Five Ways to Manage Your Social Media Addiction

This blog entry is from our guest author: Bernie Gourley (Writer and Yoga Teacher)

I’m not suggesting that one needs to do away with checking email and social media. These are great tools that allow us, potentially, to be much more productive than without them. But a major problem with an addiction so invoked is that it can stand in the way of entering repeatedly into Flow states with one’s work, family, or hobby activities.

Addiction? That seems harsh. It feels like I’m equating a person who has his phone in hand several times every hour with a heroin junky or a nymphomaniac. Yes, but the difference is in the word “manage.” I wouldn’t write a post with a title “How to Manage Your Heroin Addiction.” I’d write one called, “Quit that Shit before It Kills You.”

I’m not suggesting that one needs to do away with checking email and social media. These are great tools that allow us, potentially, to be much more productive than without them.

Still, if we’re honest about it, most of us at some point get caught up in the compulsive checking of emails, social media, internet feeds, click-bait sites, the sale pages of online retailers, and stats pages. There’s no denying it. A pile of evidence has accumulated about the extent to which people are dismayed by their own e-world activities.

I just started reading Kotler and Wheal’s “Stealing Fire” (out February 21, 2017). They cite a study that found that about two-thirds of those surveyed admitted checking their status page when they woke up in the middle of the night. It might seem an off topic for a book about the altered states of consciousness to report on such matters. It is not so because the book is all about the pursuit of a neurochemical bump. (A major problem with an addiction so invoked is that it can stand in the way of entering repeatedly into Flow states with one’s work, family, or hobby activities.)

Be that as it may, here are five methods I’ve found useful in my own on-going struggle with my email and social media addiction:

1.) Set a timer

The problem with the above-type of addiction is that when one habitually checks one’s status, one isn’t able to stay put on tasks, which means that one is much less likely to achieve that elusive state of optimal performance, called Flow. For a Flow state to be generated, one precondition is to have sufficient time to immerse oneself in a task.

When I’m writing and editing, I set a timer, and until it beeps I do nothing off topic. I don’t make this a Herculean effort. I use 60 and 90 minute intervals. After the alarm rings, I can check email, do Tai Chi, get a cup of coffee, or work on my handstands. (A longer time period may be more–or less–beneficial for you. Isaac Asimov was said to take a break only after he wrote 5,000 words, but few writers have that capacity in them.) The point is to make the time long enough so that one can get into a focused state of mind, but not so long that one becomes distracted and run down.

A solution even simpler than setting a timer is one found the top executive of an Australian consulting firm. I received the following auto reply to my email to her: “I am trying to create a new habit whereby I don’t check my emails until lunchtime. The aim is to make my mornings more focused and less reactive.”

2.) Know your high energy period

This relates to the previous solution: avoid interrupting your most productive time by focusing, without interruption, on your most Flow-demanding activities when you are at your best to be productive. That is, are you a lark or an owl? (i.e., a morning or evening person.)

For example, I’m a morning person. This creates a potential problem. While I find it easy to get up with the sun, I’m at risk of saying, “Oh, I’ll just check emails, Facebook, my blog stats, a couple of YouTube channels, and then I’ll get to work.” Then it is noon, and the hours in which my mind was at its most focused are gone. From 7pm until I go to sleep is when I should check these feeds because by that time my mind isn’t focused enough for writing tasks that require a high level of attention to detail.

3.) Go Cold Turkey [for a few days]

Sometimes it’s easier to make changes when one is forced by circumstance to do so. For example, when I moved to India a few years ago, it helped me to break lots of bad habits, such as checking my emails on the hour. Being fully occupied for a few days with traveling and resettling gave confidence that the Earth won’t roll off its axis just because I wasn’t checking on it every hour.

I can offer other examples from my own life. Every year my wife and I go on an extended trek in a place where there are no bars and saving batteries is essential. This has been to the Himalayas during the last couple of years because we’ve been living in India, but anywhere remote will work. I also did the Vipassana Meditation Course last year that required an extended period of full concentration. (If you’re interested, you can read my account of it here.)

4.) Meditate

Why? Because when you start meditating regularly, you tend to do fewer so-called mindless-habit activities. You become conscious of what you’re doing, and that’s the first step to making changes. You also start to become attuned to those very subtle dopamine bumps, and in that way you aren’t fighting the impulse blindly. The high of the click is infinitesimally more subtle than taking mind- altering substances, and so it’s easy for this all to take place below the waterline. (Making an analogy between the mind and an iceberg is not original. In this case, the mass of ice below the waterline is the subconscious mind, while the conscious mind is above that line.)

5) Find a Substitute

In the immortal word of the rock band “The Who”, if your problem is so extensive that it does more than block your attempts to hit the Flow, you may need to find a healthier alternative to wean yourself away.

What does one look for in a substitute? If it’s going to fill the same space, it requires immediate feedback and a mix of “fails” mixed in with “successes.” These are the components that make the e-world so addictive. We know immediately whether we got something or not, and that keeps us clicking–not unlike the famous rats that would keep pressing a button for pleasure even to the point of forgetting to eat.

Some people may work on games that will help build their brain. (Warning: just don’t trade one unproductive addiction for another.) I’m an advocate of working on physical activities (e.g. trying to develop new capabilities in calisthenics or yoga), but these often involve a demoralizing number of fails to reach the optimal level. The optimal being one that has sufficient number of fails to keep it from being boring but not so many that one is brutalized.

Perhaps you the reader can contribute your experiences about getting into or out of a social-media addiction.