# Success Steps
There are both neurological and psychological components that need to be addressed in order to overcome self-destructive technology use. Because of this, your recovery's success depends upon:
Rewiring your brain: Rewiring reverts the adverse neurological side-effects caused by overstimulation from your technology vice. Motivation and self-control impairments caused by overstimulation are gone. Urges to use your vice are less frequent and easier to beat. Vice is replaced with a healthier habit.
Resolving your root cause(s): A root cause is an underlying problem your vice serves to cope with. By resolving your root cause, you stop the need for self-destructive behavior. This is essential because it ensures that you won't simply replace your current vice with another one for the same purpose.
# Surpass Motivation
“He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any how.”
If today you managed to mustered up the motivation to stop self-destructive technology use and take control of your life, that's great!
The problem is that we can't depend on sporadic, mood-dependant nature of motivation. When the waves of motivation inevitably run out, you won't have enough resolve to quit when push comes to shove.
This is why we need willpower. Unlike motivation, willpower provides us with the awesome ability to force ourselves to pursue the long-term fulfillment of sobriety over the short-term pleasure of relapsing, regardless if we are in the mood or not.
# Transforming motivation into willpower
In order to transform our motivation into willpower we must first define willpower (opens new window) to understand it's source of meaning:
Willpower: Strong determination that allows you to do something difficult.
So how can you attain your own source of strong determination?
By having stronger reason(s) to quit instead of continuing.
These are some of the questions you should ask yourself to find them:
- What made you think enough is enough, resulting in you coming here?
- Is there any hopes and dreams that your vice gets in the way of?
- Is there any person, religion, community, or life purpose you want to beat this vice for?
- Are there any scientific findings that support your cause?
- What harm has your vice done to your life?
- How is overcoming your vice going to enrich your life?
This is your 'why', your foundation for inner strength (opens new window).
It's what gives you the willpower to fight urges despite having no motivation, the resolve to face and overcome your root cause, and the perseverance to continue if relapses occur.
If you don't have a strong enough 'why' for doing this, or anything in life for that matter, you simple won't have the resolve needed to push through when things get tough (opens new window).
So if you ever find yourself having trouble justifying why you should continue suffering from recovery, this is your answer. You must never forget it.
Have a readily available place (opens new window) to input and refer to your reasons to quit.
Even if that means putting it down on a piece of paper and bringing it wherever you go, do it.
You are most vulnerable to relapses when you lose or forget what gives you hope and inner strength. Review it as much as you can, especially when you feel uncertain about abstaince.
# Willpower is a start, but not enough
A common myth is that overcoming addiction is just a matter of having enough willpower, but that is far from the truth.
It takes more than willpower to overcome the neurological effects caused by addiction. This is especially true for those with mental health conditions.
While willpower plays an essential role in addiction recovery, it's just a piece of the puzzle, a tool at our disposal to make the decision to not give into the first second of feeling an urge to relapse.
But having willpower without efficiently putting it into a vetted recovery plan, like for addressing your issues and fighting urges, is counter-productive to overcoming technology addiction. It's like having the fuel, but driving without a clear destination in mind.
And sooner or later, that fuel inevitably runs out...
# Bad news: Willpower is a limited resource
Willpower is generally accepted to be a limited reserve (opens new window) of mental energy.
The more you use your brain to exert self-control, like by fighting urges or simply making decisions, the closer you get to the state of ego depletion (opens new window), which is just a fancy term for having greatly diminished self-control until you recharge your willpower back it's current capacity.
The most dependable way of recharging your willpower is through getting enough sleep, so consider that as part of your recovery if you don't have enough already.
Unfortunately, if you are truly addicted, your ability for self-control (the fuel) is already reduced due to brain changes (opens new window) caused by overstimulation from your vice.
This is why your goal in recovery is to treat willpower like a precious commodity. You should only rely on using willpower whenever it is absolutely necessary, like when having to overcome urges.
So the less you have to use willpower, the better chances you have of success. While willpower gives us that awesome ability to fight, it doesn't teach us how to fight in an efficient matter.
Don't worry, the rest of this guide will teach you how to optimally conserve, use, and strengthen your willpower, regardless of the current state it's in.
# One vice at a time
One of the best ways to preserve willpower is to not try to overcome every vice at once.
