I Quit Instagram: 4 Steps to Break An Addiction

A palm with different pills of social media on it to imply the phenomena of social media as an addiction

Twitter is crack for media addicts. It scares me not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I can handle it. — George Packer

A month ago, I was the type of person who took pictures of everything for Instagram; who would have 3 stories every day; who posted once a week. And these were all just minimal numbers.

But now, I don’t use Instagram anymore. Well, I’m basically not using any social media anymore.

So what happened during this month?

If you were like the old me and thinking of how toxic social media or any addiction is, this post is for you!

How It Started

It all started at the point when I realized how much time I have spent on Instagram (like a self-lightening strike). I turn it on when I am waiting for buses, sitting in a car, or eating my meals. Worst of all, I (and lots of the people) turn it on when we don’t know what to talk about with each other, and try to fill that “awkward inter-conversation silence” with our phone! This is awful but also pretty common nowadays.

About a month ago, I removed Instagram from my phone after reading Cal Newport’s book — Digital Minimalism. (Here is also a video of him talking about quitting social media) (Ok, fine. Another truth was I was heartbroken and I knew using Instagram would only make it worse…)

Just like when a girl suddenly cuts her hair short, then people start assuming something bad happens to her that leads to this result. That’s exactly the same! People started asking me why I suddenly disappeared from Instagram. Was there something bad that happened to me?

Yup! Somehow quitting Instagram is a really BIG deal for the millennials. It seems like you are not connected to your friends anymore. But let’s think in this way: 10 years ago, people were fine without any social media, weren’t they?

With my little personal victory of quitting Instagram, it makes me dig into the topic of addiction more and more, as well as how to break any addiction once and for all.

Common Types of Addiction

Here are some typical addictions that you can observe among your friends, family, and strangers on the streets:

  • Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…)
  • Non-stop autoplay (Netflix, Youtube, TV…)
  • Shopping
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol/smoking

Why Are We Becoming Addicted

As I started doing research about how people get addicted to something, it happened to be similar as to how we form a habit. In other words, getting addicted is like forming a bad habit.

Both James Clear and Nir Eyal mentioned in their books (Atomic Habits and Hooked) about forming habits. There are 3 stages:

1. Cue

A Cue (or a trigger) is the object that we see, which gives us the incentive to make an action after seeing it. However, different people will have different interpretations of the cue. 

For example, there is an adult. Let’s call her Alice, who doesn’t like to eat sugary things. Alice sees a piece of cookie on the table, but she won’t have the urge to eat that cookie. To her, it is just a piece of cookie. Nothing else.

On the other hand, there is another kid named Mark, who has a sugar addiction. He sees that cookie and a straightforward thought might pop up in his head: Oh! It’s cookie time!

An female adult with a pony tail named Alice and a kid with a colorful cap named Mark
A female adult called Alice is saying "Meh!" while Mark is saying "Ohhh! cookie time!" with heart eye. There is a chocolate chip cookie in the middle

(FYI that is a chocolate chip cookie)

2. Action

This stage is just how it states — It is the action we take after interpreting the cue. Continuing with the previous example, Alice will probably walk away while Mark will, without a doubt, eat that cookie.

A female walked away from a cookie while the kid with a colorful cap takes a bit of the cookie

3. Reward

The reward is the sense of satisfaction we gain after we take the action. That pleasure also motivates us to take the same action again when we re-encounter the cue. Then the loop goes on and on: cue > action > reward > cue > action….

So after eating the cookie, Mark feels satisfied. Next time when he sees a cookie, his brain will recognize the cookie as something that makes him happy, and it will create a desire.

A boy with colorful hat sees a cookie and have a happy smiley face appeared in his mind

(Nir Ealy also puts an extra step called the “investment phase”. It is more or less related to business, so I didn’t add it here for discussion. )

4 Steps to Break Addictions

After acknowledging the fact of how we form bad habits, here comes the important question: How the heck can I break addictions!!

Just as controlling our weight. Gaining weight always seems easier than reducing weight. In terms of addictions, starting getting addicted to something is easier than breaking that addiction out of your life.

