Putting obstacles in the way of digital addiction

Do you spend more time than you would like online or with a specific kind of physical or digital addiction?

Stop placing so much blame on yourself for not having the self-control to keep yourself from engaging in the activity. Self-control is a limited resource, and we shouldn’t waste it on actively resisting temptation day in and day out.

Instead, I find it much more efficient to work on building obstacles that leaves me unable to engage in the unhealthy addiction I would like to curb, and gives my self-control a bit of peace and quiet. It is not bullet-proof, but it does a good job 90% of the time.

Just like we try to clear the path and make the road towards our goals easier, we should barricade our path against the things that no longer serve us. I will talk mostly about digital addition because that is what I am most familiar about, but I would love to hear how someone might have implemented similar tools against physical addictions like smoking or alcohol.

Hi, my name is Kristine, and I used to play World of Warcraft for hours almost every night for several years as a teenager. It continued well into my university life. Only after finding some true friends, watching the premier of the Hobbit and realizing that I wanted to learn to make things rather than have a digital persona learn to make things, did it truly hit me how much time my digital addiction to a certain online multiplayer game was costing me.

But I am a weak human. Even after my decision to learn real-life skills and seek out a life that felt and smelled like a hobbit home, I still came back occasionally to play.

Why?

Usually a mixture of boredom and depression. the latter I realized when I was so down a bleak and wet London winter. I actually begged Mr. Frugasaurus to play with me. Mr. Frugasaurus who has ADHD and an addictive personality and knows that if he gets sucked into that world, it’ll be months before he might re-emerge.

He had safely stayed away from it, even as friends around him played it. And here I was begging him to come play with me, more than once.

That was a new low. But at least I realized that all the times I have been drawn to the game like a lingering addict, I have also been depressed. In a sense, my pull towards World of Warcraft is a canary in the coal mine. And once I saw that, it became easier to deal with.

But, like a recovering addict, there are also times when I just want to throw caution to the wind and download, re-subscribe and log into that world which let me forget the outside world and woes for so long and so efficiently.

Dealing with an old addiction

I am happy to say that the rush and pull of the game grows less with every year that goes by. Unlike food, I could cut the chord entirely on my gaming addiction, and I did. I deleted the game and cancelled my subscription. I suppose I should have deleted my account too, but I must admit I haven’t.

Instead, I got a laptop with Ubuntu installed.

Unlike Mac and Windows, Linux computers (of which Ubuntu is one of many operating systems) are different in many subtle ways. It is generally not cost-efficient for big gaming companies to adapt their games to work on the different Linux platforms. Instead, they count on Linux users either a) being an insubstantial minority, or b) being tech savvy enough to run windows or mac emulators if they want to run a particular problem.

When we moved back to Norway, I brushed the dust off my old desktop computer and promptly installed Ubuntu on that one too. I did it because I wanted to put up as many obstacles as possible between myself and my unhealthy habit. I am not at all saying gaming is unhealthy in general (for what it is worth, gaming can be an exceptionally cheap and social hobby), but it was for me and where I want to go at the moment.

If I get hit by a winter/early spring depression strong enough to tempt me back into the safe world of warcraft, it would take me several hours to get me back in. Re-subscribing would be the easy part, but I would also need to download all the old game files (over ten gigabytes the last I knew), and I would learn to run a windows emulator. The latter is far from impossible, but something I have pointedly not taught myself because it represents one of the biggest hurdles I need to pass. Currently I don’t know how, and that physically keeps me from launching the game. And yes, I have once been so low since buying this laptop that I actually tried.

Dealing with your addiction

This story might seem random and out of sync to a lot of people, but I believe there are parts of it we can identify with. I have never smoked, or drank alcohol in excess, but I have known the addictive pull of online gaming and other digital addiction, and balance as much as anyone between keeping updated and checking my social media too much.

If there is one habit in particular that you are feeling does you more harm than good, you might want to cut the chord completely. But cutting the chord is often not enough for a lot of us. Self-control is like a muscle after all, and most of us exhaust it especially after long or difficult days.

That’s why I believe we shouldn’t leave things up to self-control and the good intent of creating healthy habits.

