A few weeks ago, I tried a new experiment. I wanted to take a dopamine break. Remember those small hits of pleasure you get when you refresh your LinkedIn feed or any social media for that matter? that’s what hooks me the most.
After very spontaneously uninstalling Instagram, I felt I was already ready, but not quite so.
You see, I have tried to quit a few things in the past- 2 years ago I decided to quit sugar (for 30 days)very hard; A year ago I tried to quit my habit of drinking too much Bournvita milk (yup), and now, finally I am trying to quit social media for good- Well, Instagram in particular.
For the record when I started the challenge on 2nd November my unlock count was about 28 times a day and my average daily usage was about 2hours 56 minutes for that day. (Just one glorious day when the numbers were good)
The Big Break
Dopamine break is this idea that we can take control of our time & sanity if we could only cut down on the often numerous and overwhelming external stimuli on our systems (that give off certain ‘hits’ of pleasure almost instantaneously ) so that we can better focus on the few things we have meaningfully.
The idea is not limited to social media as such, but social media as a system has hacked our dopamine pathways and the need for instant gratification to make us stay for ONE extra minute and then one more, and then maybe a little more and then longer and then a bit more longer and then maybe longer than long and the next thing you is your 10-minute break has turned into 2 hours just like THIS, (like right now!)
We all know by now that social media companies well in fact sell our attention to advertisers who then monetize off of the users for getting visitors or selling products (The CATT Funnel).
Just think how many ads you saw before landing here on this post on your 10-minute break.
We have evolved to unnoticed them by happily paying premiums which means it’s either the advertiser or the platform who monetizes our attention by making us stay one minute longer.
With so many demands on our attention, it becomes important to stand apart as a creator and stay away as a user.
The Attention Economy
In his book Hooked-How to build habit-forming products, Nir Eyal talks about the 6 factors of ability that influence how often a behavior is repeated.
In order for a behavior to become a habit, you can
- Decrease the time that it takes to do something
- How much money something costs
- How much physical effort is required
Think about it, what is your most repeated behavior? how much time does it take to do it, is it physically or intellectually taxing? Have you ever had to pay for it? Chances are you’re not aware of these behaviors, like me because they are so frictionless that they’re almost invisible.
So going by Nir’s theory if I have to reverse a behavior or make it less likely to occur either to reduce the frequency or eliminate it I should just raise my stakes.
That means If I want to quit social media, I should-
- Increase the time it takes to do something (Increase the time it takes to login the app)
- How much money it costs (Ask a family member to charge me a 100 rupee bill everytime I open instagram)
- How much physical effort is required (Delete the apps from my phone, so everytime I want to open I reinstall the app and get codes for forgotten passwords)
Like an unwanted behavior can be reduced or eliminated, a more desirable behavior can be implemented using the same set of cues
BJ Fogg an American researcher at Stanford University came up with a behavioral model that we can all make use of.
Behavior=Motivation+ Ability+ Trigger
If you alter any of these factors higher or lower, you basically change a behavior
In my case when I decided to take a break from Instagram, I knew I couldn’t change motivation (constant) the urge to check my phone at any moment is always high. So I had to work on Ability and Trigger.
Have you ever found yourself opening Youtube/Instagram and then realizing you forgot why you unlocked your phone? Seeing the app logo was a trigger, it prompts you towards opening it (taking action), even more so when it has a red notification dot. It’s all a part of a well-thought-out design (read more on how color psychology influences behavior).
So if you eliminate the trigger you wouldn’t be prompted to take further action, in fact, you wouldn’t form a behavioral pattern without a trigger.
meant that I had to somehow make the act of opening Instagram very hard, taxing, or time taking. This can be done through always having to log in, in the app constantly changing passwords and not remembering them, or simply asking your mom to smack you when she sees that open (don’t try this at home).
Somehow find a way to make this step harder, whether through penalties, time, or cognitive load.
How to make Instagram Unattractive
There are a few ways I found incredibly helpful that deal with our motivation or how long we keep going. The urge to connect and use these products is tried to a recurring emotion that we experience every day, that in itself becomes a trigger to take action. Like boredom, loneliness, exhaustion, or the need to seek out the novel.
Designers, after all, choose their color pallets the way they are for a reason! Color psychology explains how colors elicit emotions and pleasure, making the product more enjoyable to use. One way to instantly make digital products unattractive is to minus color from the equation.
Install a greyscale app on your phone
This turns your entire User Interface into a monotonous greyscale which eliminates the psychological impact of color on your nervous system. Apps are way less attractive when your phone looks like a movie from the 1960s
Grey switch is a great app to eliminate the increasing impact of color on our psyche.
Browse Instagram on your Desktop
Instagram is a mobile-first app, today more than 70%of its users browse the app from their phone. Mobile-first applications are designed first, with keeping the mobile screen in mind while then adapting the screens for desktop, tablets, and PCs (responsiveness).
This also means that browsing Instagram on your laptop computer is a whole different experience! definitely not something to hook you enough. Scrolling with a scroll bar will also relatively reduce how far down in your home feed you reach while scrolling on a mobile phone can be a bit too trippy
Another thing I notice is that you cannot post Instagram stories on your desktop which can reduce spontaneous oversharing. Operating from a desktop can give you the time and space you require.
I like to put it this way, With a desktop, you can stay close enough to connect with friends and see what they’re up to but have the power to stay at an arm’s length of getting too much of it.
To Summarize it’s important to take a break once in a while, maybe more realistic than quitting altogether (which is scary, I know).
With BJ Fogg’s behavioral theory and having the framework of understanding on how behavior is reinforced through the trigger, action, variable reward, and how to influence the factors that cause a behavior to take shape in the first place, leaves us with the power to reflect and change our own habit-forming behaviors for good.