Here are the 4 steps I found useful myself if there is an addiction in your life that you want to keep it at bay:

1. Be More Mindful

First, you need to identify that you are addicted to something. Most of the people won’t acknowledge that they are having an addiction. If someone is addicted to Netflix, he will usually say “oh! I just really love Netflix”, but he won’t realize he loves it so much that he can’t stop it!

To identify an addiction, It’s either discovering by yourself or notified by people around you. However, people usually won’t point out others’ flaws. (You know, we just try to be more polite!) So the responsibility is mostly on yourself! By enhancing your mindfulness, it helps you point out your own addictions.

2. Make It Hard to Access

After finding out what your addiction is, make it hard for yourself to have access to it. Imagine these 2 situations: 1) cookies are put on the table vs. 2) cookies are locked in a box that requires you to find the key first. Which one will make you want to eat the cookies more? I bet no one (or at least fewer people) in the second situation will be willing to go through these much efforts just for some cookies.

If you have social media addictions, remove those apps from your phone that the only way for you to log in to those platforms is through your computer, which you won’t have it with you all the time as your phone. If you have an online shopping addiction, try to block all of the shopping websites you usually open every weekend.

Everyone’s addicting situation may vary, so you need to design a way by yourself. With extra difficulties, it will decrease the possibility of falling into that addiction loop again.

3. Cut It Out

The next step is to totally cut it out from your life! What’s different from the second step is that this time, you don’t have access to it at all. With the experience of the previous step, you may find yourself living quite alright when you cut those addictions off a bit. You are now just pushing it a little further.

I know from time to time, the evilness of getting back to the addiction may crawl back into your mind. Especially for those FOMOs (Fear Of Missing Out). Here is a way for you to keep up with your efforts — Chain Method of Productivity (by Jerry Seinfeld): get a calendar and have a BIG RED CROSS on those days that you didn’t touch whatever you are addicted to. It motivates you not to break the chain once it goes on.

In the case of cutting out social media, many people may argue that they will not be able to follow up on friends’ lives. Well, here is the trick and benefit for you. Call to keep in touch with them. Watching their stories or posts online isn’t really knowing their lives, it’s what I call “superficial acknowledging”. Just like when you see the cover of a book, you only know the topic, but you don’t know the real content.

So in this way, it makes you want to keep in touch with those that you really care about. It also lets you identify those friends who really care about you.

4. Find Alternatives

Before high school, I read tons of books (well, mostly fiction novels) while during high school, I had stopped reading somehow. My explanation was always “High school is too busy, so I don’t have time to read.”

Not until I quit Instagram did I realize it was Instagram that occupied most of my fragmentary free time. Since around that time, Instagram started getting popular among teens.

Once I cut Instagram out of my life, I had so much free time in a sudden. I started getting bored when I was waiting in for the bus or eating alone. Then I figured that I have to find other things to do. I pick up reading again.

It might be weird at first when cutting off the addictive elements, since you are so used to them in your life. But now, without them, you need to find an alternative to replace the emptiness. This step is the key point to help you break an addiction in the long run.

When the urge of watching Netflix emerges, what should you do? Read. Paint. Spend time with your family instead. You name it. You can find a long lost interest back (think of how did you spend those time before Netflix was invented) or try out something you want to.

Want to smoke? Chew some gum instead. Want to drink coffee? Why not drink some water or fresh juice? Just be creative with it and find the alternative that suits you.

Final Thoughts…

You get used to using Instagram all the time, you surely can get used to not having it in your life too. No matter it is social media, video games, sugar or food, the whole addiction thing is more or less the situation of getting used to something. So the way to “de-addict” something, is also by getting used to the new situation too.

TL;DR? Here Is The Takeaway

  • How Do We Form An Addiction Or Habit
  1. Cue
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  • How to Break An Addiction
  1. Be Mindful and Aware
  2. Make It Hard to Access
  3. Cut it Out (using Chain Method of Productivity)
  4. Find Alternatives