How To Overcome Internet Addiction and Build Deep Work Habits
Everyone's talking about Internet addiction, right?
We all know that we are probably spending too much time online.
But what almost no one understands about Internet addiction is how it relates to the concept of deep work.
Do you spend all your time using willpower and motivation trying to develop better online habits instead of wasting your time being distracted by Facebook, Youtube, blogs, email, and other websites?
It's not using willpower and motivation that help you to overcome your bad online habits, it's delay discounting. That's a technique based on science that you can use to temporarily block certain websites even if you need the internet on a daily basis.
Internet addiction is a complicated topic and has really gotten a lot of attention lately. Even Facebook admitted that using their service might have negative consequences.
It's time to go back to the basics and take a look at the science of addictive behavior.
Afterwards you'll learn all about the tools and strategies (like delay discounting) that will help to stop wasting time online and develop better habits.... long term.
While online tools can be amazingly useful, being addicted to your smartphone or computer can have a lot of unintended consequences. Especially if you need the internet to work...
In this article you'll learn...
- 1Why internet addiction is too complex to understand even for really smart scientists. (and why you should not care).
- 2A simple and unique way to overcome smartphone addiction that you never heard before.
- 3A surprisingly effective way to become more productive when you open your MacBook or work on your computer that will help you to get things done without getting distracted.
Let's dive into the topic.
Part 1: What is Internet Addiction?
The truth is that researchers still can't tell you exactly what Internet Addiction Disorder is.
The best way to describe internet addiction, also known by the term "Pathological Internet Use" (PIU) is to let an self-diagnosed addict from reddit describe it in his own words.
An internet addict shares his story On Reddit
The first I do after I wake up is browse social media for at least an hour. And when I go to bed, I also browse social media for another hour or so. And 99% of what I look at during those times will mean nothing to me after 15 minutes.
[...] I can't go a full 15 minutes without looking at my phone. I procrastinate easily because I check so often. I literally get anxious when I hear my phone buzz and I don't check it straight away. I don't know why either. I can still check it later and see the exact same thing. I won't be punished because I didn't look straight away.
When I'm sitting somewhere along with other people, my default go-to is to look at my phone and hide. I'm sort of kicking myself thinking back on all the times that I could have started a conversation with someone and possibly gotten a lot out of it. In general, I've preferred staying at home and using the internet or my phone to 'hide away' rather than going out and just doing something, which would be way more productive than looking at meaningless content for hours on end.
I honestly think it's affected who I've grown to be as a person too. There's no doubt that I've unintentionally become less sociable, less approachable, and overall less interesting because of how I use the internet and my phone. I've opted out of doing things that would have made my life much better in retrospect and chosen to hide in looking at useless content instead.
I think my relationship with how I use my phone and the internet needs to change.
Internet addiction is a complex topic because it touches a lot of different areas in people life. It's not like this user from Reddit is acting like a heroin addict but he feels a huge negative impact in his daily life.
Due to the complexity there are so many different words trying to describe different aspects of internet addiction. You will hear terms like...
Cyber addiction, web addiction, net addiction, online addiction, technology addiction, smartphone addiction, social media addiction, compulsive internet net use, Facebook addiction, YouTube addiction, gambling addiction, internet gaming disorder, internet sickness, internet overuse, shopping addiction, porn addiction, dopamine addiction, technology obsession, etc. ...
If you look for it you'll probably find a dozen more definitions.
Why Is It So Hard To Define Internet Addiction?
Most research on this topic is not methodologically sound. This is due to the fact that studies lack big enough samples and are designed in very different ways. All this has lead to inconsistencies across studies from various scientists. That's the main reason a standardized diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder has not been discovered yet.
If nobody seems to even get these basics down, it is not surprising the research quality still suffers.
Depending on which scientist you ask only 0.3% of the population are addicted or at many as 38% . There is no way to tell how many people have internet addiction.
Source: Internet Addiction Disorder - Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments, Internet Addiction Disorder, https://www.psycom.net/iadcriteria.html
For something to be official, it has to be agreed on for diagnostic manuals, such as the ICD-11. For something to be recognized as a mental disorder in the U.S., that would be the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (the DSM-5).
Research into this disorder began with exploratory surveys, which cannot establish causal relationships between specific behaviors and their cause
It does not surprise that “problematic Internet use” disorder doesn't exist in any form in the DSM-5. Of course, researchers have an interest to promote their work widely, since their entire career is based upon this. Therefore you'll find some big media companies (who often don't haven’t a clue), which go with the most outrageous, eye-catching headline a study with limited sample size produced.
