How can I make life more stimulating and beat an Internet addiction?
September 4, 2014 7:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm underemployed, have so many hobbies and interests that I can't decide which to pursue, and friends who are usually too busy to hang out very often. All of this makes my day-to-day life incredibly dull, so I usually end up online...all day. My room doesn't get cleaned, my laundry doesn't get done, my clients grow unhappy, and sometimes I forget to eat, but at least my brain has something to do.

As a result of the above, I'm usually broke, alone way more often than I'd like, and reluctant to go out much for fear of spending money I need to save in order to pay rent and bills (also because even a trip to the grocery store or the library can be an onerous three- or four-hour affair. I take public transit, can't really afford a car, and am so tired of needing to factor in so much time to get anywhere). I've come to realize that my Internet use is not healthy, but I don't really know what to replace it with. I feel like I'm too old to be dealing with this, but it's been a problem for half my life, easily. I'm 32.

When I'm not working, I'm online...sucking down articles, listicles, music reviews and blog posts like water, or chatting for 8 to 13 hours a day, sometimes even if there are more important things to do. I used to compulsively check Facebook, but managed to limit my use of that site to chat only. I came to realize that it's very likely I am dealing with compulsive Internet use after talking to a close friend who struggles with addiction of a different sort. Addiction and compulsion are very, very closely related. While I don't suffer from withdrawal, exactly, if I'm not online, I've almost flunked classes over 'net-related procrastination. I have projects for clients that I'm desperately behind on. I have tendonitis in both wrists and chronically dry, sore eyes from years of computer screen overuse. I wake up exhausted with eyestrain headaches and frequently oversleep, but I still can't help myself if it's available. It's easier than leaving my bed, or forever chasing down people to hang out with them, or spending one more minute on a project I've come to loathe.

From what I understand of addiction, it's a thing best beaten by replacing the compulsion to use with something else, or by making access more difficult. I get more done without the Internet, and find that I'm actually happier without it, but my housemate is a heavy Internet user himself (he games all day long when he's home, which is often) and would pitch a fit if I canceled our service. We both use it for legitimate things like finding or doing work, tutorials, and research.
posted by oogenesis to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
You are trapped in the comfortable web of inertia. Break out of it by trying something new every day. Take a different route home, get up at an earlier time, change your soap, anything, just stick with it.
posted by myselfasme at 7:52 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I totally identify with this. I'm supposed to be working on a thesis, but because it involves using my computer for research and typing, I inevitably end up wasting hours on the internet. Something that works quite well for me is making a playlist that lasts for 20 minutes, pressing play and then using that 20 minutes to do something that I need to get done - cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, editing what I have already written if I don't currently feel up to writing something new. When I'm doing something like cleaning, I listen to whatever I feel like listening to. When I'm working on my thesis, I try to stick to music that won't distract me.

If you're having trouble resisting going back into the internet, you could look into something like StayFocused.

Edit because I posted too soon: I try to drink lots of tea and water because when I inevitably have to get up to pee, I'm more likely to see the dishes in the sink and think, "Oh! May as well get them out of the way."
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:05 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use the playlist technique too!

Having a very detailed schedule helps me a lot. I use different levels of lists for this. One is macro: my annual plan. Goals I need to accomplish in the year go here. I break it down by month and give myself monthly milestones for the thing it is I want to accomplish. So, for example, pick a hobby. Let's use knitting as an example. Associated goal: I may want to knit a sweater within the year. In the next month, I need to learn about sweaters and pick a pattern. In the following month I need to get yarn, needles, and work out my gauging. The next month I'll cast on and knit half of the back. Next month, the rest of the back. Next two months, arms. And so on. This is rough and subject to editing as I move through the project. At the beginning of each month, I write a more granular set of goals that cumulate in my monthly goal. Then every week I have a goal. At the beginning of each week I write a list of goals for every day. And then every day has its own list that is written like an agenda with times for everything I am going to do. Including time for Internet related geeking around.

When they say "break it down to smaller chunks" this is what they mean. Break the steps of project into smaller bits as you move along. Be willing to revise and edit goals and be kind to yourself about your progress. If you aren't meeting goals, it's often because they are not well-defined or specific enough. Be flexible but schedule yourself.

I am a bit of a freak when it comes to schedules but that is because if I don't do things this way I never get anything done. I plan my entire waking day and stick to it like glue because when I don't I always end up back at the computer being a hungry grumpy lump.

I also plan all my meals in advance. No forgetting to eat for me anymore. Sunday night I sit down and plan my meals for the week. I grocery shop twice a week - Saturday at 11 am and Tuesday at 7:30 pm. I'm not kidding about the schedule! Another thing that works for me is having a weekly routine. I try to do the same things every week in the same rotation.

Basically for me it's either be a control freak about my time or fritter it all away and feel bad. Being controlling about it has downsides, but nothing that feels as bad to me as that creaky dusty old lady gummy feeling I get from sitting online all day.

But when I do have a day like that, when I just throw the schedule and plans out and veg? I remind myself that it does not feel good, and then I am kind to myself. Yelling at myself about how I spent my time always makes things worse. It's harder to get back on the horse when I am mean to myself for falling off.

