Pursue What Matters
Episode 179: Are you Addicted to Tech?
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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Are you addicted to tech? Well, that might seem like a strong word. But join me today to determine whether you may have just a bad tech habit, or something a bit more worrisome.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:13
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So how often do you find yourself in a scroll hole Mindlessly scrolling on your phone throughout the day? Looking at the that doesn’t even matter what it is? What do you understand about your behavior? Does it concern you at all? Should it? Well, we’re going to be talking about some of these questions and really helping you to hopefully build a little more awareness about your tech use, so that you can so that you can be the driver of your bus and not underneath the wheels. So, of course, we all have smartphones these days, I mean, even my dad who’s like almost 80, he’s always past 80, he has one, I don’t, I’m not always entirely sure that he knows how to use it. But he has one and he does answer my calls. So I guess that’s good. You know, the truth is, it would be pretty hard to navigate our world without our smartphones, because our world is really been built around them at this point. But the question is, are you in charge of your tech use? Are you mastering it? Right? So you’re in charge of it? Or are you a slave to your tech is your tech mastering you? And so I want to share with you some findings of some recent research that is shared in the Wall Street Journal, journal, by Julie jargon. And so I will link to that article, where she discusses some of this research is a really great article that really kind of looks at like, well, what’s the difference between a habit and an addiction? And what can you do to help yourself right, and every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So first, leading with clarity, helping you to be purpose driven, and sometimes, right, like when we’re on tech mindlessly, we are undermining purpose, right? Like we are not purpose driven at all. We want to help you with leading with curiosity, this is all about building more self awareness, and intentional self leadership. Again, when we’re Mindlessly scrolling, when we have a bad tech habit, or worse, right, we’re not aware. We’re not leaving with curiosity. And often, some of the some of what happens with getting caught in those scroll holes is about emotional numbing, and it cuts you off from curiosity and awareness. And of course, that’s the last thing we want for you. And then the third area is leading and building a community. And so you know, I think this is particularly helpful as we think about family as we think about our homes and our children, and how are we supporting healthy habits. But I gotta tell you, this applies at work as well. I mean, I have worked at a place it wasn’t, it wasn’t our clinic here, it was somewhere else where, you know, one of the leaders of a team banned I think, cell phones and laptops from the meeting, because everyone was on them. And like, I had some arguments with, like how that was done. And, you know, like, it felt it felt fairly dictatorial. Instead of like, let’s have a conversation about our, our phone use. But this can be a very sticky issue in organizations, right? If we just think about the the big example of people are distracted in meetings, so they’re not really participating. And so I think that there are a lot of ways that this conversation today can help us to both lead with clarity, curiosity, and leading a community. So today, we’re really going to talk about the difference between a habit and an addiction. And then next week, I hope that you will stay tuned, because next week, I’m going to really look at five signs that you might have a social media problem.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:22
So today, we want to kind of lay the foundation and really look at, you know, do you even need to be thinking about this? Do you need to be worried about this at all? And so the first point is, let’s look at the difference between a habit and an addiction. So a habit in psychology is any regularly repeated behavior that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate, right. So a habit which can be part of any activity, ranging from eating and sleeping to thinking and reading is developed through reinforcement and repetition. So this is psychology 101, right? We think about behaviorism. So that’s what a habit is.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:00
So my question for you is, do you have a tech habit? Right? Are there apps that you use regularly? Most of us probably do have a tech, a tech habit, right? Like, unless you’re like my dad who like, he uses it simply to answer the phone and make phone calls, right? Like, I would not describe him as having a tech habit. He doesn’t have apps, he, he doesn’t spend time on his phone. But most of us, right, like, he’s probably the exception, many of us probably do have a tech habit. The other thing is like, hopefully, your teenagers, if they have a phone, I hope they don’t have a tech habit, right? That they’re using it, you know, to maybe to check messaging for work, or that sort of thing. But we don’t want them to be on that phone all the time. So when we think about a tech habit, most of us do, right. And so my, my next question is, how many of these are good habits? Right? So the phone isn’t necessarily an evil, but we want to pay attention to, you know, our use and how, like, how many of these are good habits, and how many of these are bad habits. So I can think of some good habits that, you know, I can see with both myself and with my family, on tech queues and phone you so right, so my girlfriend has, he’s got like a three year streak or something on Duolingo, he does not miss a day of learning his language. So he’s worked, he’s working on two languages. And that’s been a really good habit. And having that facilitated via the phone, where it’s convenient, there’s an app has really helped him to learn and strengthen these language skills. So I think I consider that a really good habit. I’m also working on strengthening my, my knowledge of geography. And so I have a geography app where I take quizzes and those sorts of things. And I would consider that a good habit, right? There’s a desire there to learn and strengthen those skills. And so having that app to help me, consistently, practice has been really good. It can be a good habit to use your phone to catch up on news, not always, I think you can get caught in scroll holes with that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:12