Internet Addiction is no more an “official thing” today as it was when it was first introduced as a joke nearly two decades ago.
That does not mean no one looked at this topic. To quote John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Literally, there have been hundreds of studies published on “Net addiction” or “problematic Internet use.” Most of them are, quite plainly, crap. They suffer from fatal flaws or constantly-changing definitions and rely on psychometric measures that are not very good.
That's the reason why there is not even a standardized test you can take to diagnose internet addiction. To quote Mr. Grohol again:
The most commonly used assessment, the Internet Addiction Test, lacks “rigorous and systematic psychometric investigations.” It also has construct validity problems — a core component of a test’s psychometrics.
As he points out. The critique of the problems with the research into this phenomenon is still true today as it was a decade ago:
The three main problems with the existing research on PIU are the challenges regarding the general conceptualization of PIU, the dearth of methodologically sound studies, and the lack of a widely accepted assessment measure with adequate psychometric properties. There continues to be a lack of consensus in the research regarding the definitional and diagnostic base for PIU, which has lead to inconsistencies across studies and posed challenges for the identification of optimal treatment options. [...]
Most research on PIU to date is not methodologically sound due to difficulties with sampling and research design. The majority of studies involve self-identified convenience samples of problematic users or student samples, which significantly biases the results (Byun et al., 2009; Warden et al, 2004). [...]
There is no assessment measure of PIU that is both psychometrically sound and widely accepted. Most of the existing measures have adapted diagnostic criteria from other psychological disorders to PIU and lack adequate psychometric properties. [...]
Watch out for the symptoms of net-addiction - Don't take rely on internet addiction tests
That means we, unfortunately, we cannot rely on research. That's the reason why I don't recommend you can a classical test to find out if you are addicted.
However, there is something else you can do.
Take a look inside and be honest with yourself.
Do you sometimes act and feel like something must be wrong?
Is there any chance that you are addicted and downplay the consequences? Only because everyone around you is doing the same?
To help you get started, you can look at these common symptoms that seem to be correlated with surfing too much.
Even if there is no general consensus. There are a lot of warning signs to discover "If internet addiction is real for YOU".
Let's take a look at the signs and symptoms of internet addiction.
Do you experience a few of them?
The signs that you want to look for can occur both in the physical and emotional realm.
Here is a list of possible emotional and physical symptoms that were published on PSYCOM that are related to your internet addiction problem.
Emotional Signs of Internet Addiction:
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of Euphoria when using the Computer
- Inability to Prioritize or Keep Schedules
- No Sense of Time
- Avoidance of Work
- Mood Swings
- Boredom with Routine Tasks
Physical Symptoms of Internet Addiction
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Poor Nutrition (failing to eat or eating in excessively to avoid being away from the computer)
- Poor Personal Hygiene (e.g., not bathing to stay online)
- Neck Pain
- Dry Eyes and other Vision Problems
- Weight Gain or Loss
Of cause it does not mean that all to symptoms are connected or even caused by using your computer or smartphone too much.
Another problematic indicator is the time and frequency you go online.
How do you even know if you are surfing too much?
Let's take a look at this common question that a lot of people ask themselves.
Do I spend to much time online?
This is another question that leads nowhere.
Why? It does not help because the question if you are spending too much time online, can only be answered in context. It's definitely not a way to answer the question: "How to know if you are addicted to the internet?
The only way to know is to look at your personal situation. You need to view the time you spend online in relation to your current life situation.
Time alone cannot be an indicator of being addicted or engaging in compulsive behavior.
Time must be taken in context with other factors.
In this day and age, the internet is a basic necessity to have a functional and normal social life.
It depends on your occupation. It's a difference if you are a plumper doing physical work all day long or if you're a college student, Ph.D. student or writing a book that needs a lot of research.
Another important factor to consider is whether you have any pre-existing condition such as another mental disorder. A person with depression is more likely to spend more time online than someone who doesn't suffer from this.
Ask yourself whether you have problems or issues in your life which may be causing you to spend to much time on the internet. If you are suffering from a severe condition you should seek professional help.
Conclusion: Talking about whether you spend too much time online without your specific context is useless.
Why is the Internet so addictive and why the benefits of technology do not outweigh it's costs
Let's take a look at how internet addiction is formed and enhanced by companies like Facebook & Google, SnapChat, and their peers. To dive a bit deeper into this topic let's take a look at Silicon Valley.
Don't be surprised that there are people teaching startups and other companies how to make people addicted.
