7 Suggestions for a Great Internet Fast

February 7, 2010 | 30 comments

Not a week goes by that I don’t think about how much that computer fast I did back on October has benefited me. Going an entire week without the “noise” of the internet gave me the space I needed to take a good look at where I was in my life, think and pray more, reorganize my days to put my computer-related activities in their proper places, and recognize the ways that my computer (the internet in particular) was both positively and negatively impacting my life.

As Lent approaches I’ve heard some other people say they’re considering doing something similar, so I thought I’d offer my suggestions for having a fruitful internet fast:

1. Consider expanding the fast to include all texting and computer use

At first I was only going to fast from the internet, but I realized that I tended to get way too sucked into my computer any time I was on it, even if I was working offline. Shutting down my computer altogether really helped give me the mental space I needed to focus on other things for a while. (Obviously, those of you who have jobs that involve computer use wouldn’t be able to do this completely, but it might be worth considering not using the computer outside of business hours, not using it at work for recreational purposes, etc.)

I also included texting from my phone in the fast; that kind of constant influx of information and incessant communication was the main thing that I was trying to get away from.

2. Push the limits of how long you think you can be offline

When the idea of not using my computer at all for a whole week first came to mind, it sounded impossible. Maybe it’s because of my high tech background, but my computer is like an appendage of my body. My primary method of communication with friends and family is email, I keep up with current events through news websites, I like to keep my blog updated, I read other blogs to relax every day, etc. But more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that maybe — just maybe — the world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t have a computer for a week…and that I desperately needed a reminder of that fact.

A week might not be the right time period for everyone, but whatever amount of time seems right for you, I recommend challenging yourself to go a little longer than you think you can go.

3. Set reasonable exceptions

Since the goal of the fast was to reduce stress, I decided to set some reasonable exceptions. The infrastructure of my life assumes that I have computer and internet access, so there were certain situations in which the stress caused by not using my computer would outweigh the benefits. For example, our entire bill-paying system is set up to run through Quicken; I decided that if I needed to pay a bill during the fast I could get on my computer for that since it would cause me a lot of stress in the long run to have to go back and re-enter the data from bills I’d paid manually.

The two parameters I recommend for exceptions are: 1) Set the exceptions ahead of time and try not to add new ones on the fly, and 2) if possible, try to use another computer (i.e. one that doesn’t have all your stuff on it so you’ll be less likely to get sucked in).

4. Plan ahead

As your fast approaches, make note of any key information you have on your computer or online accounts that you might need. Before going offline I printed out some recipes and phone numbers, and sent an email to friends and family members to give them my phone number in case they needed to contact me that week.

5. Be open about it

One of the things that made it work for me was that I was open about what I was doing. As I mentioned above, I sent an email out to people with whom I regularly text/email and told them that I was going to be offline for a week, and gave them my alternate contact information. I happened to go to a social event during the fast, and when someone I met said she’d follow up with me by email, I explained why it would be a few days before I could get back to her. (As an aside, I was amazed by the positive responses I got. People were very interested to hear about what I was doing, and many enthusiastically commented that they’d like to do something like that themselves.)

6. Keep a journal

I found that keeping a journal was key for articulating what I was learning, and then implementing those lessons once the fast had ended. Some suggested questions for reflection:

  • What are the circumstances during which I’m most tempted to get online? What does that say about how and why I use the internet?
  • What am I doing with the time I normally spend online? What are the fruits of those activities compared to the fruits of being online?
  • When the fast is over, how can I restructure my life to minimize the negative ways that the internet impacts my life while maximizing the positive?

I also found this to be the perfect opportunity to do a lot of high-level life reflection, e.g. examining whether or not I was really living according to the values I claimed to hold dear, how I was doing as a wife, mother and Christian, etc.

7. Consider including other types of “fasts” as well

While you’re unplugged from the internet, it might be worth considering unplugging in other ways as well. Especially if you’re not fully able to get away from computers and the internet because of work, you might want to consider:

  • No artificial lights after sundown. We did this once, and I was amazed at how much I grew from the experience (I wrote about it here).
  • No television.
  • Limiting phone calls to certain times of day.
  • Any other suggestions?

Again, I can’t recommend some kind of computer/internet/texting fast highly enough. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s my post about all the cool things I learned during my fast in October.

While we’re on the subject of Lent and fasting, I’d love to know: Have you ever done a “fast” (broadly defined) that was particularly fruitful? If so, tell us about it!


