Four tips to binge more intentionally

The quick n’ dirty: to stop wasting time devouring digital content, try 1) setting a timer, 2) scheduling things that force you to unplug, 3) take a stretch break, and/or 4) approach change in baby steps.

This might sound familiar to you: you’ve had a productive day, your brain is feeling a little fried, and you’re glad to finally be home. You settle onto the couch and plug into your favorite digital medium while munching on some reheated dinner. My go-to is goofy shows on Netflix; yours could be YouTube, Instagram, Candy Crush (are people still playing that?), or something else.

The first “chunk”–a single show, a reasonable number of posts, or a couple of levels–comes to an end. You have the option to stop, but you’re feeling real comfortable, and, heck, you deserve another round of screen time, anyway. So you keep going. Rinse and repeat. Before long, you look up and realize three hours have passed. What happened?

Regardless of how familiar this sounds to you, if you’re like me, the most disturbing thing about mindlessly binging on digital media is the “mindless” part. After failing to escape the pull of the countdown to the next episode for the fifth time, I feel enterdrained. The dopamine hits are still smoldering from the jokes and from the excitement of giving in to the next episode, but my willpower is sapped. I’m reminded of lying in a hospital bed for a few days.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, a little binge here and there is not a big deal. Heck, every Sunday might involve “brunching yourself back to life” and then binging Netflix, and that’s your call, of course. However, beyond just feeling enterdrained, I know that when I binge Netflix, I pass up an opportunity to exercise my patience muscle. I give up the joy of having waited at least a day to watch the next episode, which will have compounded like interest in an investment portfolio. Instead, I cash out with basically zero return. Not to mention, I end up sitting on my duff for way longer than I’d like.

If you’re nodding along but confused about how to get out of the binge rut, consider trying some of these strategies with me.

First, quickly set a timer before diving into your entertainment/social medium of choice. It doesn’t matter if you start another episode with five minutes left to go on the clock, when the timer goes off, you need to close the window, close the app, put away the phone, etc.

Second, you can try writing down when you will stop and move onto something else. Or better yet, actually schedule something that will force you to move on, such as calling/writing a family member, submitting a post/assignment, or meeting up with friends.

Third, if you don’t have any friends and are struggling to move on once your timer starts ringing, don’t worry about unplugging. Just get up and move around for ten minutes. Go to the bathroom and get some water. Stretch. Pet your cat. Then see if the pull of your electronics is as strong as before. Chances are, you’ll be able to move on much more easily.

Fourth, take a longer view. Approach these challenges expecting to take small steps. If you tend to spend six hours on Instagram, try to spend no more than five hours and 45 minutes next time. If you’re successful with that, try five hours and 30 minutes the time after that, and so on. Like nutritional diets, the best diet for digital content is one that you will stick with.

So, what’s the digital medium you have most trouble saying “no” to? If you have any suggestions or success stories, please share them below!

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