Here is a small assortment of what I saw during a recent 2-minute scroll on Twitter. A video in which someone blow dried and conditioned a hairy mango pit until it resembled the shrunken head of an 80’s rocker. Someone asking followers for advice on how to convince their husband to adopt a family of ducks. A stark video of a man, presumed to be dead, being pulled out of the wreckage left by the Beirut explosion. A thread discussing President Trump’s narcissistic behavior followed by a comment section that contained a bullet spray of posts accusing, defending, dragging, and users saying absolutely heinous things to one another. A video of two teens gleefully listening to “In the Air Tonight” for the first time, followed by a thread where users who gush about Phil Collins are subsequently told to go to hell. And a post about the amount of wealth billionaires in the U.S. acquired during the pandemic with a comment thread that quickly branched off into MAGA rants, NRA rants, misogyny, coronavirus conspiracy theories, and the posting of a video showing protesters getting bludgeoned and teargassed by police.
This is but a brief glimpse. What I saw is not shocking to anyone familiar with Twitter or any other social media or news platform. It’s par for the very craggy course. A quick scroll confronts the average user with a barrage of posts that contain everything from the lightly comedic to the largely soul-withering. Of course, one’s feelings about what they see depends on their own tastes and opinions. But all users bear witness a shotgun blast of stimuli from their personalized feeds that frustrates them, saddens them, worries them, and lightens them in a very short span of time. This ping-ponging from one post, one sharp feeling to another, has serious effects on not only our collective well-being but also that of our families. Too much news and social media can make us more anxious, more defensive, more depressed, more short-tempered, more distracted, more cynical all of which are counterproductive to being a good parent.
Now, this has always been the case. But it’s only increased during the pandemic, when news and social media feeds transformed into a box of horrors out of which it can be seem impossible to claw. The term “doomscrolling” has aptly come to describe the modern habit of endlessly scrolling through one terrible news story after another. So how do we develop better habits and pry ourselves away from the screens? How do we develop better habits and take back our attention? It all comes down to convincing yourself to be more intentional with your tech habits and set up systems to help mindlessly scrolling. This is easier said than done, but it is possible. Here are a few tips to help.
Don’t Read the News or Social Media First Thing in the Morning
How we begin our days is crucial; staring at one terrible news story after another, or jumping from one twitter post to another isn’t a great way to leave the starting line. “The first thing you’re thinking about in the day shouldn’t automatically be what’s on your phone,” Dr. Tricia Wolanin, a clinical psychologist and workshop facilitator for the United States Air Force, told us. Avoiding it first thing , she notes, sets the pace of your day and allows you to focus on yourself and your family, rather than rope-a-doping with the myriad emotions stories produce.
It’s crucial, then, to fight the impulse to tap and scroll when you wake up. Do you reach for your phone first thing to turn off your alarm and then scroll mindlessly from there? Get an analog alarm clock and charge your phone in the other room. Need to be informed in the early morning? Simply make sure that, whatever time you pick, you stick to it. If your time to read the news is between 8 and 8:20? That’s fine. Just make that’s the extent of your news time until the afternoon.
Turn Off Your Push Notifications
Push notifications are a not-so-sneaky way to make us addicted to our devices. They appear with a blink and a buzz and we think, oooh, an important message! when in fact it’s just another headline, birthday notification, or LinkedIn invitation that draws your attention and pulls you into the abyss. Turning off push notifications, or using the iPhone’s Screen Time function to block out updates for a certain period of time, Wolanin argues, allows you to stop this cycle before it begins. Doing this makes following the news or checking social media an active choice instead of a passive one — and enables you to build healthier habits.
Create Distance Between You and Your Apps
How many times do you open your phone and automatically click on Twitter or Instagram? It’s so easy to grab your phone and mindlessly tap on a social media app. A solution? Delete the app altogether. This forces you to use the mobile interface which requires the more active process of signing in. That’s likely to cause a little bit of friction between you and the action you’re trying to take, which gives you time to think: Do I really need to look at this right now? That’s an important step.
Kondo Your Home Screen
You’re less likely to mindlessly tap on a social media app if it’s not in plain view. So take a page from Marie Kondo and clean up your screen. Delete apps you’re not using and rearrange the ones you use too often so they’re not staring at you, begging to be tapped every time you unlock your phone. (Yes, this also means changing them out of the dock at the bottom of the phone, too.) Tuck them away in a folder so that your thumb doesn’t instinctively tap them.
Have Someone Keep You Accountable
It’s always good to have someone keep check on you. So, if you’re willing to be called out every time you mindlessly scroll, then recruit your partner or a friend to keep tabs on you. It might be frustrating at first but accountability is key. Maybe go deeper and institute a phone-free time in your house where everyone silences their devices and stashes them in a designated shoebox for a few hours. Yes, it will be hard to not have the shiny, glistening device within arm’s reach. But after a while you’ll relish the time you have away from it.
Learn the True Meaning Behind Your Addiction
As Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, told us, we often turn to technology when we don’t want to confront our uncomfortable feelings of boredom or anxiety. He added that everyone — adults and children alike — needs to learn what he’s dubbed “the skill of the century”: indistractability.
“It’s not just about technology,” he says. “Becoming indistractable is about living with personal integrity, and doing what you say you’re going to do. If you say you’re going to exercise, do it. If you say you’re going to eat right, do it. If you say you’re going to be fully present with your loved ones or do the work you said you’re going to do at work, do that. That’s the goal.”
The opposite of distraction, Eyal pointed out, is traction. That is, any action that pulls you towards what you want. “If you intend to watch television, great. That’s traction,” he says. “If you intended to play a video game or read the newspaper — that’s traction, as long as you plan to do it ahead of time.”
The key to winning back yourself from social media lies in being intentional about it. “Technology isn’t evil,” Eyal noted. “It just needs to be planned for. So, don’t check tech when you have nothing better to do. Use it on your schedule. I have time in my schedule, in my day, for social media. It’s something I value. I like to connect with friends and stay up to date with my industry and reach readers of my book. But it’s planned for in my day.”
Become intentional with your phone — and tech habits in general — and you’ll feel much more in control. And if, during your scheduled time, you choose to watch someone dry and comb mango-pit hair, well, that’s your choice.
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