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A little therapy session to change our tech habits once and for all
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We’re going to try something different today. We’re going to do a little pretend therapy session focused on changing our tech behaviors. The words you read are ones I might say out loud as a therapist in this weird, imaginary therapy session. My goal is to show you (rather than just tell you) how this might work, and my hope is that it will help you think through new ways to change your own behaviors.
Our session will incorporate techniques from a type of therapy called Motivational Interviewing (MI), which is has been shown in meta-analyses of over 100 clinical trials to work in helping people change behaviors ranging from substance use to parenting practices. Parents: it may also give you some ideas on how to talk to your kids about changing their own tech behaviors. Obligatory (though, perhaps obvious) disclaimer: this is not actual therapy.1
Happy behavior changing!
5 min read
Oh, hey! I didn’t realize you were already here. It’s good to see you again. How are things? How was the visit with your in-laws over the holidays? How’d your pasta alla vodka turn out?
Oh, yes, my son’s feeling way better, thanks for asking. The viruses this year - it’s just been nonstop. On the plus side, he learned to say “Bless you, mom,” and now whispers it to himself every time he (or anyone else in the house) sneezes. So that’s fun.
Anyway, I know we talked last week about some changes you might want to make to your tech use this year…And I see from your face that you maybe forgot to think it over this week? That’s totally okay. Let’s take a quick look back over that list of healthier tech habits right now.
It sounds like there are a few on that list that stood out to you.
No phone use during dinner
No checking social media from your phone (only your computer)
Disabling notifications on your phone
Picking one day of the week to go “tech-free”
FaceTiming a friend once per week
Which of these are you most interested in trying first? Let’s pick one. More than one is fine, too, but it tends to be easier to make changes when we start small.
Got one? Okay, so the change you want to make is to stop checking social media from your phone.
Should we dive in?
Oh, wait, you want to grab another coffee first? Okay, yea, me too. Meet you back here in five.
Phase 1: Building Motivation to Change (Finding your WHY)
So you’re thinking about making this change, to stop checking social media from your phone, and to check it only from your computer. I appreciate that this isn’t so easy—social media is really designed to be hard to put down—so I’m impressed that you’re already taking steps to make it work better for you.2
Would it be okay if we talked a little bit about why you want to make this change?
Reflect on reasons: What concerns do you have about checking social media on your phone? How has it gotten in the way of your life?
Elaborate on reasons: Can you think of any specific examples of how this has created problems for you?
Importance ruler: On a scale of 0-10, how important is it to you to make this change? Why not a 0? What would it take to move from a ___ to a higher number?
Confidence ruler: On a scale of 0-10, how confident are you that you can make this change? Why not a 0? What would it take to move from a ___ to a higher number?
Decisional balance: What are the pros and cons of making this change?
Look forward: How would making this change improve your life?
So, what I’m hearing is that, once you start scrolling, it’s hard to stop.
On the one hand, popping open TikTok or Instagram feels like an easy way to relax, and videos of babies eating lemons make you happy, but on the other hand, you’re concerned that it’s causing you to be distracted from your family and friends.3
You mentioned that if you stop checking social media on your phone, your toddler will be less likely to football-spike your phone onto the ground and shatter the screen (again), and you’ll have more time to get back into your hobbies, like reading your favorite newsletters.
Being present with your family is a value for you, so it feels really important to you to make this change.
Is that right?
Phase 2: Strengthening Commitment to Change (Figuring out HOW)
So, where do we go from here? What would you like to do next?
May I offer some suggestions? I’d like to introduce you to something called a Change Plan. We’ll use techniques from the science of behavior change to help you come up with a plan for no longer checking social media from your phone.
It does seem like overkill, I know. But there’s a lot of evidence that it can work to help us figure out how to implement and stick with the changes we want to make. Should we give it a try?
Let’s write down the answers to these questions as we go.
1. The specific CHANGES I want to make are:
Stop checking social media on my phone. I will still check social media from my computer, but will limit this to 30 minutes per day.
2. The most important REASONS I want to make this change are:
I want to be more present with my family and friends.
I want to have more time to explore my hobbies.
I want to be less distracted around other people.
3. The STEPS I plan to take to make this change are:
Delete all social media apps from my phone.
Block social media websites from my phone.4
Set a time limit for social media apps and websites on my computer.
4. Other people could HELP me make this change by:
Keeping me accountable. I’ll tell my friends and family, and I’ll post a comment on Techno Sapiens, with the change I plan to make.
5. Some OBSTACLES that could get in the way of my plan (and how I’ll address them) are:
Barrier: I may need to use social media for work, and it’s harder to do that from a computer. Solution: I will download social media briefly, do what I need to do, and then delete it again.
Barrier: I will feel bored if people around me are scrolling social media on their phones, and I am not. Solution: I will have other activities ready to go, like reading or listening to music.
6. I’ll know my plan is working when:
I feel more present around my family and friends. I feel more productive and waste less time. I feel proud of myself for sticking to this change.
What do you think of this plan? It sounds like you’ve really thought it through. Let’s check back in a couple of weeks and see how it’s coming along.
Thanks for being here today.5 You want to do this again next week? Great, me too. See you then.
A quick survey
What did you think of this week’s Techno Sapiens? Your feedback helps me make this better. Thanks!
Further (obvious) disclaimers because I can’t help myself: true motivational interviewing would actually take place over many sessions (not a single, 5-minute session), and while some of the statements here are things I would actually say in therapy, others are not. This is not medical advice. This is not an actual therapist-client relationship. This is not a recommendation to feed your baby a lemon and record it (but, like, it probably can’t hurt).
For those interested, some of the therapist techniques from MI that I’ve adapted here include: affirming (commenting on strengths and validating emotions); asking open-ended questions; asking permission before giving advice; and summarizing and reflecting what has been said. As it turns out, these techniques can also come in handy as a parent talking to your child.
This “on the one hand…on the other hand” statement is an example of “enhancing discrepancies” between current and desired behavior. When I was training to be a therapist in graduate school, we learned this “on the one hand…on the other hand” technique, and we were required to work it into sessions with practice patients (i.e., other students pretending to be patients). For months afterward, my fellow therapist trainees and I could not stop using this phrase. On the one hand you want to order the mezze platter, we’d say to each other over dinner at Med Deli, but on the other hand, the schwarma wrap is the cheaper option.
The way to block websites on phones is not totally intuitive. Here are instructions on how to do it for iPhone (under “Prevent Web Content”) and Android. And here’s how to set time limits for apps and websites on a Mac. You can also use this extension to set time limits on any websites accessed via Chrome.
I love Motivational Interviewing. I really do. It’s evidence-based, it’s collaborative, it works. But the acronyms! Here’s a real sentence I came across in an MI guide for therapists: “...reinforce the client’s change talk (‘DARN-CAT’) using OARS. This is a great time to also use IQLEDGE skills.” I love a good acronym as much as the next person, but really?