  1. Tienne

    Jen, this is so timely! I'm just discerning giving up the internet for Lent, and so your post comes at just the right moment.

  2. Anonymous

    In regard to #5 about being open about it…social psychology would back you up on this one. As humans, we are more likely to follow through with something once we've told another person about our plan/goal. It has to do with feeling accoutable. If we tell another person about something and fail to do it, not only do we let ourselves down but we risk some form of judgment from others. So anything that you really want to accomplish: tell the world about it and you will be that much more motivated!

  3. Michelle

    God led me to your blog tonight. I have been praying and thinking about what my fast would be this upcoming lent. I have noticed that I have spent far too much time on the internet over the last year or so. The birth of my son in January '09 was the beginning of it (what else to do during those middle of the night feedings?) But he is over 1 now and there are no more middle of the night feedings, yet, my internet time is still "up there". Thank you for this.

    I think an internet fast is just what I need. I think a Lenten internet fast. Of course, I do work where I will have to use it for work…but it will definitely be a sacrifice to give up recreational use at work (and take my lunch away from my desk!) My blog will most likely take a hit, but that's ok…I can do a few posts on Sundays to make it through Lent…

    Anyway…thank you so much for this post! I really needed it!

  4. Melanie B

    Once I gave up television for Lent. I had been in the habit of having it on as background noise while I tried to do school work. Even when I wasn't interested in what was on next, I'd keep watching from inertia, lacking the ability to just switch it off. A fast was just what I needed to come to terms with that and thereafter I have no taste for having a tv on as background noise. I turn it on to watch a specific show and then turn it off.I also have a rather higher standard for what shows I will watch. With all the time I freed up from not watching television, I found it much easier to make time for prayer. I didn't stay up until I was overtired as often and then find myself too tired to pray at bed time.

    Then few years ago I decided to fast from reading novels. For some people I know that wouldn't be a big deal; but I was tending to read as escapism and it was interfering with my ability to work and to pray. I decided I'd read only spiritual works. I made my way through some great books and again broke some bad habits, leaving more time for prayer and spiritual reading.

    I'm really tempted to do an internet fast this Lent but am not sure about whether it's even feasible to do it for 40 days. At the same time just doing it for a week seems somehow like wimping out.

  5. Roxane B. Salonen

    There have been Lents that I have written notes (snail mail) to people who have brightened my life. Someone had done this for me once and it made my day to receive it, and since I'm a writer, it seemed a natural sacrificial undertaking. It was sometimes hard keeping up with it — my goal was a daily note. But I loved making time to tell everyone who had reached out in a special way to me how much those gestures had meant to me. Their unanticipated thoughts back reminded me how important it is for us to verbalize to our special people just how appreciative we are. It also challenged me to think beyond my usual list and reach out to those who might truly be surprised, but who had in fact changed my life for the better. Sometimes, I would write these during weekly Adoration — another commitment I try to make during Lent. I'm also planning some adjustments to my online time, but will not be cutting myself off altogether. One year I did that to the extreme and I was miserable. Your thought to be realistic about it is sound. But I also would attest to the benefits, and look forward to letting go a bit here.

  6. Pete Hoge

    I make sure that I have prayed
    and read from the Gospels
    before getting online.

    The same at night when I return
    from daily wanderings.

    This summer I did a water/juice
    fast without solid food for
    48 hours, twice, and then
    frequent 24 hour fasts.

    I learned to eat properly and
    still work on it; heeding St.
    Paul's statement that we are
    temples for the Holy Spirit to
    dwell in.

    Also as Jesus says, " the
    eye is the lamp of the body"

    I like this entry; you sound
    so organized.


  7. Mindyleigh

    I had an internet fast for about two months recently in my home. We couldn't afford to keep paying the high speed internet bill and after a couple weeks of using an impossibly slow dial-up, that went by the wayside. This was one of the most profound times of my life. My intimacy with Jesus grew by leaps and bounds. I think back upon this period frequently and feel rather sad that I'm not more willing to boot the internet out of my house for good, but I opted to turn it back on when we were able because of the convenience factor (online banking, etc.). This post of yours is inspiring me to think anew about how to bring back this "fast" but in a way that's more sustainable in the long term. Or maybe the key is to shorten it and do it for a predetermined period. Either way, thanks!

  8. Anonymous

    About 4 years ago I had a bad e-Bay habit. I was buying vintage magazines every week spending much time perusing the pages and pages of vintage Vogue and Harper's Bazaar daily.

