Hi. My name is Daniel and I am a recovering Facebook addict. Whew, it felt good to admit that out in the open. With that confession out of the way, I’d like to help you understand why you are addicted to Facebook. I’ll even provide some easy steps that you can take today to break the habit and be more productive.

The first step to breaking any bad habit is to understand the psychological triggers that made you pick up the habit in the first place. Below are five common ones that I know very well.

1. Facebook scrolling is a symptom of procrastination.

Facebook capitalizes on your tendency to procrastinate by incorporating a news feed with an infinite scroll. No matter how far down you go, there will always be more memes and status updates to keep you distracted from whatever you should be doing. Thus, it might be helpful to change your perception of Facebook. Instead of looking at it like a place to be social or kill time, frame Facebook as the enemy of your productivity and purpose. Doesn’t sound as tempting now, huh?

2. Facebook over-sharing is a symptom of loneliness or indecision.

Facebook resembles a boring reality TV show that is on full display during every hour of the day. Do you really need to tell everybody what you ate for lunch? I doubt it. You don’t share such trivial details to add value to people’s lives. You’re doing it, because you’re lonely and desperate for approval. Seeking opinions from your friends could be a sign of indecision or low self-confidence. If you get a bad suggestion, then you can conveniently blame somebody else, thus protecting your ego.

3. Facebook creeping is a symptom of misplaced affection or unhealthy self-comparisons.

Facebook makes it easy to be a creeper. There are two primary causes of creeping and neither of them are pretty. If you’re creeping the profile of your ex, then you’re probably living in the past. Seek professional help if you are struggling to let go. If you’re browsing the profile of a crush, then you’d be better off actively pursuing them. Send them a thoughtful message to get a conversation started. If that goes well, ask them out on a date. Creeping could also be a form of self-inflicted misery. It’s already hard to resist the human urge to compare ourselves to other people. Facebook makes this convenient to do.

4. Obsessive checking of Facebook notifications is a symptom of impatience or people-pleasing.

Facebook takes advantage of your desire for instant gratification. Your brain receives a dopamine hit every time you see that red notification light up. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that causes you to seek pleasure from things like food, sex, and drugs. Pleasure sounds nice in theory, but dopamine is responsible for self-destructive behavior. Thus, becoming a slave to your notifications can destroy your self-control in a hurry. If that wasn’t bad enough, the human desire to be liked and accepted is at play, too. Every time you get a “Like”, your brain decides that means somebody likes you. Keep this up and you’ll turn into an addict desperate for another “hit.”

5. Obsessive refreshing of your Facebook feed is a symptom of a fear of missing out (a.k.a. FOMO).

Facebook wrecks your focus by preying on your fear of missing out. You check your feed during a date, because you don’t want to miss any interesting updates. You check your messages while you drive, because a friend might have something exciting to share. Never mind that you might turn off your date or wreck your car and die. The possibilities are endless, so it’s totally worth it. That was sarcasm if you didn’t notice. I’m being dramatic to demonstrate how reckless these behaviors are.

If you’re ready to break your addiction to Facebook, follow these five steps.

1. Admit you have an addiction.

You can’t fix a problem if you deny it exists. Don’t beat yourself up, but do try and be honest enough to admit you’re a Facebook addict. If it makes you feel any better, I’m a recovering addict myself. There is no reason to be ashamed. Telling a trusted friend might help you stay accountable, especially if they share your goal.

2. Be mindful of the triggers that provoke the habit.

Every psychological trigger I discussed here won’t necessarily be relevant to you. That’s okay. Focus on the ones that are. If you’re not sure, here’s a reflection exercise that might be helpful. It will reveal why you’re having such a hard time breaking the habit. Record the following details in a diary or journal until you identify some common trends:

  • What did I do? (scrolling, over-sharing, creeping, notification checking, or feed refreshing)
  • When did I do it? (down-time at work, as soon as you woke up, right before bed, on a date, etc.)
  • What happened right before? (if a stressful or upsetting event occurred, that could be significant)
  • How did this make me feel? (use a descriptive adjective to describe your mood before and after the incident)

3. Consciously acknowledge the habit for what it is.

This step will break Facebook’s hold on you as long as you can be consistent. Every time you feel the urge to update your status or check your feed, recognize that impulse for what it is (a habitual behavior — NOT a conscious decision). This is especially powerful when you complete step #2, because you’ll be able to make a mental note of the specific psychological trigger at play.

4. Practice self-compassion during the process, no matter how frustrated you might get.

Facebook is an epic time-suck, but that doesn’t mean you should criticize yourself every time you log-on to your feed. Psychologists consider procrastination a misplaced coping mechanism. Beating yourself up will make you feel bad about yourself, which will ironically cause you to be even more tempted. Self-loathing can only lead to failure. You might end up deciding it’s hopeless, because you are “too lazy.”  If you want to break your addiction for good, then you need to be self-compassionate.

5. Replace the habit with a positive alternative that you can track or measure in some way.

It’s a lot easier to eliminate a bad habit when you decide on a good habit that you would like to replace it with. I applied this idea by choosing to pick up a book every time I was tempted to check my feed. The result blew my mind. I read over a hundred pages in the first day! Trust me when I say those “few minutes of down-time” can add up to an obscene amount of waste. Having a specific metric to track is important. If you want to stay encouraged, you need to have compelling evidence that your time would be better spent elsewhere.

This is going to sound ridiculous given the subject of the article, but…

Would you please pass this along to your friends on Facebook? I don’t mean to demonize the website entirely. It’s a great place to stay in touch with the people we care about. Even so, it’s time to break our addictions so we can achieve our purpose and enjoy the company of the people right in front of us.

Featured photo credit: Girl Using Her iPhone Outside/Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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