I was doing readings for one of my classes that is about behavior change and motivation. The webpage I was reading was talking about various prompts that can initiate behaviors and as an example it highlighted Facebook and the way it invites users who have been inactive for a while to log back in and then immediately to connect with other people by suggesting new friends.

And suddenly I felt this impulse to log into Facebook myself. I was triggered. Fortunately, I had decided this morning to block out all distractions on my computer (I use an app on my computer called SelfControl), though I have no idea why today – it’s not something I do on a daily basis. So, since I could not satisfy that impulse to check social media (maybe there is something I must know), I started pondering where the impulse comes from. My initial thought was not to associate it with the web article I had been reading but I started thinking about all the other times when I had been doing something mentally laborious and then on an impulse quickly checked Facebook or Instagram to “take a break”. But it is much more than just taking a break. If I wanted a break, I could just close my eyes for a minute. So why social media?

It provides new knowledge and information and satisfies the human curiosity without the feeling of being obligated to do something with it. When I read something for school, there is this pressure in the back of my mind that I must remember everything I read, I must find something useful in it, I must understand it the right way (hello, Arts and Humanities that always make me feel like I can’t comprehend anything).

So when I “need a break”, I do not just want to think of something else (or not think at all) – I want to think and learn without the taxing notion that later I am going to be judged on how much I have remembered. Thus, I do not really need a break. I need to switch up the process of learning when the anxiety to meet external expectations starts overpowering the desire to learn. Maybe easier written than done.

However, the way this web article triggered this “need” to go on social media helped me to explore the idea that social media is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. I know, there is nothing new about this idea, but I personally still get sidetracked too often. Noticing this response to a slightly different cue illuminated the fact that multiple things can trigger a specific behavior and that behavior is just a response – i.e., it is not something I really want or need or have actively chosen. 

Of course, it is hard to always actively choose your behaviors and thus it is nice to be able to fall back on automated responses as long as they serve you in the way you want them to. 

Oftentimes that requires changing those automated behaviors.

Cover photo by Death to Stock


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