Study Hacks Blog

Let Go to Grow: On a Blogger’s Decision to Trade Social Media for a Quieter Life

May 20th, 2020 · 44 comments

A reader recently pointed me toward an interesting essay. It was written by a blogger and podcaster named Mika. “I’ve thought about how to start this post FOR MONTHS,” she begins, before building to her reveal:

“When I hear my instincts from my heart, I have learned that it serves me well to listen.

So one day, when I felt a thud in my heart that said “Let social media go” – I paid attention. And then it came again, and again, and again. “Let it go.” I started to question it and ask why I was feeling this. So towards the end of last year, I started questioning the role of social media in my life, comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of it. I’ve even taken breaks before so I thought about those times, too. Then it pretty much dawned on me as the following words were impressed upon me in a real, gut-punching kind of way:

We were not made for this.

I have tears in my eyes just now typing that.”

It’s not that Mika hated social media; she notes that it allowed her to interact with “truly awesome, good-hearted people,” and has helped  her “achieve professional goals.” The problem is that it always demanded more:

“It’s endless opportunities of things I can do, share, say, discuss. It’s also an endless source of people I can serve in some way. It never turns off, the possibilities are infinite, and it just keeps going – and so does my mind and energy.”

One of Mika’s revelations during the past two months spent in lockdown was the degree to which “living a quieter, less hectic, more inwardly-focused life” resonated. She wanted to make this minimalist embrace of less permanent. But social media made that stillness impossible for her.

So she stopped using it. (“A blogger who is not on Instagram?? What’s the point?”, she jokes. My response: “Welcome to the club! You just doubled its size.”)

Mika is one of several stories I’ve heard recently about a  pandemic-induced departure from social media. A commitment to simplicity and presence is a key component to many peoples’ deep reset, and social media can prove a stubborn obstacle to achieving this goal. This reality highlights one of the trickiest aspects of cultivating a deep life: it’s not just about eliminating bad things; sometimes it’s also necessary to remove the merely good to gain better access to the great.

A concept that Mika summarizes towards the end of her essay with a simple phrase that helped guide her through this transition: “let go to grow.”

#####

I’m always interested in stories of people taking dramatic steps to cultivate a deeper life. Feel free to share at author@calnewport.com. Relevant pictures are welcome.

44 thoughts on “Let Go to Grow: On a Blogger’s Decision to Trade Social Media for a Quieter Life

  1. Scott says:

    There are many positives to this time we are in…one of which I see all around me here in town. Literally talking to my neighbors,(in person) its unanimous ……
    People who ran the “rat race” have had time to rest.
    Their Adrenalin has turned back to blood- and they ALL NOW ask “where the MEANING” in how I ran like a crazy person…. before ?
    “Im NOT going back to that”…”Im making changes” they say…
    I applaud them, shake their hand (YUP – CDC – come get me!- some have got felony hugs!)
    Most people like their new- quieter life, the new quieter “them” .

    Once you’re “quiet” ALL noise seems louder.
    Even digital “noise”. With this new quiet, many people have found digital life to be “loud” . A distraction from progress.
    here is so much to gain -Its just the other side of of what we “think” is “loss”.

  2. Alina says:

    If you don`t show your work as a creator, what`s the point? Even more so when you want to make a living from it… The use of social media becomes overwhelming when you care about feedback and you think growth in social media is all about following, commenting, posting. The focus should be in your own growth and then use social media just as a one-way marketing channel. And as in any marketing channel all that matters is the quality of the product, targeting and the money you invest in promoting. Don`t use it for entertaining, inspiration or the illusory community building. And especially not for validating. It`s just a tool. Think of it as a tv channel where your show/documentary is broadcast.

    1. Harikrishnan says:

      Alina,
      You’re absolutely right. It’s the product that creates a following on sociaI-media and not vice-versa. It’s an irony that huge brands that have huge following on social media don’t have a huge number of people curating their social media. I remember the metaphor given by Seth Godin on how a product becomes popular, he wrote – “The Mona Lisa has a huge social media presence. Her picture is everywhere. But she doesn’t tweet. She’s big on social media because she’s an icon, but she’s not an icon because she’s big on social media.”

    2. Using social media as a show to broadcast yourself without engaging others, commenting, and interacting is quite selfish. That’s a show I would turn off. The simpler answer is delete social media and broadcast your show on your own website, be so good that people can’t ignore you, and engage with the viewers.

      1. Mary Lee says:

        I agree with Corey — a forum where the creator doesn’t interact with the audience is not one where I want to be. Furthermore, I think it’s difficult for most people to not care about the feedback or lack of feedback they receive from their followers. Alina’s idea that social media is “just a tool” totally misses the point that for many social media consumers it is a source of validation. How can you sell a product without validation from consumers?

