Overcoming my Social Network Addiction

"New growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old." - The Guru Laghima

The idea of creative destruction isn't new. The creation of anything new entails the destruction of something old. This is especially true for individuals. Every decision made is not just a selection or a choice, but rejection of all alternatives.

Keeping that in mind, I don’t start each new year with a resolution to achieve something new. Instead, I identify the things that I know I spend too much time on and work to reduce the amount of time I spend on them. 

Our time is finite, and rather than cram in more stuff into an already busy schedule, it may be more productive to find where you can do more with less. If your 24-hour day is already full, you won’t succeed in doing something new unless you clear time for it first.

This strategy only works, however, if you admit you're not making the most of your time. The evaluation is an exercise in honesty, and it can be quite painful to look at how you’ve spent your life and realize some of it was a waste of time. But it’s better to make that evaluation late than to never make it at all.

The evaluation is simple. Ask yourself:

  • Does this thing that I spend my precious and finite time on bring me a commensurate amount of value or joy?
  • Is there something else I could be doing with that time that would be more fruitful, valuable, or enjoyable?

For most of us, it isn’t difficult to find a few things that just aren’t worth the time I spend on them (I’ve cut out watching almost any television, live sports, flirting with girls that I know I’m not actually interested in, and finishing books that I find boring). We can all find things that we can remove while living a life is no less enjoyable than it was before, allowing ourselves the opportunity to do things we value with the time we save.

A Place for Friends

This year, the evaluation was easy for me: I needed to reduce my time on social networks.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with social networks. They're powerful platforms for staying connected with friends. There are people who communicate almost exclusively through social networks.

Many people, however, become addicted to checking social networks. It’s easy to chalk it up as an an addiction to attention. But more commonly, it tends to be an addition to information. How easy is it to spend several minutes every hour scrolling through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to see what’s new in the world? And those minutes add up to hours looking at things you don’t actually care about, all because it makes you feel busy and like you're doing something productive.

"Most people confuse being busy as being productive." - Charles Munger

People refer to it as the busy trap, but it should go by it’s real name, which is addiction. If you’re supposed to spend your money on groceries, but you spend it on alcohol instead, you're called an addict. If you open your computer to do work and you end up scrolling through Twitter for 20 minutes instead, you should also be called an addict.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am an addict, because I knew that was the only way in which I was going to be able to find help.

Any addiction, by definition, is hard to break, so I did a little bit of research into services that could help me manage myself. There are a handful of services available, and it’s worth looking into which might work best for you, but that first important step is getting started.

Getting Help

After a little bit of searching, I decided to use Freedom. Freedom is a program that locks you out of accessing certain websites. You create a list of the websites you want to be locked out of, and you set a timer for how long you want to be locked out. This can be incredibly useful for short periods where you can’t afford distractions, but where distractions are most likely to intrude, such as when you’re studying.

You can also set a recurring schedule so that Freedom automatically blocks you from accessing those sites at certain times. This feature has been invaluable to me so far.  The most vulnerable hours of my day are the morning, where getting up and getting out quickly is important, and night, where I struggle to wrap up the day's activities and get to bed on time. So I set up a session where Freedom blocks me from social networks starting at 9pm and ending at 11am.

Note, I am not a Freedom affiliate and am not getting paid for referrals. I've just enjoyed using the product.

The Difference So Far

"No man ever became wise without taking the time to think." - Charles Munger

I knew I was addicted, but I didn’t realize the extent of my addiction until I started using Freedom. Going to Facebook to see what was new was a regular part of my day, but then I noticed I was directing my browser to Facebook without thinking, even when I knew I wouldn’t be able to access it. It had become muscle memory.

I've learned that, as much as I like my friends and acquaintances, I don't need to know what they're doing minute to minute. Most people don't have a good filter for knowing what's worth sharing and what isn't. I’ve also learned that I’m less busy than I thought I was. I will forever be behind on the tasks I need to get done, but my days feel less hectic. Now when I’m making coffee in the morning, I’m not making coffee and looking at Snapchat. I’m just making coffee.

I have less to distract myself with and end up with more time to simply think. I have more time to let my mind wander and think of interesting problems and ideas. I haven't made any grand discoveries yet, but I realized that I've lost out on countless of hours of unrestricted thinking. What connections could I have been making that I didn't because I was too busy checking out fitness memes? It's a scary thought, but I feel lucky that I approached the problem when I did.