Notes on how to break a bad habit

At the beginning of April I made a plan to stop mindlessly scrolling Reddit. Now it’s the end of the month, so I’m here to reflect on my progress.

I admit it wasn’t a flawless 30 days. Since I’m unemployed and home a lot lately, it’s a little too easy to waste time on my devices.

But because I attempted to change my attitude and not simply force myself to change behavior, I think my new habit will be more permanent. In the past, I’ve gone extreme and hid my phone in a drawer or blocked reddit.com on my laptop. This time I asked myself: “ok, I have this compulsive scrolling behavior, how can I flip my relationship with technology so I am using it instead of it using me?”

I learned three things this month:

  1. I had to truly want to change.

    I’ve tried to break this habit before but it never worked. I now realize that’s because I just didn’t want it enough. I only told myself I wanted to change. This time was different, because I was mentally ready to be disciplined. It was like a piece in my brain finally clicked into place.

    It’s the same concept with quitting anything. Take cigarettes for example. One day the desire to quit may be there but the motivation to deal with the deprivation isn’t. The next day, desire and motivation are both present. Who can say what flips the switch? I’m not sure whether it’s possible to force yourself to be genuinely ready. All I know is you must take advantage of the moment whenever your mind is ripe.

    Obviously, cutting something out of your life completely (cigarettes) is not the same as modifying your relationship to something while keeping it in your life (technology). Yet they require a similar mental approach. The two ingredients that help me are attentiveness, and slamming the brakes.

  2. Interrupting a habit requires vigilant awareness during every waking moment.

    This isn’t as tough as it sounds. I concentrate my awareness on the moments when I’m most likely to soothe myself with mindless scrolling. I’ve noticed this seems to be when I’m bored, stressed, dealing with negative emotions, lacking energy, or procrastinating. When I stay conscious of my mental state, I can recognize when I enter one of these precarious zones.

    Part of the vigilance is common sense. Pro tip: don’t keep your phone next to the bed! Having my phone on my bedside table guaranteed that I started and ended each day staring into the screen. It ruined my sleep routine and of course absolutely blew up my screentime.

    I had to help myself have some self-control. I bought a cheap alarm clock so I don’t need my phone to check the time. I put a notebook next to my bed and spend a few minutes journaling/doodling before I sleep. In the morning, I feel calmer because I don’t spend the first few minutes of my day buried in my phone notifications.

    Why is vigilance so necessary? Well, because:

  3. It is much easier to not start in the first place than to stop yourself after starting.

    There’s no doubt about it. With anything that is dangerously irresistible to me in the momentlike picking at my skin, spiraling in negative thoughts, or lashing out at someone who’s offended meI’ve found that if I can just hang on until the urge passes it’s far better than giving myself an “allowance” of bad behavior. Which is easier: braking your car when you’re driving full speed on the highway, or braking when you’re cruising at 15 miles per hour?

    When I was growing up, there was a friendly husband and wife who lived down the street from us. The husband was obese when I met him. Then he lost an extraordinary amount of weight in less than a year. It was impressive how he shed the pounds through pure discipline: walking laps around the neighborhood every evening and sticking to a sensible diet.

    I’ll never forget something I overheard him say when he was offered a plate of sweets at a social gathering. He laughed his deep hearty chuckle, and said, “No thanks, I have a no-tolerance policy for dessert. If I eat even a single Oreo I will eat the whole pack, so it’s much better to not eat the Oreo in the first place!” That kind of restriction may seem over-the-top, but I respect the self-awareness to be able to say, no, not even one. Sometimes it’s best to slam the brakes right away.

I know I can’t be the only person who has felt overwhelmed by the cumulative drain of excessive screentime. Even if my insights are only useful to me, at least you can know you’re not alone.

4 thoughts on “Notes on how to break a bad habit

    1. Wow, thank you! What a compliment. I’ve found that the practice of writing helps me think better, but my ultimate goal is to connect with other people (even if it’s out of my comfort zone) :)

      Liked by 1 person

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