      2. Alina says:

        A website (especially a niche one) will never reach the audience of social media. Just like social media will never have the audience of a movie or a tv channel. I want my art to be seen. I want the beauty of plants and plant illustration to be seen. It`s not selfish if you teach something or if you try to offer to those who follow you some value. But to believe that short appreciative messages means something, it`s naive. 99% of communication in social media, even in blogging, is of type “I wash your back if you wash mine” or “let`s chit-chat”, which I think it’s a totally waste of time.

        1. Scott says:

          “A website (especially a niche one) will never reach the audience of social media.”

          I also agree in theory but “Never”? ….well that’s a a strong term.
          Especially considering the socials use of the biased algorithm.
          Add to that the fact that social media “users” have the attention span of a goldfish.
          (Documented).

          1. Alina says:

            Yes, I should never use never in a sentence 🙂

        2. Joe says:

          The irony of this on a website built without social media and with engagement with the followers is pretty stark. I look at Cal’s success, almost all of it having been in a niche market, and see the possibilities. I look at someone like Seth Godin, who built it all up without having any personal social media sites, and then eventually having profiles for his work that are handled by his team, and think of the possibilities.

          On the other hand, I’m aware of a few wildly successful “influencers” and other social media icons and think, what are they doing that adds any real value at all? I’m sure there are some exceptions, but it’s probably best that we follow the lead of those who succeeded for real instead of those who are successful for some unidentifiable reason that likely won’t last.

      3. James says:

        There are different kinds of interaction.

        Post-production criticism that can be integrated into the next artwork is good. Every artists faces such criticism, regardless of media, and good ones try to incorporate worthwhile criticism. There are also commissioned pieces, where the artist and the buyer work closely together to realize a joint vision.

        Social media does not encourage this. It encourages audience input during the process of creating the artwork. Sometimes this is good–but many times (most, I’d argue) it’s not. At best social media encourages art by committee, which produces a lot of ugly camels. At worst, it creates a constant back-and-forth that ultimately stops the creative process. Any artist will tell you that creating and editing need to be two different steps; the brain can’t do both at the same time. Social media encourages us to do the opposite.

        As for selfishness, I agree that wanting to produce my vision, not that of a committee is selfish. It’s MY artwork; I’ll take criticism, but at the end of the day it’s me with the sore hands and bleeding fingers (I make jewelry), so it’s my vision I’m going to make reality. Further, I would argue that the current view–that the artist should be in constant communication with the audience every step of the way–displays an unmitigated and unwarranted arrogance on the part of the audience. What makes you so special that the artist–the only with with skin in the game–needs to listen to you every step of the way?

        1. Jonathan says:

          Oh absolutely. I enjoyed this view a lot. True too. As creators; we have a degree of autonomy that invites criticism; but does not require “further editing.” Creative Freedom.

      4. Helen says:

        Totally, Corey.

        I am a family portrait photographer in a resort town and have been for 10+ years. I’ve always hated social media and Have felt guilty for not being more involved in it. I really only find the value in FB groups where I can share ideas about a certain topic with others in my field. I do believe, like you said, you have to comment and be involved and you can’t just use it as a one way marketing tool. It’s obnoxious and feels impersonal. Social media always feel like a really big party I have to go to and make small talk with everyone when really I just want to find one or two people and go to a corner and talk about real things that we are excited about. I really hope I can run a successful photography business without social media?

    3. Akram Ahmad says:

      Nodding my head in agreement with your take!
      – Absolutely spot on 1st point: “If you don`t show your work as a creator, what`s the point?”
      – Absolutely spot on 2nd point: “Even more so when you want to make a living from it…”
      And to those two spot on points I wish to add: Yes, idealism has its (rightful) place in one’s life. But then there’s this thing called pragmatism.

    4. EA says:

      I think both can be accomplished. As Cal said multiple times, if you use it as a tool for your work, then you behave professionally. That is, you schedule your time with it and your interactions. I can see a visual artist scheduling a “25 min Instagram time” on Mondays and Wednesdays, with very specific goals (15 minutes to expose your work to the world, 10 minutes to interact).

      1. Helen Sittig says:

        I like that! Ive always hated social media but need to be active as I’m a photographer but hate the constant small talk comments and I feel obligated to like and comment on all my friend’s personal and business accounts ?

        It’s just too much work, so I do nothing.

        I like the idea of having a goal and a plan.

    5. Rach says:

      I see one thing why what you wrote is not consistent and even ‘bad”. As you are using social media as a marketing tool, you need other people to use it in the way you don’t want to use it. So you do not want for others what you want for you. It is like a master of slaves that doesn’t want to be a slave.