It's cool if you want to be a high achiever and abstain from four different vices all at once, but the probability of pulling that off is low at best.
The more vices you try to break at the same time, the lower chance you have at succeeding.
With one vice, you already have to compete and deal with other external random factors that drain your willpower throughout the day, like by having to wash the dishes or walk the dog.
While conserving willpower for one vice hard enough on it's own, two vices would require double the willpower expenditure, three would require triple, so on and so on.
The more vices you take on, the higher chance you have of prematurely reaching ego depletion, thus impairing your capability of success when urges come your way.
Instead, I propose you make a list of all the vices you want to break. Prioritize the one that you feel will improve your life the most right now. Only after overcoming addiction for that vice should you move on to others.
# Good News: The Willpower limit can increase
Just because willpower is finite, it doesn't mean the limit can't be increase.
Our willpower, thus ability for self-control, can strengthen like a muscle (opens new window). Each time you overcome an urge, your willpower muscles gets stronger.
So as you continue to rewire your brain on your journey, you will find that it becomes easier and easier to go on. This is not because the urges themselves get easier, but because you become stronger.
Soon enough, you will find that this increase in willpower will not only make recovery easier, but will also make other difficult things in life easier to execute.
# Finding Your Root Cause
In order to stop self-destructive technology use, finding the root cause(s) that drives the behavior is essential for your success. Remember, a root cause is a problem your vice serves to cope with. Also, you could have more than one root cause.
A root cause could just be simple, like having an unhealthy means of dealing with boredom. As a result, you mindlessly scroll through apps like Instagram to relieve that uncomfortable feeling.
A root cause could also be complex, like having unmet social needs that feels unsolvable and hopeless to overcome. As a result, you distract yourself with pleasure in order to avoid the dread felt by thinking of the issue.
If you don't resolve your root cause, you can end up overcoming addiction for one vice, but transition to being addicted to another vice in order to cope with the same problem.
So even if you can fight off urges indefinitely and rewire your brain successfully, you won't feel good and will continue to suffer because you still got a problem in your life that is unresolved.
This is why, everything else is a band-aid solution until you get to resolving the root of the issue that causes your self-destructive behavior.
And often times, you have the same root cause for many, if not, all your vices. So if you resolved your root cause with one vice, you likely resolved it for the others as well.
Finding your root cause may not be an easy or fast process. You could already know what it is after reading this section or you may accidentally discover your root cause next month while taking shots at Pete's bachelor party questioning life choices. Regardless, how fast you find your root cause depends on your personal effort.
Here are the two methods for finding your root cause:
# Method #1: Through Introspection
Introspection is good for someone who feels like they are able to find their root cause themselves. Here is a list of common problems that you may be coping with.
# Negative Emotions
At the very least, every vice is used to deal with negative emotions, such as boredom and stress (opens new window).
Whenever you experience boredom or stress, your go-to response is to give yourself instant pleasure to try to relieve yourself of such feelings.
This is the common root cause every person needs to resolve. The solution for this matter is simple, just replace your vice with a healthier habit that satiates your negative emotions.
I'd still take some time to evaluate whether or not that's all there is to it. The source of most of your stress could be due to a more complex root cause, like having issues that you are avoiding.
# Unmet Needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is one of the most well-known and accredited theories behind what our innate needs are and how they motivate us.
Maslow's goal for people was for them to incrementally meet all needs and maintain harmony of the complete hierarchy for maximum fulfillment. The bottom two tiers are our survival needs and the other tiers pertain to all our psychological needs. Being deprived of one or more of these biological needs can push people into using unhealthy coping mechanisms whenever faced with adversity.
Since we are hard-wired to seek the path of least resistance (opens new window) to save calories for survival purposes, it makes sense why we'd prefer to avoid addressing our unmet needs.
It's easier to distract ourselves with the effortless pleasures of technology instead of resolving issues like loneliness. Unfortunately, neurological brain changes (opens new window) caused by overstimulation makes it even harder to resist instant gratification.
That's not all, technology also has the power to temporarily simulate fulfillment for such needs through mediums like social media (belonging), OnlyFans (intimacy), and video games (accomplishment).
Instead of going the hard route to work towards attaining such needs, we can not only avoid the issue, but also simulate resolve for it.
Why work towards leaving your soul-crushing job to get a purpose-driven career when you can get feel accomplished and significant from competitive video games after work?
