What I Learned From Trying (and Failing) to Quit Instagram
02.08.18

I spend so much time on Instagram that I wouldn’t be surprised if my fingers have been conditioned to believe that my iPhone is an appendage, just as much a part of them as the palm of my hand. I don’t even know what I’m actually doing — I suppose just scrolling and scrolling and scrolling (and scrolling) through the discover feed in pursuit of something new. But this is so rarely actualized because Instagram knows me better than I know myself, so it consistently feeds me tweaked versions of things I have already seen.

Every so often, I will uncover a new brand or person or meme and that will fill me with delight, but mostly I just weather pretty bad tension headaches and small-screen-induced blurry vision that make me wonder why, if I know I never feel great (physically or emotionally) when I come out of an Instagram hole, can’t I just stop?

I used to be pretty good at this. I’d only really spend a bit of time on weekends scrolling through the app. Sometimes I’d log in just to post, then leave for days. How great that must have been for my vision, my mental clarity, the general illusion of space in my brain! But now? Now I’m just a monger, generating self-serving “stories” that tell of my eating habits and swelling tendencies and the way in which I decorate my wrists (and vases!). I miss the old me, she who could attend a dinner sin phone and not even realize she didn’t have it. She who could sit down to write a story, not unlike this one, without maniacally flaring her fingers as if she were a withdrawing addict in need of a fix.

“Just. One. Scroll,” my opposable thumbs seem to say. “Then we can go back to work.” But no!

Determined to learn how one can incentivize herself to stay off Instagram (beyond moving the app’s icon around on my home screen), I staged one of those half-assed experiments I am so good at executing wherein over the course of a week, I resolved that I would keep away from the app and hopefully live to tell about it with a few insights and tips for those who are similarly eager for reform. I did not last an entire week (as a matter of fact, I lasted the sum of one day), but I did learn enough to think twice before throwing myself back into the vortex. You can see what I mean below.


An excellent way to start your day on the wrong foot is by reaching over immediately after you wake up and grabbing your phone to do literally anything. Read email, answer text messages, or especially dilly dally through photo sharing apps that maintain the uncanny ability to make you feel less whole before the clock strikes 9 a.m. By resolving to sleep with my phone in another room, I had no choice but to wake up and confront first myself, then my ankles, then my bathroom before I could so much as look at my phone. Thus:

Lesson #1: If you sleep with your phone outside of your bedroom, it can’t play a leading role in the happenings of your bedroom (and also, you are like 50% less likely to develop a headache before breakfast). 

Eager to get on Instagram last Saturday afternoon, I kept stopping myself by visiting my own photo album instead. This was interesting because looking through my own photos satisfied the hankering, which is when it occurred to me that I might just need various bouts of visual stimulation. Coffee table books are probably good for this too. Which brings me to…

Lesson #2: If you know why you’re leaning on your social media app of choice, you’ll probably find it’s not really about the app.

Saturday was the only day that I remained completely offline. On the other days, I merely limited my time spent in-app, and I don’t know if this is just me being dramatic, but I am pretty sure my brain circuits felt…what’s the word…longer. I carried thoughts to their endpoints, didn’t forget what I was talking about mid-sentence and perhaps most impressively, actually heard people when they spoke to me!

Lesson #3: My attention span is ostensibly longer when I’m not using social media.

When visual stimulation wasn’t all I was after, what did incline my hankering to get on Instagram was wrapped up in my own sense of boredom. What I found from engaging with the app from a place of lack and therefore vulnerability (i.e. I either want to be doing something different from what I am doing right now or I am not doing anything right now and want to feel engaged), is that I was substantially more inclined to consider making a purchase than at any other time. I guess I was looking for something to fill up the lack? This is, perhaps, what makes social media such a strong transaction peddler.

Lesson #4: Using Instagram when I’m bored perpetuates the possibility of unnecessary purchasing.

And for my final learning, which I do not feel I need to explain:

Lesson #5: You really shouldn’t eat ice cream while you are scrolling through Instagram lest you want to finish an entire pint in under 20 minutes.

(P.S.!!! Just learned there is an app called “In Moment” that will lock you out of any number of social media apps once you have hit your self-selected limit for the day. I learned about it on Instagram.)