      1. Deb says:

        Not everyone is a creator on social media, most of the users are content consumers. By definition, consumers don’t follow the behaviour Alina is talking about. Alina’s recommendation is solely for creators.

    6. Nat says:

      Listen, I get what you’re saying Alina, but the thing is, you found Cal Newport’s website, probably through his books or maybe one of the interviews or talks he has given. He didn’t market himself on social media. Others did it for him because he created something profound. This website in particular, is about creating work so great that you don’t need to spend an hour or two promoting yourself on social media. Great work usually finds an audience. The only way to do that is to cut out distraction and embrace deep thinking and deep work.

      I will also echo others’ comments – I would neither trust nor support someone who only promoted themselves on social media and did not interact with people. If you utilize social media, you must engage for it to be mildly effective. Mildly.

      1. Alina says:

        Telling to a young professional that doing great work is enough and the rest will follow is as detrimental to his carrier as telling him to post three times a day on any social channel and interact with all its followers. Your work is the priority. But then it has to be promoted on the appropriate channels. Don’t be fooled. As someone who worked in advertising for 20 years I can tell you that Cal Newport promoted in a exceptional manner his work. A highly controversial TED talk, regular presence on podcasts, articles on top newspapers and carefully constructing every article on web in order to promote his ideas, his site and build a community. Of course he can`t be on social media. And I don`t think a writer should be there, not even on twitter. But for some creators (visual artists, educators, those promoting a cause) social media is indispensable and it`s imperative that they learn how to use it in order to minimize the negative effect on their work and lives. And my take on this, as I said, is to make it about the message, not your vanity. This should be a life conduit actually, not just on social media.

        1. Joe says:

          Again, the evidence is completely against you. Cal exists as a major name without a nanosecond of time spent on social media. Seth Godin is enormous and has no known personal social media accounts (his team runs some branded channels but he doesn’t manage them). The caliber of actors and writers that don’t have social media accounts is astonishing, and I doubt it’s coincidence that they’re so highly decorated.

          As far as educators go, I’m an instructional designer at a tier 1 research university, I present at conferences regularly, I’m in the dissertation phase of my PhD, and my productivity and quality have improved greatly since I finally dumped all social media for good a few years ago.

  3. Harikrishnan says:

    Cal,
    What you are saying is absolutely right. I’m saying that from my experience. You wrote in deep work “If you’re a college student or online personality, for example, the abstention will complicate your life and will be noted”. I’m a final year college student and I quit social media in my first year. Not only I quit social media I started a blog to write about what I was passionate about – self-improvement. I wrote about my own thoughts on several ideas you put forward in deep work. I still write about living a quiet and intentional life.

    Here’s the thing what I learned after living a college life without social media.
    “Whatever state that you’re in it becomes your norm”. It’s been two years since I saw a Facebook or Instagram feed. I don’t remember what it’s like to be on it and at the same time, I don’t give a thing about it. My life right now feels normal to me.

    The fear of “missing out” will be felt for just 2 months maybe(in my case). If you could get past that, there is nothing that could scare you. If you’re someone who is afraid that you couldn’t express yourself to the outside world, then having a blog will certainly take care of it.

    When you look from the perspective of being on social media, there are a hell lot of things you will be afraid of missing out. But when you get on to the other side, after a period of time, you won’t care about those fears. Whatever you’re given with becomes your norm. In my case, everything became better – life become much more intentional. You would feel like you’re up to something in a noisy world or at least you know what is important to you.

    So to Mika or any other bloggers who want to quit social media, I would say, you’re about to take charge of your life. If that’s the thing that you wanted – welcome to the club.

    It’s just a corporate fog of fears that fades away and there is nothing scary that exists beyond that fog.

    1. Eesh Gupta says:

      Hi can you give a link to your blog. Being a college student, interested in blogging and all, would love to see your work

      1. Harikrishnan says:

        Thank you for asking. You can find my blog at http://www.harikrishnan.dev. I find myself in the same position as Cal back in the fall of 2003, where he was a college student at the age of 21 and started his first blog titled “Inspiring Moniker” to muse himself(from Deep Work). I’m also 21 and I write generally about self-improvement techniques that I try to incorporate in my life.

        Through the blog, I was able to introduce the concept of deep life to my peers. Many of my friends have started experimenting deep work to their college life.

        As Cal wrote in Deep Work, I too face long stretches where no one read it. But I will continue writing blog posts since I don’t see myself on social media ever again and I’m passionate about writing.

        Inspired by Cal’s study hacks success, I’m just patiently and painstakingly building my empire on the web!

