The internet is filled with distractions. People know they get into bad habits online but knowing that an activity is bad for you isn’t enough to break the habit of doing it. Here, UT-Austin professor Kevin Dalby explains why habits are hard to break and offers seven ways to push aside unproductive internet habits, from simple tricks to more drastic measures for the truly addicted.
Anyone who has found themselves reaching for their smartphone, or another connected device, without even realizing they were doing it and with no idea of what their intention was in doing so knows what it feels like to succumb to a productivity-sapping habit. What may not be clear is that they have just experienced a trigger and then habitually responded to the input.
Habit inducing triggers can be challenging to identify. Often it is nothing more than boredom. Sometimes it is emotional stress that causes people to reach for a Facebook fix. It can be loneliness, arousal, or any number of stimuli that acts as the trigger. Still, the result is their body craves a brain chemical that regulates movement, emotion, motivation, and pleasure, called dopamine, and it reacts. Before they even know it, they scroll through their news or Twitter feeds and neglect what they were doing moments ago.
Internet-based habits are incredibly challenging because we all need to use the internet regularly. Disconnecting entirely is rarely an option, but this habitual behavior can become a full-fledged addiction if left unchecked. In some cases, professional help may be required to bring this behavior under control. Employing these seven suggestions may help keep an annoying habit from becoming a relationship-damaging or career-killing dependence.
Avoiding temptation is always easier than resisting it. If a particular app, feed, or site is the most common offender, delete it from your device. If it requires powering up a laptop to check your Instagram feed, you will likely significantly reduce the number of times you log in each day. Avoid easy access to device apps.
Make a concerted effort to identify your triggers. If you find yourself reaching for a device when you should be doing something productive, note how you are feeling at that moment. Are you bored, hungry, lonely, angry? Make the connection between the behavior and the trigger. Then avoid the trigger to the extent possible.
Just like chewing on carrot sticks can help some people stop smoking, find an alternative behavior to replace your productivity-sapping habit. If, for example, you have noted that boredom is your trigger, and you have the latitude to switch between productive activities, doing so to avoid boredom is a great way to replace the non-productive habitual behavior with a constructive alternative.
Preparing to react when the temptation to ease off the productivity pedal prematurely hits you provides the motivation needed to push through. With practice, you will remember to resort to your plan B before giving in to the habit.
Being accountable to another person can be very helpful in resisting temptation. If you know you will need to explain to someone you care about why you failed to avoid the habitual behavior; you will be motivated to try harder. You must, of course, commit to being honest with yourself and those you are accountable to.
Rewarding yourself for successfully staying on track is a useful tactic. Maybe allowing yourself an hour of guilt-free-scrolling at the end of the day will be just what you need to stay productive during the day.
Practicing mindfulness will help create awareness around all of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Mindfulness will help identify your triggers and enact your plan B behavior. Mindfulness can improve many aspects of your life, including your ability to stay productive.
About Kevin Dalby
Dr. Kevin Dalby is a UT-Austin medicinal chemistry professor. He is researching the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Dalby’s efforts were recognized by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, granting him nearly $5 million to support his research.