But we think about good habits that strengthen your Higher Self, your sense of purpose, and your values. And that, you know, some of the activities on our phones can absolutely be enriching and can be part of purpose driven, living. And so, you know, having a tech habit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So those are some examples of some good habits. Now, I also want you to look at how many of these are bad habits. So do you have some bad tech habits? So when I think of some of the bad tech habits that we really want to pay attention to? The first one is mindless scrolling, right? So moving through feeds, whether it’s news feeds, whether it’s social media feeds? just mindlessly, right? Like it’s something to do, I see that as very problematic behavior. Like that’s not very intentional. It’s very easy to for us to get pulled along into whatever we are reading without much in the way of critical thinking. Another bad habit potentially is voyeuristic viewing of other people’s lives. Boy, I see this one as a big problem for people.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:22
So where you’re where you’re peeking into the lives of other people. Now, it’s not necessarily peeking because they’re, they’re posting information. But you know, what is your intention with that, right? Like, sometimes social media can be a great way to connect with people and stay up to date on people’s lives. And I don’t see that as voyeuristic at all. But sometimes we’re doing that with not the best of intentions, right? We’re like, Oh, my goodness, look what that person is up to now or Can you believe how, you know, whatever that person is that so we come out that viewing with ill intent, right? And maybe it’s ill intent for that person, right? We have some judgments and criticism, that sort of thing. And sometimes the ill intent is towards ourselves, because we’re comparing ourselves and we end up feeling worse, right? Like, oh, they have it all together, they have the perfect life. They go on the best vacations, whatever the case may be. And so we, you know, at the end of that tech use, we feel much worse about ourselves, because because we get trapped in comparison and competition. And so if you think about these bad habits, thinking, you know, at the end of your use, it leaves you feeling worse about yourself generally. Right? So too much news, too much social media, too much comparisons. I know if I read too much on the news, then I will, it will darken my mood because I you know, I get pretty negative about our society. And so I have to kind of do that in small doses and kind of space those out. Thinking about bad habits that undermine your higher sense of self, your sense of purpose, your values and thinking about when You use the when you use the apps, it’s draining rather than enriching. So that hopefully can kind of help you understand. Right? Like what is a habit? What might be good habit, what might be a bad habit, because, you know, phone use can be very enriching, but we want to be aware and intentional about that use. And so now let’s take a look at addiction.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:25
So right, the question that I had at the top was, what’s the difference between a habit and an add an addiction. So let’s look a little bit more at addiction. So first, right out of the gate, I just need to say that one of my biggest pet peeves as a psychologist is more than a puppy. But it’s it is a serious irritation. And it’s very problematic is that, as a psychologist is when folks throw around clinical terms loosely without truly understanding the implications of what they’re saying. So this is broader than just the term addiction. But you know, it’s very popular these days to call people narcissists. And to just throw that label around very, very lightly, without much appreciation for what that means, or even having a clear understanding of what narcissism is. So it makes me crazy, and I realized, like, it’s not my job to educate every person throwing these terms around. But it is problematic. Another term that I hear a lot is that gave me PTSD. So people talking about the significance of this significant mental health challenge, very lightly. It’s, it’s a problem. And that one makes me crazy. And then you know, like, She’s addicted or he’s addicted. That’s that’s a problem as well. So is this just a psychologist annoyance that I just need to get over? Or is there another reason to be concerned? And I think there’s another reason to be concerned. And I also probably need to do something to work on my annoyance.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:56
