How to get around your dopamine cravings after leaving Twitter

I miss my dopamine. Almost two weeks into Zero Twitter, here are my top tips for designing your life without it (and without your constant dopamine rush!).
Postcard with a woman waving while sitting on a horse. It says: Bye, Twitter! It's been fun. I might be back. We'll see.

If you’ve been on Twitter as long as I have – which is over 10 years – allow me to give you some advice if you wish to leave the platform. That is: Plan to use your time. Even if you don’t identify as an addict, think like one.

I say this after having been off my regular Twitter account for just shy of two weeks. What I noticed about 1.5 weeks into this absence is that I started to crave dopamine.

Dopamine hits are addictive

With a bit of luck, you understand what this means. Platforms like Twitter are designed in such a way that you get a dopamine hit every time you open the app and use it. You will do what it takes to do in order to get that dopamine hit, which might be sharing an update or commenting on someone else’s (for example).

If you have done this 9+ times per day, every single day of your life, for 10 years, as I have, with what are you going to replace it?

Want to know how this gets embedded?

Before I go on, here are my (terrifying) Twitter statistics:

  • Average of 36,000 tweets over 10 years
  • 3600 tweets per year
  • 69 tweets per week
  • 9.8 tweets per day.

If there is a switching cost of just 5 minutes per tweet, this means I have spent:

  • 49.5 minutes per day
  • 5.7 hours per week
  • 12 hours per year
  • 124.9 complete, 24-hour days
  • 374 8-hour days of my life (if my maths is correct)…

Fucking around on twitter. What the actual fuck. 

So, the pattern will re-establish itself

Even though the initial freedom from the platform was freeing, I discovered a creeping desire to check my devices more often.

Somehow, despite five years of maintaining strict boundaries between work and life, I became that person checking work emails at 21:35 while on the couch watching a movie with my husband.

The worst thing? I didn’t notice I was doing it, for perhaps two or three days of that time.

The first step is noticing

Somehow, one day a little way into this habit, I had clawed my way back to my usual, 0455 wakeup time. Smearing sleep out of my eyes, I padded through the warm house to the kitchen to slake my thirst.

As I stood near the water filter, a fleeting feeling of checking that bloody device crossed my mind, and I noticed it. I stood and drank my first glass of water for the day, marvelling at the sneakiness of my own psychology.

I chose to consciously ignore it.

If I hadn’t noticed it and then consciously delayed it, I would have been building new, unhelpful neurological behaviours.

This is when I realised that in order to unlearn unhelpful habits, you absolutely must decide how you are going to use your time.

Decide how to use your time

This isn’t as simple as just deciding, ‘Oh, I’m going to work on my business’. Which, by the way, is about as helpful as tits on a bull. You have to be specific. You need to decide what you are going to do with your hands in those 2-minute breaks when you make a cup of coffee. You need to make a firm decision about where your additional time is going to go.

If I sound like an addiction recovery coach, or an ex-smoker right now, then that’s for a reason. This is the same thing.

How to break your craving for that next little dopamine hit

You need to:

  1. Notice the pattern
  2. Delay and disrupt the pattern
  3. Replace the pattern with a new (beneficial) pattern.

This is the process for all neurological programming, all habit replacement. It’s the same for quitting smoking, quitting booze. And it is the only way that you are going to spend your ex-Twitter time doing something more valuable.

What I recommend is that you schedule time in your calendar for the things you want to do. If you don’t, you will chase that dopamine hit in new and increasingly unhelpful ways: By going to other social networking sites, by randomly surfing the internet, by checking your emails over and over again.

4 steps to greater neurological freedom

Here are my recommendations.

  1. Decide how you are going to spend your time. In my case, it’s books, notes, and thinking, in all the little gaps of time. You’d be amazed how much more reading you get done.
  2. Delete all offending apps from your personal phone, the better with which to introduce friction into the process of using them. We’re talking email and LinkedIn, primarily. If you then find that you use your internet browser, install Freedom and block the hell outta that damned thing until your habit is broken.
  3. Schedule time in your day for the projects you want to dedicate attention to instead. If you don’t, you’ll end up absorbing Family Guy reruns or handfuls of horror movies, or Spider Man, instead of doing what you want to be doing. Funnily enough, you’re suddenly more suggestible by everyone else around you, and if you don’t control your time, everyone else will.
  4. Actively work on your IRL social network. Write letters and emails to people if you miss them. Text them. Organise coffee catchups. The faster you get onto it, the better.

Oh – one final thing

There’s one other thing that is driving my craving for dopamine right now. It’s an inability to procrastinate effectively. Put another way, I’m much more aware of the procrastination. Just ignoring the world around me and all my responsibilities is not possible any more. Suddenly, I have to deal with myself and my own foibles.

Working on yourself is the hardest, and most necessary thing of all. Social media gives us a way of not engaging in this work. I wonder what it might mean for us all in the long run?

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