Of course, they don't call it this way. They call it "habit-forming".
The most prominent expert on "habit-forming" online products and services is Nir Eyal. He spent years in the video gaming and advertising industry where he learned and applied techniques to "motivate and influence" users.
Basically what he does is to teach companies how to make their users addicted.
That does not mean he's a bad guy.
In fact, he has very good intentions and his talks on Youtube are worth watching. After all, he proposes a similar approach to deal with internet addiction as I do. He just does not like to call it an addiction.
The core problem here is that he thinks that "The opportunity cost of not using these technologies to improve people's lives is immeasurably high. That's a much more worrisome problem than the negative aspects of the technologies people generally worry about."
That's the major flaw a lot of technology enthusiasts make. The opportunity cost of not realizing potential benefits are speculative, while the costs are already real.
Of course, there is opportunity cost of not using these addictive technologies but at the same time, it's very probable that the bad consequences of technology addiction may outweigh potential benefits.
That's because the traditional approach to risk management in business and our society has significant flaws as Nicolas Nassim Taleb points out in his book "Anti-Fragile".
We are only able to see risks that we have already seen or can imagine. This can be labeled as “managing risk through the rear-view mirror”, and does not address unexpected risks that may (or may not) outweigh the "immeasurable high possibilities to improve people's lives".
Of course, it's good if some software makes it easier to adopt healthy habits for some people. However, as Adam Alter noted in his book Irresistible:
There is a fine line between behavioral addictions and helpful habits. [...] Addictive levers work by boosting motivation, so if your motivation is already high there's a good chance those levers will compromise you well-being.
In most cases, it's better to stay away from habit-forming software completely. The benefits are very often negligible.
We all know that changing habits is never easy.
The struggle is part of the journey to personal growth and well being. This struggle will make you stronger longer-term. (Sidenote: I wrote about the long-term effects of "helpful" software here.)
Summary: Software might help in the short-term but makes you stupid in the long-term.
How Companies like Facebook and Snapchat are making you addicted - The HOOKED MODEL
Online services like Facebook, Youtube and Snapchat and a lot of other tech companies use the "hooked model" to make you addicted to their service.
For companies, there are a lot of benefits to this approach. When they attach internal triggers, their "users" show up without any external prompting.
Instead of relying on expensive marketing, habit-forming companies link their services to the users' daily routines and emotions.
A habit is at work when users feel a tad bored and instantly open Twitter. When you feel lonely or stressed you open Facebook without thinking about it.
Nir Eyal answers the question pretty straightforward:
How do products create habits? The answer They manufacture them.
Today, tech companies can profoundly change behavior by guiding "users" through a series of experiences he calls hooks. The more often users run through these hooks, the more likely they are to form habits.
In other words, if you use these online services without awareness you are likely to form a behavioral addiction by design.
The hooked model typically consists of 4 phases:
- Variable Reward
Triggers can be external or internal. External triggers are things like an email, notifications or an app icon. Imagine a friend is uploading a picture to Instagram. You see it and click on it. Over time you form internal triggers, which you attach to existing behaviors and emotions.
When you start to cue your next behavior, this becomes a new habit really fast.
After being triggered by the trigger, you are asked to perform some kind of action. For you like the picture. Maybe you click on it and see the whole album of your friends holiday. For companies to be successful they have to make it really easy for you to take an action and you need to have some kind of motivation to perform the action.
Next comes the reward. You'll see more pictures of your friend. What distinguishes this addiction model from a typical feedback loop is the ability to create a craving.
You won't form a behavioral addiction if the feedback loop is predictable and does not create desire. Instead, it's more like a gambling machine. You don't know what kind of pictures you see when you scroll down your feed. Many pictures, status updates, and ads may be boring but there are some rare gems that you really enjoy (or hate).
The last phase of the addiction model requires you to do a bit of work. Maybe you leave a comment on the picture. (And don't know if your friend will reply or like your comment). Maybe you upload pictures to Instagram as well.
When you invest some time and effort it's more likely that you pass through this cycle again in the future.
Investment can mean anything. Time, data, effort, social capital or even money. Ideally, this helps the company make the service better. More pictures and more friends using the service to make Instagram even more exciting. You learn which pictures will get more likes, you learn how to shoot better pictures and use there features to add special effects to your photo.
Why behavioral addiction will not go away soon and will be a problem for decades to come
Companies, especially start-ups form the tech industry will use this problematic model in the next years to design products that become more and more addictive. It's just too profitable. Of course initiatives like Tristan Harris "Time Well Spent" are helpful and might even help to ban the worst addiction levers.
