they may as well have been.

‘I think social media might be sending us all crazy,’ I whispered to my sis. And I was only half joking.

Isn’t there something a little troubling about a world that comes up with the concept of a selfie stick – because there’s an actual demand for a selfie stick?

Now, I know social media isn’t all bad.

One of the things I’ve loved most about Twitter is hearing from readers of my books and being able to connect with other writers.

And I know lots of people who’ve formed deep and lasting friendships online.

This is all good.

I think the real issue is the balance of power in our relationship with social media.

Are you the boss of it?

Or is it the boss of you?

Think for a moment of all the different forms of social media you use.

Picture each one as an actual physical venue.

What do you see? And how does it make you feel?

When I picture Facebook, I see a cafe full of lively conversation and loving friends.

When I picture Twitter, I see a huge hall, full of people. Some of them are lovely and kind and engaged in constructive conversation, but they’re being drowned out by the showing off or shouty mob (wielding hate-filled hashtags instead of pitchforks).

Now, for you it might be the other way round. Your experience of Twitter might be of one big happy family.

If it is, that’s great.

But if social media is making you feel uneasy or tense, try taking a break to clear your head.

Then ask yourself how you can be the boss of it rather than letting it be the boss of you.

Do you really need to be on both Facebook and Twitter?

Do you really need to go on every day?

How would cutting down on your social media change your life for the better?

When I asked myself these questions I realised that I’d be far happier focusing on my Facebook page.

Making it a place where people can come together to share inspirational posts and ideas.

A place where we can laugh and chat and experience a sense of community.

That feels good to me.

As does coming off Twitter for the forseeable future.

It makes my life feel simpler and nicer.

It makes me feel proud that I’m no longer going to do something I don’t enjoy, simply because I’m too afraid of what might happen if I don’t.

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How the First Hour of Your Day Can Make You Happy, Calm and Strong

Without wishing to get too personal, how do you spend the first hour of your day?

I’ve come to the conclusion (after lengthy research on a target audience of one, namely me) that the way you spend the first hour of your day is really, really important.

Like the first course of a meal, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

Cold, flavourless soup = ‘check please’

Warm, tasty soup = ‘bring on the main

Here’s how the first hour of my average day used to go…

Alarm clock went off at a time that had been carefully calculated (to the very last second) to provide me with the maximum amount of sleep and the minimum amount of time to get ready for work.

A muffled curse would be heard from beneath my duvet.

I’d eventually peer out, bleary-eyed.

My dog would gaze at me from his spot on the floor next to my bed.

‘Walk me,’ his gaze said. ‘Walk me now before I start barking and howling and wake up the entire street.’

I’d stagger out of bed, pull on some clothes and stumble to the door.

We’d begin our walk.

My dog would trot along happily, sniffing at all the new and exciting smells from the bushes and the pavement and the freshly peed on lamp-posts.

I on the other hand, would trudge along behind him beginning to stress.

I’m going to miss my train.

I’m going to be late for work.

Why does he have to sniff every single lamp-post?

Why is it raining again?

Why does it always rain in this country?

If it’s still raining by the time I leave for work my hair’s going to go all frizzy and I’ll look like crap.

Why do I always look like crap in the rain? Why can’t I look all sultry and sexy and like Bo Derrick emerging from the ocean?

And, after five minutes of this, my thoughts would start spiralling down into a darker place.

Any problems I might have been having, anyone who had even slightly upset me recently, and any fears I might have been having would all start looming large in my mind like comic book baddies.

It’s as if, while I’d been sleeping, Fear had been bench-pressing and popping steroids next to my bed and was stronger and badder than ever.

And, because I was still all soft and blurry from sleep, I didn’t have the strength or clarity to fight it off.

By the time my dog and I had done a few laps of the park I’d often be in a state of complete and utter panic and stress.

And this negative mindset would spill out into the rest of the day.

As I raced for the train.

As I fought my way through the crowded London streets.

As I slumped over my desk.

But for the past few months I’ve changed the way I spend the first hour of my day and the results have been so positive I had to share them with you here.

Firstly, I set my alarm clock way earlier so I don’t begin the day already feeling late for something.

I still curse and feel like death when it goes off but I make myself get up.

Then I take myself off for a power-walk or jog around some nearby hills.

If I’m honest, for the first five minutes I feel one coffee away from a coma but I make myself keep going because I know that if I force myself through the pain barrier something so magical it’s almost mystical happens.

I actually start feeling good!

As the blood starts pumping and the sweat starts flowing I feel energised and alive.

And even more importantly, I feel strong.

And when you feel strong in your body your mind follows suit.

Instead of being plagued by worries, I feel alive with ideas.

Instead of trudging around looking down, I power around looking up – at the sky, the trees, the birds, the breath-taking view.

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And my perspective on things expands accordingly.

When I get home, because I still have plenty of time, I speed-journal for five or ten minutes.

This basically involves writing really fast about anything that’s on my mind so that I can get it off my mind.

I was going to call it a ‘diary dump’ but it didn’t sound quite so sophisticated or Bo-Derrick-on-a-beach-esque.

Anyway, I finish my journal entry on a positive note, jotting down five things I’m grateful for and then I sit in stillness for five or ten minutes, focusing on my breathing and getting calm and centred.

