In this post I will dive deeper into how we resolve the first hurdle in overcoming internet addiction. The first hurdle being to:
“Decrease the amount of time you spend doing highly engaging things on the internet”
If you’re not familiar with this idea, I recommend you take a look at my previous blog post before you read this one. You could also substitute the word internet with any other unwanted technology habit and my tips will still apply.
To take back control over how much time we spend looking at screens, we have to take back control over when we START using the device (The Starting Problem) and also when we STOP using the device (The Stopping Problem).
Resolving the Starting Problem
When one is addicted to their device, they no longer make a conscious choice to start using their device. Rather, the usage happens automatically. However, just because it is automatic today, doesn’t mean that there’s no way to take back control. In the moments leading up to picking up your device, you are often in need of something. Knowing what that something is, serves as a key step to solving the Starting Problem.
This is where practicing self-awareness comes in very handy.
Firstly, we need to be aware of when the negative behaviour is about to begin. The first time you try to catch yourself in the act, you’re probably going to catch yourself too late. This isn’t a bad thing. By failing, you’re giving yourself more motivation to eventually succeed. Keep trying and you’ll get to a point where you’ll finally be able to catch the beginning of your unhealthy technology routine before it happens.
Once you’ve noticed that the self-detrimental digital habit is about to begin, I’d recommend that you ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What will using my device fulfill for me? What’s missing? Am I sad? Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I lonely? Do I need attention? Do I need love?
- Will I hold myself back in some way if I decide to wait 24 hours (or whatever length of time you think you’re capable of) until I do this?
- Is there another way I could complete this task without using my device?
Regarding the First Set of Questions:
Needs, we all have them. Often times we develop unhealthy technology habits when we use technology to meet some kind of unfulfilled need. Unfortunately, in the process of doing this, we end up making using the technology the need itself. Luckily, we can undo this misstep with lots of patience, self-compassion, and self-awareness.
Take some time to really ponder these questions. Don’t hold anything back. Now is not the time to lie to yourself. The more honest with yourself you are, the more effective this technique will be.
Once you’ve identified the unfulfilled need(s) you have when you go to pick up your device, it’s time to figure out a new set of healthy activities you can replace with the unwanted technology habits you’ve developed.
A quick way to do this is to reflect on past life experiences where these needs were met without the use of technology. These are the experiences you’re going to want to reintroduce into your life when the urge to grab your device submerges you.
Otherwise, you can just try new things and test them out to see how effective they are. Once you’ve proven to yourself that the activity is an effective method of fulfilling your needs you can start regularly incorporating it into your life accordingly.
With practice, the chain of events leading up to harmful technology usage will now look something like this:
I feel sad and am unaware of my sadness à I start to grab my phone to access YouTube à I notice I am grabbing my phone to access YouTube à I ask myself “Why do I want to access YouTube?” à I notice I am sad à I turn off my device and go on a long walk instead (a healthy activity which I’ve already proven is capable of relieving my sadness) à I get on with life
Regarding the Second Question:
This question is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t need to do something within the next 24 hours, then you certainly don’t need to do it now.
There are going to be times when you trick yourself into believing that accessing some useless app or website is something your urgently need to do right now. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out if that really is the case:
- Between now and when I go to sleep, what are my top 3 most important tasks to complete? Is the time I’m spending on this app/website helping me to achieve those tasks?
- Suppose I choose to look at that app/website. Is there at least ONE action I will take based on the information I acquired from that app/website between now and when I go to sleep?
If it turns out that you were kidding yourself, you can either choose to not do the task at all or write it down on a to-do list to complete later. By delaying the rewarding event to a later time, you’re helping yourself immensely by breaking the cycle of instant gratification.
Regarding the Third Question:
Many of us have gotten so used to using our high-tech computers and cellphones that we’ve completely forgotten that there are many low-tech alternatives for solving many of our day to day problems. One of the most versatile low-tech alternatives to the internet is this thing called a book. Before the internet, there were books. And nowadays, thanks to the positive side of the internet, you can find books on any topic you could ever dream of in milliseconds.