However, companies are making way more money by making you addicted to their products.
As Paul Graham, a famous investor from Silicon Valley noted:
"Unless the forms of technological progress that produced progress in general, the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40."
And Nir Eyal warns us:
If used irresponsibly, bad habits can quickly degenerate into mindless, zombielike addictions. - Nir Eyal
Can you imagine a public company staying away from this proven model for success and say to their shareholders:
"We know our products are addictive for some people. Let's make them less addictive. This would only mean we lose a big chunk of our revenue but we're making the world of a better place?"
I don't think so.
How to fight the companies that are spending millions to perfect their additive online services and products?
If we want to continue using the internet we have to find a way to deal with this. We need to find a way to break the habit loop that most of us have developed and made us addicted in the first place.
And yes, I believe we need apps and software to fight back if we want to continue using apps and software that make us addicted.
The secret is to inject awareness before the hooked model makes us addicted.
For this, I developed a two-step approach.
First, we must overcome our smartphone addiction.
Because most of us are within one arm length away from our phones 24/7 this is the first place we need to tackle.
Once we have established a less addictive approach to using our phone we need to find a way to use the internet on our computer.
Reduce proximity and exposure by design
I discovered that overcoming my smartphone addiction was "relatively easy" while it was way more difficult to deal with internet addiction on my computer.
Especially when I wanted to get work done and engage in deep work habits.
For most people, the computer is still the place where we can work most efficiently.
The big advantage of using a computer to access the internet is that it's LESS convenient and therefore easier to not use the internet too much.
The whole approach is based on reducing proximity and expose to the internet and our smartphones.
This will remove most of the triggers that start the addictive hooked model. It will also make it much more difficult to engage in the 2nd step of the model and perform the action tech companies want us to take.
By designing an environment that removes the trigger or and makes making the action much more difficult, I was able to overcome my internet addiction.
If you follow this you will be able to do the same.
The secret ingredient I used is something I stumbled upon in Kelly McGonigal's book "The Willpower Instinct" and it's called Delay Discounting.
Delay discounting is a mind trick recommend by behavioral scientists.
Researchers found out that the longer you have to wait for a reward (e.g. checking your favorite social media site or playing a game online) the less it is worth to you.
The reason is that your brain chooses immediate gratification at the cost of future rewards because immediate rewards trigger the older, more primitive reward system and its dopamine-induced desire in the brain.
To make this work and to delay gratification, the prefrontal cortex has to be forced to cool off the promise of the reward.
The reason is that even small delays can dramatically lower the perceived value of any temptation.
In practice that means your urge to visit Facebook, Reddit, Youtube etc. or playing a game has only a narrow window of opportunity to overwhelm your brain.
As soon as there is any distance between you and the temptation, the rational part of your brain takes over. For example, even putting your phone on airplane mode and putting it in the drawer will work.
This works because you are getting further away from the source your addiction and reduce proximity and exposure.
However, putting my phone in the drawer wasn't enough for me.
That's why I had to take some more sophisticated measures to make access to my smartphone and the addictive websites and apps more difficult by using website and app blockers.
This worked pretty well for my smartphone but when tried to copy apply this approach on my computer I failed.
There was no software that was built for short-term delay gratification on my computer. So I had to develop my own software which I called FindFocus to make this approach work.
I think it's time to add a disclaimer:
The solutions presented in this guide are based on my own experience and my self-diagnosed internet addiction.
To make delay discounting work I use external apps and my own software to make it more difficult to access the internet other addictive services and apps.
I'm no professional. I suffered from online addiction and saw it impacting my ability to be productive.
Internet addiction did not completely ruin my life. However, it was holding me back more than I still dare to admit.
If you have a life problem or are struggling with a disorder such as depression, seek professional treatment for it. Even if PIU is no official mental illness no one can deny it's a growing problem. Many therapists know this and will be able to help you.
Part 2: How to overcome Smart Phone Addiction?
How you want to use your smartphone is the most important thing you need to address. Period.
The problem that makes it so hard to deal with your smartphone is that it's such a universal powerful device.
You can easily fool yourself into finding a reason why you have it close to you 24/7.
At the same time there severe reasons why you should reduce your engagement with your smartphone to the absolute minimum.
If you learn to beat your smartphone addiction you'll dramatically improve your mental, emotional and physical health.
Countless studies prove there is a negative impact of having a smartphone close to you 24/7. Technology use was found to be related to a lot to the symptoms of psychiatric disorders that were mentioned above.