    I decide to go on an e-Bay fast for Lent. I never went back! It wasn't part of my daily schedule anymore and it just disappeared. Who knows how much money I have saved too?

  9. Susan L

    This may sound a little trivial but I have this strange addiction to Spider solitaire on the computer. I offered it up for the soul of someone I loved very much who died recently. I gave up playing that silly game with the exception of Sundays and Holy Days.

    You know, it's tough. I know it's silly but it really is a sacrifice for me.

    I may not be able to give up the internet for a whole week. I'll think about that one. One step at a time. Maybe I'll just limit myself to an hour a day.

  10. Karyn

    We went on an electricity fast after sundown during the summer (figured it was better to try it out during the longer days). It was fruitful in more ways than one – we're now expecting our fourth. I realize that part of the reason people back then had larger families was because you went to bed earlier and had more time for snuggling!

  11. Colleen

    Wow, you are a strong woman!!!

  12. Therese Z

    I gave up watching some particularly trashy shows (like Cops) for Lent one year, and never went back. Once the habit was broken, I am only occasionally tempted when I click by it, and I can immediately feel that the temptation is not a healthy one, just an opportunity for voyeurism and feeling superior.

    I have failed at every other fast I've tried, but I will try again this Lent, and wait for His Grace instead of grabbing at whatever it is I want without checking.

  13. Diva Mom Vicki

    Last year for Lent I fasted from talk radio and television news. It was one of the most fruitful fasts I've ever taken on. After the initial withdrawal I found myself much less stressed and much more tuned in to my children! So much so that I haven't listened to talk radio since.

    This Lent I'm fasting from the internet except for 30 minutes after my children go to bed. Lord, give me strength!

  14. JR

    I saw the post title in my RSS feed and the techie in me was all excited. Once I read a little bit I realized you meant fast as in Lent, not as in mbps or browser tweaks. I haven't thought much about lent yet. Do you think it's a sign?

  15. Little M

    I have been trying, rather unsuccessfully, to do a media (TV, internet) fast on Sundays. The effort is making me aware of my addiction and is at least making me decrease my time spent on these things.

  16. Christian H

    Something I did while writing papers, during which I needed to use the computer almost constantly but found it way too easy to get distracted, was set tight time or site limits. For instance, I would have a complete Facebook embargo, or specify that I could only go on certain sites, like research-oriented databases (and only relevant ones, meaning that looking up pictures of cool bugs does not count as research).

    On top of this, I would set parameters for e-mail use, namely that I could only reply to e-mails that specifically requested a response, and at that I was limited to 20 minutes a day. In no other way was I allowed to use e-mail.

    This meant that almost all of the Internet was off-limits, and those few bits that weren't had tight rules and time constraints. While certainly not a fast, in required that I learn to procrastinate in other ways…

  17. geomama1

    I teach online courses, so I can't give up the internet entirely. I have "fasted" during Lent in past years and found that it helped me discern what was really worth reading. I visit so many sites out of habit rather than any real spiritual or intellectual benefit. This year I'm trying to get a new cooperative blog off the ground, but I'm limiting my non-work online time to 15 minutes a day.

  18. Stefanie

    I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this here before, but on Wednesdays (my Adoration Day), I do a 24-hour fast from phones, computers, t.v. –but not people. After four years of this, MOST of my co-workers, family, friends remember if they want to talk to me on Wednesdays, they have to come visit me in the Adoration Chapel or schedule time with me before Wednesday so I'll know when to meet them.

  19. peaceliving

    I love this post. I tried a little "slow down" last October and was so blessed by the changes. Of course, a few months later and I seem to more connected and have sped back up more than I'd like. I really want to try something like this soon. I like the idea of keeping a journal to identify what I'm learning.

  20. Rachel Gray

    A plain old bread and tea fast on Fridays is a great one for me. One unexpected benefit is that I don't have to spend any time obsessing about what I'm going to allow myself to eat. My mind is quieter and I get more accomplished.

  21. Abbey

    I just did without my computer for twelve days while I was in another state taking care of my mother. I only missed it a small handful of times. I stayed very busy and accomplished a LOT! I think I need to focus on "moderation" . . . small doses. Perhaps during Lent, I can commit to only one day per week. I don't text or tweet, so my blog is my most favorite thing that I use on the internet. I hope I would be missed . . .

  22. Maggie Dee

    Thanks for posting this. I'm giving up blogs and all non-work related internet use for Lent.