Good luck. Try being tight with your time for a bit, schedule your entire day, and see how it goes. I also write my next day's schedule out on a big index card the night before. That helps too.
posted by sockermom at 8:30 PM on September 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: If you replaced "internet" with any other substance in your above story it would describe a cripplingly dysfunctional addict. Not to be mean, but maybe it's time to get help? Internet addiction therapy is a thing, and many cities have low-income addiction therapy for this sort of situation.
posted by Willie0248 at 9:21 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

What you are describing seems to be extremely debilitating and chronic. Have you considered consulting a therapist or psychiatrist? With this going on for over half of your life, it seems beyond the Internet Tips-N-Tricks / Live Laugh Love style cure. I imagine that you have already tried quite a lot of that by now, anyway?
posted by napulist at 9:34 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Plug your modem or router into a timer that you set up to only be on for a preset time period per day.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:21 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, missed the roommate part in the first read. Well, you can still get a separate wifi router for yourself and put that one on a timer and then have him change the password (and not tell you the new one) on the old router.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:23 PM on September 4, 2014

Best answer: In addition to the suggestions above, have you considered moving? Being so far away from other activities seems to contribute to the problem.

It also sounds like you work from home. Can you instead join a shared workspace? That could help you define work time as such, and also increase your contact with other humans IRL.
posted by alms at 10:33 PM on September 4, 2014

Response by poster: @alms: It's not my distance from anything that's problematic. I live in the valley in LA and am maybe 15 min away from car. By bus and train, it's an hour. Universal Studios is maybe 10 min away, by car. Public transit...about 45 min. If I could drive, I'd be pretty centrally located, but without a car, 5 mile trips take -- you guessed it -- an hour.

I like the idea of a shared workspace, and sometimes go to a nearby coffee shop, almost 2 mi from me for that, but I'm tempted to spend money I can't afford to spend there. I'm usually there long enough to need to eat.

I just need to make more money...
posted by oogenesis at 12:16 AM on September 5, 2014

Pursue the hobbies and interests through, you'll probably find new, less busy friends, similarly underemployed. You could even create your own meetup for internet addicts.
posted by smugly rowan at 4:07 AM on September 5, 2014

I've struggled with the same problems. I don't have any real solutions, but I am trying.

Timers help. I dick around for the length of a Netflix show, then set a timer to 20 minutes and clean or something. It also works for building hobbies (painting, playing music on an instrument). I got the idea from UFYH. If you work from home, it might also be helpful to get yourself into a set routine -- 9 to 10 is work, 10 - 10:30 is dicking around, 11 - 12 is work, 12 - 1 is lunch, and so on, until you find a schedule that allows you to do what you need to do.

Also, start walking places. A 10 minute car ride is a long walk, but it sounds like it takes just as long or longer via public transit. As you walk, you'll find more and more interesting things and places, or see flyers for free concerts, meetups, etc. Find a bike on Craigslist, pawn stores, junk stores or garage sales.
posted by mibo at 4:20 AM on September 5, 2014

Best answer: In addition to the above, and seconding alms: if you can physically create a separate office space for work and other interests, it can help you create a separate headspace to stay in for predetermined stretches of the day -- to keep up or catch up with clients and classes. A different room, with the materials and files for work projects. A briefcase to take to the library. Even a different table in the same room, or a separate user on the machine without the same desktop. Just getting half a day's work in regularly will provide great relief from this fiasco.

I set up such an office (I had a company laptop) during a remote work position, and I severely limited visits to my other office downstairs, which was too packed with books, piles, a desktop computer, and other distractions to get anything done in. Of course, the need to be present for email, phone, and deadlines kept me on the job, and the company's presumed monitoring discouraged straying. You don't have these external structures, except for the same need to get work done and get paid, so you need to set them up in your head. (I know, easy to say...)

I have a lot of interests, too, but they are weak beer compared to actually accomplishing something.
posted by lathrop at 7:42 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @mibo: A 10 min car ride is a long walk, and while I don't mind the walk, I do mind the 45 min to an hour it takes me to get there on foot. I don't always have that time to spare, especially factoring in the 90 min or more it takes me to get to a temp cooking gig, how much stuff I need to carry with me (if I have client work to do, add 7 lbs for my laptop and peripherals in addition to my heavy clogs, coat, knife bag, and a purse, and the worry about leaving the additional weight somewhere if I'm not careful. I won't have time to leave the extra weight at home). I've stumbled across a lot of really cool shops, bookstores, etc. just walking around, and it's one of the first things I do when moving into an area. I never learned to ride a bike (which would actually be a lot faster), so I walk everywhere anyway.

I'm going to try a shift in thinking. If I'm tired of a project, not doing it doesn't make it go away. Doing it does. If I finish it, I can put an end to the absolute torture it represents, and decide whether I want to take on more of the same kind of work. If it's that awful, I really shouldn't be doing it again, no matter how lucrative it might be.

The other? Just learning other ways to deal with crappy emotions, instead of trying to distract myself from them with the Internet. I realized last night after posting this question that I never actually learned how to just deal with them. My attempts to deal have usually resulted either in soaking in them and getting depressed, or chasing them away long to get something accomplished before they come back.
posted by oogenesis at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2014

Maybe this is a stupid suggestion, but have you considered biking? It's often faster than transit, it's free (other than bike maintainence) and the exercise will help your mood. It might help you feel more empowered to be out and about.
posted by mai at 2:51 PM on September 5, 2014

Best answer: Should have previewed. Well, I know several people who have learned to drive cars as adults. Maybe learning to ride a bike as an adult is something you could strive for?
posted by mai at 2:52 PM on September 5, 2014

I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was in my 20's. After being intimidated by the prospect for years it turned out to be a lot easier than I expected, and it is way fun!
posted by alms at 9:26 AM on September 6, 2014

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