The people you follow, your Instagram feed, your Twitter feed, your Dribbble feed: these are all sacred, they’re your muse. For most people, that’s how they feel. I say, they are your shackles and your demise—you just don’t know it yet. Don’t worry, neither did I. It wasn’t until after deleting Instagram and Twitter that I began to experience how doing so made me more creative, and just how illusive inspiration actually is.
At the beginning of the year, I unfollowed roughly 500 people on Twitter until I was down to zero. This purge was done with the perspective of, if I truly miss following someone then I’ll just end up following them again. I went a few months following no one, but sending out thoughts and ideas to others when I wasn’t reciprocating the gesture felt strange, and so here I am now, following around 25 people. That’s 5% of the people I used to follow, and what’s great is, I look forward to seeing what each of those people write.
During the same time, I did something similar with Instagram, but rather than unfollowing everyone at once I would go through and unfollow groups of people over time until the number of people I was following dipped beneath 100.
Another place I cleared the slate so I could start clean was on Dribbble. The reason I’ve gone through all of these social media platforms and unfollowed so many people is because I had become addicted to the noise. I found myself intentionally distracting myself and excused my actions by suggesting it was all for inspiration. The truth is, I wasn’t being inspired, but I was certainly being influenced.
Despite my efforts to follow less people, I would find loop-holes to simply distract myself. On Twitter, I found that I would click through to people’s profiles, find recommended/similar people, and then scroll through their feeds. On Instagram, the new explore page has been the death of me. It is so easy to endlessly browse through their curated feeds and to see what’s going on in the trending tags. On Dribbble, I found myself continually clicking through to the popular page because I wasn’t following anyone.
I knew I was making these loop-holes for myself, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to get rid of the apps entirely because I feared I wouldn’t have any inspiration, and how else would I interact with the world? Reading the following quote by Chuck Close really helped change my perspective and ultimately gave me the push I needed:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.
If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to do an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.
Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” —Chuck Close
Knowing that I was creating intentional loop-holes to distract myself, reading this quote by Chuck Close, and then seeing my brother also making the jump to take Instagram and Twitter off of his phone, I decided to take make the commitment as well.
Whenever I post on Instagram, it’s easy to get caught up in checking in on my post to see if it is getting any engagement. Checking in every so often isn’t a bad thing, but doing so excessively definitely is. I found that I would use it as an excuse to continually distract myself. Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance, calls this unnecessary and compulsive checking up, “Insecurity Work.”
“Insecurity work is the stuff you do that has no intended outcome, does not move the ball forward in any way, and is quick enough that you can do it multiple times a day without realizing how much time is being wasted.
Your constant need for assurance becomes a shackle on your productivity. Work you can do that advances your projects is replaced by work that merely quells your anxiety. New technology and ubiquitous online access have made it even worse. Information that could make you feel more at ease is always at your fingertips, and therefore, you always have a desire to access it—again and again. Why? Because, deep down, we are always wondering what we are missing.” —Scott Belsky, Making Ideas Happen
Only by consciously acknowledging and labeling my Insecurity Work, am I able to become more self-aware and capable of overcoming it. In my case with Instagram, I planned to remove Instagram from my phone immediately after making a post so I wouldn’t get caught up in the statistics of it.
Doing so was a significant help; I was free of angst and my mind was cleared so that I could continue moving forward. I couldn’t check in on the stats so I no longer had to worry about them nor could I delay any progress on my work. You know what they say, out of sight—or in this case, out of reach—out of mind.
Without Instagram on my phone, I began to compensate for it by simply using Twitter more. This may seem like a never-ending battle and completely silly, but the truth is most people aren’t even aware of their mindless social media scrolling. When I realized that Twitter was making up for the absence of Instagram, I decided to delete that as well.
I don’t have any social media on my phone and it is taking some getting used to because I continually unlock my phone, in hopes of being able to distract myself, just to remember, there’s nothing on there for me. Every time I unlock my phone, it’s a reminder to be more intentional. There’s a time for getting work done, and there’s a time for socializing.
Many people may ask, “but how do you network?!” If you want me to be honest, networking is bullshit. The internet can certainly give you access to communicate with people all across the world, but what are you honestly going to do with that power? How much do you even invest in your own community? You have just as much, if not more, access to those people.
I say networking is bullshit because I’m more focused on growing as an individual and connecting with like-minded people along the way. Networking is a scam, but connecting and building meaningful relationships overtime is human.
While I no longer have Instagram or Twitter on my phone, I still use both of them. When I want to make a post on Instagram, I simply redownload the app, upload my post, and then delete the app afterwards. Twitter is much easier because I can tweet from my computer. Although I can technically scroll through my Instagram and Twitter feeds on my computer, I don’t because the experience isn’t nearly the same and it’s much easier to catch/stop myself.
With no social media on my phone and using Dribbble significantly less, I have become increasingly more creative and more action-oriented. I no longer use inspiration as a crutch to start working. Inspiration doesn’t fuel creation. Creating fuels more creating. When you start creating, the more momentum you build, the easier creating becomes, and ultimately the more inclined you become to create.
When you stop thinking you need inspiration and when you become less concerned with what others are doing, you will start to realize just how illusive inspiration really is and how much you can improve your craft by actually focusing on it.