By Leo Babauta
How do you beat something so addictive as the Internet, or TV — things most of us find ourselves increasingly immersed in, all day long?
I won’t get into the whys of curbing an addiction like this — I’m going to assume you already want to make a change.
The change can be different things: perhaps you play too many video games, watch too much porn, watch TV on your laptop way too much, are on Youtube or Facebook or Reddit or Instagram or Twitter or news sites or blogs too much …
What can you do?
I’m going to give you strategies I’ve found effective, because I face these problems myself, all the time.
But here are the main two ideas:
- Face the problem.
- Increase awareness.
If you can manage to do these two things, repeatedly, you’ll make a lot of strides. More details below.
Strategies to Face Your Digital Addiction
There isn’t one way to face and deal with an addiction, but I recommend trying a combination of these to see what works best for you:
- Face the problem. What most of us do is put off thinking about the problem, or even admitting there’s a problem. It’s uncomfortable to think about what makes us feel guilty, so we put off this discomfort like we put off exercise. But ignoring the problem, pretending it doesn’t exist … that doesn’t make things better. The obstacle is the path. Face the problem, and in doing so, become more aware. See what is really happening with you. Learn about yourself. This is a valuable education.
- Increase awareness. You can’t change what you’re not aware of. Lots of addictions happen without us realizing what we’re doing, as we’re doing it, and only later do we feel guilty. Start to increase awareness of your urges, and your actions, while it’s happening. That means you need to have reminders around you, so that you’re constantly noticing the urges as they come up. You can still act on the urge, as you’re increasing awareness, but be aware that the urge is happening, and see what action you take, and what the result is (how do you feel afterward, what consequences are there?). This is a skill you can increase over time, with practice.
- See the fear. You are going to the addiction because of fear. You’re procrastinating on something harder, more uncomfortable, like work or exercise or socializing perhaps. The addiction fulfills the need you have to run to comfort, away from discomfort. Start to become aware of this fear, and shine some light on it.
- Try small sessions without it. Try an hour without the Internet, or a day without porn or TV. You might face some internal resistance, but if you tell yourself, “It’s just an hour” or “It’s just a day”, then you know you can get through this period of discomfort. The key is to make the period seem like a small challenge but very doable. Once you’ve done this once or twice, start to build these small doses into your schedule — let’s say an hour a day, or two days a week, whatever fits your life best.
- Increase the periods of non-distraction. If you do an hour a day of no Internet, try adding another hour in each day. Do that for a week and see how it goes. Use an Internet blocker if necessary, and some accountability with friends if that’s helpful.
- Think about the limitedness of your life. We’re only on this Earth for a short while, and it’s an exceedingly miraculous gift. Don’t waste it. Make something. Do something. Learn something. Go outside. Make friends. Drink the juices of life. Don’t allow your life to seep away through digital distraction. Live consciously by deciding how you want to spend your time.
- Become intentional. When you open up your computer, start by pausing, noticing your urges, and then taking a few seconds to set an intention for this session: I’m going to write an article, or read for 10 minutes about Mt. Everest (or whatever). Then do that, and get up and away from your computer. Take a break, stretch, do a couple yoga poses, drink some water. Then before you go into your next computer session, set an intention again. You might deviate from that intention sometimes, but practice at least setting the intention, then practice trying to stick to it. You’ll get better with practice, as with anything.
The keys, again, are to face the problem and increase awareness. And this takes a little bit of courage, but it can be done.