I can always tell the days that I have spent too much time on social media (ahem.. *Facebook*)…
My brain is foggy.
It’s harder to concentrate.
I’m often grumpy and irritable.
And yet my thumb still reaches for that tiny blue square.
Is it because I’m lazy? Or I just want to ignore my kids? Maybe I need better screen time limits for myself?
Could it be because I’m *addicted*?
It seems everywhere you go online right now, you’re being told to get offline. The harm of being connected 24/7 and overusing screens is well known.
So why is it so hard to put the phone down.. and leave it there?
No, you’re not addicted to your phone
The dictionary definition of “addicted” is physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects.
So, I don’t know, maybe you are addicted. However, for most of us, I think “addicted” has become a catch all term that both undermines serious addiction and is entirely unhelpful when it comes to the phone problem.
The real problem
So then what? Why does my hand grab my phone and without even seemingly thinking, press that icon and start scrolling?
Here’s the thing, our brains love habit. Forget the path less traveled, our brains love the path well worn. Habit is the reason you can drive home while your mind is on a completely different topic and the reason you do a million other little things without even thinking about it.
Our brains love the well trodden path of the familiar. And, lets be honest, they are naturally a little lazy. If you have a brain that automatically would choose reading a heavy book over zoning out on Facebook – I want to know your secret!
Then, once you add in the fact that our brains love rewards, you’ve cemented that habit firmly in place. Cute cat video? Awww.. *burst of dopamine in the brain* Answer a question from a friend? I feel helpful! *burst of dopamine in the brain*
While scrolling social media, our brains *think* they are doing something, but in reality they aren’t. The well worn path is combined with positive feedback. We are stuck treading the same path without giving it much of a thought at all.
And when we do try and forge off path, it feels strange and unfamiliar. Our brains just want to get back on the normal track.
So what’s the solution then? How do we get off that path and forge a new one?
Well, this is where I have some bad news for you. There is no list of “5 easy hacks” to forming new habits. Forming habits is work. Often hard work.
A “hack” tells you to put a blocker on your phone or put it somewhere out of sight. A “hack” tells you to set limits for yourself. And while these hacks can sometimes be helpful, the problems is they do little to change the way our brains interact with our phones.
We notice this when the time limit is up, the blocker is removed, and the phone is back in our hands. We fall right back into old habits.
But the thing about recognizing the power of your habits is that change is doable. The word habit doesn’t have the kind of negativity attached to it that “addiction” does, so you are already one step ahead in the mental battle.
You can build new habits.
You have a choice.
Imagine you are at a fork in the road.
To the right is your current habit. The path is clear of obstructions. The road is level, the footing sure. It is easy to start down that path.
To the left, however, is new terrain. The path is so overgrown you can hardly see it is there. You can set down this path, but it’s going to take some ground work. However, the good news is, once that path is clear, you’ll have a new habit and a new easy path to tread.
5 “Non-Hacks” to build a new habit
So, I don’t have a hack for you, but I do have some ideas to get you started. We’ll call them “non-hacks.”
#1 A well worn path is well traveled
There is a reason they say that it takes 30 days to build a new habit. In order for your new path to be worn, you have to break it in. The more you walk that path, the more you clear it, the easier it will be to walk the next time.
Keep going. Or in this case, keep stopping. Stop posting, stop clicking, and stop scrolling. Go another way.
And when you inevitably turn down the old path, turn around and jump back on the new. Over and over and over.
#2 Replace old with new
If you wanted to improve your diet, you wouldn’t just get rid of the junk food. If you want to succeed with your new eating habits, you would also replace the junk food with new good food.
The same concept applies.
If you are going to change your phone habits, you need a replacer.
Now, there are a ton of things you can be doing instead of using your phone, but for the purpose of habit building you are going to want to pick something that is two things: 1) Simple and 2) Enjoyable.
Back to the diet example. If you are replacing your ice cream with something that is complicated to make and you don’t even like, what are the odds that you are going to stop eating ice cream? Not likely.
