Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 4 Results

Week 4: A healthy social media and news diet, or habit, or both?


                                   My Duolingo XP Results for Week 4…

Last week, I said I wanted to focus on consolidating my new habits and starting to write up a summary of what I’ve learned about changing this habit.  Here’s how Week 4 went:

The urge has stabilized as shown by my running tally of views and resisted urges:

T 12/13 = 3/4 (= 3 looks, 4 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/14 = 3/2
Th 12/15 = 3/4
F 12/16 = 3/1
Sa 12/17 = 4/2
Su 12/18 = 3/1
M 12/19 = 2/1

The total number of views stayed about the same this week (21 vs. 23 last week) but the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped another 30 percent from 22 to 15. As a result, the total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped again to around five per day.

Weekend numbers were again good but not exceptional, because weekend days didn’t look that different from my weekday days, so I did not spend a lot of time during the weekend doing engaging activities which took me away from my computer and other devices.

The triggers are under control — Only one new trigger in Week 4, and I almost hesitate to call it that. I had an urge to check on a Facebook friend I hadn’t heard from for a while to see what was up (turned out that this person had deactivated their FB account for reasons I don’t know). To me, this is different from a reflexive trigger, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

I also found that the red dot message notification/counter on my iPhone Twitter icon was just as much a trigger as the one on my Facebook icon. That doesn’t seem like a new trigger to me, though, just the same one in a different place, so I’m not counting that one as a new trigger.

The biggest takeaway for me here is that my social media/news behavior is starting look like a food diet now, at least in terms of frequency. Being proactive and planning my consumption has made a big difference; I have learned to decide when I will look at social media or news. Urges have become thoughts now. I almost never access it now reflexively or thoughtlessly, and when I do, it’s been because of some useful purpose for which social media is secondary. For instance, I looked at Facebook once without thinking to access an FB Messenger conversation from a professional colleague about an article I’ll be writing.

For me, this highlights an important distinction between social media as addiction or time suck and social media as appliance. I had the same problem when I tried to enforce screen-free days a few years ago. It was difficult not because of some sort of media addiction, but because I relied on my phone’s other functions — watch, calendar, weather report, timer, alarm clock, et al. In other words, my phone is now an appliance, just like my refrigerator is, and I don’t try to have ‘refrigerator-free days’ where I turn the refrigerator off, so why should I turn off my phone and try to have a phone-free day? A total usage ban is silly; it makes a lot more sense to try to shape intelligent, thoughtful usage of appliances, including our smartphones, computers, and similar devices.  I suppose one could argue that I’m addicted to my refrigerator, for that matter to my water service or to reading. Highly dependent? Sure. But calling them addictions is stretching it.

Better, I think, to call them habits — “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” They’re hard to give up because we need them; we make them a “regular tendency or practice” because they are useful (e.g., the habit of using a refrigerator). There is an element of dependency which is worth acknowledging and maybe even playing with every now and then. But dependencies are not necessarily evils; they can involve being “influenced or determined by or subject to another“, but they can also refer to reliance and trust. So for me, I’ll call it both diet and habit.

What’s not working (yet)?

Since my social media/news holiday diet appears to be successful, it occurred to me to question myself for possible bias here. Am I painting too rosy a picture of my success? Am I deluding myself into thinking that I’m being more successful than I really am?  So I decided to consider the question, what’s not working (yet)?  Some thoughts:

Duration — I haven’t paid much attention to portion control, that is, how long I look at one time. This is not entirely bad; if I’m spending a lot of time doing healthy things, that’s like eating a lot of veggies to me, although I’m not sure that social media/news consumption has effective satiety triggers the way that filling up on veggies does.

Is three times a day every day too much?  What if the meal/diet metaphor really isn’t appropriate? What if it’s really a sign of habituated addiction?  I’ll consider this one over the next two weeks since the holiday season will give me more chances to look at social media/news less.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food diet is OK, not great. I stayed about the same as last week, and so I am still not close to where I was in August.

Language learning is doing fine.  I amassed 790 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week, much lower than last week, but I did practice every day and kept my streak going (now 27 days and counting!). Progress looks slow in terms of level and fluency score — still level 11 in Spanish (53% “fluent”) and level 9 in French (45% “fluent”), but scores on my progress tests indicate gains in both languages. (More details on this below for anyone who’s interested.)