  4. I am often drawn to the equation “risk ‘vs’ reward” when it comes to social media. All social media has its place depending upon the unique user viewpoint and should come with a ‘user beware’ warning.
    Take Twitter for instance. I have noticed the many click bait type negative headlines with regards to coronavirus in the absence of general non-virus news stories.
    In addition to these stories, I often become drawn to the equally negative and emotionally-sapping comments from people/bots.
    For me, the ‘reward’ of being informed does not equate well against the ‘risk’ of overwhelming negativity, so I too have taken a social media reset.
    Much better to read ‘quieter’ more thoughful blog posts!
    Let’s hope after the pandemic has passed I can’t remember the way back to those pernicious sites.

  5. I agree with the (digital) minimalism arguments and since long I personally try to follow Cal’s advises (especially ones given in Deep Work).
    Given that I lead a “digital nomad” kind of life, I’m most of the time far from my home town and with no easy access to interesting people to hang out, so I never fully gave up with social medias. I adopted though what I’d call a “narcissistic mode” approach where basically I just publish updates of what I’m doing, photos of places I’ve seen, (mostly tech) articles I’ve read or written, but I keep my so called timelines mostly empty (i.e. I unfollow 99.9% of followers). This somehow helps me keeping my ego satisfied and at the same time doesn’t take away much of my time, let’s say around 10′ per day, probably less.
    Since long I use only RSS/Atom feeds to receive updates about what I’m truly interested in, like this blog for example, and not the photo of some breakfast of someone I might have met in the past.
    It works wonderfully, you might want to test it for a while if you’re not ready to completely get rid of social media.

  6. Why I spend 1-2 minutes on FB monthly and use no other social media. Because “before there can be an expansion, there must be a certain grounding first,” as I learned from my wise spiritual teacher – and yeah, not just the words of it but the hard-won life practice (I’m 78). Social media invite me to blather superficially and I find no joy in that. I lacks the sincerity of real communication. I’m reminded of when my ex and I flew to Arkansas for her father’s funeral. I was intrigued and inspired by the Southern courtesy – the formal, self-restrained expressions of sentiment that conveyed genuine empathy. There’s far too much “social” media and far too little self-restraint in modern “culture.” There is no greatness or depth without self-restraint and sacrifice – I’m not blathering about society, but I’m talking about what I’ve witnessed in myself.

  7. Space Taco Deluxe says:

    Instead of leaving social media, I left behind online news. Since this pandemic began, I checked the news constantly for information related to work and finances, as well as concerns related pre-existing medical conditions. Constant online news updates felt like a matter of life or death, or at least a lifeline to mitigate dire consequences.

    Then the pandemic news got political and pandering. Between platitudes of “we’re all in this together” to partisan screaming matches over drugs and demographics, most media output was superficial as well as confusing and fear mongering. Since I’ve taken many successful internet breaks in the past, inspired by Digital Minimalism, I decided to take a week off from online news.

    In about four hours I felt more calm. My brain started to have a mental version of “room to breathe.” As the days went by I felt happier and took time to look out the window more and observe life. My thoughts became more elastic and expansive and I started having more insights and revelations about life and society. Self-care (not self indulgence) became a priority and I have discovered some great podcasts that enrich my intellectual and spiritual values.

    As of a few days ago my week long break ended. Yesterday I went to all my old news sites and was bored and learned nothing new. It took less than an hour to get though them & when I was done I felt a certain emptiness, like when you eat only cake and potato chips for dinner.

    I want a deeper life which is one of action, contemplation, and the cultivation of goodwill towards loved ones and enemies alike. News is like an organism that takes up all the space in the head and heart. Turning down the electronic noise created space for hope to become an invisible action (to wait in good faith) rather than a material inaction (clinging to updates).

    1. Joe says:

      I think the only issue with this is that many people I know use social media specifically as their source of online news with little else occupying space in their various feeds. For those folks, quitting social media and quitting online news aren’t truly different actions.

    2. EA says:

      Same here, but I did it a long time ago. No online news, only newspapers. Slow news is good!

    3. Bob Landers says:

      Same here I had to stop looking at the news once the COVID-19 pandemic updates sounded too political and it was leaving the original focus on looking at it from the Virology perspective and health care angle.

      But then again I was able to mitigate the impact because I deleted my Facebook account a year ago once I saw some questionable political ads on Vaccines. No I am not somehow superior than those that never have deleted a Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Discord, Tik Tok, Instagram or reddit
      Accounts though. I just had to delete my account sooner than I originally planned to delete my account which is always at new years week when everyone talks about setting a goal.

