Internet addiction has been a big topic in the media in recent years. Some people spend so much time online that it negatively impacts the rest of their lives. So what is internet addiction and how can you avoid developing it?
What Is Internet Addiction?
You may have heard alarming news stories about the epidemic of internet addiction and the harm it can do, especially to young people. You’ll also hear people use similar terms like “computer addiction” or “gaming addiction”.
In some countries, like China, the situation is so serious that the government has introduced regulations designed to curb internet use among young people.
The Harmful Effects of Excessive Internet Use
One thing is clear: Some people use the internet or games as a way to escape from their problems. The signs can be many:
- They might stay up too late playing games and not get enough sleep.
- Their schoolwork or career might suffer because they spend too much time at their computer.
- They might socialize less with friends or family because they are too wrapped up in their virtual lives.
Excessive use of the internet can stop them from getting what they want out of life.
Even people who don’t suffer to this degree may have some problems with over-reliance on the internet. We’ve all had the experience of knowing that we should start that work project, or go to that party, or that we need to go to bed.
But the computer is right there. And we click on another video or sit down to watch just one more episode. We’re drawn to the comfortable glow of the screen even when we know we should be doing something else.
We’re only harming ourselves in the long run.
Is Addiction the Right Word?
Psychologists disagree on whether “addiction” is a helpful model for this issue.
The concept of addiction comes from the issue of drug and alcohol abuse. These substances usually create a physical as well as a psychological dependence. It’s not clear that using the internet or computers is really “addictive” in the same way that drugs are.
If someone is spending too much time on their computer, that may well be a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself. They could be dealing with anxiety or depression, and being on the computer makes them feel safe and in control.
They could be experiencing social isolation so they make friends online. Or they could be struggling to motivate themselves to do their jobs or schoolwork and start using the internet as a distraction.
But let’s leave the terminology aside. To prevent internet addiction from becoming a problem, you need to address these deeper issues.
Strategies to Avoid Internet Addiction
If you or someone you know is concerned about over-reliance on the internet, there are some strategies you can put in place to reduce its appeal and make a change to your life.
1. Set Clear Goals
Decide exactly what you want to achieve, that you are not achieving because of internet use. That could be getting your homework done. Or it could be spending more time with friends and family. Or it could be getting more exercise.
Then write this goal down on paper. Think about why this goal is important, and how much better your life will be if you achieve it. The idea is to replace a negative feeling—“Urgh, I have all this homework to do”—with a positive one—“I’ll be so much less stressed and more confident at school if I finish my homework.”
Then set an actionable goal. That could be “I will work on this project for 20 minutes every day.” Or “I will go to the gym three times a week.” Make it as specific as possible.
2. Make A Plan
Whatever your issue is, you need to create a plan. If you’re at school or university, you could set a study plan. Or you could map out your work project or fitness plan.
Write down how much time you want to spend on your project each week. Write down what you’re aiming to achieve in that time. Think about when and where you will have specific blocks of time to dedicate to your project instead of being on the internet.
Start off small. Remember, you won’t be able to achieve your goals all at once. It will take time and patience to meet them.
You could begin by working for just five minutes every day on a project. Or go to the gym once a week. Pick something easily achievable, that you could manage even if you had a really bad day.
3. Reward Yourself for Your Efforts
Once you’ve achieved what was in your plan each day, you can give yourself time on the internet as a reward. You might try the Pomodoro technique , in which you work at something for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break.
Planning for breaks is very important. When you start, you’ll be tempted to say that you’ll work for four hours each day, and not use the internet at all. But that’s not realistic. You might even manage it for a couple of days, but then you’ll lose motivation and give up entirely.
Be honest about your downtime. Maybe you’ll work for one hour in the evenings, then take the rest of the evening off to watch TV or use the computer. Enjoy this time knowing that you’ve earned it because you completed your goal.
4. Make It Work for You
Consider what it is about using the internet that you find so compelling. Do you like the social aspect of interacting online? Do you enjoy the challenge of trying to beat an opposing team at a game? Do you spend time on Twitter because you want to feel up to date with current events?
Find ways to tie what you like about the internet into the rest of your life.
Work out what is putting you off from making a change. Maybe you hate studying because you feel bored and lonely. In that case, you could join a study group. Maybe you hate going to the gym because you don’t know what you’re doing there and you feel foolish. In that case, you could hire a personal trainer to show you how to use the equipment.
5. Get Social Support
One of the biggest factors in anyone successfully changing their habits is the support of people around them. If someone you know is trying to make a change around how they use the internet, then support them and congratulate them when they make progress.
Shaming someone for their choices and making them feel bad isn’t an effective way to motivate change.
Stop Internet Addiction and Achieve Your Goals
It’s not easy to change ingrained habits, and it can be hard to break free from the familiarity of the internet. But by focusing on the goals you want to achieve and putting a plan in place, you can avoid backsliding into old habits.
If you have similar problems with being on your smartphone too much, then you might find our guide on how to build better smartphone habits with home screen tweaks to be helpful.