Facebook is holding your brain hostage. We all know the truth, we’ve all read the articles. It’s a simple fact: Facebook is bad for us. It gives you FOMO where you gotta see what everyone else is sharing online and makes you miss out on real life all around you. It gives you a false sense that everyone else’s life is better than yours. It loops you into the 24hr news cycle that is one of the most negative influences on our mental state. If you haven’t read the articles, or don’t believe me, take it from Psychology Today, or PsychCentral, who said of one study:
The researchers found that when the participants increased their Facebook use, their state of well-being declined, while those who increased the amount of time they spent with people face to face had an increased sense of well-being.
This “state of well-being” is huge. It affects everything from your ability to be happy, to your physical health. Want a crappy life? Check Facebook a lot. It doesn’t matter how great your life is, your mental health will decline, affecting everything else in life.
But (there’s always a “butt,” right?), Facebook is how we stay connected in today’s age. Without Facebook you don’t see the reminder to help put away chairs at the church, or to remember someone in your prayers. Without Facebook you can’t easily see when your friends that live over 1500 miles away have their new baby. Without Facebook, there’s actually some really genuine, good, practical, and valuable things you’d miss out on… even though the other 80% of it is ruining your mental state. Elder Bednar said it as only he can:
I am not suggesting all technology is inherently bad; it is not. Nor am I saying we should not use its many capabilities in appropriate ways to learn, to communicate, to lift and brighten lives, and to build and strengthen the Church; of course we should. But I am raising a warning voice that we should not squander and damage authentic relationships by obsessing over contrived ones.
The Things That Don’t Work
Here’s the problem: we’re addicted to dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine and oxytocin are a chemical and hormone released in our brains when we eat delicious food, make money, make love, use drugs, and are even triggered by cyber experiences such as seeing a picture of a pretty face, feeling false-love from getting “likes” on social media, or looking at porn. They’re actually good for us and our brains, when they come from real-world, genuine experiences that are in-line with the gospel. But because we get doses of dopamine and oxytocin from various aspects of Facebook and other social media, we keep coming back for another “hit.”
You know what I’m talking about: it’s that feeling when you can’t wait to check Instagram to see how many people ?’d your super cute pic you shared 5 minutes ago. Or that feeling when you see there’s 10 notifications on Facebook. That’s anticipation of the dopamine and/or oxytocin rush you’re going to get when you take a look and see all those likes, or a new post from your bestie, or whatever. You’re addicted to getting oxytocin and dopamine from social media. As Elder Bednar put it:
Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, earbuds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience.
There’s a lot of methods to try and balance this problem. There’s apps like Checky that show you how often you check your phone throughout the day. There’s great practices like blackout days or times, where maybe you just put your phone away after 6pm and don’t get it out again until morning. Or many people use blocking apps/plugins that make it a real pain to get around the block and access Facebook (or other apps), except at certain times of the day, or for a limited amount of total time in a particular app or site.
Here’s the problem: it doesn’t stick. After a while you start ignoring whatever it is, or in a pinch get frustrated and turn the blocker off. These are helpful steps, but they don’t take care of the core issue. They’re ultimately not behaviorally sound.
Reclaiming Your Brain
So is that it? Do we just have to quit Facebook altogether in order to improve our wellbeing and give our families and callings the time and attention they deserve? Fortunately, no. There’s a great way to remove the cause of the addiction, without totally quitting Facebook. And it works on most other social media platforms as well. It was discovered by Tyler Smith (an MLH contributor), and let me tell you: it’s a game changer!
But before I get into it, let me tell you about the results. I recently made my wife, Jill, do this (like I literally had to have a small intervention to get her to do it—not because she was super horrible about it, but because I had done it, and was so pleased with the results, I wanted her to share the joy and for us to be “equally yoked”). After a few days she started telling me how much better she felt about her life. Jill said:
Now that I’ve eliminated everyone else’s voices from my day, I can hear my own voice again. I’m much more comfortable in the quiet spaces of my life, because I’m not thinking about how to put my thoughts into a bite-sized post, or hearing the jumble of other people’s thoughts interrupting my own. I also feel like I’m more real when I interact with people in-person, since I don’t have to try and remember what I saw is going on in their lives on Facebook. Now I simply ask, because I don’t see their updates.
