Breaking out of my bad habit

As a mobile product manager, I’ve been wondering how on earth companies like Facebook create habit loops. Why do I check Facebook many-many times a day and every day? As an experiment, I decided to uninstall the Facebook app from my phone and see what happens. I thought that I, as a millennial social media addict (yes, I think I am…), would immediately switch to web version now that I don’t have an app. But something remarkable happened — I stopped checking Facebook website every day either! As if the connection between Facebook and myself broke off. So I wondered, what exactly happened and why?

At that time I started reading Charles Duhigg’s book “The power of habit” (fascinating read, highly recommended!), where he explains the habit loop as a three-step process with cue that triggers our habits, routine — execution of the task, and reward — something that makes us feel good as a result. The driving force behind the habit loop is craving, when you anticipate the reward just by being exposed to the cue. I decided to decompose my Facebook habit loop to see what drives my behavior and why.

With Facebook, I figured out that my reward was not appreciation in a form of number of ‘likes’ because I stopped posting pictures on Facebook (now only Instagram :-), but learning (or perception of it) something new — news, live events, funny cat videos — mostly completely useless stuff. The cue in my case was my ‘alone time’, whenever I’m in the kitchen area and there are no colleagues to talk to or on a tram/train by myself, but on top of that, my cue was powered by that red notification dot with increasing count signaling that there is something new waiting for me to learn on Facebook. As a result, the Facebook habit would kick in and the routine of opening the app and scrolling through until I hit the bottom of my news feed would turn into hours…

My Facebook habit loop
Without the app, I’m still exposed to the cue of my ‘alone time’, but now it’s not powered by Facebook, so I’m free to choose whatever medium I want to satisfy the reward of learning.

This time, it’s a book, interesting blog post, or a chat with a friend. In place of my old habit, the new routines emerged that bring me the same joy of learning, but different much more useful and fulfilling outcome.

It’s been six weeks now since I broke out of my bad habit, and I feel fantastic. I finished reading “The power of habit” and already picked up couple of new books. I read inspiring blog posts on Medium and wrote this one :-) Of course, I still check Facebook from time to time, but now on my own terms and I stopped scrolling to the bottom of the newsfeed.

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