Another low-tech option is talking to real people. Mind blowing isn’t it. For the socially anxious like myself, this can be an extremely challenging thing to do, but my experiences have proven to show that by regularly exposing ourselves to what makes us most uncomfortable, we will eventually expand our circle of social confidence.
Resolving the Stopping Problem
Now we’ll tackle the problem where you have already started using your device to access that app or website you swore to yourself you wouldn’t look at. You’ve clearly overstayed your visit there, but you just don’t know how to stop.
The Stopping Problem is similar to the Starting Problem in that self-awareness is once again going to be your best friend here.
Unfortunately, when you’re caught in the trance like state screens tend to put us in, it’s unlikely you’re going to notice you’ve gone too far. You might be tempted to set some kind of timer before you start using your device, but in my experience, that’s an ineffective strategy. When someone is really far down the digital rabbit hole, not even that technique will work. You’ll simply turn the alarm off and get right back to the madness.
Your best bet is to attempt to take full advantage of the moments when your attention naturally breaks from the screen or you’ve already noticed you’ve been on your device for too long.
What usually happens in this moment is that you just go right back to whatever you were doing before because, well, that’s how addictions work. Luckily, by using the right techniques, it doesn’t have to be that way. To escape the sinkhole, you need to regain awareness of your body again. Here’s a list of ways you can go about doing that:
- Kick your feet
- If you’re sitting down, stand up. If you’re already standing up, take a few steps around the area
- Look behind you
- Hold down the power button of your device until it turns off. Once again, holding down a physical power button is another way to bring your attention back to your body
- Release your device from your hands and observe and play with your fingers
- If you’re using a laptop, close the laptop lid
- If you’re using a cell phone or tablet, turn it face down
At a glance, all these actions may appear to be useless, but when someone is truly stuck in a technology induced trance, even doing simple actions like those I’ve listed above can help them to refocus their attention to their body and away from their mind (which is precisely what technology engages the most).
An additional advantage of this technique is that you transform a very hard problem: “How do I stop wanting to abuse this digital cocaine?”, into a problem which is much easier to solve: “How I look turn my device off?.”. Before, you were attempting to try to NOT act like an addict in response to a product that was literally engineered to be additive. Now, you are simply attempting to do something as turn your device off, something you’ve done a million times before. When you find yourself caught in the digital sinkhole, all your mental energy should be dedicated to the successful completion of at least one of the simple tasks I’ve listed above (i.e. turning your device off). It’s a much easier goal to achieve compared to the latter task.
The key here is to get out of your head and back into your body. Once you’ve brought your attention back to your body again, it’s much easier to stop. If you actually have work you’re supposed to be doing on your device, take at least a 30 second break away from it after you’ve stopped. Only return to your device when you are confident you will not return to the distracting website(s) or app(s). If when you return, you find yourself in the place you told yourself you would not go, just rinse and repeat the process as many times as is necessary. Eventually, your inner addict is going to give up because you’ve refused to give it the satisfaction it desperately craves.
Another option you have is to use blocking software. In my experience, contrary to the label of this category of software, blocking software mostly serves as a reminder to stop rather than a method of stopping. This is because ALL blocking apps have various loopholes that any dedicated tech addict could figure out how to get access to. I know I have…
I’ve listed a bunch or blocking software options (along with other helpful apps) on my Tools page. In addition to that, we’re lucky to live in an age where tech giants like Apple and Google have finally found some value in helping their customers develop healthy technology habits. Thanks to the digital wellness movement, blocking software and other helpful features will come built-in with the newest editions of Android and iOS this year, Android P and iOS 12 respectively.
Given there is so much uncertainty involved in solving the Stopping Problem, my best advice would be to make solving the Starting Problem your top priority. As I stated in my previous post, the simple act of abstaining from your digital vices can often prove to be enough to lessen the effects they have on your autonomy. Successfully practicing digital abstinence, will require you to make resolving the Starting Problem your top priority.
In this post I outlined the BIG IDEAS you’ll need to familiarize yourself with in order to stop wasting time on the internet (and other addictive technologies). I’ll be sharing little hacks and such later on, but for now, I think that the information contained within this blog post serves as a solid foundation to help you in overcoming your digital addictions.