These mirror my feelings exactly, and are the same kind of feedback I’ve received from several other people that implemented this.
One last item before the big reveal. If you’ve admitted you have an issue and would like to improve, commit right now that you’re going to do this, no matter what it is or how hard it is! Do it! Commit. Don’t read on unless you’re going to do it completely. You’re going to just tear the bandaid off and take your life back, right now!
The Brilliantly Simple Solution
So it’s actually genius in it’s simplicity. All you do is unfollow everyone. “Wait, what?” Yes, everyone. You’re not unfriending them, just unfollowing them. But the beauty is that when you open Facebook, you’ll see almost no new updates, other than your own. No recent news to ruin your state of mind. No shares about what other people are doing that make you jealous, or incite FOMO, or just generally make you feel inferior. None of the negative aspects of Facebook are left.
But all of the good ones still are. You are still connected as friends with everyone, so you can still go to their profile page anytime you want and see what they’re up to. You can message them through Messenger. You can post to their walls. They are still following you (unless they’re smart and cool enough to follow MLH and are doing this same thing) and will see your shares. You can still get updates from your ward Facebook group and others that are important to you. All the good, none of the bad.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “do I have to unfollow EVERYONE?” Yes, everyone. If it helps make it more palatable, remember that this is reversible. You can always go back, like “a dog returneth to his vomit,” as the scriptures say. But you won’t want to.
You are allowed up to 4 groups or pages that you can still follow. So let’s say you love how LDS SMILE brightens your day. It’s okay to keep following them. And your Ward Facebook group, and 2 more. But that’s it. And they can’t be people. As Tyler pointed out in the comments, there’s a reason you can’t follow any people:
Another reason I found it’s important to unfollow EVERYONE, is that… the fewer people I followed, the more Facebook compensated by showing my posts the few people I followed had “liked.” So though the intent was to follow only the friends and family I am closest to, the result was still seeing a bunch of junk beyond what they personally were posting.
Here’s a quick video showing you the quickest way to do this on a computer and mobile phone:
Note: Some people are reporting that after unfollowing a few hundred people Facebook says they’re “misusing” the unfollow feature by “going too fast,” then they’re blocked from using it further. So I’d recommend doing 100 each day for a few days until you’ve done everyone. Hopefully that avoids Facebook’s block. It wasn’t an issue when I did it months ago.
Notice How You Feel & Don’t Go Back!
The next step is just paying attention to how you feel. Your addiction has been taken away. I promise you’re going to grab your phone many times and open Facebook (or Instagram, or whatever is your favorite dopamine inducer) only to see nothing new in your feed. It’ll be a letdown at first. But within a few days you’ll check less and less, and you’ll start looking for genuine dopamine/oxytocin inducements in the real world. You’ll feel your brain rewiring itself to adjust to the addiction being removed. And it’ll feel great! You’ll find yourself more aware and present. You’ll find yourself being more purposeful in how you live your life and conduct your relationships. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll find yourself more open to the promptings of the Spirit. From Elder Bednar again:
I offer two questions for consideration in your personal pondering and prayerful studying:
- Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
- Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?
The last step is to make a mental rule that anytime you friend someone, from here on out, you’ll immediately unfollow them after the friend request is accepted. It’s great, because the easiest way is to go to their page. You unfollow them there, then scroll down and look at what they’ve shared recently. You can interact some to show you care, but you won’t see every detail they share going forward.
When you realize how great it is, share this post with everyone. I’d tell you to go tell Tyler Smith thanks, but I’m pretty sure he’s unfollowed me, and our “MLH Helpers” group on Facebook ?. So comment here, and he’ll see it. Seriously. You’ll definitely want to thank him because of how it changes your life.