Reclaim your Brain – Ten steps to liberation from Facebook addiction

Last week I wrote about how getting off Facebook had changed me. I feel like I’ve come through a fog or woken up from some drunken stupor made of anxiety, self-doubt and mini failures. Five weeks and counting. It’s pretty sweet on the other side.

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What made me finally get off Facebook was reading about the science in The Organized Mind: What Facebook does to the human brain. Each status update and cat gif is literally competing for resources with things like where you left your passport and how to reconcile an argument with a friend. Your brain has a fixed bandwidth and daily processing capacity.[1] Constant checking interferes with things you want to do in your day and in your life.[2] Cognitive overload is linked to making errors in judgement[3]

Checking Facebook constantly, Daniel Levitin argues, constitutes a neural addiction.[4] The “social networking addiction loop” is A Thing. Facebook and other social networking platforms send chemicals through your brain’s pleasure centre that are genuinely, physiologically, addicting[5]

So if you check Facebook first thing when you get up, plan your next status update in your head, or obsess about uploading pics while on holiday, give this a go. You might feel liberated.

You may now have Facebook related anxiety just thinking of going off Facebook. How will you keep in touch with your friends? Your family will complain! How will you know what’s going on? You’ll have FOMO all the time! Relax, trust me, it’s worth it. You may feel better about yourself and your life in general when you gain back control, or as I think about it, freedom. Do you even remember yourself? Get your humanity back.

A few things worked for me. Here’s my ten point plan for kicking the habit

1. Uninstall FB as an app

This is absolute step one. No notifications on your phone. You’re a human not Pavlov’s dog. Get serious. Just uninstall. You’re not deactivating. Take a deep breath. Just uninstall.

2. Turn off sound/vibrate notifications full stop

For everything. Twitter, Whatsapp, etc. You may not be addicted to the others (Twitter just doesn’t “get me” like Facebook does) but constant alert response conditioning will affect your Facebook addiction negatively. Your phone is not your child. Do not let it demand unequivocal attention. Free yourself.

3. Is your phone your wake-up alarm? Get an alarm clock

You need your phone not to be next to you when you wake up. Get an alarm clock or alarm radio to wake you up.

4. Plug your phone as far away from you as possible when you go to bed

Now that your phone is no longer your alarm clock (or your child), move it away from your bed. On the other end of your room. Or better still another room. Ringer off, face down, arse in the air to stop the notification light from tormenting you. Or better still under something as it charges at night. Better yet, on airplane mode.

That was the prep. You’re doing well. Here’s the hard part. But once you’ve done it, it’s done and you’ll know it works.

5. Put the internet to sleep two hours before you

Whether you’re on a train home or better yet at home two hours before you go to bed, abandon your phone and laptop. You may not need to be this strict once your addiction is under control but for now no internet two hours before sleep. Use a site blocker on your phone and laptop. If you’re home and find reading a book intimidating, read a magazine or a crap paper or watch some good/bad TV. Doodle. Have a chat. Cook some food. Make some music. Anything not internet based.

6. When you wake up – leave your phone alone

This will be hard at first. You’ll be searching for the dopamine based gratification. Tell yourself it’s just the chemicals. Do all the other things you’d normally do in the morning, but leave your phone alone.

7. Start listing your needs and excuses

As you attempt to do 6, your brain will tell you that you have to check your phone/Facebook because of x y and z. Write these things down. Externalise this information using pen and paper. Then take a breath, sit down for just one minute before you leave home for work (if you do) and ask yourself: Do I actually NEED to do/know any of these things before lunch time or even today? Chances are, for most things you don’t.

8. Leave your phone in your jacket at work

If possible, don’t have your phone next to you when you’re at work. Wherever work happens. That counts for all sorts of work, not just office based waged work.

9. About to cave? Go for a walk

When you feel yourself about to cave (which you will) get up and go for a walk. Even if it’s just to the loo and back.

10. Start listing all the things you need from Facebook this week

Whenever your brain tells you that you need to check Facebook, take a pause after your walk/change of scenery and write the reason down. This will probably happen all day for 48hrs or so from when you last checked. Even if you don’t know what you’re going to write, write it down. Using pen and paper. Articulating your thoughts in writing will help you decide a schedule for extracting information from Facebook when you will log on in the future. Writing your perceived needs will help you decide if Facebook is your only go to place to:

  • Find out the address of that event. Can you search online or ask a friend?
  • Check your messages for a friend’s response to a question. Can you text/email them instead?
  • Say happy birthday to someone. Call, email or text?

It may be that you find you don’t actually need Facebook this week or even this month.

And one more…

 11. How to Log in with control

At some point – even if you’re feeling the benefits, you may actually need to log in. Plan for The First Log In as if you were planning for war. Know which day it will be. Have your hand written list of what information you need. If you don’t have a list you don’t need to log on. The first time you do this do it with a sympathetic friend if possible. On someone else’s laptop if you can and not your phone. Log in slow. Type slow. As soon as you log in, take a deep breath. Try covering the notifications on the top right hand corner with one hand as you slowly start searching for the information I need from your list. Try to avoid looking at your feed or notifications at all the first time you log in after a break. Write down the answers to the questions on your initial list. Log off. Close Browser. Get up. Ideally go for a walk. The next few hours will be difficult. Try not to intoxicate yourself that night as this will make you more vulnerable to relapse.

As suggested in last week’s piece, my hypothesis is that a significant number of us are addicted to Facebook and this is affecting the health of society as a whole. I also think our addictions are no surprise: When the very foundations of society are being uprooted by the current government’s austerity measures, many of us are depressed. We have less time, money, energy and spaces to socialise and gain pleasure, so we turn to digital substitutions to mitigate our dissatisfaction, frustration and loneliness.

We feel uprooted. We feel we can’t invest in friendships or futures. So we search for the cheap short term thrills. You cant afford to travel so you get sloshed on the weekend, you can’t afford intimacy so Facebook will do.

Except it won’t. The real stuff is better.

You are not alone.

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 References from The Organized Mind

[1] P7

[2] P102

[3] 148

[4] P7

[5] P209

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4 thoughts on “Reclaim your Brain – Ten steps to liberation from Facebook addiction

  1. “News Feed Eradicator for Facebook” Chrome plugin (I’m sure there’s a similar one for any browser) is a good intermediate step, I’m finding.

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