In our last post here, we learnt about the techniques app designers use to keep us hooked to their apps.
A habit forming app consists of these 4 ingredients
- A trigger which reminds us to do the action
- An action which is damn simple to do
- A variable reward to keep us craving for more and repeat the action (this is responsible for the addictive behavior)
- An investment from us into the app which leads to step 1 albeit with a lag
What is the flip side?
According to Gloria Mark, one of the leading researchers on “interruption science” at UC Irvine, unrelated external interruptions cost us 23 minutes before we resume focus!!
So how do we solve this issue?
Since we know how the app designers think, let us invert this and use the same framework to find out ways to negate the above factors and hence develop better control of our time when it comes to using these apps.
I personally think as normal humans it is extremely difficult to resist “variable rewards”. As we scroll through our social media feeds in search of variable rewards, a chemical called dopamine hits our brain providing us pleasure. This is the same pleasure chemical that is stimulated when we eat delicious food, make money, have sex or use drugs. This chemical is a strong proponent of addictive behavior and is extremely tough to resist.
The fourth factor which involves our participation in the apps, is again difficult to address. As it simply means you shouldn’t use the app. Abstinence, while might be the best solution, I don’t think is practical enough.
So, basically factors 3 and 4 – are difficult to address and we are left with the first two to solve our issue:
The easiest thing to address is the external trigger.
1.Take control by turning off all your notifications
Every app designer uses external triggers in the form of notification to reminds us to use the app. Disabling this is the first step from our side to bring back the control and lets us decide when to use rather than the app designer deciding it for us.
However you might want to keep an exception for notifications which indicate that real people (your friends, colleagues, family etc) are trying to reach you i.e apps like Messages, WhatsApp, or FB Messenger etc (but even this is a pain in my opinion)
2.Recognise your internal trigger
Next time you feel like opening twitter, consciously take a note of what is the exact “feeling” or “emotion” that goes through your head before you open the app.
Are you feeling bored? anxious? lonely? depressed?
This linkage to an emotion is what generally makes the app eventually addictive.
Next time you get this feeling. Instead of opening the app, experiment with some other action. Say talk to your friends nearby, call a friend, read a few pages of a book, take a walk, take 5 pushups etc. Check if the craving is satisfied. Else keep experimenting with the rewards till you find a suitable alternative.
The key is to be aware of the emotion which creates the craving. While this is going to be tough. Gradually you will start to have better understanding and control.
The app designers want to make the action as easy as possible to do. Our intent is the reverse and to make it as difficult as possible.
3.Get the social media apps off your home screen in phone
- The moment you open the phone the sight of these colorful app icons in the home screen, act as sub conscious triggers and make it extremely easy to open the app
- Keep only the most essential apps you use for quick tasks such as Camera, Maps,Notes, Uber etc in the home screen
- Move the rest of your apps off the first page and into folders
4.Launch apps by typing
- When you want to open any of these apps, search for them by typing and then open the app – this act of typing forces us to become conscious
- This also prevents us from viewing other apps while searching for this app – which might trigger us to open other apps too
5. Log off from social media apps
Log off from all your social media apps. So whenever you want to check facebook, twitter etc, you have created an additional resistance by having to log in each and every time. In effect, we are trying to make the usually easy “action” slightly more difficult.
6. Buy an alarm clock
8 out of 1o smartphone users check their phone first thing in the morning.
The best solution is to use a separate alarm clock and charge mobile phones outside the bedroom. This makes the action of immediately looking at your cell phone after waking up a tad more difficult.
Thus the basic idea is to
- Remove the external triggers
- Recognise the internal triggers and experiment with new actions (rewards) to satisfy the cravings
- Make the action as difficult as possible
Let us also listen to few experts for their suggestions
Tristan Harris – a crusader against tech addiction
Tristan Harris is a former design ethicist at Google who is currently leading the movement to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. He is advocating this cause via his Time Well Spent movement.
Nir Eyal – the man behind the “HOOK” framework
Mr. Nir Eyal is the author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” and lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School
If you have any ideas that you think can be used to take control of our time when it comes to app usage, do share them in the comments section.