Why put effort into finding a mate when you can watch porn and pay for an OnlyFans subscription?
These may seem like poor life choices, but the primitive side of your brain can't tell the difference. At the end of the day, it thinks the reward is the same.
If you are here, then you know that isn't the case. It's merely a band-aid.
Here are some common problems caused by unmet needs that technology is used for coping with:
# Lack of Purpose
“He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any how.”
"When a person can't find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure"
Regardless if life has objective meaning or not, everyone needs to create their own deep sense of purpose in order to truly be fulfilled in life.
A lot of people struggle with addiction and general motivation because of they don't have that reason that gets them out of bed everyday.
The solution is to feel useful and needed for something beyond yourself.
Do you have people or pets that rely on you? Do you have skills or a product that can contribute towards mankind? Can you offer services to your community or country?
See yourself in bigger role(s).
You don't just have a pet/child, you are a provider. Their life is in your hands, provide them with the best life you can.
You aren't just a volunteer firefighter, you are a protector. You are responsible protecting your community and saving lives.
Such roles give you a sense of responsibility and direction for your life. They make you feel important, needed, and that you ultimately matter. You have a place and duty in this world to make others suffer less, no matter how small the impact may be.
Just like with your resolve, your purpose gives you the inner strength and resilience necessary for facing the darkest of times. It gives you hope to latch into.
Unlike with a passion, it doesn't matter if you are in the mood to do something or not. Suffering and obstacles in life becomes more meaningful, since overcoming them helps serve your purpose in one way or another.
Instead of getting your sense of significance from unhealthy and unsustainable means, like from your rank in a competitive game, followers on Instagram, or status symbols, you can feel significance from your purpose.
To create your own purpose, I recommend you watch this quick video (opens new window) and read the book "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.
It will take patience creating your purpose. You most likely need more research and exposure to different experiences to establish a purpose that truly resonates with you.
You may not have anything that makes you feel useful and needed now, but you should always make it your priority to be on the path that takes you there. If you feel invigorated by imagining yourself in particular role(s) or experiencing a certain lifestyle, that's a great sign.
I also want to point out that your purpose is not set in stone. Your purpose may likely change with the flow of time.
Of course, this doesn't means you should solely live to serve others and compromise your well-being. Your purpose should include reducing your suffering just as much as others.
I can't stress that enough. You must take care of yourself, so you can take better care of others.
By continually growing to become the best, most fulfilled, version of yourself, you can produce your best self and impact to the world. I personally recommend the philosophy of Stoicism (opens new window) to guide you towards being the best version of yourself.
Loneliness is hard. It's an innate part of human nature that we are all burdened to suffer from. For some, it's much more severe than the majority can even fathom.
Belonging and intimacy needs are one of the most common unmet needs that technology is used for coping with.
Loneliness does cause us suffering, but it doesn't mean that those feelings are there just to fuck with us. It's there to tell you that you've got some problem(s) to solve.
Overcoming loneliness could just mean taking more initiative to create and/or maintain relationships. It can also mean resolving underlying issues, like having low self-esteem that preventing you from executing the former.
# Low Self-Esteem
While having a strong sense of purpose plays a vital role in having healthy self-esteem, it isn't all there is to it. Chances are, if you think you have low self-esteem, a life purpose in itself may not be enough to fix low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem can cause you to have a very pessimistic outlook on life and self-sabotage yourself. As a result, this could cause limiting beliefs that make you give up on important areas and needs for your life, zapping away at your true potential and overall well-being. Your vice allows you to distract yourself from such problems or even simulate resolve.
I recommend reading the book The Six Pillars of Self Esteem (opens new window) by Nathaniel Branden if you believe you face low self-esteem and/or are codependent on others. Here is a quick video summary (opens new window) of the book.
In more severe cases, like abandonment issues caused by childhood, intervention with a therapist is recommended.
This could be any traumatic experiences, in childhood or adulthood, that could of caused you to cope through distracting yourself with your vice.
I recommend talking to a medical professional to learn how to properly address and cope with such experiences in a healthy manner.
# Mental Health Conditions
If you suspect you may have depression, anxiety, ADHD, or any other mental health conditions, they could be a byproduct of your addiction.
As much as I want to help you with this guide, words can't do much, if anything, to help overcome your problem if you don't have the right chemical balance due to a mental health condition.
