Several months ago, I deleted my Facebook account. It was the best decision I’ve made in a while.
A few weeks later, I canceled my years-long subscription to Runner’s World magazine.
Then I threw my training log out of the window.
Looking back, it’s clear to me that these three actions—among many other smaller, subtler ones—are not unrelated. However, at the times when I made these decisions, they seemed independent of one another.
It all started with my decision to bow out of social media. Or at least, with whatever drove that decision.
I’d toyed with the idea of removing Facebook from my life for years, even deactivating my account for extended periods of time, but was never really too serious about committing to a Facebook-free existence. My Myers-Briggs personality type is strongly INTJ, and as such, the logical side of me almost always wins. And it’s logical to stay on Facebook: it’s practical, it’s efficient, and it can be a great resource for information—both regarding the world at large and our most intimate and innermost social circles. As one of my mentors is fond of saying, “Evolve or die!” So logic kept me in the game—kept me checking faraway cousins’ profiles for updates on their lives, kept me relegating my status updates to only what I believed to be the most high-impact and high-yield commentaries, kept me scrolling through “fan pages” of respected authors, scientists, and athletes for the latest scoop on science, sport, and global happenings.
The thing about being an INTJ—or any __NT__, for that matter, is that while the “T” (for “Thinker”) encourages logic to win out, the “N” (for “iNtuitive”) has an equal pull. And here’s a case where intuition trumped logic, overturning the precedent social media has set on my life once and for all.
I recognized that while it was logical for me to stay on Facebook, intuitively it just didn’t feel right anymore. Increasingly, I have found myself looking back upon the “good old days” when Facebook was first piloted to a small cohort of East Coast colleges back in ’04, right here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It provided a simple means of organizing contact information for friends; it was really nothing more, and nothing less. As Facebook evolved into something far more complex, and thus transformed the way humans interact with one another, I found myself progressively more uncomfortable with the new paradigms it unveiled every few months.
When being completely honest with myself, I was surprised to encounter that one of my biggest motives for leaving Facebook was my desire to eschew the competitiveness, one-upmanship, and self-comparisons that have become rampant on social media—and of which I myself am as guilty as anyone else. While I don’t see myself as competitive, I am definitely overly ambitious, and Facebook is a great place to a) feel like you’re in fact not nearly as ambitious and accomplished as everyone else in your news feed, and b) trumpet your ambitions for the whole world to see in one of the least classy ways possible. No thanks.
In fact, plenty of social and psychology research has emerged in recent years regarding social media use and its correlation with, or even direct effects on, psychological and emotional well-being (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10). Not surprisingly, those with the most social media activity reported the lowest levels of self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, sense of satisfaction with their lives, and overall productivity, with Facebook use in particular serving as the biggest predictor of mental health outcomes. Sure, one could easily argue that these may be correlated rather than causative. However, even randomized intervention studies have shown that for a discrete period of time after which an individual views his or her Facebook news feed, he or she will report subjectively lower levels of happiness and self-esteem. The investigators’ hypothesis? Too much comparison of ourselves with what we perceive as the “perfection” of others.
While I freely admit that I went through a little bit of Facebook withdrawal for the first week of disuse (my habit of randomly clicking onto my Facebook homepage while bored at work, or while waiting for the subway, was now to be replaced with…what exactly?), this quickly diminished. In time, I’ve seen a distinctive return of a certain quality of life that’s been missing for a while—a quality of life that is built upon small efforts to connect with loved ones in real time and in more intimate, personalized mediums. And the time I spent on Facebook is now being more creatively spent…literally, on Instagram. ;] (ha ha ha…)
Several weeks into my Facebook-free experiment, I received my trusty monthly copy of Runner’s World magazine in the mail—an occurrence that has been so regular during the past seven or eight years of my life, that I could probably set my clock by its arrival. Runner’s World has been a staple of my diet since I first started running cross-country in high school. Admittedly, the scope and overall culture of the magazine has shifted dramatically in the past five or so years to accommodate the recreational running boom and all of the commercial bells and whistles that have accompanied it (Color Runs, neon sneakers, fad-ish training plans). But I still always enjoyed taking a glance through my copy, if for nothing other than Marc Parent’s hilarious spreads, or Peter Sagal’s witty editorials.
But when I received my February copy of RW, I was not so excited to peel apart its pages. For some reason, I hit a mental block just by looking at the cover: yet another overly-airbrushed photo of a lithe, lanky woman with impossible abs and quads of steel; a woman who looked like she could definitely, certainly, tear me apart both on the track and in the dojo.
This is not a new thing for RW mag—they’ve been boasting disappointingly unattainable and unrealistic physiques both on their covers and within their pages for years now—but it was new that I was so turned off by it. I didn’t even open the magazine; I tossed it straight into the recycling bin. Just like that, I’d decided I was through with it. My decisiveness shocked even me. Shortly thereafter, I logged on to my RW online account and canceled my subscription.
Now that I’ve removed two things that constantly tempt me to compare myself to others (and constantly, consistently come up short), I feel a heck of a lot better. Life is good! I’m a worthwhile human being! I am doing stuff today, and it’s good enough! In fact, it’s bad-ass!
All of this has culminated more recently in my foray into distraction-less, record-less training. In other words, I have completely abandoned my training log, my half-iron training plan, my GPS, my watch, and to some extent, my iPod (yes, I still use one of those…circa 2007 and still going strong). What does this have to do, if anything, with quitting Facebook and Runner’s World? It may not seem obvious, but a huge take-away from quitting Facebook and Runner’s World, for me, was also relearning how to be completely present. Eliminating those distractions from my life—and the distracting thoughts they encouraged within me—removed a significant amount of mental clutter. Free from this, I have begun to experience a new clarity of mind and ability to be mindful in the present, one which I am experimenting with both in my day-to-day meanderings and my approach to exercise.
Abandoning all of the gizmos, gadgets, bells, and whistles that quantify my training has also eliminated a source of self-comparison—both with myself (“I ran so much faster two years ago!”) and with others (“But Meb Keflezighi runs a 1:01 half-marathon!”). Also noteworthy is that I’ve dug myself deep into some serious trouble with overtraining in the past, and this is probably largely reflective of my desire to train to my journal rather than to what my body, mind, and spirit are desiring on any given day. This “naked” approach to running, cycling, swimming, and all other sport has also encouraged me to tap into that complete presence of moment, and use it as a tool for honestly and objectively-as-possible gauging my intensity by degree of perceived exertion. Ironically, being completely in the present moment makes upping the intensity easier for me. And suddenly I am becoming keenly aware of that mind-muscle connection (especially in strength training and yoga, but even in running and cycling), which is the coolest feeling ever.
So far, this is my favorite self-experiment to date. That’s really saying something, as I have been known to tinker quite often. I ran these ideas by a good friend recently, and his response was priceless. “Wait, you’re an INTJ?” he asked. “Yeah, I know it’s unusual for a girl,” I replied, feeling special. “No,” he said, “It’s just that, this all sounds like a really great way to cater to the Introvert in you!”
I admit, this is entirely possible. ;]