It’s 11 p.m., and I can’t stop scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone.
My bedroom is dark. I know better than this. I should be reading, or meditating, or stretching — something relaxing and screen-free before bed.
Instead, I’m scrolling. My thumbs are sore from typing. I want to stop, but I can’t.
Eventually, I snap out of the trance. It takes a lot of willpower, but I force myself to put down my phone. I start to tune in to how tired I am, and as my head touches the pillow, I wonder at the power of a little device to get between me and the rest that I so sorely need.
I’m not alone. And it’s no accident: social media is engineered to be addictive. Some therapists are even offering treatment for social media addiction — and as journalist Sarah Kessler found, our issues with social media are often a mirror for larger anxieties.
So when we find ourselves using social media not because we want to, but because we just can’t stop, what can we do to break the spell?
We can start by getting curious. As psychiatrist Judson Brewer explains in a TED talk, curiosity can be a powerful tool when it comes to breaking bad habits. In Brewer’s lab, rather than forcing people to quit smoking, he and his team invite them to be curious about it:
We said, “Go ahead and smoke, just be really curious about what it’s like when you do.”
And what did they notice? Well, here’s an example from one of our smokers. She said, “Mindful smoking: smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, YUCK!”
Now, she knew, cognitively that smoking was bad for her, that’s why she joined our program. What she discovered just by being curiously aware when she smoked was that smoking tastes like shit.
How do we become curious about our social media compulsions? What questions can we ask ourselves in the moment to help transition ourselves into behaviors that feel more satisfying?
Maybe we close our eyes and ask ourselves:
- How does my body feel right now?
- Do I like that feeling?
- If not, what might feel better?
If I had asked myself those questions on the night in question, or on so many other nights, I might have tuned into the soreness of my thumbs and the glazed-over feeling in my brain. I might have craved, suddenly, the relief of lying down on my soft bed with the weight of my favorite blanket on top of me. I might have made a choice that was nourishing rather than depleting.
The good news is that every moment represents an opportunity to make a different choice.
What habit will you choose to be curious about?