Images via Leandra’s Instagram Stories. 

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • Liza Kindred

    This is why I stared my new company, Mindful Technology. Often we feel like it must be a personal character flaw, but these apps are intentionally designed to be addictive. We’re starting to work with tech designers / developers to teach them how to make technology that values human connections more than engagement with apps / devices. 🙂

    https://www.mindfultechnology.com/

    A couple of other apps you might like for these purposes are Checky and Siempo. You’re so right — knowing why we pick up our phones is half the battle! 💪🏽

  • Adrianna

    I quit Facebook after the 2016 election without any grand announcements. I deactivated my account and closed the tab. I still cringe when I think about how much time I spent on FB for an entire decade, and more importantly, how I let it form my impression of what’s going on around me locally and globally.

    We’re in a weird age where we label and complain about the *media* with broad terms (“Why is everyone obsessed with the Kardashians? Why is no one talking about the crimes against humanity in Yemen”) without realizing that we are actually talking about our individually curated social media. I’m an active Instagram user since 2012, but I had no idea “instagram shopping” is a thing until I read Man Repeller. It’s wrong to assume personal newsfeeds reflect global trends.

    • Jam Jam

      That’s a great point. Obama says the same in a Letterman interview, so you’re in good brainwave company.

      • Adrianna

        I always thought Obama was my kindred spirit

    • Cassidy Brasher

      I love how you are taking the “media” out of social media. I actually though the same thing when I discovered Select. http://select-2nx.launchrock.com/ Its pretty cool, like social media, but sending to only the friends it makes sense for.

    • Phillips 66 fired Carmela Hill in Daly City but Carmela now earnes 11030 Us Dollars In Just One Week working with Autoliv from home …..Everybody can join this job easily by just open this Link and follow instructions…..

      ======= >>>>>>>> http://bit.do/d6B65 :::::::
      ✧✧✧✧✧✧✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✧✧♥♥✸✸✸✸✸✸✸ ✸✸✸✸♥♥♥♥✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✧✧✧✧✧♥♥♥♥ ✧✧✧✧✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✸✧✧♥♥♥✧✧✧✧✧

  • Jules

    I just started a full time job last month, straight out of university, at a time when it feels like many of my friends are travelling, relaxing, and generally doing more enjoyable things than commuting to an office job 5 days a week. I know that that’s not necessarily accurate, and that people have more responsibilities and troubles than social media lets on, but I definitely feel a lot better about my own life and “boring” decisions when I take time off of Instagram to focus on the small joys of my own simple, satisfying life. I have so much to be grateful for but that’s often clouded by glitzy photos on social media, and thinking my life should always look and be that good too. I also save so much time in the mornings because I don’t end up mindlessly creeping people to the point of ending up on someone’s boyfriend’s sister’s best friend’s dog’s account, ya know? That is the biggest morning time suck.

    • Ofélia

      Well Jules, Let me share an opinion that I personally think will help you. Just like you I got a full time job straight out of university and my first year was very depressing due to social media – Instagram and Facebook. I watched my friends go to these beautiful places, eating out at fine restaurants, going to the beach, blah blah blah… I wanted that life so much but you know one thing, I never regretted my decision, instead I’ve turned my days into counting days towards being happy and joyful. I’ve realized that living “the free life” wasn’t for me – and why? Because I found my mission – Building an empire of wisdom, knowledge and beautiful moments. I’ve travelled, ate out at fancy places but the pictures I posted on social media were close to 6 or 7 … hummm maybe 10 ahah Happiness isn’t about showing it through your social profiles – is about enjoying the moment until the last possible second. Try doing things that you enjoy after work and Live the life – Start planning your vacation! That’ll help for sure. About few months ago I started a Vision Board and a very personal project of my own. And although I’m still not traveling enough, not getting to know all the places in town I want to – I can guarantee you that I feel joy and purpose in my life every single day.

