Breathing Room


I tend to go about doing things in a very intense way - that is, the project I’m working on or the job I’m doing tends to get ALL of my attention and there is very little room for doing much else. Is this obvious? I think that the people who know me well would say it is.

It can be a useful trait, this need to go all-in - it helps me learn quickly and get through the not-so-fun jobs in the quick bandaid removal sort of way (if you know what I mean). But when I give everything I have to my projects, very quickly they become my whole life. And that’s not always the best thing.

Because sometimes, after giving everything I have and then some, I look up only to realize that my project is smothering me.

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I read a lot of blogs and how-to’s when I first decided to share my art on Instagram. They said to post every day. Use 25-30 hashtags in a comment following the post. Follow LOTS of people to get follows in return. Be prompt with responses. On and on and on…and dutifully I did my best to follow these and other “rules,” even as algorithms changed and it became harder and harder for me to pin down the best way to get my words and photos out there. Instagram became a very normal and prominent part of my everyday, my phone glued to my hand (and little square images constantly flitting past my eyes).

Last summer when Apple made it possible to check in on how much time I was spending on my phone, I had sort of a terrifying realization. My obsession with trying to do everything I was “supposed” to on Instagram had led to me spending between three and four hours a day on the app. Hours that could have been spent making. Or reading. Or doing the countless other things in my life that I didn’t think I had the time to do.

I was trying so hard to get noticed in that digital space that I’d forgotten about what really mattered - that is, chasing my own dreams and goals in the real world. AKA, my REAL LIFE. It snuck up on me because I’d only been trying to do what was “right,” telling myself I had to be fully invested in my Instagram page to make it.

Since then, I’ve slowly, SLOWLY been extracting myself from Instagram’s grip. Because, lets be honest - I had a bit of a problem. It’s so easy for me to lose my sense of time and self while scrolling and replying to comments and trying to please that part of myself that says I must Do More and Be Better. And I haven’t been able to give it up all at once. Like the occasional bad decision to buy (and wolf down) a big piece of store-bought cake, all sugar and air, Instagram had become my way to fill the void created by the uncertainties of my life.

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I started by leaving my phone out in the living room at night, so I couldn’t check in first thing when I woke up. It’s a little pitiful how difficult this was for me, not to be able to roll over and immediately immerse myself. A little sad that I had to build that habit. But I did. And then I moved to a system of only answering messages and comments once a day. Also hard, but it helped me to break away from needing to check in every hour to get back to people. The people-pleaser in me still feels like I’m being rude. I have hope I’ll make peace with this someday.

Then, I stopped allowing myself to mindlessly scroll to fill all of my unplanned minutes. Arrived first to a coffee date with a friend? Look at the art on the walls. Waiting in line at the post office? Do some meditative breathing. Sitting on the couch without an agenda? Read a book, play with Ponderosa, write out what’s on my mind!

It’s been another shift - one of actively seeking out the beauty in the world and MAKING something with my time instead of passively waiting for information to come to me via my phone screen.

Which brings me to today. Last week, I spent an average of 1 hour and 19 minutes on my phone per day - with only 34 of those daily minutes on Instagram. Holy moly - I’ll call that progress. I feel like I’m still able to get my work done - connect with friends, share beautiful images and words - without giving my whole life away. And in that extra time, the time that is no longer filled with Instagram, I’ve been smithing and writing and baking and horsing and all of the other wonderful things that make me want to get out of bed in the morning (no phone required).

But I’m not done yet.

Because I still do feel that compulsive need to check in with my page. Even if it’s just for thirty seconds - even if it’s just one quick scroll. So every week I’m giving myself a little breathing room. A day away from Instagram where I don’t think about sharing - not one story, not one word - and I don’t worry about what amazingness the rest of the world may be cooking up. It’s a day for myself where I can completely detox from that digital space so I can move ahead, more inspired, by all the wonderful gifts already present in my life.

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Hayley Josephs2 Comments