For more depth on the 'how' part of getting over your phone addiction (with this story attached to the end of the post), click here.
Otherwise, please enjoy this vulnerability crying out of you.
Growing up, I used to always spend time on the computer, while my family would watch TV. I loved being in control of what was happening on the screen. Not the case for TV. I always thought the computer was much better for this reason. I thought I was way better than my family.
Like anyone though, I fell into the traps of the computer, getting sucked into thinking it was a good idea to spend more time on the silly box. I got sucked into spending enormous amounts of time watching porn, playing online games, and going through YouTube videos (mostly the porn and games though, YouTube wasn't really a thing in 2005).
(old computer screen - comment: my 2005 computer screen, back when they were thick)
The porn and the games were bad, but not that bad. While the time could have been far better spent outside playing, or hanging out with my friends (or maybe connecting with my family in the living room), at least the time wasting stopped when I left the computer. I wouldn't really think about using the computer when I wasn't on it.
But when I started to use the computer to "connect" with friends, things changed.
First, it was MSN. This was where I would delude myself into thinking I had many friends, despite our conversations containing at most four words: sup, nm, u, bye.
The problem with MSN, a problem that didn't happen with the porn and games, was that it was on my mind, even when I wasn't at the computer. The extreme over-thinking that I was doing before typing every sentence continued outside of the time I spent on the actual conversations. But, whenever I talked with people in person (like at school), we would hang out, talk, and then leave, and I thought about whatever I moved onto doing next.
Without realizing it, connecting with other humans over MSN actually taught me to have conversations with myself, not with other people. I would often find myself seeing someone in person, finally exploding at them with a worry I had been holding in for a long time, only to have them say that they never said what I thought, or that I was totally making that all up. I would usually bring things up online that I was too afraid to say in person, and the same thing would happen.
I was slowly becoming disconnected from other people (and maybe getting a wee bit more anxious).
When Facebook came, the time-spend increased. First of all, it became way easier to spend way more time actually on Facebook. There was more to do. Instead of just talking to people, we could look at other people's pictures, rate people on Hot or Not (my favourite, self-loathing activity), and write on each other's walls.
Spending more time on Facebook is one thing, but the part where things really started to get out of control was when it started stealing all of my attention.
Even when I wasn't on Facebook, I was worried about not having as many posts on my wall as the popular people. I wanted to be rated high in Hot or Not. I started to lose all my attention to not feeling good enough, and proceeded to spend most of my days at home, scrolling through Facebook, worried about how boring my life was, sulking at the inadequacy of my existence.
All the time I was spending on Facebook was capturing all of my attention, even beyond the time actually spent using Facebook. My entire digital world was becoming more important than the real world.
Eventually, I started to lose touch with reality.
Instead of actually living, I started to enjoy spending most of my time dreaming. When I saw my friends go cool places, do fun things, or have parties with the popular kids, I would dream of being there, but I never went, or did any of these fun things. Instead, I would watch from the sidelines, in my home, on Facebook, falling deeper and deeper into feeling not good enough.
And this not feeling good enough was likely justified, since I wasn't exactly improving my life spending all my time on the computer at home.
Over the years, with Instagram and Snapchat added to the mix, the problem only got worse. Now with more places to see everyone else's lives, I found it hard to spend any of my time actually doing my own thing. I had to see what everyone else was up to. I had to dream.
BASICALLY, CONNECTING WITH OTHER PEOPLE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY CONVINCED MYSELF THAT I WAS ACTUALLY CONNECTING WITH OTHER PEOPLE, WHEN IN REALITY, THESE APPS WERE JUST MONOPOLIZING MORE OF MY TIME, MAKING ME DELUSIONAL ABOUT WHAT SOCIAL CONNECTION IS, ULTIMATELY DISCONNECTING ME FROM ACTUALLY LIVING LIFE.
SCROLLING IS A MUCH WORSE STORY.
Think you're spending too much time scrolling? Check this out to see how you compare to everyone else.
