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How Did We Get So Addicted To Social Media?

Should a digital detox be part of your 2019 new year resolutions?

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Share this article

Should a digital detox be part of your 2019 new year resolutions?

Opinions

How Did We Get So Addicted To Social Media?

Should a digital detox be part of your 2019 new year resolutions?

Share this article

It’s that time of year when fresh from the excesses of Christmas holidays, everyone’s focusing on self-improvement and setting those New Year resolutions we all seem to make and then break so quickly.

According to a recent YouGov poll conducted among UK adults, five of the ten most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2019 are to: exercise more, improve self care (i.e. get more sleep and reduce the time spent online), read more books, learn a new skill and make new friends.

Where does time go?

These things are all very valuable and achieving just one of them would be a hugely positive addition to anyone’s life.

The trouble is finding the time to do so, because for a very large number of people, it will mean drastically cutting down on another habitual behaviour - the time they spend every day on social media.

Research conducted by Statista showed that for the average person, it’s over 135 minutes. That’s a whopping 53 minutes on Instagram, 55 minutes on Facebook and 49 minutes on Snapchat.

By just cutting back on one of those channels, even the slowest reader can get through quite a few chapters of a book, run or walk 5K (perhaps with a new friend) and have time to spare for a coffee afterwards.

They could learn to meditate, or just go to bed a bit earlier at night. Social media – and for many people this is simply scrolling through endless feeds of other people’s stories - is eating into the time we could be spending on developing our own.

How the Hook Model sucks you in

How did we ever become so hooked on watching other people’s lives? It’s not reality and yet it has become ours. It’s a strange truism that on Twitter we get excited about how many followers we’ve got, but in real life we would be scared and run away.

We’ve changed and become addicted to all those beeps, pings and buzzes, photos, follows and status updates.

Social media (and apps in general) are so successful because they have been perfectly designed to create habit forming behaviours, using what Nir Eyal calls the ‘Hook Model’. This works via a continuously looping cycle that consists of a Cue, an Action or Behaviour, a Variable Reward, and Continued Investment.

Take Instagram as a good example because it fulfils this cycle perfectly. Firstly, you start an account, the trigger is a fear of missing out (FOMO) on what friends are doing. You keep checking it when you feel a bit bored or low.

That’s the Cue – how you are feeling when you look for updates – and it makes you link that emotion or thought to a product, in this case it’s Instagram. Before you know it, you are checking your feed subconsciously again and again, whenever you feel that way - Behaviour.

And if that wasn’t enough, the app is programmed to ensure you get lots of other visible Cues to keep diving back in with the constant alerts.

Your Actions involve posting updates, for which you are Rewarded, but with different levels of reward depending on the update or investment you have made. Each time you earn a reward, your body is also physically rewarded, with a release of dopamine.

This encourages you to keep at it, to get to those elusive top rewards – the bigger dopamine hits. Every habit-forming substance, from Class A drugs to nicotine and alcohol works in a similar way, by triggering the dopamine system to release its reward.

Over time it becomes harder and harder to stop. Simon Parkin explains the power of social media to trigger dopamine in his recent Guardian article brilliantly.

The app developers are basically exploiting your body’s natural response every time something positive happens and so the Hook Model cycle continues and you spend your two hours There are many types of different rewards offered by social apps that contribute to your feelings of self esteem, social acceptance and desires to discover something new.

That’s the secret, mixing them up in a seemingly random way to keep people hooked by applying well known psychological research, like the Skinner studies on animal behaviour.

If your posts didn’t elicit rewards in the form of alerts, engagement and suggestions, but you just posted into a black hole, you’d probably give up. So very quickly, the loop hooks you in and a new habit is formed.

Becoming mindful about social media

Ultimately, we shouldn’t stop using social media because without it we would find it very difficult to function in today’s society, it’s a fantastic resource. It’s just a question of awareness, finding the right balance between our online and offline lives.

It is easy to be sucked in to a mindless habit and the majority of people don’t realise that they are effectively being duped into spending more of their precious time online.

The key to better managing your social media use is to understand firstly how it is designed to be habit forming and secondly, to gain a deeper self awareness of how you are using it in the first place. Any of these sound familiar?

·         You check social feeds habitually, even though you just wanted to google something?

·         You inadvertently end up spending more time on your phone than you intended to?

·         Whenever you have a free moment, you quickly check your phone?

·         You compare yourself to others according to what they present on social media?

·         You stay online to see if a post is attracting likes and comments?

Steps to take

For one week, be mindful about how you are using social media and how long you spend.  Keep a record. Put into words how often you post and why, plus what you hoped to achieve from the exercise.

Also put into words how you feel about the rewards you are getting and specifically, how you are going to spend the extra time you have regained.

Self awareness is the key to controlling all behaviours. Use it to focus on thinking about achieving some of your New Year’s Resolutions and you’re less likely to be one of the millions who revert to type and give up.

Perhaps even consider a complete digital detox, by starting to switch off your phone for set periods each day and dedicating that time to a new activity instead.

This article is an extract from the online training course ‘Kicking Social Media’ available from GoodHabitz.

The full course contains detailed analysis into why social media has such influence on our behaviours and offers a range of practical tools to help you take stock and recalibrate your online social life.

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How Did We Get So Addicted To Social Media?

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