I think the biggest reason to reduce your smartphone usage is that you'll see a direct impact on well being and reduced anxiety after just a few days.
It's counter-intuitive but having a smartphone with you all the time increases your anxiety to unbelievable levels. We only feel secure when we have this device close to us. This puts us on risk all the time:
You might lose your smartphone. Your phone might get stolen. It might break or simply run out of battery.
In an experiment, researchers found that the heaviest users of technology showed increased anxiety after just 10 minutes of not being able to use their phone, and their anxiety continued to increase across the next hour.
Another study found that "simply the presence of a cell phone and which it might represent (i.e., social connections, broader social network, etc.) can be similarly distracting and have negative consequences in a social interaction".
There was one study where two people who never met spend ten minutes either having a casual conversation or discussing meaningful personal matters. In one condition, a mobile phone - not belonging to either of the participants - was placed either on a nearby table within full view but not in the direct line of sight of either one or was absent and replaced by a notebook of similar size.
Afterwards, the researchers found out that participants rated their feelings of closeness, trust, empathy, and understanding with the other person much lower if they were exposed to a mobile phone.
Rightfully Larry D. Rosen commented on this experiment in his great book "The Distracted Mind":
If the presence of a mobile phone can negatively affect social connections and feelings of closeness during a short conversation with a stranger, what does that imply about how it can impair our real relationships?
Identify addictive apps and raise awareness
What apps and services are you using most often? When are you most likely to be sucked into the online world?
Which apps do you use?
Netflix? Facebook or Twitter or Youtube? Quora or Reddit? Probably you already know what's your digital kryptonite. So you know what you’re dealing with.
If not there are two way to find you where you waste most of your time.
Leo Babauta from zenhabits recommends to keep a little piece of paper and a pen/pencil with you and write down the things you check often, putting a mark next to those things each time you check them.
However, the biggest advantage of this technique is not that you'll can an accurate picture of your addiction but that the task of writing it down manually raises your awareness. That's the first step to beat your internet addiction.
The 2nd method I would recommend is to install a software called "Rescue Time". This software will track every website and software that you use on your computer. If you upgrade to the premium version, you can connect your mobile phone as well.
New versions of Android and iOS provide these statistics as well, so you'll get you a pretty accurate picture of your total internet usage on your mobile phone.
Break the chain of trigger-habit auto-response by injecting a small pause in between
Ideally, when you get the urge to check something you’re addicted to, notice this urge, and pause for just one second.
During this pause, simply ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this, and why?”
You can then go on to do it, no matter what the answer, but the important thing is having at least the briefest pause.
Sidenote: This sounds useful but when I tried this myself, I would do this for a few days maximum and then revert back to old habits. Often time without even noticing it.
The main goal is to AUTOMATICALLY raise awareness and reduce proximity by changing your environment so you don't need to remember it.
The key here is not to use willpower or to "remember it" but to use apps to change your environment.
Since the internet is what is it, the only way is to change the environment on your computer.
There is a reason why when losing weight one of the first recommendations is to remove the unhealthy food from your home first if you want to change your eating habits.
If you want to change your bad online habits and overcome addiction the key is to remove addicting websites and services from your smartphone and your computer.
IYou can change your habits and overcome your addiction. This will take a month or two (or much longer if you are really addicted), so you’ll want to fully commit to a change.
Any change done half-assed won’t last.
Overcoming Internet-Addiction on yoursmartphonee is so difficult because it's an "All-In-One" devise.
After talking to dozens of people who were looking for a solution to beat internet addiction by blocking websites and reading countless books about this topic I discovered the traditional methods to treat my addiction did not work neither for me nor for them.
There had to be a better way to overcome this issue.
Step by step guide to overcome smart phone addiction
Step 1: Identify potentially addictive apps on your phone
It may sound crazy but it's important to DEFINE what apps you really WANT to use on your smart phone.
This takes courage because you have to stop following and follow your own goals and your own agenda instead of being the victim of the mindless algorithm of a tech-company.
In his motivation manifesto, Brendon Burchard phrases it like this.
Let us make this day the day we take back our life's agenda from the grips of conformity and distraction. [...] Let us not forget that our simple efforts and daily triumphs can gather wight and motion to become an unstoppable force toward a focused and free life.
We must take a long, unflinching look at our habit of giving our lives and agendas over to others. We have to say no more often. We have to increase our focus. We have to fight harder to safeguard our time and our dreams and our souls.
- Write down the apps that you want to use on a piece of paper.
- Rate the addictiveness of these apps on a scale from 1 to 10.