      Hope that this will help you realize you can conquer anything in the world! 🔥

      • Jules

        thank you Ofélia!! (may I just say what a beautiful name you have) your comment made my heart so full because I can tell you really understand and empathize with how I’m feeling! I have definitely gotten over my initial frustrations with comparing my new lifestyle to others, and I am now trying to enjoy learning new things at work and meeting new people, the great pay which will allow me to pay off student loans so quickly and enjoy more experiences in life, and all my free time after work and on the weekends! I’ve gone skiing, skating, made dinners for friends and have read more books in the past month than I did in my last year of uni. So there is definitely a silver lining! “Happiness isn’t about showing it through your social profiles” – so true! It’s fun and instantly gratifying to share our good moments with other people, but also so special to have some of those happy moments to ourselves. I will definitely start brainstorming my next possible vacation, and in the meantime, I will remember to appreciate all the small joys in my day to day life 🙂 thank you

        • Jam Jam

          Your comment thread made me think: Why take pictures of your fancy meal, when you could be eating it?

          • Ofélia

            So true! Thanks to agree! But let’s be real sometimes I take pictures to inspire myself. Not that I post them but food when beautiful and delicious is truly inspiring and my mind explodes of happiness!! ahahahah

        • Ofélia

          I’m the grateful one here! Thanks for changing your mindset and set yourself to an incredible life without always being on Social Media!!

          It was a pleasure!
          Anytime you need to chat or some advice we can e-mail 😉

  • I periodically leave my phone outside my house in my motorbike. I set my Facebook password to a long code that is on a piece of paper with said phone. That way I can’t use it on my laptop. Drastic measures, but it does help me to not endlessly check and check and recheck my phone. And send a million WhatsApp voice messages. I work online, so there are times I need to focus and write. And that’s when I check Man Repeller. Honestly though, I get into a different mind frame when I have my phone outside the house, and sometimes end up writing by hand or doing something vaguely creative.

    Here’s some scientific evidence: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170623133039.htm

  • Anne Dyer

    It’s like you are in my head. I falsely believe I am emotionally intelligent enough to be above the pull of a good Insta story or fall down the rabbit hole of a perfectly executed pointer finger ring stacking only to be reminded I am not. Cringe.

  • Beth

    In Timothy Wu’s book “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads” he describes the historical trend of technological innovation accompanied by a profusion of propaganda and exploitative advertisements that harmed the consumer/citizen, rather than helped. Consider the rise of fascism in parallel with the advent of the radio/TV. Thankfully, Wu points out that society–we, the people– have always ended up fighting back at some point. Post WWII, the U.K. came up with laws against hate speech that would prevent people from disseminating dangerous and hateful information. I’m a teacher, and one of my coworkers contends that the kids living now will be the “lost generation” before we as a society realize how manipulative and pernicious the social media and technology invading every aspect of our life is and how badly it needs to be regulated, with these kids’ identities cultivated solely by the structures of social media, “likes”, and carefully crafted photos (we can consider the hypocrisy already in the fact that what kids mistakenly consider authentic photos their finsta, or fake-insta, rather than what is actually “real”). I honestly thought at first that he was overreacting in a crazy way, but when I quit all forms of social media a year and a half ago, the experience was really profound. I did not realize how much un-asked for impact my participation in social media was having on my personhood, my identity. Memes that used to make me laugh I realized now were cheap tricks, funny only because I had participated in the conversation faithfully and felt a sense of recognition and familiarity. I thought that I had wanderlust and a real desire to travel because I was continually exposed to daily doses beautiful photographs of people discovering countries and smiling in front of waterfalls and staggering mountains; when the daily doses were removed after quitting, so too did my wandlust evaporate. What, then WERE my real desires a product of? What instagram conditioned me to think and see of worthy as my attention due to some algorithm, or something real inside of me? I love design and thinking about carefully crafted worlds and spaces, and at first I thought that instagram was a beautiful, inspiring collage of new ideas and information helping expose me to territory I wouldn’t otherwise discover. But it’s not that.

    Instagram, like any world or environment one participates in, is instructive; its form requires its ultimate message to be that at the end of the day, it’s the image that counts–how something seems or appears is always more important than it actually it is. Sure, there are ways to poke through or crack the veneer–I can think of tons of people who share their imperfect, messy, insecure selves on instagram in a real way–but I still wonder why they feel the need to do so in the space that encouraged veneer and perfection in the first place, and still functions as a result of external validation, so that it renders even the most authentic expression performative. The best part about social media, as I can see it, is that you get to tell your own story. But it seems to me that the tools to write it are faulty, and in the end? Don’t really belong to you.