New examples of (less) healthy social media/news choices? Not so much. It turns out that I made a pretty good list after all, and making that list longer wasn’t important to me this week. Same with examples of less healthy social media/news choices.

In addition, the holidays have now snuck up on me, so I’ll probably wait another two weeks before my next posting. By then, I’ll have a good sense of whether this habit has truly taken hold or whether I need to do something else to make that happen.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

More on my Duolingo language progress: I learned that Duolingo’s fluency score scale only goes up to 50-60% , which explains why my progress on that measure seems to be slowing down: I’m reaching the maximum possible. They also have an interesting proficiency scale rubric which is helpful but not that accurate in my opinion. For instance, it rates my 45% French proficiency as “intermediate,” but I can’t do most of the things listed on their rubric. I’d say that my French is still at the beginner to elementary stage. Duolingo also has progress tests which to me give more accurate reflections of proficiency.  I’ve taken the Spanish test twice (once three weeks ago, once this past week) and progressed from 4.21 to 4.84 out of 5 (again, keeping in mind that 50-60% fluency is the ceiling on this assessment).  I also took a French test this week and got a 2.01 out of 5 (which puts me at more like at 20% fluency, and that sounds more accurate to me).


Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 3 Results

Week 3: Going for quality by making proactively healthy social media and news choices…

duolingo-results-week-3                                         My Duolingo XP Results for Week 3…

Last week, I said I wanted to focus on how to make good quality “dietary” choices in my social media/news intake, and learning (more about) how to do that was my biggest takeaway of the week (more on that below). Here’s how Week 3 went:

The urge keeps shrinking as shown by my running tally of views and resisted urges:

T 12/6 = 3/3 (= 3 looks, 3 ‘resisted urges’)
W 12/7 = 6/2
Th 12/8 = 4/2
F 12/9 = 4/3
Sa 12/10 = 0/6
Su 12/11 = 4/1
M 12/12 = 2/5

The total number of views dropped another 20 percent this week, and the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped another 30 percent; there were 29 looks, 32 ‘resisted urges’ in week 2, and 23 looks, 22 ‘resisted urges’ in week 3. The total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped from around nine per day to around six and a half per day. I may have undercounted the number of resisted urges, but that’s mainly because they have become weaker to the point where I almost don’t notice them, which is good. I’m now wondering what would be a good number of total urges. Six-and-a-half per day still sounds a little high to me, but it’s also not entirely in my control, and I don’t have a strong basis for comparison since I haven’t kept comparable track of, say, the number of times a day I want to eat something.

The weekend numbers were good but not that different from the weekday ones. I did not spend a lot of time during the weekend doing engaging activities which took me away from my computer and other devices. Instead, my weekend days didn’t look that different from my weekday days, which is probably why the numbers don’t look that different.

The triggers keep weakening — Interestingly, I did not identify any new triggers in Week 3. Not that I lack for triggers, as I identified over 20 triggers (21 to be exact) in the first two weeks. This makes sense, I suppose; one could expect that just about every possible trigger would show itself over a two-week period, especially when some triggers were being consciously ignored, which presumably would bring the lesser-used ones out into the open.

As the triggers also continued being weaker in week 3, I started to notice what I think is a different mental layer in the habit process: triggering the thought of social media or news versus triggering the urge to look at social media or news. For instance, one morning I saw the looking at the Facebook icon on my iPhone screen triggered the thought of social media, but the mental message seemed different: ‘there’s social media’ instead of ‘there’s social media; go look at it!’ The difference may be subtle, but it seems important to me because it implies another level of clearing that could be useful: extinguishing not just the urge to look at social media or news, but extinguishing the thought itself. Could I get to the point where I ignore my Facebook icon as often as I ignore most of the other icons on my iPhone screen? Would it make sense (duh) to move the Facebook icon off the main screen so that it would require a proactive move on my part to look at it? (Duh….) So I did that, and it seems to be helping so far.

This morning it occurred to me that the key distinction might be whether or not I have to make a mental decision about a trigger, as distinct from simply observing the impulse and letting it float by without any additional regard. I’ll play with that idea some more and see how it works for me.

Putting the “diet” in social media/news diet — This week, my social media/news diet actually looked more like a food diet: three “meals” one day, three meals and a snack on three days, a skipped meal on one day, and a fast on one day. I think the main reason for this was that there was more planning involved. More on that in a moment.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food diet is doing better. I got plenty of exercise, returned to a more balanced food intake level, and dropped a pound and a half. Still not yet back to where I was in August.

