I hate screentime notifications. I can’t stand the little purple hourglass icon which announces the official number of minutes and hours I’ve spent staring into my phone or laptop.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel lucky to have technology. I’m happy I can research stuff on the internet and keep in touch with friends and family. But those aren’t the activities that make up the bulk of my screentime.
What fills my digital hourglass is The Endless Scroll. Sound familiar?
During college, Instagram was my online vice of choice. I wasted hours scrolling the explore page, enticed by an algorithm which kept me in a trance. I knew it was unhealthy because my mood was always worse after leaving the app, never better. Yet I returned to the app like scratching an ever-present itch.
When I graduated college I deleted Instagram which was a great decision. However, the itch was still there. It wasn’t long before I found a new way to scratch it. I merely replaced it with a different Endless Scroll: Reddit.
Because I have a lot of free time lately, I find myself scrolling Reddit compulsively, even though it serves no purpose other than passing the time. The river of information sucks me in and sweeps me away. It’s too easy to float along, soaking it all in, my brain on autopilot.
I’m tired of consuming the relentless flow of content. So for the month of April, I’m giving myself a challenge. I want to stop mindlessly scrolling once and for all.
There’s one caveat: no extreme tactics allowed. I tend to go overboard when I want to break a habit, which backfires because it doesn’t solve the reason I have the habit in the first place.
In the past I’ve tried to quit my excessive internet usage by keeping my phone on airplane mode all day or hiding it in a dresser drawer. After my last phone broke, I didn’t replace it for an entire six months! Yet clearly my over-the-top strategies didn’t create lasting change, because as soon as my devices were back within reach, I was back to my old ways.
I know awareness of the reality of my habit will show me how to actually change it. So I asked myself some questions:
- What causes me to choose this behavior?
→ To avoid boredom ←
→ To cope with stress ←
→ To numb emotions ←
→ Because I lack motivation ←
→ To procrastinate ←
- Why are those my reasons?
→ I’ve labeled boredom as “bad,” therefore I seek to always fill my time with something.
→ I tend to choose the path of least resistance when I feel stressed.
→ I dislike being present with my emotions because they can be unpleasant.
→ I lack the energy to do activities which require more mental effort (even things I enjoy like painting).
→ I want to evade the tasks I know I should be doing because I feel too overwhelmed to even begin them.
- What are my triggers?
Being at home and having my devices nearby. The worst environment is the bed or couch, where I’m always reaching for my phone or laptop. Time passes smoothly when I’m scrolling and I’m accustomed to it, so without that distraction I feel irritated.
- How can I limit these triggers?
→ Don’t keep my phone next to the bed at night.
→ Don’t bring my phone with me everywhere (I don’t need it in the bathroom, on a walk, while watching TV…)
→ Resist the urge to visit Reddit (I’ve already deleted the app) and don’t just replace it with another scroll-friendly site!
→ Set a timer for 30-minute increments when I’m on my laptop.
→ When I’m on my devices, practice keeping a specific objective in mind and not getting sidetracked:
(“I am texting X.” “I am researching X.” “I am writing in this Google Doc.”)
The final step is to substitute bad with good: replace scrolling with alternate activities that provide a similar benefit or address my underlying need.
→ Instead of avoiding boredom: face boredom directly and become re-acclimated to simply existing in my mind.
→ To cope with stress: journal my thoughts in a notebook.
→ Instead of numbing my emotions: practice some breathing exercises.
→ When I have no motivation: allow myself to truly do nothing (this usually makes me want to do something productive after a while).
→ Instead of procrastinating: force myself to spend 10 minutes starting the task (this usually gives me the momentum to complete it).
Technology is a great tool, but it can easily become an obstacle. Every app is expertly designed to capture more and more of our precious attention. And often we are complicit, because deep down we want our attention to be occupied with something as simple and enticing as an infinite scroll.
It may be an effortless way to pass the time, but scrolling is junk food for the mind. I’m looking forward to building a better relationship with my devices. Soon I hope to see my screentime notification and not feel disturbed by the numbers.
One last thing. When I researched how to break a habit, I found two key ideas which apply to any type of behavior you want to change:
- Since there was always a time before you had the bad habit, it’s possible to go back to that time. You don’t need to become someone else. You just need to return to the old you.
- Visualize yourself succeeding and being free of the vice. Every time you picture the outcome in your imagination you bring yourself closer to making it a reality.
“As you think, so shall you become.”
– Bruce Lee