Feel Like You’re Addicted to Social Media? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a marketing professional who manages a whole crew of kids—really.  Age-wise, I could be the parent of each of these people. My team is tasked with providing movement and content across all of the social media platforms.   We are very successful at what we do.

Here is my problem: I feel like social media has eaten my brain.  I go on all the different platforms to assess trends, see how our work is showing up (vs. depending on analytics) and get ideas for new strategies. I often find myself getting hijacked where 15 minutes can go by and I am not doing anything useful, just clicking on what I know is click bait. 

I have mentioned this, kind of jokingly, to my team. Everyone laughs because it happens to all of us.  I know we could be much more productive but I have no idea how to manage what feels a lot like an addiction.

Addicted to the Internet

Dear Addicted,

Well, in my efforts to research the effects of the internet on the brain I found out a lot. I also ended up reading several articles about unrelated items and checking out the bathing suits the Kardashian sisters are sporting on their spring trip to Mexico.  It sounds like I am kidding, but I am not.  I actually had to slap my own face and remind myself what the heck I was doing. Guess what? Forty minutes had gone by, which was the entire amount time I had allotted for this post!  So you are playing with fire here—and what a good thing it is that you realize it.

From a neurological standpoint, your brain has a natural tendency to seek out novelty and stimulation.  The internet provides the perfect mix of both. Now add in the irresistible pull of instant gratification—the little bursts of dopamine being released with each new click. Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter and without the activity that produces so much, our brains produce less.  This all happens pretty quickly. Once the loop is created, it is fiendishly hard to break.

Your problem is that you are addicted to something you have to use.  In fact, it is your objective to leverage this exact effect to get eyeballs to your site—so understanding this effect will help you control it.  In most cases we can step away from what we can’t control – gambling, shopping, booze, drugs, gossip.  You don’t actually need those things to live.  But you have to use the internet to do your job.  Your closest parallel is food: you have to eat, so you can’t eliminate food altogether.  But you can eliminate sugar—the most addictive food of all, according to some research.

So here are some ideas along those lines to help yourself and your team manage your forays into the bizarre funhouse quicksand that is the internet:

  • The first step in dealing with addiction is admitting your powerlessness. The second step is getting support to deal with it. Discuss the nature of addiction with your whole team.  Encourage each person to talk about the struggles they have and how they manage them.  They will have ideas you can test as a group and improve with experimentation.
  • Before you go out into the fray, make a clear list of sites and topics to be covered.  Allot finite time periods to accomplish specific tasks.  Set an alarm and try to beat your time.
  • Meditate at least once for 10 minutes at the beginning or in the middle of your work day. Use an app like headspace (https://www.headspace.com) if you can’t do it alone.  It will rest your brain and stop the crazy.
  • Insist that everyone on your team print out any can’t-miss articles on paper for others to read. (I know it’s an ecologically unsound practice—use scrap paper and recycle it.)
  • Make sure everybody has tasks to do that do not involve being on the internet.
  • When weather permits, hold staff meetings while walking outside to get everyone to look out at the horizon—this releases endorphins and changes your brain state.
  • For other meetings, make sure everyone’s phones are absent—either put in a basket or left at their desks. Be fierce about this.
  • You can’t insist your employees turn off their devices at bedtime, but you can do it for yourself. It will at least give your brain the entire time you are asleep to let its guard down.
  • Forbid the use of Candy Crush-type competitive online games during work hours. These are the most egregious and addictive time wasters. I only recently learned players are rewarded for getting friends to join these games.  If you personally play any such games, eliminate them immediately—and if you don’t, don’t start.

Good luck.  You are on the front lines of a phenomenon we don’t fully understand. You are right to take it seriously.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!


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