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A Simple, No-Tech Way to Fight Internet Addiction

By Momoko Price

In my last post, I admitted to having a literally life-wasting addiction to mindless internet content.

(This is genuinely embarrassing for me to admit, considering most of my peers spend their free time, you know, being grownups and raising the next generation of mankind.)

comic of sitting at desk scrolling all day

On the one hand, I can't help but feel like this is a beyond-trivial non-problem, to the point of being insulting to people with "real" addictions (alcohol, opioids, amphetamines, etc.).

On the other hand, I feel somewhat validated having recently learned there's an entire canon of established psychological research on Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) that goes all the way back to 1996.

IAD is apparently so prevalent and problematic worldwide that it's now in the running to be added to the upcoming edition of the DSM, and in-patient/out-patient treatment programs are already common in East Asia.

So I take some comfort in knowing that I'm not just weak; it is in fact a psychological problem that many people struggle with.

And while I'm not following any "official" treatment protocol or therapeutic regimen, after literally YEARS of trying and failing to get control of this issue, I have finally figured out a very specific, low-tech way to manage it that so far has been working beautifully.

I'm not sure it will work for anyone else, but in the hopes that it does, here's "The One Rule to Rule Them All" that I've been sticking to every day:


*... When at home, my laptop and phone stay on my desk.*

That's it. No, seriously. This one simple rule has been successfully stopping me from tumbling into a vortex of memes, reruns, insomnia, guilt, shame & anxiety on a bimonthly basis.

It's truly bizarre how effective it's been. I quite literally would not have the attention span or focus to be blogging right now if it wasn't for this rule.

(The very fact that I've revived my blog at all stems from the fact that I've been sticking to it.)

Why does it work so well?

I think one reason is that, as a "xennial" (aka someone born at the cusp of Gen X/Gen Y), I distinctly remember a time in my early adult life when I had entire chunks of waking time NOT physically connected to a digital device.

And I remember being pretty damn good at getting things done back then. I remember being creative and focused. I remember being social. I wrote lots. Heck, I even won a few awards and scholarships.

So that's part of it: just being aware that there's an alternative. Anyone born after, say, 1994 might have trouble envisioning a daily routine that doesn't involve having a phone in their pocket or a laptop in front of them.

But I think the REAL reason it's been working so well is that treating your laptop like an 40-lb monitor from the 90s is the Internet-consumption equivalent of paying for things with cash.

Personal finance books tell you to pay in cash because it forces you to consciously acknowledge how much money you are losing in order to buy stuff (e.g. forking over a thick stack of 200 twenties for a designer couch feels very different from swiping a credit card and taking on $4K in invisible debt).

Having to sit at my desk, away from my partner and cats, makes watching Netflix or scrolling through Imgur feel like WAY more like the socially isolating waste of time that it is than lying on the couch or in bed "relaxing" (as I used to describe it).

After about 15 minutes of scrolling through stuff, you just get bored and antsy — as you should. In fact, I think it might be impossible to binge-watch an entire Netflix series sitting at a desk. It's just too cramped and uncomfortable.

This "One Rule" also has a few notable positive ripple effects, I've found:

1) WAY better sleep. This is huge. The difference in sleep quality that results from keeping screens out of the bedroom cannot be overstated. And sleep is ridiculously important for pretty much every other aspect of your short-term and long-term health. It's basically the time of day when your body and brain goes into repair mode to fix all the damage it's accrued over the course of your waking hours. To hear more about the jaw-dropping importance of sleep and how not getting it literally destroys your brain, check out Why We Sleep or listen to this fantastic interview with the author here.

2) Reading books again. Remember being a kid and losing yourself in a great book before turning the lights out and having insanely vivid dreams? Remember reading books and actually taking in what you'd read, instead of just skimming words and forgetting everything almost immediately? Remember having favorite books that hit you so hard you had to put them down and take a breath? Yeah. Never thought that would be something I'd lose, but when I'm glued to screens 24/7 I have virtually no capacity for reading or retaining long-form prose. Which is a pretty serious problem for a writer to have. (As an aside, it is genuinely alarming how many people say "yeah, I don't read" these days ... Has anyone else noticed this?!)

3) Procrastinating less (and stressing out less, as a result). For as long as I've run my own business, I've followed the stereotypical lifestyle of The Self-employed Creative, which basically goes like this on repeat:

humorous graphic of putting work off until the last minute

(Don't get me wrong - I always get stuff done for my clients, I just sacrifice my weekends/work-life balance constantly in order to do so.)

Since I've started sticking to "The One Rule," my daily routine has actually straightened itself out naturally, with me working a normal, sustainable amount of time Monday to Friday (5-6 hours on average), instead of cycling through a chaotic boom-bust cycle of "all-the-things-now" 16-hour workdays to "good-lord-what-is-wrong-with-me" 20-minute workdays and back again.

This shift has been hugely restorative not just for me, but for John, who has had no choice but to get whiplash and chip his teeth on the handlebars of Momo's Time Mismanagement Rollercoaster for the entirety of our eight-year relationship.

In addition to the One Rule, here are some supporting routines/rules I've been sticking with to fight those extra-tough "but I don't wannaaaaaa" moments (i.e. when my blood sugar is low or stress level is high):

Bonus Rule #2: Using your phone to listen to podcasts while doing chores around the house is permissible (i.e. cooking, folding laundry, gardening, etc.) But no using your phone to just scroll Instagram, Reddit, etc. If you want to be hardcore, take all social media apps off your phone and get a friend/partner to set parental controls on your ability to install them (I did this. It really helps.)

Bonus Rule #3: Fill "empty" time with journaling. This might not be for everyone, but I find it extraordinarily helpful and grounding to start my morning writing out reflections of the previous day and my plans for the day ahead, instead of just jumping online and getting distracted right out of the gate. One thing I've also been doing is trying to "be my own coach" when journaling. I'm encouraging and understanding; I pat myself on the back for small wins; I pep myself up for the challenges ahead. It's surprising how much easier it is to be kind to yourself when you write it down. And how much being kind to yourself strengthens your will to persevere. BONUS: My penmanship has been restored after years of neglect.

Bonus Rule #4: Not really a rule, but a tool: Try using RescueTime to track what you consume online. I use the paid version (which is stupid-cheap) for its site-blocking tool, where you can set a timer and delay access to (or completely block) distracting websites.

Bonus Rule #5: If you're feeling REALLY distracted/unable to focus, use Brain.fm to get locked in and silence your attention-deficit demons. I had a number of work friends recommend this to me for writing sprints and it really is a godsend. Just turn it on and see what happens. You might be surprised at how laser-focused you can be.

Okay that's it. For what it's worth, I'm now on ~ Day 40 of this "One Rule" regimen and have felt less stressed, more productive, and more in control of my day-to-day life than I have in a looooooooong time.

If you need to help conquering your own addiction, I hope this helps!


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