How social media re-wires your brain - and what to do about it
I thought I was above this. I'd open social media to share my ideas and respond to comments - then I'd close it, without scrolling. I couldn't possibly be as intoxicated as everyone else. I was wrong. Over the past two weeks, my brain has been rewired through my intensive use of LinkedIn and Clubhouse (the much-hyped audio-only chat app). When I check for new followers on Clubhouse, or see a notification that someone has engaged with my LinkedIn post, I get a hit of dopamine. Science explains how the "Ventral Tegmental Area of the brain monitors social needs by releasing dopamine when we achieve social success and inspiring neurochemical deficits when we don't."
I'm becoming intoxicated by dopamine, seeking quick and easy hits.
I'm more easily distracted and less able to focus on complex tasks that require delaying gratification - like writing this newsletter. And when I received limited engagement, negative comments or get put "on stage", my brain reacts like it is perceiving a threat - as if being shunned by the tribe. This creates stress. Neuroplasticity means that our brains physiologically change in response to changes in our environment. Therefore, my dopamine cravings are learnt behaviour. Anything learnt can be unlearnt. But how? 1. Notice the craving, then fight it. When I feel the urge to check social media, I tell myself; "just work for 10 more minutes, then you can check it." I repeat this process for as long as I can. It's surprising how 10 minutes can easily become 20 minutes or more.
2. Substitute it for something else. As with breaking any habit, you need to find a replacement for the need it was fulfilling. For me, that was social connection. Rebelling on the streets with my fellow climate activists for two days was so much more fulfilling than connecting with strangers on Clubhouse.
3. Build resilience. We train our muscles at the gym, but most of us rarely train our minds. I'm restarting meditating after stopping last month. I've realised that I must maintain this practice, regardless of whether I feel like I "need it". Yuval Noah Harari meditates two hours each day. He claims it's the best insulation to prevent technology from hacking his brain while also enabling him to gain the clarity of thought he needs to write his epic books.
4. Find an accountability partner. Checking in with someone who holds you accountable for a new habit is proven to increase your chance of success by 500%. That's why I set-up a coaching programme, Level-up, where I act as a critical partner to support my coachees in achieving their goals.
I promise to you that I'll significantly reduce the time I spend checking social media and sitting in mediocre Clubhouse rooms. You're my accountability partner. In the meantime, I'll start rewiring my brain - on my terms.