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How to handle Addictions.

Over the last few weeks, there has been more attention focused on social media use and addiction…

Today, my goal is to further encourage you to ditch social media—or to at least reduce your use of it. I offer some simple approaches that I’ve tried that will make you a better person, even if you don’t succeed. They’re applicable to anyone who seeks to change their behavior.

Here’s what the researchers found after analyzing the data: the researchers make clear that interactions through social media are less likely to enhance human well-being, while face-to-face interactions are more likely to do so. The main finding is that those who are addicted to social media report having worse physical and mental health. The addicts are the people most likely to click “like,” as well as seeking “likes.” They’re your friends who are constantly posting and interacting on social media platforms.

Social media isn’t the only addiction afflicting Americans. These tips are applicable to the 226-million Americans addicted to watching television, averaging four to five hours each day, according to Nielsen research. That’s 70 percent of the U.S. population that’s glued to their televisions, some of whom are also on social media at the same time. Combined, Americans are spending over 15 years of the average lifespan watching TV or engaging social media.

Can you imagine what might happen in people’s lives if they redirected that four to five hours of their day that they spend watching TV (or engaging social media) to learning something new or to doing any one of the many things that they say they’d like to do in their lifetime?

Addiction of any sort can be difficult to overcome, but if you really want to experience true well-being, it’s worth trying to reduce your social media and your TV consumption.

I can attest that ditching social media (and/or your TV) will result in a completely different life. I haven’t had a TV in my home in over a decade, and I haven’t had cable in nearly two decades. When I saw those “Kill Your Television” stickers on cars, I took the message seriously. I tossed my TV in the bin at Goodwill, and my life is better for it.

Although most people would say that their individual well-being is important to them, they continue to do things that don’t contribute to their well-being. People’s true preferences are revealed when we assess what people actually do versus what they say they want to do. In economics, the theory behind this approach is called Revealed Preference Theory and seeks to analyze the choices people make—what they actually do against what they say they want to do—by tracking their purchasing and consumption habits, including social media consumption.

If you have a difficult time making changes in your life, bringing attention to the reality of what you’re doing can motivate you.

It’ll help you to start taking actions to change your behavior too, especially if you can track the results and see your progress, even if incremental. I did this exercise when I quit alcohol, coffee, and sugar simultaneously for several months to see if I was addicted to them, and what would happen if I quit them cold turkey.

Because I quit all three at the same time, I had no idea what I actually craved when I craved one of them, so I was less likely to gravitate toward any one of these vices. I basically tricked myself by confusing myself as to which vice I wanted in that moment.

The next step was the most powerful step during my process. When I craved something or when the thought of one of these vices arose, I simply wrote it down in my journal. I also wrote how I felt in that moment.

Writing it down can make it crystal clear as to where you stand in relation to your vice, and it allows you to leapfrog over our natural tendency to deny our reality in the face of evidence that contradicts our desires.

During the experiment, I also noticed that bringing my attention to the cravings and writing about them acted as a catharsis. It gave me something to do in the moment that I wanted to reach for the vice. Instead of turning toward one of my vices, I turned toward writing instead. At first, I was constantly writing entries, but then I noticed that I began to write less and less as I continued to stay free from alcohol, sugar, and coffee. Eventually, I wasn’t writing at all, and I wasn’t consuming alcohol, sugar, or coffee either.

Personally, I love learning, so the next step that I took was to use my interest to read up on addiction to coffee, sugar, and alcohol. I wanted to be more informed, which was super helpful, because I was able to understand how the chemicals in each affect my body and psychology to keep me coming back to them. We can apply the same strategy to social media addiction by reading up on the effects of social media on human health.

As a result of learning about the addictive qualities of coffee, sugar, and alcohol, I was then able to use my rebellious side to keep me on track. If you’re like most people, you don’t like it when others tell you what to do or when others try to control you. As I thought it about, I realized that I was allowing these vices to tell me what to do: drink more coffee or eat more sugar.

People who are addicted may feel separation anxiety or a whole range of other emotions when they leave it behind, but that’s okay. The goal is to write about it in your journal, so that you can become more aware of yourself. Bring your full attention to how you feel about it, and then ask yourself these questions:

Is this how I want to feel in my daily life?

Is this consistent with my desired goals?

Do I really want to be dependent on my devices or social media? If not, why not? Or, if so, why do I think so?

Keep writing your thoughts and feelings down, revisit them, and talk about them with your close friends in person—or a random person you meet at the coffee shop or tea house. Tell them about your experiment, and listen to what they have to say about it.

You may end up freeing yourself from the shackles of other vices too. Although I reintroduced coffee and minimal sugar after my experiment, it’s been four years since I’ve had alcohol—and I didn’t even mean to quit. I just acknowledged my reality, my truth. I don’t like how alcohol makes me feel when I’m with others, and I hate hangovers, so I don’t drink. As for social media, I’m the boss now; it works for me.

Start today by shutting down your computer, right now. Or, turn off your phone, and then go for a walk, thinking about one of things you’d like to do differently in the office or in your personal life, and then do that instead.

It could be as simple as asking your office mate to go for a coffee to chat about the topic of social media addiction. Learn what they have to say about it. You probably want the same thing—connection.

Dr. Matthew King

By Dr. Matthew King

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