I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of people say that they want to quit some particularly addictive aspect of modern technology in 2018. Maybe you want to delete Candy Crush from your phone once and for all. Maybe you only want to check Twitter once a day. Maybe you want to stop hate-reading a feed or forum, maybe you want to quit Instagram-stalking your ex and maybe you just want to spend more time interacting with something besides a screen.
For most of us, deciding to quit won’t be enough. We need additional tools to keep our hands off our phone and away from that addictive app — and before we do that, we need to understand why these apps keep bringing us back.
There are two big reasons why many apps feel addictive. The first reason — as you might remember from your Intro to Psychology class — has to do with the idea of intermittent reinforcement. You don’t know when you’ll earn your next Candy Crush reward, and you don’t know what you’re going to see when you open Facebook: it could be funny, it could be annoying, it could be the same post Facebook showed you this morning, or it could be a new photo of someone you love.
You don’t know what you’ll get — so you have to find out.
It’s also hard to quit many apps (especially the social media ones) because humans are social animals. We like interacting with other people, and many apps give us an easy, low-stakes method of connecting. We find it hard to close those apps because our friends and family (and exes) are still on them, and we want to see what they’re doing.
So how do you stop the compulsion to take a quick peek or play a quick game — and how do you stop “one quick game” from turning into a twenty-minute, eyes-glazed-over session?
Here are some suggestions.
Delete the app
This is the obvious solution: tap that X and get that app off your phone. You can always reinstall it if you want to!
But I know that not everybody can delete every addictive app. Those apps are where we connect with friends and family and colleagues, not to mention where we get a lot of our news.
So we have to come up with some workarounds.
Give yourself a “quitting time”
Let’s say that you don’t necessarily want to delete Candy Crush from your phone (it’s useful to pass the time while you’re waiting in line, for example). Maybe you know you have to maintain a professional presence on Twitter, or maybe you want to see your nephew’s baby photos on Facebook. There are a lot of reasons why you might not want to quit an app in full… but you can still quit that feeling of addiction.
The secret? Know when you’re going to quit before you start. By giving yourself a quitting time — you can even use the alarm on your phone to remind you — you’ll be able to get what you need out of the app without getting stuck in it. You’ll also avoid the “ludic loop” of checking Facebook, then Twitter, then playing a few rounds of Candy Crush, then checking Facebook and Twitter again.
Quit in a way that works for your personality
I can guess what you’re thinking: “I tell myself I’ll quit after one round, but then I keep playing!” That might be because your personality isn’t wired to quit something cold turkey. You might need a little extra motivation — like a pact with a friend.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Four Tendencies, divides personalities into four types:
- Upholder: meets both outer and inner expectations
- Obliger: meets outer expectations, resists inner expectations
- Questioner: resists outer expectations, meets inner expectations
- Rebel: resists both outer and inner expectations
Do you find it easy to follow through when you’re doing something for someone else, but procrastinate on your own to-do list? You’re probably an Obliger. Do you have a strong sense of your own values but resist values and roles assigned to you by other people? You might be a Questioner.
Take Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz to learn which of the tendencies is most likely to apply to your life, and then follow her advice (quoted below):
Create an accountability group on social media where you check in every day on whether you’ve resisted the app; ask your child to delete the app from your phone, and think about the bad example for self-control you’d set if you put it back in; make a deal with a friend that if you go three months without using that app, you’ll spring for concert tickets for the two of you, so now, if you use the app, you’ll be disappointing your friend.
They might log their usage to see exactly how much time it’s sucking up (Questioners tend to love to monitor themselves) and remind themselves of how they aren’t meeting other important aims in their lives, because this app is crowding their time. “I feel like I have no time to practice guitar, but look how I could gain that time back.”
Some Rebels love a challenge: “My family thinks I can’t give up this app? Well, watch me!” or “Starting January 1, I’m going to work on my novel, and I’m going to finish by December 31st — and that means no Twitter.”
If an Upholder wants to quit an addictive app, an Upholder can probably accomplish that without much fuss. Upholders are good at that sort of thing.
Cull instead of quit
Sometimes you don’t need to quit the entire app — just the parts of it that are causing you the most stress. If you feel like you’re spending too much money on in-app purchases, for example, you can disconnect your credit card information. With social media apps, you can unfriend or mute individual accounts.
Once you pull out the elements of the app that are causing you the most agita, you might find that the app feels like fun again, instead of a combination of fun/anxiety/shame.
Turn your notifications off and hide the app from view
Lastly: don’t let the app tell you when to check it. Turn your notifications off — no banners, no home screen notifications, no little red numbers — and hide the app icon in a folder or tuck it into the second or third page of your home screen. Start opening the app only when you want to, not when it wants you to.
You might find that you want to open it a lot less often, once you aren’t thinking about it all the time.