As I was looking though the Chrome extensions that I had collected over the past few years to remove the ones that I didn’t use anymore, I noticed an old one that I had from my university years - News Feed Eradicator for Facebook.
In my late high school and university years, I was addicted to Facebook. In high school, I would come home from school and be glued to my computer, browsing Facebook. By the time I was in university, instead of studying, I would spend time scrolling through my Facebook home page, getting dopamine hit after dopamine hit as I clicked on interesting articles that caught my attention, or saw what my friends were doing with their lives.
I knew that I was spending a lot of time on Facebook, but I did not know just how much time I was wasting.
To help quantify just how much time I was spending on Facebook, I used RescueTime to help track my time. The numbers were surprising to me: up to 17 hours on some days. It was clear that I needed to waste less time on Facebook.
At first, I tried some of the usual ways: willing myself to spend less time on Facebook, and attempting to go cold turkey by blocking Facebook using some kind of site blocker.
Those strategies obviously did not work. I used Facebook to communicate with my friends, and would quickly disable any site blocker that I had installed. I tried many other strategies before I realized that it was not going to work.
It wasn’t until halfway through university that I found the solution.
I eventually realized that whenever I was on Facebook, the majority of my time was spent scrolling though my Facebook new feed - that was what I was addicted to.
Around that time, I also stumbled across News Feed Eradicator for Facebook, a Chrome extension that takes out your Facebook news feed, and replaces it with a quote from a famous person. It didn’t outright block Facebook, but it did block the main thing that I was wasting the most time on.
Somehow, this compromise seemed to work - I cut my time on Facebook down to a few hours (a significant improvement over 17 hours), and years later I completely cut out my use of Facebook, using the Messenger app to communicate with people instead.
Although I did not intend this originally, as I reflected on this many years later, and having read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I realized that part of why I was successful in kicking my Facebook addiction was that I was manipulating the habit loop.
What I realized was that the routine part of my habit was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, seeing what my friends were doing, and clicking on interesting articles that came up. It wasn’t Facebook that I was addicted to - it was the act of scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and seeing the posts that would draw me in for hours.
The trigger in this case was some kind of boredom that I was experiencing, which would give me an urge to check my Facebook newsfeed, as this was an easy thing to do. This would then lead to the routine above, resulting in hours of wasted time.
The reward that I got out of this was the temporary loss of boredom, and the dopamine hits that I would get as I scrolled through my news feed.
By understanding what my trigger was, and by getting rid of the trigger (addressing the boredom and getting rid of my Facebook newsfeed), I could prevent the routine (spending hours on Facebook).
Previously, when I had tried to intentionally manipulate the habit loop to change my habits, I found that it usually didn’t work out. In this case, it was something that happened organically, as I had less free time in university than I did in high school and stumbled across the News Feed Eradicator for Facebook.
It’s clear though, that manipulating the habit loop is a powerful tool in changing and building habits, and the goal is to ultimately be able to recognize true triggers and routines, and to be able to manipulate them as desired.
In the past when I tried manipulating the habit loop, I just didn’t pick the right triggers. The lesson learned here is that experimentation is required to find the right cue, routines, and rewards, and to find a replacement.