Language learning, quite well also.  I amassed 1,780 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week, almost double the number of last week. Progress continues — level 11 in Spanish (52% “fluent”) and level 9 in French (40% “fluent”).  The Spanish felt comfortable enough that I went to a conversation class and did fine. I have next to no experience conversing in French, though, so I’m still gathering the gumption to try a conversational event in French, maybe after the holidays.

Biggest takeaway of the week: learning to make healthy choices. I started paying attention to my reasons for looking at social media and news, trying to identify good choices and bad choices and how to distinguish between the two. At first, I tried to keep track of when I made a healthy choice and when I didn’t. That soon stopped working, though, because sometimes it usually was a mix of the two, and there were also things that were hard to distinguish as good or bad.  I did succeed in identifying mumerous examples of both healthy and less healthy social media/news choices.

Examples of healthy social media/news choices:

– Proactively deciding to do a brief news scan via FB news feed
– Proactively deciding to do a brief FB friends update via FB news feed
– Checking the business news briefly to see how key indicators are doing
– Reading another business-related article or two to keep up a bit with business news
– Posting beautiful, interesting, elucidating, humorous, or otherwise uplifting posts on my FB feed
– Reading other people’s beautiful, interesting, elucidating, humorous, or otherwise uplifting posts on my FB feed
– Engaging in worthwhile, elucidating, civil conversations online
– Researching related to client, collaborative, creative, or citizen activism
– Supporting other causes on their FB pages
– Client or cause-related FB Live show
– Promoting or engaging with my audiences via FB pages, Twitter feeds, and other social media means

Examples of less healthy social media/news choices:

– Looking for/at articles that I read mainly to feed my sense of outrage and righteous indignation
– Looking passively or aimlessly through my FB feed
– Looking passively or aimlessly through news web sites
– Using social media or news surfing as a passive form of taking a break
– Engaging in arguments with friends or strangers in FB conversation threads, Twitter feeds, or other social media means

The other big takeaway for me was building the habit of proactively choosing healthy social media. As the lists above imply, being passive about my choices usually does not serve me well.  Instead, I found it helpful to plan what I was going to do before I went on social media or looked at news. One time I wrote down a list of about a half dozen things I wanted to do. Other times I simply thought of one or two things I wanted to do, and also thought ahead of time whether or not I would indulge in more ‘junk food’-like activities like reading news articles or feeds (which these days, let’s face it, is unavoidably laced with junk).

These lists help me understand why going ‘cold turkey’ was not for me. There are too many good reasons for being on social media or looking at news for me to give it up altogether.  Both of these lists are probably longer, and maybe I’ll add to them in the coming week(s). My other focus for this week will be on consolidating these new habits and starting to write up a summary of what I’ve learned — not just about changing this habit, but about changing other habits as well…

Social Media/News Holiday Diet: Week 2 Results

 Week 2: starting to learn how to put the “diet” into my social media/news diet…
duolingo-progress-wk2-1216                    My Duolingo XP Results for Week 2 (see below for details)…

Last week, I said I couldn’t wait to see what Week 2 of my social media/news diet brought, and Week 2 did not disappoint. Here are the highlights:

Taming the urge — My running tally of views and resisted urges shows signs of improvement relative to the first week:

T 11/29 = 4/8 (= 4 looks, 8 ‘resisted urges’)
W 11/30 = 7/5
Th 12/1 = 4/2
F 12/2 = 5/5
Sa 12/3 = 1/6
Su 12/4 = 1/2
M 12/5 = 7/2

Both the total number of views and the total number of times I resisted the urge to look dropped a little over 25 percent each; there were 40 looks, 45 ‘resisted urges’ in week 1, and 29 looks, 32 ‘resisted urges’ in week 2. The total number of urges (both filled and resisted) dropped from around 12 per day to around nine per day.

The most striking numbers are the weekend ones, but I’m not sure yet what to make of them. They are low because I spent the weekend at a client retreat. Although such meetings are usually full of urges to do social media/news checks in reaction to boredom or other lulls in my attention level (more on those triggers in a moment), I exploited the room layout (several circular tables) so that I knew that someone behind me could see if I was straying off into social media, and that was enough to curb my impulses.