This would require a dual diagnosis from a medical professional.
# Your Reason(s) to quit
Believe it or not, your root cause could be extracted from your reason(s) to quit.
If not, it is a great place to start your introspective journey if you have no leads.
# Know Thyself
It's very important that you are confident in what your root cause is. There could be a multitude of potential reasons that drive your addiction, and with that, a multitude of questionable answers to them.
Is your problem of loneliness due to lacking a girlfriend or is it really due to having low self-esteem, causing you to be codependent on others?
Is your general apathy and lack of motivation stemmed from a lack of life purpose or a chemical imbalance due to depression?
When you are confident your answer is specific and valid then it is safe to assume you are ready to address it.
If you misunderstand your root cause, you could inadvertently cause yourself to go through changes that may or may not be relevant to overcoming your technology addiction.
If this happens don't fret, you still made self-improvement changes that made your life better than it was before. Good thing you agreed to put in the time 😉
# Method #2: From Professional Help
A medical professional would be the fastest way to uncover a root cause that is unconscious or incomprehensible to you. It's the best course of action to assure your root cause is correct and also being addressed correctly.
# Habit Formation
"It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day – that's the hard part. But it does get easier."
-Jogging Baboon from BoJack Horsemen
If there is any secret weapon for addiction recovery success, this is it.
At the end of the day, addiction is also a habit, a very nasty and complex one at that. By understanding how habits work, you make recovery much easier on yourself. This is because it's your foundation for learning how to deconstruct, prevent and ultimately beat urges.
# Understanding Habits: The Habit Loop
Charles Duhigg (opens new window), author of best-selling book The Power of Habit (opens new window), is the man who deserves all the credit for this part of the guide (and many more). If you want more details on habits, I highly recommend you give the book a read.
So basically, habits are a behavior pattern acquired over time that is nearly or completely done unconsciously and automatically. Each habit you have, good or bad, serves to benefit you in some way or another.
A habit is made up of three parts: A cue, routine, and reward, all in successive order. This is the called the habit loop.
# The Cue:
A cue serves as the subconscious trigger to incentivize you to engage in your habit loop. Cues are important because they allow us to be conscious of the triggers that cause our desire to perform our habits unconsciously.
This is beneficial because you can stop preventable from urges happening.
By avoiding and removing cues in your power to control, you prevent excessive willpower from being used by removing the triggers that incentivize your desire to use your vice.
# Types of cues:
- Environment: Being at home, in the car, etc.
- Time of day: Bedtime, lunchtime, etc.
- Other people: A friend, seeing an attractive person, etc.
- An emotional state: Feeling stressed, bored, etc.
- Immediate preceding action: Waking up, notification on phone, etc.
For example, Jonny's cues for his TV binge-watching habit is his emotional state and location. Feeling stressed and being at home is all it takes to triggers him to engage in his habit loop.
Don't worry about controlling your cue(s) now. We go over removing and avoiding preventable cues later in the guide.
# The Routine:
As you probability have already guessed, the routine is the just the action itself, Jonny's horrible TV binge-watching.
# The Reward:
The reward is the benefit(s) you get out of your habit.
For Jonny, this is the benefit of coping with general stress and the benefit of not having to face resolving the source of majority of his stress, having a soul-crushing career.
# Rewiring the brain
The beauty of habits is that once they are established, little to no willpower is needed to sustain keeping them up.
Thanks to our good friend neuroplasticity (opens new window), which is just a fancy word for the our brains being adaptable, we are able to physically rewire our brains to change in our best interest.
Due to neuroplasticity, our brains can adapt to the mental effort caused by almost anything. That explains why every time you overcome an urge, it slowly gets easier and easier.
Rewiring your brain removes the adverse effects caused by overstimulation. You will have better motivation to do tasks that don't provide immediate reward and require more willpower to do, like reading and learning a language.
Confronting future obstacles is easier too, since you slowly cultivate the willpower to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. Instead of running away from adversity by distracting yourself in pleasure, you can continue facing them in confidence.
# Replacing your vice
So how exactly are we going to rewire our brains? Breaking the habit? Establishing a habit?
We are doing both by abstaining from the vice routine and establishing a new, healthier routine to replace it.
Remember, every habit you have, good or bad, serves to benefit you. Your vice provides you with a means of coping with negative emotions, but it's in an unhealthy manner.