Until I became addicted to scrolling, constantly having social media on my brain wasn't too big of a problem. It was still taking hours of my day, but it wasn't taking the entire day.
Scrolling served as an awesome way for me to procrastinate. It was finally possible for social media to consume all of my free time. I could convince myself that I was just checking Facebook, and then, by the intelligent design of Facebook, simply checking the app would turn into hours of wasted time.
Instead of essays taking a couple hours as they should, they would take nights and nights of scrolling, putting them off, before I would finally spend the last night finishing them.
I slowly transitioned out of this habit, a process that took a long time, but was accelerated by the Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator. Eventually, I was able to transition away from Facebook and towards living real life. I spent a lot more of my time actually doing things, a lot less time just thinking, and most importantly, a lot less time scrolling Facebook.
But the addiction didn't go away, it just took a different form. In fact, most of it was exactly the same. I would put off doing important stuff by wasting time being addicted to something that scrolls. In the overall picture of life, without realizing it, I was spending far less time on fun things.
For example, instead of allowing myself to go out and have fun for the night, I would say that I had work to do, sit down to do work, but then spend the whole night addicted to scrolling something, ending the night filled with shame, lying in bed. Today, I think of just how many fun nights I could have actually had, if it wasn't for my habit.
From Facebook, I transitioned to YouTube. YouTube wasn't as bad, because it would sometimes even be informative. I would still binge-watch YouTube for hours at a time, procrastinating, but it wouldn't take over my brain with worry and and a deeply rooted feeling of social self-consciousness just like Facebook did. So, it seemed more manageable.
With Facebook eliminated, I eventually turned to Instagram, and then Snapchat, and the same problem happened again. I was just so insanely curious about all my friend's lives, I couldn't resist the opportunity to 'connect deeply' with countless people over the span of mere hours.
The damage was two-fold: I would delude myself into thinking I was connecting with people (when really my social skills were getting worse), and I would feel like my life was inadequate, since I was exposing myself to the perfect parts of many people's lives.
Since my life wasn't perfect, like all the lives I was scrolling through, I thought I must be a failure.
I eventually ended up deleting the apps, and got blockers for YouTube and Netflix. These generally worked, but sometimes I still would find myself, in moments of true overwhelm with work and procrastination, reverting back to deleting the blockers, and binge-watching for hours. Only to find myself at the end of it, entirely out of energy, even more overwhelmed, and filled with shame for what I'd done.
After all of this, I realized that the issue wasn't any of the things I scrolled, it was procrastination. By never having everything done, I always had a big and scary task to hide from. Scrolling was hiding for me, and the problem wasn't the scrolling, it was the hiding. So, I stopped hiding.
Instead of focusing on spending less time scrolling, I focused on getting all my work done, procrastinating nothing.
I learned to be more focused, productive, and became a lot happier. When I found I was done all my work, I wouldn't have the urge to scroll. At least not for hours. It would get boring so quickly. I would spend my time hanging out with friends, playing, and enjoying being in control of my life. It seemed like my addiction never happened.
Now, I enjoy a happy life, free of procrastination, wasted time scrolling, and wasted time worrying about feeling inadequate. Unfortunately, I am unable to enjoy the positive parts of social media that some of my friends seem to like. I try to convince myself that the apps are all bad and can't be any fun at all, but I know that this is at least partly because I know I can't use them without getting addicted to them.
The rules outlined in the article above, basically eliminating social media from life, are rules I have devised for myself to help cope with being addicted to scrolling. I figure, since I can't control it, I have to eliminate it, kind of like alcoholics. I always have felt bad for alcoholics, because I have been able to have lots of fun drinking alcohol, and I think it's a shame they can't enjoy such a great part of life. But with social media, and phone use in general, I think the story is different.
I truly believe that your life will be many times happier if you reduce your time on social media. While total elimination might be drastic (and maybe even have a negative impact), reducing the time you spend on social media will likely be net-positive. It will allow you to devote time and attention to real people, doing real activities in the real world. These are always better time-spends than anything on our phone.