Pick a replacer that is easy to bounce your mind to. Instead of continuing to scroll, it might look like…
- Reading a page or two from an enjoyable book
- Telling a joke to your kids
- Refilling your drink cup with something yummy
- Turning on some uplifting music
The important thing is to keep it simple and just start with one, easy to remember replacer. Think of it like redirecting your toddler: “No, no, we can’t throw the blocks, but here is a ball you can throw.” The replacer gives just enough distraction to redirect your focus. The more you do the replacer instead, the less the other habit will have a hold on your brain.
#3 Find your triggers
One thing I’ve noticed is that there are certain triggers that cause me to more easily go to zoning out on Facebook. Things like being tired, bored, or overwhelmed. When you can recognize certain things that drive you towards zoning out on a screen, it is easier to fix the root cause.
Are you tired? Take a break that will refresh you.
I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down because I’m tired and zoned out on Facebook, leaving me more tired. Closing my eyes for ten minutes could have actually solved the real problem.
Are you overwhelmed? Face the feeling head on.
When I’m overwhelmed I often like to hide. If I can’t choose what to tackle first on the mile long to do list, I’ll just avoid everything. No matter how many times this backfires, it is still somehow a temptation! Resist it. Pray and then get after that to do list.
These are just a couple of my personal triggers. We all have different ones, but the point remains the same. The more you recognize them, the easier it gets to deal with them.
#4 Focus on the real FOMO
Speaking of triggers, once I started realizing mine I found one that seems kinda silly. But that’s the thing about triggers, even if they’re silly, they still do their thing.
Maybe you can relate though?
I found out I struggle with a serious case of social media FOMO.
Fear of missing out.
I would find myself wondering…
What’s going on on Facebook?
I wonder if anyone commented on my Instagram post?
I’m just going to check this group real quick to see if anyone needs anything…
As silly as it seems, the online world never seems to sleep and I was always wondering if there was something going on that I needed to know about.
Thankfully, once I realized this was a problem for me, I found a pretty easy solution.
Redirect the FOMO. Look at what is right in front of you.
I asked myself…
Do I want to miss out on a Facebook comment, or my baby’s sweet giggles?
Do I want to miss out on an interesting article, or my son’s cool Lego creation?
Do I want to miss out on what so and so is up to on Instagram, or miss out on a conversation with my husband over dinner?
Now, that’s some real FOMO.
#5 Find new rewards
I was reading a book completely unrelated to screen time, and it had one little snippet that wasn’t even the focus of that section of the book (It was The Law’s Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing btw – great book!). But that one little snippet totally caught my attention.
It said that the sense of wonder we get when we discover something new about the world gives us a release of dopamine in our brains.
That got me thinking.. if that gives us a dopamine punch, what else does?!
And if we can choose other activities that release dopamine, can we retrain our screen time loving brains to go after those things instead?
Here’s a list of some things that can give you a dopamine kick:
- Doing something creative
- Discovering something new
- Having a healthy snack
- Listening to music (combine with exercise for a dance party – my favorite!)
- Have some *special time* with your husband 😉
- Check something off your to do list
- Spend time in prayer
- Go outside in nature
Pick some of those to focus on and retrain your brain to find pleasure in these good habits!
You got this!
Alright, it’s time to start putting this stuff into action. This might not be easy, but it is so so worth it. Since I have started figuring out these things and putting them to practice, I haven’t gotten perfect (I’m still building these habits myself!) but it has gotten so much better. And the benefits of spending less time in front of a screen are endless.
Before you know it, you’ll be looking back and realizing you just went hours or even the whole day without the urge to pop onto your phone “real quick.”
I’d love to know how you are doing in building these new habits, so leave a comment, shoot me an email, or come hang out on the Steadfast Family Facebook page (hey, the nice thing about building these habits is you have control over spending some time on social media, cause it isn’t all bad!)
One last thing for you, I made this fun flow chart to help you start thinking through how you are spending your time on social media and the triggers that drive you there. I hope it helps to give you some ideas!
(Click on the image below to open a PDF)
Happy habit building!