Ask yourself Where you would have to endure significant drawbacks from not using a specific app on your phone?
This could be something like not being able to use google maps in a new city or not using whatsapp when you meet with friends in a new restaurant.
Please be honest with yourself here.
Use These 3 Questions As Guidelines To Decide What Websites And Apps To Use
What's the BEST possible outcome
if I stop using this app?
What's the WORST possible outcome
if I stop using this app?
What's the MOST LIKELY outcome
if I stop using this app?
To give you an example I don't rate my sleep tracker or google maps very addictive. Maybe a 1 or 2 on the scale. For me, it's okay to have them on my phone.
Whatsapp is probably a 7, and Facebook is rated 8, Youtube and my favorite newspaper sites are rated 10.
It will be different for you. In Step One the goal is to raise our awareness and make logical decisions that are in line with our goals. This is best done on paper.
Step 2: Block everything that is addictive
If you need to use these apps for professional reasons, use your desktop computer or laptop instead.
If you rated them 7 or higher it's worth to endure even significant drawbacks.
This is about YOUR life. You want to get rid of an addiction.
(I'll show you how to cope with these apps and make them less addictive on your computer below).
Here is a list of of addictive apps that I deleted or blocked on my phone 24/7 using Applock.
- All browsers
- All email clients
- Play Store for new apps
- Whatsapp (temporarily)
What I like about Applock is that you can set a complicated password that you cannot remember to unlock the blocked apps and/or settings.
The only addictive app that is still on my mobile phone is Whatsapp because I found it to hard to quit yet because everyone uses it to organise offline activities.
To limit access to WhatsApp I use a 2nd app blocker called "AppDetox" and allow it only for one hour each day.
Then I block access to appdetox with applock.
This is like a 2nd line of defense. When I unlock AppDetox with my password, I'm not tempted to unlock Youtube or my browser in the settings of Applock.
Here are some apps that I still use on my phone:
- Google Maps
- Google Calendar
- A Sleep Tracker
- Amazon Kindle
- Google Drive to access to MP3's & videos
I download all the videos and mp3's/ podcasts that I want to listen to on my desktop computer and place them into my drive folder.
Step 3: Prepare For Emergencies With The Password-Photo-Hack
There might be some rare occasions where you might need a new app or access to the internet. Use the password-photo trick to take advantage of the delay discounting principle before you unlock the internet.
Take a photo of a complicated password
Use this password in the AppLock-App
This ensures that you cannot simply copy/paste your password and makes it really inconvenient to cheat. That's using Delay Discounting in a very pragmatic and practical way.
Unlocking the additive apps with Applock is too complicated without writing the password down again, yet the photo is always available in your phones gallery.
The 2nd benefit is that it will take you a while to enter the password. So you'll give your prefrontal cortex an additional pause to reconsider your decision.
Side note: After 1,5 years of using this trick I never had to unlock my phone due to an emergency.
How to limit access to addictive websites and apps on your computer or laptop
Overcoming your smart phone addiction is only half the battle.
If you followed my advise above you have a pretty solid foundation to beat your internet addition.
Even the addictive services and products are often time important tools that we cannot abandon them completely.
That's why need a way to deal with them and still get work done because abandoning these services completely robs us of huge benefits.
That's why people going on a strict digital detox with extreme measures will always make a good headline but this is not a feasible long-term approach for most people.
Design the path of least resistance using strategies of weight loss experts
If something is too hard, we naturally take the past of least resistance. Especially if we need ALL our willpower to focus on a topic or work that's unpleasant or requires deep thought.
For example, research shows that strict dieting strategies (that revolve around limiting the foods that you can eat), are associated with eating disorder symptoms and overweight, whereas flexible dieting strategies are not.
Strict diets are known to be major triggers for food cravings just like you are craving to visit your favourite website and don't want to engage in deep work.
What the research shows is that if your are prone to cravings (again we might use the word addicted), the worst thing you can do is follow a diet that forbids certain foods.
Instead, it is recommend to use some sort of flexible dieting. This means to create meal plans that you actually enjoy, and incorporate “cheat meals” that will not undo all your workouts in the gym.
People who use this approach can eat more or less all the foods they like (just in moderation) while still reaching their fitness goals.
The restrictive eating problem extends beyond food choices, too. It also includes eating too few calories. If you eat too little, you will be plagued by hunger and cravings.
That’s why it’s recommended to be aggressive but not reckless with your diet over the longterm.
The same applies when you want to build lasting deep work habits.
