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How to Control the Online Over-Checking Habit
From:
Tracy Shawn -- Anxiety Fiction Novelist Tracy Shawn -- Anxiety Fiction Novelist
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Santa Barbara , CA
Thursday, February 13, 2020

 
Please Note: This piece was first published with PsychCentral Under the title: How to Understand and Control the Online Over Checking Habit on January 29, 2020 

I know I’m addicted to what I call “Over Checking.” I also know that the more I feed this addiction, the more emotionally exhausted I become. Yet, even with this awareness, I check (and recheck) emails, texts, news, and social media notifications too many times a day (and night) to count. I even catch myself in a loop, where I not only check all the above, but then, within minutes, check it all again. I’ll even recheck my Weather app, as if that “partly cloudy” prediction for central California is suddenly going to morph into a typhoon within the next five minutes.

Being a writer, as well, I find myself clicking onto Amazon to check my book’s ranking on a daily basis (if not more). Friends have told me to stop. I’ve told myself to stop. But then I see a book sale! No matter how many times there isn’t one, I keep on checking, as if the mere act of looking it up will somehow cause a sale. Irrational? Yes, definitely. And, yet… I keep clicking away, a hungry mouse waiting for that intermittent reward.

I know many other people suffer from this over-checking dilemma as well. Whether it be a friend continuously checking to see if his love interest has texted him back yet, a neighbor who scans her Facebook feed even while she’s jogging, or that random stranger at a party who keeps his gaze transfixed on his screen.

Sadly, my over-checking habit is not at all unusual in this digital age. But I wondered why this particular behavior has become so widespread (after all, most people I know aren’t nearly as neurotic as I am). Then, while researching this piece, I found an article in Inc.com titled: “Why You Can’t Stop Checking Your Phone, According to Psychology” written by performance coach and human behavior professor Melody Wilding. Wilding points out that something called intermittent reinforcement, a conditioning system that gives a reward only sometimes and at random intervals, is so powerful that it has been proven the best way to get an animal to do something. She goes on to say: “Intermittent reinforcement is at the root of technology obsession. It’s the behavioral undercurrent that keeps you checking your device.”

Because our messages, notifications, emails, and updates (which feel like rewards to the human brain) are both intermittent and random, it’s understandable why so many of us are hooked. It also explains why I keep picturing myself as that hungry mouse waiting for that sporadic reward. Yeesh! But how to control this habit? Below are some handy antidotes:

Become Aware of Your Triggers

When you reach for your phone out of mere habit, are you angry, anxious, stressed? Wilding points out that research has shown that intense emotions such as anger and frustration can lead to distraction. And what a handier way to distract ourselves but with our ever-present devices.

With this self-awareness, ask yourself if there’s a better way to handle emotions rather than falling down the rabbit hole of unnecessary texting (do you really need to send your friend yet another cute cat video?), checking and rechecking emails (do you really have to respond to every email within an hour’s time?), or researching physical ailments (do you really need to know that your latest stomach ailment may be a rare form of cancer when you’ve already made a doctor’s appointment?). Perhaps you can call a friend and talk to another human being. Perhaps you can take a walk through your neighborhood and kick up your feel-good hormones through exercise. Perhaps you can just make a cup of tea and stare out the window, giving your brain enough time to work out some much-needed solutions to a needling problem.

Modify Your Habit with Simple Everyday Solutions

Most of us rely on our smartphones and computers in order to keep up with work, school, and various social commitments. Therefore, it’s not a matter of going cold turkey from our devices, but rather learning how to cut down our emotional dependence from them. Easy, but effective steps include:

  1. Omitting Use During Certain Times of Day and Night. It goes without saying, that turning off your cell while driving is a practical and smart habit (yes, cell phone use does distract drivers and can cause accidents). Other great times to turn off your cell include times when you’re working out, enjoying a meal, hanging with friends and family, and even while you’re walking Fido (I have forged some wonderful, long-term friendships with fellow dog walkers, which I might not have had the opportunity to have made if I had been glued to my cell). And by all means, either shut off your cell or put it on “Do Not Disturb” mode at least an hour before bed—and then tuck it away in a drawer, so that you don’t see—or, even hopefully, even think about it.
  2. Deleting Social Media apps from Your Phone. I know; this one may be difficult for a lot of us. One easy way to cut down on your checking time and anxiety, though, is to remove the social media platforms that cause you the most stress—and keep the one that you like the most. I have found that, yes, I do check the only social media app I have on my phone on a daily basis—but I only check my other social media platforms from my computer once a week or less. This step has definitely cut down my checking habit.

Through it all, dear readers, remember that you’re not alone and that the checking habit can be quelled—or at least diminished to the extend where you won’t feel like a mouse clicking away for a random reward!

Tracy Shawn, MA

Author and speaker Tracy Shawn lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her debut novel, The Grace of Crows (Cherokee McGhee, 2013), won awards for Indie fiction, including the 2013 Jack Eadon Award for Best Book in Contemporary Drama and Second Place for General Fiction from Reader Views. She’s written numerous articles for print and online publications and has had three short stories published in literary journals. Ms. Shawn has currently revising her second novel. You can visit her website at: www.tracyshawn.com.

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