  8. It’s all about the Email list .. way more powerful than social media. It was once said you can’t be on social media without an email list (using SM to collected subscribers), and the same is true for a blogger. It is said that email is the original social media. When I clicked the link to read Mika’s blog, the first thing I saw was an subscribe invite.
    Maybe Cal can share what he once talked about on a podcast about the artist who has a great following on Twitter but then can’t get any art done .. or something like that … or from his book about the artist who posts on IG a couple times a week and only follows a dozen or so other artist who inspire him. These are some things I do as an artist. My Email list is less than 1,000 and I get a average 64% open rate, so my photographs are seen (if you’re an artist look up Barney Davey). Thank you for sharing this inspiring information Cal.

    1. Helen says:

      Same!

      I’m a photographer too!

      I would like to do more meaningful work and posts on my website’s blog (I currently do zero)

      I like the idea of having a more intimate group discussion.

      I only follow the artists that inspire me too. But there is a part of me that feels guilty for not liking and commenting on everyone’s (friends and family) stuff.

      Social media is soon weird to me. I’ve never liked it but know it is something I should do for my work AND admittedly I’ve been sucked in and wasted time too.

  9. She is still using her Instagram account.

    1. Molly says:

      She posted last to let everyone know she’s leaving. However, so many influencer types who do this end up going back after a short time. It always seems like an attention stunt, although she does make some great points. Hopefully she sticks to it.

      1. Randy Cain says:

        All of her social media (facebook, Pinterest, Instagram) is still there as of June 8. When she says she’s leaving, I guess she means she’s leaving everything active, open, etc but just not posting anything new. Probably using those sites to continue to passively drive traffic to her blog. ????? I admit to being a bit of a cynic, because almost everyone I’ve ever seen who posts a video or something like, “Here’s what happened when I left social media,” are back posting about it…on social media. Almost all are simply giving a message about an experiment they did. Regardless, I’m intrigued any time someone talks about leaving, because I struggle with social media consumption myself.

    2. Joe says:

      It’s still open, but her last post coincides with her blog post about quitting and links directly to it. Looks like a farewell before shutting it all down.

      1. Yes, you are right my friend.

        I just visited your blog too. Your blog post “Welcome to the disconnect” is quite interesting. I think you should share more about it. It can be helpful for others too.

  10. Linda Adams says:

    I saw Cal’s Live Event on Books 24X7 and it was very eye opening. After that, I started thinking a lot about social media. As a fiction writer, I was told to register for every social media account (just in case I needed it) and have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. I made the decision to delete my accounts on a lot of these. The Facebook page was never finished, so that was easy to get rid of. I still need Facebook for a writing group where I’ve gotten publishing opportunities, so I bookmarked that instead. I’ve been shocked at how many social media sites I did subscribe to and lost track of.

    The other thing I’m doing is merging email accounts. I have two, Gmail and Outlook. Outlook was supposed to be for the writing only, but it’s too difficult maintaining both. I think I’m going to find out that I’m getting way more email than I was aware of because there were two.

  11. NetNajem says:

    Incredible story. It’s definitely a difficult choice, for a blogger to ignore / let go of social media. But I think that the rewards of living a quieter, less hectic, more inwardly-focused life are worth it.

  12. Liz Williams says:

    I have no issue with her approach. I started researching AI in 1987 and had email then, at the Uni of Sussex’s Cognitive Science programme. I have been recalibrating my approach to digital technology ever since, something which has been actively creative to my work as a SF writer. I use social media to a limited extent but don’t have a mobile phone: this seems to cause consternation, but I didn’t have one for the first 30 odd years of my life and I ‘manage’ now as I ‘managed’ then. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages for me, but it depends on personal circumstances. The slower world the blogger describes is familiar to me, as it is something that I’ve worked to achieve (I follow a nature-based religion). Interesting post: thank you. I enjoy your work.

  13. Thanks for this post, Cal. I, too, like stories of people living off Social Media, especially bloggers! I’m one of those who left Social Media many times only to return again. I try to balance it all out. My family usually pulls me back to Facebook.
    As of now, I’m doing #socialmediadistancing by deleting FB, IG, and WhatsApp from my phone. I only check FB at the end of the day on my computer for the few notifications. Takes 5 minutes. I ignore the Newsfeed. I do still have Twitter on my phone but may delete that very soon. It’s a 30 break. I’m also avoiding all news media; it was killing me, so negative! Now I don’t constantly feel like the world is ending!
    Thanks again for your encouraging posts. Keep up the good deep work!

  14. SDL Pools says:

    Definitely thinking about giving up social media. Focusing on my job instead of what some random person is doing in their life and focus on mine.

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