Let's face it: facebook is addictive. twitter is addictive. instagram, snapchat... you name them.
And it's no surprise really - they were designed that way. A very insightful piece about this was published in the Guardian the other day.
And if you are sitting there, thinking to yourself "That may be true, but I don't actually think I'm doing too badly", you might want to double check yourself against the definition of addiction (this is from Psychology today):
"Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others."
Now, with that in mind - have you ever sat in the same room with another human being and, instead of engaging with them, checked your twitter feed? Have you ever been at work and checked your facebook notifications?
Yes, these things my happen once in a while, but what I'm observing in my own behaviour is that it is a creeping addiction... a little bit more each day it becomes acceptable (or accepted) to do things like googling the answer to a dinner table questions while at the dinner table. To glance at my phone while actually talking to somebody to quickly pick up the incoming message notification. And at nighttime, when there is a prime opportunity to catch up with the daily family events, play a board game, practice an instrument or at least read a book, the smartphone slowly becomes the default option.
In fact, more often than not I'm finding myself in a room full of people all staring at their individual screens.
To me, the whole thing is a bit like Pavlov's dog experiment: the same way the canine in it's sling started salivating at the sound of the bell, we reach for out phone at the notification sound - in a more and more automated manner.
I recently put myself through a somewhat painful experiment: I downloaded an app that tracks my smart phone use, showing me daily stats. After a week, I was appalled. I downloaded the next app - it's called 'Quality time' and let's you define times of day in which it limits your access to pre-set applications. No more facebook for me between 6pm and 9pm!!! - After another week, I was faced with the sad truth that I had overridden the app blocker 5 out of 7 days (despite the 30 second 'punishment' delay).
I haven't yet had the courage to look for an app without an 'override' button. And if there was: What about the laptop? The tablet? The other phone?
The good news is: I have made progress. After awareness, being the first step to change, settled in, I have taken some steps that have helped me bring things under control. Here they are:
This one was hardest. Because, in actual fact, I enjoy hearing from people. I learn a lot from what people post. I was never a great fan of reading a newspapers, but following my super-intelligent and clued up friends links has given me access to a whole lot of really useful information. I'm participating more in political discourse and debate than before. I also have a chance to be supportive to other people in the various facebook support groups I'm a member of. I'm able to send my love to faraway friends navigating challenging life transitions that I probably wouldn't hear about otherwise.
Which means, it's all a good thing, isn't it?
Well, there's the funny cat videos. The posts about the woman who dropped 150 pounds and found she was getting less dates than ever before. And the fact that Kim Kardashian was caught photoshopping her bottom.
I didn't need those.
That admitted, I looked at what all this information cost me: less quality time with my children who are racing through their childhood (Sometimes I worry that I may look up from my screen and they have moved out.). Less quality interaction with those around me. Less time for physical activity. Less motivation to go out an do stuff (because of finding enough distraction on the couch).
So, my first step was becoming very clear about what my motivation is for both: spending time on screens and NOT spending time on screens. A list helped immensely and every so often I pull it out.
2. Scheduling time
As a budding online entrepreneur, obviously I have to spend time online. Social media play an important role in my business and while I can see the merit in outsourcing all of that - I'm not quite there yet.
Also, there's the actual 'news' time and the fact that my biggest source of world news comes through social media.
So I scheduled some time into my diary each week where I can sit down and focus on those things, getting rid of the 'but it's work!' excuse.
The next step was taking care of the big stuff. All the completely inacceptable little habits that sneaked in over time. Things I didn't have to negotiate with myself about because I agree with myself that it is just not on, under any circumstances.
My next question to myself - and this was the critical bit - was: what needs am I actually meeting by browsing those streams?
Connection: participating in my friend's lives, exchanging messages and news.
Contribution: sharing information or support with others
Certainty: interacting with others in a way that puts me in control - people I can turn off if they get nasty. News items that I can choose.
Significance: facebook 'likes' that tell me I'm appreciated, interactions with semi-famous people who actually respond to my messages
Diversity: a wide array of stimulation, going any old way, that updates itself every few seconds
Growth: Learning stuff I wouldn't otherwise
Your list may be slightly different, but I suspect you'll relate.
In coaching we say that if something meets more than four of our six basic human needs, it becomes addictive. Bang. This is a 6/6. No suprises
5. New strategies
Next came the game-changer. I sat down and made a conscious effort of identifying an alternative strategy to meet each of those needs in a different way - a strategy that I felt willing to commit to on a daily basis. Here's my list:
Connection: Have a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with someone every day while keeping the phone out of reach. Starting with "how are you?" is a great opening. I also started a monthly women's circle and a local meet-up group. Inviting friends for dinner at least once a fortnight. Playing a game with the kids each night
Contribution: finding a small, practical thing to do for someone else every day. Sometimes in direct conversation (ok, I do count the phone into that - speaking, not texting), sometimes remotely (writing a card to someone), sometimes out and about (making someone a cup of tea). Volunteering time to help people.
Certainty: Committing to spending time regularly taking care of my financial certainty (doing my accounts for example) and generally committing to taking immediate care of things that stress me out first (which otherwise lead to default facebook procrastination). Following up any stressful relationships through direct conversation.
Significance: making time for self-care. My version of this was committing to both a 30 day fitness challenge (ok, that's an app, but I'll accept that) and a 30 day yoga challenge (ok, that's on YouTube, but I let that pass as well). Both of which I'm now on day 90 of (consecutively) and feeling so much better!!
Diversity: Making a conscious effort to do stuff with the kids: Taking them to the skate park. Taking them to a show. Taking them on holiday.
Growth: Making a commitment to read at least 20 minutes of a good personal development or business book each night (I'm still working on that one... would be a great one to do in bed, but high risk of falling asleep
Again, your list may be completely different - that's not the point. The point is to find something that works for you and COMMIT to doing these things AS WELL.
Funny enough - with all that going on - I'm finding much less time to be on social media. I'm spending more quality time with people and learn more stuff.
Meaning that - at this point - I can accept my social media use above and beyond that and actually feel comfortable about it (a piece on selectiveness is yet to come!!)
I'd love to hear what you think of these ideas!!