He had become a social media addict. He didn’t realize how much time he was spending on social media sites until one day he noticed that his hands would launch the pages in his browser automatically, before he was conscious of what they were doing. He would check Facebook and Twitter at the bus stop, in the bathroom, at dinner, and he would leave the browser open at work. He also noticed a creeping depression that was making him feel less connection socially rather than more. Online friends seemed to have time to contribute little rewarding hits of dopamine via the “like” button, but they were always too busy to show up in person. It seemed that everyone was posting pictures of good times out in the real world, and he was feeling sorry for himself spending all his time scrolling through their pictures on his phone.
Finally, after reading a news article on social media and depression, he woke up. This was an addiction. And, as he learned later, it took root where he had an unmet emotional need.
When is social media a problem?
- When you struggle with mental or physical health issues as a consequence of the behavior and/or the inability to stop;
- When you experience difficulties in significant relationships at home or productivity at work because the behavior is so disruptive;
- When you are unable to stop engaging in the behavior, despite the consequences and your desire to stop.
Sometimes, the problem does not result in the disruptive drama that the above description suggests. Instead, you find yourself not having enough time to do all the activities that you would like to do with your life. It takes you longer than expected to get your work done. You blew off going to the gym so that you could meet your work deadlines. You keep putting off getting back into your hobby. Where are you spending all your time?
The first step is to measure your behavior. Apple has included a tool called Screen Time in their latest version of software for the iPhone. There are third party apps, such as QualityTime and Moment, available for both iPhone and Android. For your laptop or desktop, consider Webtime Tracker or RescueTime to track which applications and web sites are getting most of your attention. Track yourself for a week before coming to any conclusions or making changes. This is your baseline.
The results can be downright scary, and quite motivating.
Did you know that the average person spends over 85 hours a month on their phone alone? That doesn’t include time on a computer for work or school. Isn’t it time that you intentionally reclaim your life?
The next step is to make a decision regarding how you would like to spend your time. For many people, the news is a bigger problem than social media, especially during an election cycle or when there is crisis. What do you consider a reasonable amount of time to consume media, whether social or news?
Next, motivate yourself by creating a list of what you would rather do with the difference between your goals and your actual time use. Never have time to exercise? Why not steal that 45 minutes a day from the time you are spending on your News app and Twitter?
Now comes the hard part: implementing behavioral change. Here are some tricks that might help.
- The same tracking tools listed above have locks to help you limit your behavior. Only want to spend 30 minutes a day on news? Only want to go to Twitter at the end of the work day? Lock yourself out with time windows and/or time limits. Remove apps from your phone, limiting your engagement to the web.
- Trick your brain by making social media boring. One great trick for Facebook is to unfollow everyone. Start with the people who come up too frequently in your feed, or those who post content that you really don’t care about. Do this with a few people, groups, and pages every day. Eventually, your feed will become very boring. Without even trying, you will stop going to that page. You can avoid the drama of announcing that you are taking a break. You won’t need to unfriend people or deactivate your account. You have simply eliminated the rewards that feed your behavior. If you really want to check in with a friend, you can CHOOSE to go to their page, rather than being enticed by a clever algorithm.
- Figure out what need social media serves for you. Often, loneliness or attention-seeking are the result of relational or attachment issues. The wounds suffered during your childhood may yield a sense of insufficiency so that you seek fulfillment through online relationships. ADHD and procrastination may be the result of brain dysregulation.
Recognize that your friends may be resistant to your goals because of their own unmet needs. You may have to set new boundaries. It can be a difficult balance because while it is important to maintain friendships, it is also important to be mindful of how you are spending your time so that you are living an intentional life.
If a friend notices that you haven’t been engaging in an online community and tries to get your attention with a direct message, explain to them that you are making some important changes in your life and you would appreciate their support. It is not a reflection on a change in your friendship, but that you need to prioritize your health and quality of life.
Be careful that online activity does not simply shift from one platform to another. For example, friends may decide that they want to join you off social media, too, and then continue the same volume of communication in email or text. These messages typically arrive through the same applications as work or home communications, making it difficult to place technological limits on apps due to the need to be responsive to clients, kids, and spouses.
Let’s face it – we are all Pavlov’s dog, and the notification light is the new bell.
If friends don’t respect your new boundaries or have their own issues with self-regulation, you may need to train them (Pavlov’s dog again) by only rewarding responses to those messages you deem appropriate to your new communication style. You may need to let them know that you only allocate a certain number of minutes each day to personal email. Apply rules to redirect their emails to folders for you to respond to later.
(With text messages, the only technological option is to block their number; this seems a bit harsh, so hopefully it will not be necessary.)
Monitor and reward yourself for changes in your behavior. Congratulations on taking charge of your screen time and your life! This was not an easy thing you just did.
- Write down all the activities that you were able to accomplish with your reclaimed time and place them in a prominent location, so you can remind yourself what you have gained.
- Go do something nice for yourself. Get a massage. Go see a show.
- Meet or call your friends every month or so to maintain those friendships. Show them your performance stats, thank them for their help, and create new memories together in the real world!
Do you still need help? That’s what we do!
Are you having trouble sticking to the plan because of attention issues? Let’s do some neurofeedback to improve your focus.
Do you feel lonely and disconnected? Let’s talk about the internal dialog that is holding you back.
Do you need an accountability partner? We gotcha! Give us a call to set up an appointment.
We are here to help you to develop the tools to be successful in building an intentional and happy life.