Part 3: How to develop Deep Work habits
A lot of people who know they are wasting too much time online want to develop so called Deep Work habits. Deep Work means you are putting yourself into in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to the limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
“If you haven’t been practicing concentration, you don’t really know what true concentration really feels like,” says Cal. “The people who cultivate it, they’re not just a little bit more productive than everyone else; they’re massively more productive. These are the people who are stars in their fields.”
Deep work isn’t easy. If you’re doing it right, mental strain is inevitable — but necessary for getting better. It requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone and drains your willpower.
When you're low on willpower simply switiching to another browser quickly becomes a valid option.
For those of us who are constantly going from app to app or browsing between Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube throughout the day, learning how to really concentrate can be a daunting process.
“If you haven’t been practicing concentration, you don’t really know what true concentration really feels like. The people who cultivate it, they’re not just a little bit more productive than everyone else; they’re massively more productive. These are the people who are stars in their fields.” - Cal Newport
Because we’re so accustomed to this bombardment of stimuli, we need to reprogram our brains and learn to embrace boredom, as Cal says.
Don’t expect this to be easy.
“If most of your life is spent in fragmented attention, you are hurting your ability to concentrate when it’s time to concentrate,” says Cal. “I think — and I have anecdotal evidence to support — that you can get that back, but it’s going to be hard work.”
What many people experience who use a website and distraction blocker in order to be productive cut back on mindless surfing to engage in deep work is that these tools work in the short term just like a certain diet works in the short term.
“If most of your life is spent in fragmented attention, you are hurting your ability to concentrate when it’s time to concentrate" - Carl Newport #deepwork
However, after an initial period that lasts for a few days or maybe a few weeks, they fall back into the same old habits for two reasons.
Like most diets, these tools are not designed to change your habits on the long-term.
Yet getting used to do deep work gradually is the only way to build deep work habits as Cal Newport describes in his book.
Yes, these tools are not build for anything "gradually".
Two reasons why you fail to build deep work habits when using website blockers
People who use a website blocker or chrome extension to build deep work habits and get better at concentrating usually fail for two reasons.
Reason #1: It's Too EASY To Turn Off Your Website Blocker
One of the reasons is that it's too easy to turn it off. This is ALWAYS the case if you use and extension for your browser. If you are engaging in demanding work your depleting your willpower. Your brains comes up with an excuse and easily justify to give into a easier behavior. Then you simply switch to another browser. It's too easy to find a way because your not delaying the gratification enough.
Reason #2: It's Too HARD To Turn Off Your Website Blocker
In our day and age, we always face some kind of emergencies whether they are real or imagined. Maybe a client calls you and needs a reply to an important email. Or you need to do a quick research for the project you are working on. The reasons to turn off you website blocker are endless. These software programs are not build for the flexibility that is required if you have to work online.
For example, the popular free website blocker Self-Control typically allows you to block a specific website or a number of websites for a certain amount of time. But after talking to a lot of people, the biggest reason they fail is because they forget to turn on the website blocker in the first place.
How To Use Laziness To Create Deep Work Habits Long-Term
That's where laziness or the path of least resistance comes into play again. To continue with our dieting example the war against cravings is not won resisting the food in the fridge, it's won in the supermarket.
All most every expert for weight loss recommend to remove all the unhealthy food from your home.
However? Have you ever tried to delete Facebook or Youtube from your computer?
Imagine you want to do some research.
Once you open your browser press the letter "f" you see the word facebook.com almost magically appear in the address bar of your browser.
All you need to do is to hit "return" and "BOOM".
Gone are all your intentions to finish the important project that you were working on a few seconds ago.
A few minutes (or a few hours) later you remember. "Oh, I want to do some research." What was it I wanted to know?"
How can we deal with that?
Especially if we don't want to quit all our social media accounts?
The key to build a new habit is to make the process of going to our favorite website just a "little bit" more difficult and not a permanent decision.
Never turn off your website blocker by using Delay Discounting
FindFocus was build with this intention that you don't have to block certain websites or the internet completely. This approach is simply to strict for most people and hence they abandon their software solution soon.
To limit access to distracting websites using a free chrome extension like "Stay Focused" might be enough for you make delay discounting work. If you generally have at least a decent amount of willpower and discipline there is no need for expensive software. Just being forced to boot your computer and using browser extensions might be enough to cope with any type of social media addiction for example.
However, if you are anything like me and want to cultivate deep work habits you probably need something more. I am easily distracted by almost everything that I find mildly interesting whether is a blog post, the general news, politics, football, games or even an academic studies about internet addiction.