    I realize that I've been spending way too much time getting sucked into the wonderful world of craft blogs, catholic blogs, food blogs, etc.

    I think I'm going to be surprised with how much time I "find" to accomplish other tasks. 🙂

  23. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    As always, a though-provoking post, Jen.

    You'll never know how much I appreciate you…

    All's grace

  24. Peter and Nancy

    I did an open-ended fast from novels a few years ago. I noticed that I was not reading the Bible at all, but I was spending lots of time reading fiction. (Not that there's anything wrong with that — just that it had crowded out God.) When I could hear the Holy Spirit telling me it was okay to pick up novels again, it had been 7 months (glad I didn't know it would be that long when I began!).

    It was good to have my crutch taken away, and good to spend time praying even to *want* to read the Bible/be with God more often. . . and then actually do it.

  25. Miłość

    Wonderful post. I read it yesterday, and I've been struggling with the idea of giving up my computer for Lent. I've actually been thinking for the past few weeks of giving up facebook, but this is bigger, and better. At first I tried to brainstorm other ideas of things I'd rather give up, or things that wouldn't be so "impossible" to go without (which is totally not the point), but I had this nagging feeling because I knew that God wanted me to give up my big timewaster. So I'm setting exceptions (schoolwork, blogs, any religious sites I go on) and hopefully I grow a lot from the experience. So thank you for your insight 🙂

  26. Laura@Life, Faith, Home, School

    I gave up facebook for Lent last year, and I feel like, even now, FB has lost "the hold" it seemed to have on me. I realized, too, that it wasn't just facebook itself that was bad — I was using it as an escape from the daily grind here at home with the kiddos. I also think I will do some sort of media fast this Lent, but have not decided what it will be yet – thanks for the encouragement to discern further!

  27. Lacey

    Last March, my husband and I had our hardwood floors redone in our old house, so that meant we had to be out of the house the whole day. What the heck we were going to do on a Saturday with no internet or TV and nothing else planned to do?? Well, we ended up having the best 'date' day ever! We left the house at 8:30am, went for breakfast at MacDonalds (with all the seniors….hehehe), and from there we went all around our city, picking random things to do on a whim. It was awesome!! It was mostly a media-free day with no internet, phones, TV, etc. We had no obligations to be anywhere, no time deadlines….we just had to be back at the house by 6:30pm when the guys were finished with the floors. It was one of the most authentic days we've ever had, and we're thinking of doing another media-free Saturday this spring….just pick a random Saturday and spend the day around the city.

  28. 'Becca

    This is great advice for arranging a successful fast!

    My two most successful Lenten fasts have been meat in 2002 and the snooze alarm in 2008. Both made permanent changes in my habits.

    You make a good point about texting. I've been noticing on an almost daily basis that many cell phone users look like they could benefit greatly from fasting from the cell phones altogether. I've never had one myself; here's how I survive!

    I agree with the anonymous point about the social psychology of #5, but I find it's important for me to talk about my fasting only when really necessary–for example, when I wasn't eating meat and someone invited me for dinner. If I just use it as a topic of conversation, I may slide into sort of bragging about it, something Jesus warned against! So I keep the fast to myself as much as possible until Easter and THEN talk and write about it.

  29. Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft

    Hi – I have often thought about doing this. Just this week, in fact, so odd that I should read this here.

    I also think I'm in a very similar place to where you were pre-conversion. I feel there is a God. I am Catholic already. But I don't KNOW. I can't say for sure. And with so much going on in my life now, I NEED Him.

    It hit me today, reading your conversion story, that I can't go along based on "feeling" it anymore. As humans, we feel a lot of things that aren't necessarily the truth. I need the TRUTH. I need God. And I need to know, on a reasonable, if not on a factual "this is proof" level, that He really is the way, the TRUTH and the light.

    Living in this waffling half mast land, I'm going nuts.

    I admire you. I admire your honesty. And so, as a writer myself who has always aligned her career with other good novelists as a kind of mentor/smart move, I'd like to ask you, if you don't mind, to say a prayer for me. Why should I be left in the cold? Isn't it possible that God has room for me also? And more than that, for of course He does, isn't it reasonable to think that I can more than feel his love, but KNOW it's there?

    Thanks. I don't normally ask strangers to pray for me. But hey, I could use one today. Thanks.



  1. Overachiever Part 2 « Simply Sarah - [...] Completing an Internet Fast and getting a passport are two of my 101 in [...]

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