How to Control Your Social Media Usage
Do you ever open your social media with the intention of using it for a few minutes, only to realize later on that you’ve spent hours scrolling through your feed? If not, you are not alone – in 2019, 16-24-year-olds spent an average of three hours per day on social media. Excessive social media usage, especially among youth, is not a surprise given how social media companies intentionally design their products to be addictive.
What Makes Social Media So Addictive?
Before trying to limit your social media usage, it is beneficial to understand what makes these apps so addictive in the first place. First of all, many social networks use infinite scroll, which significantly reduces your sense of control. After all, we rely on visual cues more than internal cues to decide whether we want to stop consuming content. Moreover, over the years, many apps have shifted towards brighter and bolder logos, since we naturally gravitate towards these colors. Instagram, which changed its logo in 2016, is a prime example of this shift.
Perhaps the most blatant source of distraction is the notifications themselves. For one, they are strikingly unpredictable – you may receive a notification about an event, someone else’s posts, or even suggested accounts to follow. In the same manner, your content itself is also unpredictable, for you do not have control over what posts appear in your feed. This high degree of uncertainty makes social media apps akin to a slot machine.
Ways to Reduce your Social Media Usage
Now that you understand why social media is so addictive, here are some tips to help you regain control over your social media habits.
Disclaimer: I am speaking from my personal experience, and my advice may not work for everyone.
- Delete social media apps from your phone
Prior to simplifying my home-screen, my phone had almost every social media app, including Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, Discord, and Reddit. However, I later realized that many of these apps did not provide any value to my life, but instead made me constantly on edge. I would also have the habit of checking one social media after another. Knowing this, I deleted all the aforementioned apps, except Instagram, which I regularly use for work purposes. Reflect on whether the majority of your time spent on each social media app is productive and intentional. If not, delete it.
What if I can’t permanently delete these apps?
If you need to regularly use a certain app for productive purposes, then it’s fine to keep it. However, you may still find yourself using that app for the wrong reasons. In that case, temporarily delete the app, and after a break, reinstall it again. For example, I delete and reinstall Instagram several times per week, because I have the habit of opening it when I am bored. Given that reinstalling an app requires significantly more effort than opening it, it forces you to consciously ask yourself why you want to use it.
- When necessary, use social media on your computer
This is related to the previous point about deleting social media from your phone. Sometimes, you will need to use a particular app, be it for school, work, or extracurricular activities. However, if you do not need to use it often, then access it on a computer instead.
For me, I am far more likely to mindlessly scroll through social media on a phone than a computer. The reason is twofold. First, social media is a lot easier to access on a phone, only requiring a single screen tap. Secondly, I often associate my computer with work and school, as I often access my computer for these two purposes. This means I am less likely to get sidetracked, and even when I do, I am more likely to explicitly notice it.
- Remove all social media sites from your bookmarks
Social media websites must not be easily visible on your computer; otherwise, you will encounter the same issue of instant accessibility. To overcome this issue, remove all your social media sites from your bookmarks.
- Disable your social media notifications
Believe it or not, social media notifications often have little to do with yourself, but rather with other people. You will be notified when someone else is interested in an event, someone else has sent a message into a hundred-person group chat, or even when someone else has posted on their feed. These notifications are distracting due to both their sounds and bright colors, and appear at unpredictable times. As a result, they can lure you into checking social media far more frequently than you intend to. If you do not feel ready disabling all your notifications, leave them on for meaningful conversations, such as those with your close friends or family members.
- Shut down your cell phone often
If you are still constantly getting distracted by your phone, then create the habit of shutting it down a few times per day. Since you can no longer instantly access your apps, you are far less likely to instinctively reach for your device.
- Read a Book
All habits have the same structure: a cue, a routine, and a reward. In the case of using social media, your cue is what triggers you to use it (e.g. a location, an emotional state, a certain time); your routine is your using the social media itself; and your reward is your experience of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes pleasure and satisfaction. In order to change a habit, you must change your routine. For me, reading is an activity that is not only satisfying but also intellectually stimulating – as a result, it has been a replacement for checking social media.
Although it may seem like a daunting task, you are capable of curbing your social media usage. Even for me, this was a long-term process that required a lot of experimentation, so I hope my suggestions provide a good starting point for your journey.