    This fantastic essay by Zadie Smith, written in 2010, still feels SO relevant: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2010/11/25/generation-why/

    • Jules

      your comment really resonated with me and I have added Timothy Wu’s book to my reading list! thank you

      • Cristina

        Second. It won’t let me reply to you Beth and I’m not sure why but you hit the nail on the head. I’ve never felt more “myself” than this month I quit social media. From the clothes I was buying, to the food I was eating just because it made me cool on Instagram. I’m not sure how much that reflects on how impressionable I am, or just the influence and effect of Instagram. Either way, I feel great!

  • Alana Vieira

    Interesting… I quit Instagram last week and I’m feeling way better and more productive. So far, I absolutely do not miss it (except for the fact that I wanted to show Leandra my new white Tabitha Simmons).

  • Abi Newhouse Vaughn

    My husband read somewhere (unsure of his source (honestly, I ask him that a lot: “What’s your source?”)) that refreshing Instagram and Facebook and email gives you the same high as using a slot machine. I’ve never been able to pinpoint what I like about scrolling through Instagram. And honestly, I only actually post about once a month, if that. I haven’t been on Facebook in months, but haven’t been able to quit Instagram. The addiction is real, though not in the case of likes for me…but what else is it then?

    • Jam Jam

      Yep. Scrolling gives you that little thrill, and soon you need more to feel the same thrill—that’s what addiction is, straight-up.

  • amelie

    I quit Twitter recently, because it was taking over nearly all of my thoughts and especially since Trump has been elected it has been such a negative space. I’m not American and I don’t necessarily want to be up to date about every little time he fucks up and shares his hatred, or read the comments of people defending it.

    Anyway, I don’t have a seperate bedroom, but getting an alarm clock and so I can keep my charger and phone far far away from my bed has seriously improved my productivity and general happiness. It’s kind of crazy that it’s come this far with technology being such a big part of our lives/happiness.

  • Sarah

    I’m trying to limit my Instagram usage because it’s turning me into a judgemental monster and it’s making me like people less. I had an IRL great friend and once we started following each other on Instagram I realized she was an obnoxious bragger on instagram – every green juice, every soulcycle class, every date night she went on with her husband got a paragraph explanation and about 15 hashtags. It tarnished my opinion of her and i hate that.

  • Cristina

    I quit Twitter a couple years ago and never looked back.
    I quit Instagram (like deleted the app from my phone but my account is still there) about a month ago and I feel amazing. The first couple day were really tough mentally, because it’s really like an addiction. But then, I just was over it. The feeling of being free from comparison, judgement, anger etc and not seeing all of this over-sharing that we have become accustomed too was liberating. It feels great not to scroll on eggshells and have to like everyone’s post or they think I’m mad at them. It feels great not to have to follow or unfollow people and think that I don’t like them, or feel the pressure of them not noticing. Honestly, I like (proverbial) you but your posts annoy the crap out of me and if I’m going to keep liking you in person we cannot be social media friends. I do find that I turn to the News app every other 5 minutes, which I am trying to cut down on because I think that just shows how naked I feel without doing something on my phone. Like, I’m not content with just existing in the world and I hate that.
    I def feel my age now that I don’t use these apps. Because where is social media going to progress other than becoming even more intrusive? Oh well. In the end that doesn’t really matter I guess!

  • La Fresa
  • Zadie

    My New Years Resolution was to start using Instagram less (that discover feed, uuughh, a constant rabbit hole) and it failed so very quickly. I’m an addict. Awareness is the first step, right? I was with a group of girlfriends a few nights ago and we were all talking about the status of our New Years Resolutions and I somehow could not bring up that I failed to devastatingly at curbing my Instagram use. Bored at work, check. Watching a great show like The Crown, check. A great weekend with my girlfriends, only trying to get that perfect picture, check. Thank you for this article!!! Downloading the In Moment app now.

  • Rachel Narowski

    I really like that MR published this article on the same day as Harling’s article on influencers. I think the primary reason I use Instagram is to see aesthetically pleasing images (Leandra’s visual stimulation idea), but I always end up feeling envious of other people. It’s easy to forget that many of the people to whom I’m comparing myself are simply working their full-time job; that they are paid to create this content and gifted things in exchange for creating it.

