Hi Jules: I’m on the internet all day long, and I want to quit it. But as someone who doesn’t really have hobbies and is an introvert, it’s my default. Is there a way to change my routine?
Ali: The internet can be quicksand for the mind. You want to set better boundaries around when and why you revert to it. A first, essential step is to gain control over what gets your attention. Start with turning off notifications, as they can often lead you down internet rabbit holes. The only lock screen notifications I have on my phone are for calls. For text messages and emails, I only have badge notifications turned on — meaning I see a number on the app icon, but only when I’m already on my device. This will allow you to detach from the distracting details of a message and opt-in when you’re ready. For any other apps, I advise you to turn off all notifications.
Next, select moments during the day when you want access to the internet to be completely off-limits. No scrolling through feeds, no watching shows or videos, and no playing games. I find that this approach is more effective than screen-time limits, which do little for me since they’re easy to get around. Use these moments to embrace exploration or solitude — giving your mind space to move freely, as well as tap back into thought and wonder that aren’t so dependent on external sources. This will help you find what you enjoy outside of the internet.
Start by setting boundaries around meals and bathroom breaks. Because of their quick nature, they’re great moments to initially practice restraint. Also, set boundaries around the 30 minutes after you wake up and before you go to sleep, and when you workout or run errands. Look for moments when going online can mess with your rest, focus or ability to be welcoming to others around you. While your phone is good to have on you as a safety device in public, when you’re in private, try keeping it in another room to eliminate the ease of accessing it.
To get offline, you also need to find what compels you enough in the physical world to prompt you to step away from the digital world. To discover this, look for situations that you wouldn’t typically see yourself in. This could be a unique workout class, instructional lessons, workshops, days in the park or a niche concert — if an opportunity or event sparks any bit of curiosity … pursue it. The point of this isn’t to “succeed,” it’s to be exposed to something or someone new. Spontaneity leads to increased flexibility, creativity and fulfillment.
If you think back on the pivotal points of growth in your life, they were most likely accompanied by challenges. It’s important that seeking discomfort becomes a part of your routine. Don’t let the internet keep you stuck.