I see two ways to look at the weekend results: one is that this weekend activity artificially drove down the numbers, and I will be struggling to replicate these results on other weekends. The other way is that weekends offer opportunities to curb my social media and news intake by doing several engaging activities, preferably ones which take me away from my computer and other devices. How will that play out over the next few weeks? I’ll focus on finding that out.

Taming the triggers — Week two also added several new triggers to my list:

•    Twitter — looked reflexively at it; had to remind myself that it is also social media
•    Sitting down in a (DC) metro car
•    Being bored in an online meeting (Webex et al.)
•    Facebook notifications on my iPhone
•    Simply looking at my iPhone
•    Seeing a message alert on someone else’s computer
•    A lull in my attention level

A few of these were also eye-openers. I hadn’t appreciated how conditioned I was to look at my phone when I rode the Metro, but simply sitting down in the Metro car seat was all it took to have me reaching for my iPhone. Seeing a message alert on someone else’s computer (the presenter’s computer projected on screen during the retreat; his iMessage alert indicated two unanswered messages) made me want to check mine, but I resisted that one. The most disturbing one was discovering that simply looking at my iPhone could be a trigger; it was just sitting there, face down on a nearby table. But I resisted that one also.

I also noticed that triggers during an online meeting felt more like boredom, while those in an in-person meeting felt more like a lull in my attention level. This makes sense because there are more environmental cues in an in-person setting to keep one’s attention from wandering away from the environment. At the same time, it’s usually not humanly possible to maintain full attention during a day-long or even a multi-hour in-person meeting either. In both cases, the immediacy of the available devices (whether computer, smartphone, tablet, or something else) often makes them hair triggers which are all too easy to pull. If I’d been sitting somewhere with no one to my back who could see what I was doing, I’m not sure I would have done so well.

Although the number of triggers didn’t decrease much, there were signs of improvement here as well. It seemed that the triggers were often weaker in week 2; they happened in my mind but often didn’t trigger actual behavior — no physical movements or mental ideation of those movements. It felt like classic behavioral extinction was slowly taking place.

Putting the “diet” in social media/news diet — So how well did my meal plan go? On the surface, not so well. I didn’t check social media or news exactly three times on any day; I either had too many “meals”/“snacks” or too few, and a couple of days it appears that I “gorged” myself with seven views in one day.  What really happened, though, is that the social media/news diet actually became more like a real diet in these respects:

Frequency matters, but portion control matters more. I counted a single instance as one view whether it lasted a minute or an hour or anything in between. Doing this clearly distorts the process, so I think I need to pay more attention to duration as well as frequency.

Some choices are healthier than others.  One day, most of my views involved engaging in an interesting Facebook conversation on a topic of interest in my field (performance-based funding), which included doing some research to learn more about the topic. Another day, most of my views involved a conversation about how to respond to the Comet Pizza incident.  In my opinion, these are part of a healthy social media/news diet, to the point where I found myself wondering, is there such a thing as the social media equivalent of leafy greens or other veggies? As in, things you can eat as much as you want?

Overcoming the tendency to gorge is a learned behavior. I also found myself wondering if it’s human nature to feast at first when we find a new source of engorgement. If so, this is a useful insight for a) not being so hard on ourselves for not handling social media well, and b) recognizing up front that dealing with this requires conscious re-patterning to overcome our more animal tendencies. Although that may seem strange to think of such a digital and mental activity this way, our animal nature resides as much in our brains as in the rest of our bodies.

How’s the food diet going? And the language learning?

Food, not so well — no pie in Week 2, but I’m still gaining weight — retreats will do that (lots of food, relative captivity, disrupted schedule), as will relative lack of exercise.

Language learning, much better.  I amassed 947 “experience points” (XPs) on Duolingo in the past week. Each ‘lesson’ earns 10 XPs; although I also earned some XPs for testing out of some areas in Spanish, I still must have done at least 60 lessons. They’re short and can be done in a few minutes each, but that still means hours spent on learning languages instead of on social media or news. And I’m continuing to progress — level 9 in Spanish (50% “fluent”) and level 8 in French (26% “fluent”).  The Spanish is coming back to me, and the French is ever so slowly starting to make sense, so I’m very pleased with my progress this past week.

Spending time in relatively productive pursuits has dampened my desire to leave Facebook or other social media for now. Instead, this week I’ll have a different focus: how to make good quality “dietary” choices in my social media/news intake