    My first instinct was to delete my Instagram app altogether, but maybe it’s just a matter of shifting my perspective. And downloading In Moment.

    • Kattigans

      I felt the envy part and also some FOMO/social anxiety that I came to think was being exacerbated by all my time on IG. I deleted the app for a week, made it through 7 days successfully and surprisingly didn’t really miss it that much. Dowloaded it again after the 7 days only bc I ended up wanting to look at something someone told me about. But the 7 days made a difference and I look at it way less.

  • Jessica S

    I’ve been trying to ween myself of off IG too, simply because I felt that the trajectory of my life was waaaay too affected by it. I felt like it was sucking up my individuality. The people I was following all seemed to be doing the same thing, wearing the same thing, saying the same thing, going to the same museums/restaurants/vacations for the sake of an IG post..which was making me feel like an asshole for not doing it too.

    It finally hit me me one day last summer when I bought a pack of La Croix (because who tf wasn’t drinking La Croix and posting it on Instagram last summer) knowing damn well I DESPISE seltzer/soda water. I popped open a can and of course i thought it was disgusting…and I just sat there like “…why the f**k did I even buy these?” lol. I know its a pretty insignificant reason but it just made me realize how much of a follower I’ve turned into because of an app. Idk, I hate to be corny, but i just want to go back to living my life for myself and not for the validation of 35 Instagram likes.

    • Jessica S

      and also can i just say (and i know this is sorta off topic lol) but IF I NEVER SEE ANOTHER PICTURE OF SOMEONE AT THAT GODFORSAKEN MUSEUM OF ICE CREAM IT WILL BE TOO SOON

  • Maria

    My friends tease me with having a no-brand brand, as they call it, since I’m on no social media. I deleted my Instagram account 3 years ago while interning at a huge fashion company in Chinatown, NY. I deleted it after a close friend of mine said I was the person she knew who had “the most Instagrammable life” and I remember having a physical reaction to that. I honestly think my life and brain has benefitted so much from not being on social media. I primarily deleted my account for my own mental health since I know I can’t be on it without caring about likes and followers, and the thought of putting any value on these actions and making my happiness depend on other people’s actions seemed so unhealthy and crazy to me. I know my life is great regardless of the recognition I get online. The other side of this is also that I know I’m a privileged person with a great life, and why would I want to share my life with the possibility of making someone else sad about their own because they don’t have the same resources or whatever as I do? Since deleting my social media, I feel like my relationships with friends have gotten so much more meaningful and better. I’m honestly so happy I’ve done it.

  • Xenita

    Deleting instagram off my phone has helped a lot. I can still get my fix on the big PC screen but it’s a bit less high tech than the mobile version

  • Morgan

    I definitely think that Instagram has made my life both better and worse. But I’ve also discovered recently that the reason for both of those things is the same; I go to Instagram strictly for inspiration (fashion, home, etc.) and I follow a lot of influencers for that reason. However, as much as they give me great inspiration, I think they also cause me to panic a bit because my life doesn’t reflect theirs (which I’ve begun to hold to such an ideal and goal for myself). So withdrawing from Instagram definitely helps and I find that buying books (which I do quite often) that are focused on art, self expression, fashion, culture, etc. help me satisfy my need to scroll in a healthier, more “learning” type way.

  • M Rae

    Ive established a pretty happy medium… i deleted it off my phone a few weeks ago but still keep the app on an ipad at home… its a bit clunkier to use but prevents hours of mindless scrolling. mostly because if you support an ipad with your pinkie for hours, you get a hand cramp. i definitely get more sleep now.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I just want to say that my brain literally did start to think my phone was an appendage and I started to be able to feel itches on my phone just as if it were my leg. I would scratch my phone and get no relief and then scratch again. I obviously felt nothing since my phone wasn’t actually connected to my nervous system and I couldn’t actually feel the scratching. It felt like my phone had a rash

  • Instagram is the one app I cannot escape. I’ve had about 4 accounts since it came to the forefront. The first I amassed 2,000+ followers and deleted because I felt like too many people were looking into my life (I was still in high school). The second, third, and fourth I deleted after breakups, through eras of depression, eras of change. I finally have an account that I think I’m keeping and I barely post on it (I’ve pretty much turned my story into a mood board).