But why is this a problem? Because it creates a misunderstanding of behavior. And it skews the frame of how you make sense of the person, right? When we label people generally, that can be pretty dangerous behavior, because we stop with the curiosity of getting to know someone because it’s like, Oh, I know who you are. You’re a narcissist, right? It creates a mislabeling of behavior that shifts the frame of reference, and decreases rather than increases understanding. So again, we lose curiosity. It also right, like throwing around these terms, leads to more shame, stigma, and potential concerns going underground. And so right, like we don’t want like, we don’t want that to happen. If someone gets labeled addicted, that might create so much shame that prevents them from actually reaching out for help. And by the way, it might not be accurate, right? Like, we don’t have a bunch of psychologists running around. But we have a bunch of people have read self help books, and maybe think that they know what’s going on. And I just think it can be kind of dangerous. So let’s look at addiction defined. And this comes to us from Anna Lemke. She’s a professor of psychiatry and Addiction Medicine at Stanford. So I think her definition is probably pretty good. And this is what she says it’s the continued compulsive use of a substance or behavior despite harm to self, and or others. Okay, so think about that. So it’s continued compulsive use of a substance or behavior. So it doesn’t have to be a substance, it could be a behavior, right? Think about tech use, think about eating, despite harm to self and or others. So now that we have that base, right, like, we understand what is a habit? What is an addiction? What’s a good habit? Let’s look at this next question, which is, How worried should you be about your social media use? So first of all, social media addiction is not as common as it may seem. So it’s really important when we think about addiction, to understand that it moves along a continuum, like most behaviors, right? Addiction moves along a continuum, from mild to severe. And that includes a whole lot of people on that continuum, right. It’s another reason why throwing around the label is kind of unhelpful, because you know, it, if if someone gets labeled addicted, right, they might see that, that they’re in a category with folks who have very, very severe behavior. And it’s like, that’s not me. And so it might make them more resistant to taking a look at the behavior and seeing, you know, if there is there could be some value in understanding that. So when it comes to addiction, I want you to think of it as a range or a continuum instead of a box, right? So it’s like, okay, you’re addicted, you’re gonna go in the addicted box, and that’s with a whole range of other people, but you’re all in the same box, right? It’s not a very nuanced way of approaching people and their needs. And so instead, we just think About a continuum of severity that is, that helps to meet people where they’re at without overshooting. On needs or or intervention.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:11
So when we think about addiction, it’s also important to remember that it typically does require treatment and separation, in most cases, from the addictive behavior. Now, I must say, as an eating disorder specialist, I want to just note that food is the notable exception, right? So unlike other addictive behaviors, right, like gambling, drinking, those sorts of things, right, like, separation is a really important part of the treatment. That’s not possible with all addictive behavior, right? Like, it’s not possible to just not deal with food again, you need to find a way to have a balanced relationship with food. And I think in some ways, the social media use or the phone use specifically can kind of be like that, it’s probably not very practical that you would never use a phone, a cell phone again, or a smartphone again, but you might have some separation from specific apps. And that can be very helpful when it comes to addiction. So addiction does typically require treatment and separation.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:13
So again, social media addiction is not as common as it may seem, but what’s what’s likely more true, is that you have a social media habit. And that’s true of most of us. Most of us have a social media habit. So from the Pew Research Center. So this is one of the studies that jargon talks about in The Wall Street Journal article 70% of Facebook users visit the site every day, and almost half of those daily users access it several times a day. Okay, so that’s for sure. A social media habit. So I want you to ask yourself, How often do I access my social media platform of choice? is at once a day, is it twice a day? Is it five times a day? Is it 20 times a day? Right? This really speaks to that impact on functioning and the, you know, the severity, right? Like, it’s a very different story, if you’re accessing Facebook once a day, as opposed to 20 times a day, right. And most of us can kind of recognize, that’s a big difference. So this gives you a sense of the continuum that I just mentioned. Right? Accessing social media wants today is much less worrisome than accessing social media 20 times a day or more. And so now let’s look at two questions to help you better manage your social media use. So this is where I really want to help you build some awareness about your social media use, right? Like we’re not labeling anyone, we’re not judging anyone. But we just want to use these two questions to help you to help you better manage your social media use, if that can be helpful, right? Like that might not be useful for you. But as a psychologist, when I assess a potentially concerning behavior, I always pay attention to two key factors that are they are the first things I pay attention to. And so today, I have two questions to help you get at these two factors for yourself. So these questions, if you’re willing to answer them, honestly, will help you better manage your social media use. And by the way, these questions can help you manage other behaviors that could take on a compulsive quality or an addictive quality. Right. So the first question, How frequently do you access social media? Okay, the second question is, how does the behavior right, so how does your access of social media impact functioning? Okay, so this first question is really speaking to a key factor that is so important for assessing behavior and that is frequency.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:51