Much like we need to help good habits along by buying healthy foods or making it easier to exercise, we should be equally focused on putting up fences against old habits (or even relationships) which no longer serve us. They might have helped us get through hard times, but if you decide whatever habit does more harm than good – fence that sucker out of your life.

Clearing the path

But almost as important as blocking out the things that do not serve you, you also need to make sure you clear the path towards the things you want. It is no good fencing yourself in against things you don’t want to do if your mind has no alternatives.

For me, the new allure was learning the physical crafts my gaming persona could acquire so easily. I wanted to live a life with a similar flavour of what I saw online and in movies. With cozy fireplaces, homemade goods and a warm atmosphere.

I wouldn’t get that playing video games all day in my student room. I would need to learn those crafts and build that life, brick by slow brick. So I made sure the path towards such a life was made as easy and achievable as possible. First by actively participating with historical reenactors, and now by starting to build up our savings enough for me to go to organic farming school.

Much like early retirement, it is much more sustainable to be retiring towards something instead of running away from something. And trying to curb habits I don’t like has worked much the same way for me. I am much more enticed by the carrot than the stick.

Building obstacles

Dealing with digital addiction - curbing one of my most time-wasting addictions.

How is of course a matter of what the addiction you want to curb is. If you find yourself glued to your phone, many people find it helps to turn off notifications, or delete the app from your phone in its entirety. I have come to the point where I get no social media notifications on my phone, and I don’t miss any of it. Messages, calls and updates from my Etsy shop are all that gets to light up my phone screen, and they never make a sound. That is how I like it, but you might find that you have a different comfort level.

If it is a game that is sucking more time than you would like, could you delete it in its entirety along with your account? Get an operating system it won’t work on? Block yourself from accessing that webpage? There are several different ways to block a website if you find yourself spending too much time on it, either completely or after a set amount of time each day.

Personally, I have found that by building obstacles around my biggest distractions or removing myself from them completely, I have a much bigger chance of doing what I am supposed to do. It doesn’t work all the time, sometimes we just need to hunker down with a good book or some good, mindless entertainment, but it helps.

7 Comments on “Putting obstacles in the way of digital addiction

  1. I’ve found Twitter slightly addictive, but most of my twitter friends are on the other side of the world, so I know from late morning to early evening there’s hardly any movement. That frees up the rest of the day!
    When the boys were young I had what I call “The Lost Summer of Tetris.”
    That taught me that I can never play another game as I get totally sucked in.

    • I know what you mean, twitter is probably my biggest digital time hog at present. Ditto on the games too! I play simple games once in a while now, but I can’t seem to get engaged the way I used to, which is probably a good thing.

  2. Addictive personality here, too.
    Sometimes it channels to something useless (gaming, substances), but luckily probably at least as often to something useful, for example finance, blogging or entrepreneurship.

    I think it’s difficult to be great without this trait, but it’s dangerous if not in check. And we tend to be less happy than average.

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it.

    • Thank you! You make a good point that an addictive personality can also be used for productive things.

      Hopefully, with time comes experience to mostly choose the productive pursuits, although I know how nice it can be to just be completely absorbed in a game/book/other hobby once in a while too!

  3. I think you have a lot of insight into human behavior and self-control. I don’t know if it’s my extreme approach to things, but I’m a “cut the chord” kind of person (as you mentioned). I’m either all in or all out, so I suppose this is an addictive personality (even though I keep my addictions socially acceptable, I don’t agree with them). I’m currently addicted to sugar and social approval:)

    I really love the recent Mad Fientist interview about Digital Minimalism. It was powerful to hear. I’m only on social media because of my blog and music. While I have learned cool things and digitally met interesting people (like you in Norway!), I don’t think I’m an overall better person with social media in my life, so I’ll have to work out an “in-between approach.” Walking the line and using moderation? Who would’ve thought! I’ll see if I can do it… Best wishes with your approaches as well. You have the power of reflection, so you are on the right path!

    • Oooh, I haven’t heard the most recent Mad Fientist podcast yet, but I am looking forward to it! I hear you on the social media side. It can be fun, but doesn’t make me a better person. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Allow yourself to hibernate on the long slog to financial independence - Frugasaurus

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