How to log off | MIT Technology Review

For example, he points out, there’s no need to go on a full digital detox if it’s actually only Instagram’s endless highlights reel that’s making you unhappy—you might just want to set a limit on how much time you spend on that specific app. Also, is it actually the technology that’s the issue? Or is it the person that’s annoying you on WhatsApp? he says.

Start to set borders

If you’ve done that part and still think there’s a problem, there are steps you can take. Once you’ve isolated the root cause of any unhappiness—whether that’s a specific person pestering you, the kind of content you come across within a specific app, or just a desire to spend more time in the real world—you can set boundaries that make you feel more in control.

It can help to treat your internet use like intermittent fasting, with strategies such as going online only during circumscribed hours and not every day, says Anna Lembke, professor of psychiatry at the Stanford School of Medicine and author of Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. “Try deleting the apps that cause you to wander to parts of the internet you don’t want to go to, and make a specific to-do list of what you’re going to do online before you get online,” she adds. Stick to that list.

Break the mindless cycle

If, like me, you find that your app-checking has become a handy distraction or a way to kill time when you’re bored, you can teach yourself to break the habit and build healthier habits instead. Jud Brewer, director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, recommends a three-step process for breaking the cycle.

The first step is recognizing that you’re in a habit loop. Take stock of the fact that you have a compulsion to refresh your work emails even on vacation, for example. Write these issues down so you can keep a record of what you’d like to address.

The second is to ask yourself what Brewer calls a key question that can apply to any behavior: ”What am I getting from this?” Our brains are wired to keep doing the things they find rewarding, whether it’s smoking, eating, or checking social media, he explains. “If something’s rewarding, we’re going to keep doing it—that’s how reinforcement learning works. So you can actually subvert that dominant paradigm by having people pay attention to exactly how rewarding the behavior is.” This will help you to recognize what’s good and what’s a waste of time.

The third and final step involves identifying the bigger, better offer—the more rewarding reward that helps you break the habit loop.

This involves asking ourselves what checking social media feels like, choosing to be curious (which is intrinsically rewarding) about why we want to know what’s happening on Instagram or in our inboxes. We can then compare these feelings with how we feel when we read or exercise, for example, to identify which is the more rewarding activity. “This works even for clinical conditions,” Brewer adds.

Breaking out of doomscrolling malaise requires careful thought, but it is possible. Speaking to these experts has taught me the importance of catching myself and asking if I really want to watch a load of Instagram stories posted by people I don’t even like, or if I’d rather work my way through the articles I’ve saved in Pocket. I’m more mindful, more focused, and more conscious about what I allow on my screen. Apart from Love Island. That’s one habit I’m not willing to kick.

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