If you mindlessly scrolled through apps like Reddit because you were bored but don't have another outlet for your boredom, you will find it very hard to quit.
Pure abstaince only makes recovery harder since your neglecting the emotional needs your vice satiated. This why you must find a healthier routine to replace your vice routine that provides similar reward(s).
So by replacing your vice with a healthier habit, you are effectively doing a three-in-one win:
- New habit, new brain: No only are you getting all the benefits from rewiring your brain from overstimulation, but you also have the added bonus of onboarding a healthy habit into your life.
- Best way to beat urges: Overcoming urges is easier since your replacement routine provides similar reward(s) as your vice routine did. Every time you beat an urge this way, you rewire your brain to prefer doing this routine over your vice routine.
- Resolving the common root cause: You now have a healthier outlet to deal with your negative emotions, resolving the common reason every vice is used for.
We will address how exactly you should go about doing the replacement later in the guide.
# How long does it take to rewire my brain?
This 2010 study (opens new window) showed that it takes 18 to 254 days to establish habits, the average being 66 days.
When the replacement habit is established, the routine should feel like an effortless and automatic response, taking little to no willpower to execute.
The number of days to establish the habit ranges person-to-person due to factors like genetics and difficulty. This is why it might take one porn addict 72 days to rewire their brain from porn addiction while another 200 days.
While 66 days is the average, I recommend going 90 days of abstaince in order to indicate that you've rewired your brain from addiction. Other awesome recovery sites such as NoFap (opens new window) and Game Quitters (opens new window) shown that people had very great success rewiring their brains after completing 90 days of abstinence.
Of course, if you don't find 90 days to be sufficient then you should simply continue until you reach a point where you believe you have rewired your brain.
# How can I tell that I've rewired my brain?
Unfortunately, you brain doesn't send you a DM (opens new window) telling you it finished it's neuroplasticity process. You can only make a smart assumption.
Here are some signs that your brain has done so:
- Reached 90 days of abstaince: If you haven't reached 90 days yet, then it's best to assume you are still rewiring your brain, just to be safe.
- Replacement habit: You tend to prefer doing the replacement routine over your vice routine. Whenever a cue manifests into an urge, your replacement habit is done unconsciously with little to no willpower needed, since it is an established habit.
- Urges Change: Urges to perform your old vice routine are less frequent and intense then they were in the beginning. You don't have daily urges to indulge in your vice. Your urges may even be derived from wanting to perform the replacement routine instead.
- Motivation: You have the desire to do other things in life that aren't your vice routine. Activities that seemed impossible to muster up the willpower to do seem easier now.
Keep in mind you may see little to no changes in motivation if you still have other vices that aren't being addressed yet. If you rewired your brain from porn addiction but still have a gaming addiction then you may still have motivation issues caused by gaming.
In this scenario, porn releases more dopamine than gaming, so the baseline threshold for what it takes to motivate you should still be better than before.
# Mindful Use vs. Removal
As mentioned in the introduction, technology is not our enemy, it's neutral. With that, it becomes a matter of how people use specific technology mediums (sites, apps, etc.) and the effects it has on their life.
Technology is only going to get more integrated, readily available, and dare I say, helpful in our everyday lives. This makes complete removal of using technologies such as our smartphones and computers not only infeasible but also counterproductive at best.
# Are you saying I should try to have a healthy relationship with my vice?
I advocate that you eliminate using your vice if you feel it doesn't add any value to your life. It negatively impacts your life more than the rewards it provides you.
If you feel this way about technologies fully dedicated their craft, such as game consoles, then they should be removed in full.
If you feel this way about a specific technology medium (an app, website, etc.), then you should remove that medium and keep the technology (computer, smartphone, etc.).
However, if you feel your vice enriches your life when you decide to use it for enrichment purposes, I'd suggest you consider taking the necessary steps to transition into using it with preplanned, purposeful intention pertaining to those enrichment reasons only.
# What counts as enrichment purposes?
Anyway you use technology that you feel helps progress any aspect of your life. It could be anything from career development to learning a new instrument.
I also want to clarify that leisure doesn't count for enrichment use in the scenario of addiction recovery. One could argue it that de-stressing is an important aspect of life enrichment and I completely agree. The problem is that you already neurologically associate your vice with leisure, but it's in an unhealthy manner.