Why your Digital Detox is unlikely to work

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It’s the time of year where many of us take a break. Increasingly that break comes with the need to unplug and announce to your networks (especially your professional ones) that you’re unplugging.

Taking time out from work, and by inextricable association, from technology is important for our overall wellbeing. We all benefit from taking time to decompress and reflect on the year we’re farewelling, allowing ourselves to re-calibrate and rejuvenate ready to take another trip around the sun.

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Digital detoxing and the trend towards a course-correction on our tech-saturated lives is being widely heralded this season. While many of us may need to reign in unfettered tech-habits and sever auto-pilot logins & check-ins, long term behaviour change takes much more effort and planning than a handful of days away from technology in order to be successful and sustainable.

Importantly it’s the cognitions – the thoughts, perceptions and understandings that accompany the online content we create and consume that requires reconsideration in order for us to gain an

Forget digital detoxing, think in terms of Digital Nutrition.

Detoxes and fad diets don’t work, there is no magic bullet for weight loss – similarly with tech detoxing, you need to reshape your thinking to see the change.  By applying the three M’s of Digital Nutrition  you can enhance your chance of success.

// Tips for an effective tech-break and setting a ‘healthy digital diet’//


Moment app is a great way to come face to face with just how often your pick up your phone and how much time is spent ‘blue facing’ each day. Data helps provide evidence for our desire to change and benchmark how big the issue actually is. You can use several plug-ins to monitor desktop use too.


You don’t need to go cold turkey. In fact, being too restrictive might just mean you binge-use your digital devices when you get back online. Be honest, you want to see what others are up to and keep connected – honor that in a way that balances presence with scrolling. Set small, clear and attainable ‘rules’ that you have a chance of being successful in achieving (you can tighten these as you get better weaning yourself off old habits).

This might be things like:


Spend time (and it will take some time if you don’t do it regularly!) to streamline and organise what you see online, in your social media feeds and your inbox.

  • Back up your phone, photos and files.
  • Delete old photos and apps off your phone.
  • Curate your newsfeed more effectively by unliking/unfollowing groups/pages on social media that you don’t feel you get benefit from. Try software like Just Unfollow to do this effectively.
  • Unfollow friends who might not contribute usefully to your news feed (you don’t need to defriend them to keep them out of your newsfeed!).
  • Change your notifications so you only get the most important updates (I get Facebook private messages and event invites emailed to me so I don’t feel like I am missing out too much on personalise communication).
  • Archive old messages from your inboxes.
  • Use unroll.me to clean up your email subscriptions (or simply unsubscribe what you usually delete).
  • For more in-depth, step-by-step strategies read this.


Many people have made a rod for their own back when it comes to being responsive and communicative to work emails, creating an always-on headspace which adds to risk of burn out.

It might be that you need to communicate expectations around when people can expect to receive responses.  Some recommend a setting a permanent auto-reply that outlines to people your email checking habits.  Other use the 5 sentences method to discipline emails into manageable communication.  I also have started using ‘voice memo’ on my phone to record replies rather than type them out!


These are The Three C’s of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and they’re helpful to apply when noticing your thoughts and feelings when using technology and in order to bring more mindfulness, meaning and moderation to our use of technology. When you master noticing and compassionately reframing your thoughts, you can shape your behaviour more effectively.

Catch yourself having unhelpful thoughts when viewing friends’ posts and comparing yourself to them, or scrolling mindlessly without registering what you’re seeing in a newsfeed. Check the thought – is it true (are they really living a perfect life? are you seeing the whole picture?), is it helpful (to beat yourself up for not making it to the gym).  Change the thoughts – flip the thinking to be more balanced, adjusted and to understand the mechanisms behind some of the social media we consume.  It’s part of being a good digital citizen and improving media literacy.

// Got a strategy for effective digital detoxing and enhancing digital nutrition?  Email me or comment below. 

// Jocelyn is a registered psychologist based in Sydney. She created Digital Nutrition (TM) to help guide best-practice, balanced tech use and healthy relationships with digital devices. She tweets @jocelynbrewer