Ever been in a really toxic relationship?
Like I am talking "three-mile island" bad?
You want to get out but you can't. What will your mother think? What will your friends think? OMG! The dog. Who is going to take care of the dog if we split?
You get the point – it sucks.
Bad Relationships with Technology
And how to divorce them.
Today folks, I am going to be acting as your VERY own divorce lawyer. (in a metaphorical sense – I definitely am not smart or dumb enough to become a lawyer)
We'll go through the divorce process together, step by step.
I'll walk through why your current technology use might be toxic, how to divorce it, and finally, a few ways to reconnect with technology in a more healthy manner.
Current Day: How technology messes with your brain.
I want you to reflect on your day yesterday. Starting from the morning – what was the first thing that you did?
For most people, it was grabbing their phone.
It wasn't going to get some water, going to the washroom, hopping in the shower. It was all of that PLUS being on your phone.
Notice when and where you use your technology. It's mostly during DULL moments. Transitory events that cause your brain to become BORED.
You somehow only realize after the fact that you had been scrolling. It's almost like you have fallen into a trance and only realize what's going on AFTER you're done.
Click, Whirr - Robert Cialdini
But what's going on here?
Dopamine is way more important than you think
You might have heard of this thing called dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – which basically means that it is a type of chemical that gets released by parts of your brain. This chemical can be sent anywhere in your body! Fascinating stuff.
Anyways... Dopamine is involved in MANY important bodily functions:
- motor control
- reward-seeking behaviour
- memory and focus
- and so much more...
And technology is f*cking with this thing.
How does technology influence dopamine?
Not the type of tolerance you have when your annoying cousins come over for the holidays.
The overstimulation of the reward pathways in our brain causes our behaviour to shift in unexpected ways. You now need to spend MORE time on technology to gain the same level of satisfaction.
That type of tolerance.
You can spend 12 hours binge-watching TV. The 1st hour and the 12th hour will look very different. You're likely feeling TERRIBLE at the 12th hour but you just can't stop – even though you know you should.
This is what I like to call a "dopamine burn". It's an activity that you know doesn't meaningfully add to your life but you (your brain) can't help but engage in it.
When you engage in the dopamine-burning type of behaviour you also become the unfortunate victim of LOW motivation.
Using technology in unhealthy ways – for some people – is causing them to NOT do the things they should be doing. Even though they desire to achieve a goal, they are instead doing other things like scrolling social media, watching porn, and engaging with unhealthy substances.
Reduces Learning From Mistakes
The craziest part of all this is that YOU KNOW that these behaviours are bad. Yet you can't change.
You make the same mistakes over and over with the SAME results. Never learning.
It can actually be quite depressing.
When you use technology in an unhealthy way, you're essentially making it very hard for your brain to change that behaviour. Even if you desire not to do it, you still do it.
Let's Divorce Unhealthy Technology, Together.
Introducing: The Non-Invasive Dopamine Detox!
You may have heard of dopamine fasts or detoxes before.
They sound good in theory but in practice they SUCK!
The structure of the detox is this. Over the next 2 weeks, you'll avoid certain things and find replacements for others.
We'll go over a few pitfalls & things to expect.
- Substances (drugs and alcohol)
- Bad Technology (social media, video games, content aggregation – Reddit, News, TikTok)
- Porn / Masturbation / Unhealthy sex
- Unhealthy food (Bad carbs + fats)
- Shopping / Gambling
- Thrill Seeking (Dangerous behaviours)
Notice how I haven't told you to avoid work/school or go on vacation. You can very easily pick just ONE of the above to avoid and slowly integrate that into your life.
Little wins! Little changes.
Expect A Fight
Your brain has been doing things in a certain way for a long time. You've now broken that. Expect resistance.
Look out for these experiences:
- An itchy boredom
- More negative emotions
- Seeking other coping mechanisms
You can probably understand what this means. It's that feeling that makes your skin itchy. You can't handle the boredom. Your brain NEEDS to be doing something.
Remember, you were engaging with these technologies to AVOID negative emotions. They are still there. And they still need to be dealt with.
You're going to feel TERRIBLE. And that's perfectly okay! We want this actually.
You may find yourself in a game of whack-a-mole. You take away one negative behaviour and another one comes around.
Just be aware of what these might be.
Structure Your Days
You will be bored. So you will HAVE to structure your day with activities in advance.
- Connecting with nature (hikes/walks)
- Improving a skill (maybe cooking? or programming?)
- Read books (wait 3-4 days after you start – you'll start to enjoy books)
- Structured Social Outings (picnic? bbq? go for an activity)
- Focus on your school/work (maybe actually do your work for once LOL)
- Get community support (tell your parents! and your friends!)
- Limit Phone Use (turn off notifications, turn your screen to greyscale, delete apps or log out)
Surf The Urge!
You're going to feel urges to reach for your phone.
Don't beat the urge – just don't give in to it.
Ride the urge wave. At the moment it may seem overpowering, but like any wave, it will eventually die down.
Become aware of the urge and tell yourself to ride it out. You don't need to vanquish it, just don't give in to it.
Eventually, it will go away and you'll be okay!
After your 2 weeks. You'll be in a better headspace to pick technologies that actually improve your life.
Reintroduce things like social media but with RESTRAINT. Maybe only give yourself 15mins during the day to be on.
Or maybe you'll realize that it wasn't worth it, to begin with. That there are far more exciting things out in the world!
Maybe you'll retire your smartphone. Who knows.