Okay, so how frequently do you access social media? The first factor I pay attention to to help determine whether it behavior might be a concern is frequency, how often is the behavior happening? This question helps you get to the severity of a behavior. So many things done in moderation are not a problem. However, when we move to more frequent engagement in behaviors, they can become problematic as they tend to take on an addictive quality. And what is that? So part of what happens is, there’s a compulsivity factor, right? And that was part of the addiction definition that we looked at, it becomes more compulsive and so when you find yourself accessing social media, more and more and more than you would like, right, that really points to this compulsivity factor. And so we really want to pay attention to that. And so higher frequency equals more concern. So again, think of that continuum one, one type access versus 20 times access in a day. Those are that’s very different and something that we want to pay attention to. So I want you to join me next week as I To talk about the role of compulsivity when it comes to social media use, because there’s a lot that you can do to help address that. So that’s the first question, how frequently? Are you engaging in the behavior? Right? How frequently do you access social media? And now let’s turn our attention to question two, which is, how does the behavior impact functioning? So how does your tech use impact your functioning? And so this is the second factor that I pay attention to, to help determine whether behavior might be a concern, and that factor is impact.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:33
So how is the behavior impacting functioning? So how is the behavior impacting you more specifically, how is the behavior impacting functioning in major life areas, such as work or school, relationships, health. So think about sleep, think about physical activity, and wellbeing. So we think about mental health and contentment. So just quickly, so I’m going to talk a lot more about these next week. But quickly, right, your tech use could definitely get in the way of your work, maybe you’ve got a colleague that gets upset at you, because you’re distracted in a meeting. Maybe you’re not paying attention in class, because you’re on your phone the whole time. Maybe it’s getting in the way of relationships, right? Maybe you have a very annoyed partner, who was like, come on, like put the phone down. Maybe it’s getting in the way of sleep, right? Where you find yourself in a scroll hole, when you know, your plan was to go to bed like an hour before. Or it’s getting in the way of physical activity, because instead of getting up and moving and exercising, you are staying on the phone, or because what you’re seeing on the phone creates some shame and some embarrassment, so you’re not engaging in physical activity. And then well being and this is where we really think about that voyeuristic viewing of other people’s lives, like do you feel worse about yourself after your tech use, and if you do, right, that can be a big hit on mental health, it can contribute to depression, it can contribute to anxiety, that FOMO right fear of missing out the comparison and negative comparisons where it can really erode your sense of self worth. And you know, at the very least you become discontent with your life if you are comparing yourself to others. And so those are all really important factors to pay attention to. And so again, next week, we will talk in more detail about these. And so I just want to make a final note, right so as you consider the difference between a habit and an addiction, I hope you will have more awareness of your social media use and that’s really the purpose of today’s episode, right? I don’t want anyone to panic or feel badly or label themselves or label anyone else do not do that. Not helpful. But let’s build in a little more awareness about your tech use. Social media in and of itself is not a problem. But how we use it can be if we aren’t intentional and balanced in our use. And so I hope you’ll use these two questions to guide yourself as you consider a more aware approach to tech and social media. And then of course, join me next week as we will discuss five signs you need to watch for when it comes to social media addiction and so that I think there is a place for a useful conversation about that. And then I will also have a lot of recommendations. You know, regardless of whether it’s a habit or an addiction to really help yourself, find more balance with your tech use most of us would benefit from bringing more awareness and a few more boundaries around our tech use.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:43
So watch for that episode next week. And in the meantime, you can head over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode I will link to the Wall Street and Wall Street Journal article with some of these findings. You can find all of that www.drmelissasmith.com/179-techaddicted so one more time www.drmelissasmith.com/179-techaddicted so definitely connect with me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith right where we give you some education and some inspiration. So when you get off of social media you feel enriched rather than drained that is my goal for sure is to have resources that can really helping you help you and strengthen your your capacity to lead and to pursue what matters. So I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. And until next time, take good care
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