As a consequence I start the day happy and focused and full of energy and far better equipped to deal with whatever life may throw at me.

So to recap…

To get the very most from the first hour of your day:

  • Set your alarm so you’ll have an hour to spare
  • Get out into nature
  • Do a form of exercise that raises your heart-rate and makes you feel sweaty and strong
  • Get rid of anything that might be on your mind in a ‘diary dump’
  • Write a list of five things you’re grateful for
  • Sit in stillness for at least five minutes and feel your whole body relax

And see how much better you feel in all the hours that follow.

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If you liked this post I think you’ll really enjoy Dare to Dream, the book: 320 pages packed full of inspirational advice on life, love and creativity.

£1 from every copy sold will go to the charity Leuka, helping find a cure for leukaemia.

The book is out next Wednesday and you can find out more and pre-order a copy here.


Dear Dare to Dream: How can I overcome illness to achieve my speaking dream?

Dear Dare to Dream,

I’m 16 and I recently bought your book True Face.

I am obsessed with it. I bought a journal to go with it and I follow all the little tasks you set. I find it incredibly helpful because for a few years now I’ve dealt with severe mental illness and confidence issues. You see, I have this disability called Marfan Syndrome. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. But because of this I have abnormally skinny legs and arms. I also have two leaking valves in my heart that I may need surgery on soon. But basically I’m telling you all this because I have a dream of becoming a motivational speaker. And I discovered that I wanted to do this about 3 years ago. But battling depression and everything else it has been insanely hard to start. The thing is I have no idea where to start. My mind is always telling me that I’ll never get there. Or it’s a stupid dream to have. My family don’t really understand either. I mean, they live very simple lives you know? Normal jobs, children, cook, clean, sleep repeat. That sort of thing. But from a very young age I’ve always known that what they have isn’t the life I want. I dream of way more. But they sometimes belittle me because of my disability and treat me like an invalid. They say that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself or anything.
Since I’ve been reading your book I’ve felt a lot happier about myself and about being happy. I am really determined to become a speaker and I realise that I’m going to have to fight my way through the negativity. But I just don’t know how to start and I’m scared that I won’t ever be able to do it.

Ps. Thank you so much for writing a book like True Face. I hope one day that I can be an inspiration to people just like you.

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Dear Inspirational Dreamer,

Thank you so much.

When I received your email I was lying on my bed crying my eyes out.

I was lying on my bed, crying my eyes out because someone close to me was very sick and I felt powerless to do anything to help them.

I also felt utterly exhausted.

Then I read your email and your words flicked a switch in my brain.

I read about your courage in the face of your illness.

I read about your subsequent struggles with mental health issues and the obstacles you encounter on a daily basis and the dreams you have in spite of all this.

And I felt humbled and inspired.

You say that you hope you can one day be an inspiration to people but you already are.

You inspired me that day and you warmed my heart with your kind words.

You made a massive difference just through the words of your email, so imagine what you could do in a motivational speech.

Sometimes, when we have big dreams, they can feel so far from our reach that we give up trying. The key is to break them down into smaller, more manageable goals.

You want to inspire people with your story and your words but you don’t know where to start.

Why not start by writing a blog?

Blogs are free and easy to set up – I recommend WordPress or Blogger. Also, writing a blog would be relatively easy to fit around your health issues and can be done from the comfort of your bed (guess where I’m writing this from?!)

Writing an inspirational blog would also enable you to build an audience. Then, when you take the step into motivational speaking, people will already have heard of you and I’m sure would be dying to see you speak in the flesh.

In terms of building your confidence as a speaker, I recommend the following:

Watch this.

Read this.

Check out Richard McCann’s website here.

Richard McCann is one of the UK’s most successful motivational speakers. He’s also an incredible example of someone who has overcome massive trauma and hardship to achieve great things. His mother was the first victim of Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’.

You can download a free presentation skills ebook on Richard’s site. He also runs fantastic training days as part of his iCan Speak Academy. I attended it a couple of years ago and it was the best speaker training I’ve ever been on.

You talk about battling feelings of depression.

One of the most effective techniques I know of for helping alleviate feelings of depression, stress and anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. If you’re not already aware of it, look it up online. There are loads of sites offering CBT exercises for free.

Another really effective technique is mindfulness.

Next time you’re feeling depressed don’t fight it.

I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it really works.

When we fight an unpleasant feeling or emotion it only intensifies.

Try sitting with the feeling.

Breathing slowly and deeply.

And really welcoming it.

It’s amazing how quickly the feeling can dissipate when we do this.

You will be able to do achieve your dream, with hope and dedication.

Any time you feel yourself slipping back into negativity and fear do something to reignite your passion for your dream.

Watch an inspirational TED talk on YouTube. Take note of the techniques the speakers use.

Start planning a talk of your own.

When your family don’t seem to understand, remind yourself that this is your life and these are your dreams.

Keep working away on those dreams.

And hopefully when they see how committed you are to making your dreams come true they will come round and support you.

Let me leave you with this quote. A quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which has really inspired me in my own career:

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” 

Ask yourself, how can I begin making my dream a reality today?

Take that one small step.

Then another the day after.

And wait for the ‘genius, power and magic‘ to strike.

Wishing you every happiness and success.

Siobhan x

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