Old habits are hard to break. Read on to witness my attempts to break up with Facebook for thirty days.
Five days into my Facebook hiatus and I had effectively opened the application at least seven times a day. I found myself aimlessly clicking my thumb against the icon on my phone over and over even though I wasn’t actually seeking to open the app. Luckily, I deactivated my account and was asked to log in before viewing my newsfeed, otherwise my resolution would have been spoiled! This, my friends, is a classic example of what could be called a habit, compulsion or could even be considered an addiction.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about internet addiction and until last week I had no clue that my Facebooking was so completely compulsive. Could I be addicted to the internet too? I knew that I had deactivated my account and was currently enjoying the Facebook-free lifestyle, yet I still managed to push the icon multiple times a day. This led me to question exactly what is going on in my brain when focused on other things, phone in hand, and absentmindedly turning to social media without cognisant awareness.
Habits are powerful things- sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful. Think of a toddler fastening a seat belt. This can be a painstaking maneuver for months until the habit takes hold and we almost instinctively sit and click the belt with one brisk movement, hardly aware that the action is taking place.
Think of an individual who frequently over-indulges, whether it be food, wine or binge-watching Netflix. All three situations are liable to lead to problems if not viewed as an action requiring some sort of management. Serious health, social and relational consequences can occur if the action is allowed to take priority over everyday responsibilities.
Both of the aforementioned situations are linked to the strange behavior known as habit. The idea of breaking bad habits and beginning new good or healthy habits is often visited in the month of January. The idea of a fresh start leads people to identify the problem areas in their life and attempt to create new ones to replace the routines that are felt as leading to bad behavior.
Human behaviors have been studied since the beginning of time. Our self-awareness is what led homo sapiens to the top of the food chain. Having said that, the specifics of a habit were not scrutinized until the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, as it was at this point that commercial sales and therefore the advertisements for commercial goods began to gain momentum. It then became profitable to analyze why individuals do the things they do and how companies could attempt to promote their products and services into the average daily life.
Take, for example, Pepsodent toothpaste. This seemingly small product created habits that have lasted over a century. In the early 1900s almost no one brushed their teeth. In your mind as you read that you thought ‘ew’ right? American businessman and famous advertising executive, Claude C. Hopkins, changed our daily hygiene habits with one ad campaign. Hopkins was approached by a friend with a brand new product for a frothy toothpaste called “Pepsodent” and asked for his help. The product became a huge success due to Hopkins taking advantage of a neurological part of our brains that form habits or what is called compulsive repetition. Think of seeing content that you enjoy and automatically hitting the share button. Hopkins’ simple idea of marketing can be seen as the precursor to content going ‘viral’. Hopkins explains this string of actions as: Cue, Routine, Reward. Through advertisements Hopkins explained that the film on your teeth was bad and you could rid your smile of plaque by using his product. This led to a tingling sensation as a reward.
These reward pathways in our brain led the average user to be again cued by the film when it returned and thus completing the cycle again. Hopkins later explained this marketing tactic by two basic rules:
- Find a simple and obvious cue.
- Clearly define the reward.
This soon became a marketing staple and is still used today in many textbooks. From boardroom to classroom, you will find the simple idea used to form a habit.
So how does this correlate with my Facebook routine? The answer is simple when applying Hopkins’ method of forming a habit:
- My simple and obvious cue is boredom.
- My clearly defined reward is mind stimulation.
Since joining Facebook in 2011 my brain has recognized the rewards of the simple task of opening the Facebook application and has formed a habit to stifle my wandering mind. This can be seen as a good or bad habit depending on your personal views of social media, but for the sake of my self-imposed Facebook hiatus and this article I am going to view it as a negative habit. So, what do I do next? I need to break the habit in my brain (easier said than done!).
After a bit of research I have formulated a plan to cease my absent-minded Facebook fixation:
- Take notice of the problem.
- Find the root source or cue of the action.
- Write down the envisioned goal.
- Find a way to fill the time in a positive way for a healthier reward.
- Talk about success and failures with others.
These steps could technically be used for any habit you are wanting to break – personally I suggest starting small. Find a habit that is a slight annoyance and try it out. Be sure to get support! Any personal success is worth sharing!
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