Therefore I had to create a solution that protects me 24/7.
In my (biased) option the best way to do this is using FindFocus.
In FindFocus you have multiple options to introduce a pause and make use of Delay Discounting before performing "habit-building" behavior.
To limit access to distracting websites and apps on your computer I used the same approach we used for mobile phones.
The Approach That Worked For Me
- Block distracting websites throughout the day.
- White-list all the websites that you need to work and force myself to unlock the Internet (for max. 15min per session) if I want to visit a site that’s not needed to be productive.
- Block email during the day, while still being allowed to send email without seeing the inbox.
Works like magic for me!
I can access almost any website (except proven distractions & email) all the time but for a maximum of 15min at a time.
1. Create a list of websites that you need to get work done.
First, you need to create a list of the websites that you need to get your work done. These are the websites that are allowed 24/7. List all the websites you need to get work done.
If you create a white list in FindFocus you will not be able to type anything into the address bar anymore. The best way to get around this is by bookmarking these links.
By default, you while also get around the autocomplete in chrome. (This is something you cannot turn off).
How often have you just typed "f" into the address bar and before your even noticed wasted another 15 minutes on Facebook?
I choose an extension called "Momentum" for this and hide the bookmarks bar of Google Chrome. This helps to keep my browser clean. The Momentum extension is really nice. It even welcomes me with a personal greeting. 🙂
2. Create a new profile in FindFocus and set up the delay discounting
Next, you want to create a white list profile in FindFocus.
For motivation purposes, I call this white list profile: "Getting Things Done".
Below you can see my current setting for this profile.
If you just use this profile you'll probably make 80% of the way.
It will raise your awareness a lot because you are forced to think for a moment before going to Facebook or any other site.
The great thing about this approach is, that if you get lost on Youtube or any other site, the software will block it again after 15 minutes.
The key to success is that you NEVER have to turn off FindFocus completely.
3. Create a black list for the sites that you are addicted to
Because I found I would still visit the sites like some German newspapers or Facebook I created a 2nd profile for this.
Therefore when ever I unlock the internet these sites stay blocked during the day.
This is very powerful!
4. Set up a profile for email
The last thing I like to do is to set up a profile to block my email.
The great thing about it is possible to still SEND emails without being able to access your inbox.
For this, I use a nifty little gmail hack.
To make this trick work you need to be logged into your gmail account.
Next, you need to bookmark this address:
Then you can create a profile in FindFocus:
Currently, internet addiction or Problematic Internet Usage (PIU) is no official disorder because the topic is to broad and changes quickly. At the same time especially people who are who are suffering from anxiety disorder, ADHD or other mental illnesses struggle with PIU.
This guide proposed to use "Delay Discounting" as a way to overcome PIU an avoid excessive internet usage by reducing proximity and expose to potentially addictive services and websites.
This was achieved by using the appblockers Applock & Appdextox on android phones and FindFocus for Mac and Windows computers.
This approach to overcome internet addiction was build
To Beat Smartphone Addiction it was recommended to
- Write down the apps that you want to use on a piece of paper.
- Rate the addictiveness of these apps on a scale from 1 to 10.
- Delete every app that is rated 7 or more
- Download the app Appdetox and add times for apps that you have to use less often but cannot delete completely.
- Take a photo of a complicated password.
- Use this password to prevent changes in the AppLock-App
To build deep work habits when working on Windows and Mac computers Delay Discounting was introduced
It was recommended to
- Created a list of websites that you need to get work done.
- Use delay discounting protection before accessing the internet using a focus question
- created a black list for a addictive websites
- Set up a profile to reduce time spend on email communications
Because there was no need to turn the software at any time (except for making changes to general settings) users of FindFocus are not inclined to turn off the software due to fear of missing out or emergencies.
The goal isn’t to eliminate all information sources and be shut off from the online world.
It’s not to throw out your smart phone or laptop. These tools are incredibly useful and powerful — obviously, I make my living using them, and they have changed our lives in so many positive ways. The idea is simply not to be controlled by them, and to have a balanced life that includes other activities.
Even if you do not implement this approach, figure out the important things you’re going to get done every day. Maybe you want to use FindFocus to block email and online distractions. Maybe you don't. It's still a good idea to turn off all notifications on your phone and your computer. Decide how often you need to check email and Facebook (or other sites).
Schedule times for using these tools on your computer.
Don't use your mobile phone.
Use the airplane mode more frequently and take back control of your life.
Learn to find focus.
Was this guide helpful? Anything you would to different?
Please let me know in the comments.