And when it comes to scrolling feeds endlessly, I truly feel elimination is the answer. When we scroll through anything, even YouTube, we are going down a path that doesn't have an end. The thing we're scrolling is teaching us to scroll more, and the work that we're putting off by doing this is becoming less and less done, and more and more urgent.
More generally, I feel eliminating procrastination from your lifes will make you happier.
I feel we are all parts of the same whole, little ice cream scoops from the same large tub of Oreo ice cream. We're all different, with different amounts of Oreos and vanilla ice cream, but we're still just Oreos and vanilla ice cream. If you're a human, you've probably gone through something similar to the story I laid out above. Chances are you wouldn't have kept reading this far if you didn't feel like you related to the story at least in some way.
Now that I know I have your attention, if I could share just one idea with you, it would be this:
Eliminating procrastination is possible.
So deep in the habit of scrolling to hide from my problems and the shit I had to get done, I never thought escaping the beast was possible. Like any big change in our lives, all we need is focus on a goal, and time. If you can truly prioritize overcoming procrastination, and allow yourself a lot of time (many months or even a few years) to achieve this goal, you should be able to win. If I can, you can.
Beyond procrastination, I strongly encourage you to test out spending less time on your phone. I really believe that it may make you happier. You never know until you try, right?. Even if you try something simple like deleting Instagram and Snapchat for one day, or testing out the Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator for a week - baby steps add up. These are easily reversible changes, so there is nothing to be afraid of. You can always add back the app.
Another step in my journey that may help you was downloading the Moment app (for the computer, there's RescueTime). It automatically tracks how much time you spend on your phone (or computer), including how many times you pick your phone up (a stat I found cool). This takes the guessing out of the game, and shows how a few minutes here and there really adds up.
Using the app, I found out I would spend four, six, and sometimes eight hours on my phone everyday. The worst part of all? I knew it wasn't lying. As mentioned before, awareness of the problem is the first step to changing anything.
Using airplane mode when hanging out with friends is another great little tip to move towards lessening phone use. After a few times of doing this, you may find yourself starting to actually believe that during some of life's most important activities, like breaking bread with friends, absolutely nothing that comes up on our phones is more important that what's happening around us. At the very least, nothing that can't wait a few hours.
As I mentioned before, less time on the phone (at least for me), was less about reducing the phone, and more about growing other parts of my life (stopping procrastination). This is how I think really change starts. It's going to be a lot easier to spend less time on the phone when we have something else in our lives that we want more (for me, this was having all my work done). For you, this could be hanging out with friends, playing sports, learning new skills, or something entirely different than anything I've mentioned. Whatever it is, it has to force you to grow stronger, which will make ditching the phone easier.
The last note I want to end on is that I kind of went back and forth between using our phone being bad and not bad, because, in some ways, phone use is up for debate. There is definitely some value in social media, or else it wouldn't be so popular. What I want to clarify, is that spending hours and hours scrolling through anything is a massive waste of time.
This idea is not up for debate.
It is a fact that in an experiment, you would report feeling far more happy spending four hours hanging out with your friends, in real life, doing anything, than you would spending four hours scrolling on your phone. Those four hours with friends could be replaced with countless other things, and you definitely would still report feeling happier with the non-phone activity.
I am your inner you, crying for help. The gift of life is the most beautiful gift of all, and if you're reading this, you have this gift right now. Nothing needs to change for you to deserve much more than wasting your gift away watching others live through a stupid screen. As your inner you, I know you can amount to so much more, even though we both know it's going to be a scary ride. But you and me also know (especially after all the awareness we've just gained) that we need to let go of the phone. And that doing it now rather than later will be best for us.
The rest is up to you my friend. My job stops here. I can't motivate or persuade you any more. The plan is set, and now it's your turn to do the heavy lifting. Get excited at the strength you're going to build and the lessons you're going to learn as you transition from phone life to real life. Hop on the path to using your phone less today, and a happier you is soon to come.
If you're looking for tactics to help you control your phone use, check out another one of my deeper articles on phone use. And if you're interested in learning more about how the world uses their phones, check out this website.