    I also have my business account, so that’s where I spend most of my time on IG now. I get excited about posting my work, not because I think it’ll get a lot of likes, but because I’m proud of what I’ve created. It’s all about perspective.

    I took advanced social media in college and we had to write about how and why we use social media. I use Instagram mostly for inspiration.. I love finding new artists, photographers, small businesses through Instagram. But that feeling of insecurity is almost unavoidable. I’ve literally unfollowed people who I only felt worse about myself from looking at them. Which says more about me than them.. but it’s important to know when to step back.

    Don’t take it too seriously.

  • Pandora Sykes

    Leandruh try a new book by Dr Catherine Price called How To Break Up With Your Phone. It’s super constructive and not remotely preachy. I read it for a feature in this month’s UK Elle about my 2 week Instagram detox and our Instagram brains

  • Sacred & Profane Designs

    Lesson #4: Using Instagram when I’m bored perpetuates the possibility of unnecessary purchasing – oh yes indeed (sad face)….

  • Laura McGinley

    Can we also talk about the being on Instagram while in the bathroom sitting on the toilet problem?

    Very guilty.

  • FGG

    I think of Instagram like alcohol. Most people can handle it and maintain their sanity by either enjoying a buzz of great inspiration or simply riding the comfort of relaxation after a long day by way of scrolling. Other people (me) are the people that get a glimpse, become consumed, and unknowingly let it affect their own well-being and eventually their relationships. I know, I know. It sounds all too dramatic. Probably because it is and I am. But if you let me stretch it further I’d acknowledge that the Instagram using community is a lot like the alcohol using community these days in that technically most of us are probably addicts but because it’s the norm….the label gets a pass.
    And just so you know! Or in case I didn’t convey my feelings right… I think Insta is wonderful! If I could participate. I would! I think it can be a completely positive thing if used in a healthy way.

  • Carmen Jny (carmitive)

    Your lessons really made me smile! I gave a non-social-media-day a try some weeks ago and I have to say, I felt so relieved and I suddenly had time for so many other things. So I can absolutely relate. Maybe we should do those kind of breaks all more often. I don’t think Instagram is bad at all, it’s just about finding the balance and focus on other things in life as well.
    xxx, Carmen – http://carmitive.com

  • All TRUE!! You could not put it better.
    I find myself before couple of weeks in the same brainstorming when I read one article where one Monsieur ( some sort of media specialist ) said something like we are all, plus part addicted to social media and we just scroll for ‘ reward ‘, satisfaction..you nicely put it up Leandra, and also he said that we sacrifice our self for next generation ( because they will know better how to use it..my conclusion )
    And I was just like scrolling in one hand and brainstorming in other, thinking, I don’t sacrifice for non ONE man!
    And how I really don’t like the idea to go from one extreme to another, to quit social media, I decide to punish myself (like a parent punish child ) and I said myself you can check app just two times per week, Wednesday and Sunday, and that don’t mean that you will be all day scrolling, but took a time and seriously put your nose there what interest you and then shut for that day.
    ok. Let’s do it. But what I will do whit all this time left?!
    Next day I took a train from my place to see the orthodontiste, the drive last about 30 min. I decided to go buy some cool magazines, I did not want nothing fashion like, but some interesting and cool stuff to read, which is also not a book. I find some National Geographic hors series + Geo magazines all in french, not my first language, but i read it till last pages. Which I didn’t success with book.
    Also when I have free time for my fingers, I go to Safari and go straight to page National Geographic see beautiful picture and read something interesting, or go to MR to see what’s new, or go to Cup of Joe ( I heard it hear) or just browse stuff on wikipedia about history, religion, everything what cross my mind, and I have not end with more questions and stuff they I don’t have clue for.
    Now already passed maybe a month already when I punished myself and I did it good. I feel much better. I really could be productive with my work + watch people on the streets + what s new on shop windows + watch movie in my room from beginning to the end + read entire magazine + took pose in a day actually for just eat something + make big walk in vineyards, near the lake or in the forest, don’t shake when training for kung fu will be over because I miss that world turn around, I actually didn’t missed one training which I have tree times per week!

    Et voila and write this post for joy of sharing!