You’re Not Ugly, You’re Just Spending Too Much Time on Tik-Tok
Here are five ways to end the addiction now and save your self-esteem.
One time—high on magic mushrooms—I found that by turning my foot in the light at different angles, my skin would shift from appearing baby-smooth to looking like the leathery, wrinkled skin of a person 70 years my senior.
Since that experience, I’ve never forgotten the power of perception. Of course, my perception was altered (some might say “enhanced”) by an illicit psychedelic substance, but the lesson was still the same: reality is a fickle thing, completely subject to one’s “angle of perception.”
Years later, I found that when I looked in the mirror—absolutely sober—any pleasure derived from my self-image would be completely dependent to my mood, my state of mind, and the visual content I had recently consumed. In other words, if I had just watched a movie starring sixteen-year-old Mandy Moore, I looked old. When I had just watched a movie starring sixty-year-old Helen Mirren, I looked young.
In reality, most of us don’t look old or young—unless, of course, we’re comparing ourselves to someone else—which we inevitably are.
We are creatures of comparison.
Our minds are comparative by nature. It’s a survival mechanism: cross-referencing and indexing past experiences with present situations allows us to know how to proceed in any given situation.
Unfortunately, our minds in the modern age have co-opted this ability for processes which are absolutely irrelevant to actual survival, and instead, created a new use for them—social survival.
Today, we habitually and unconsciously compare ourselves to every image we see. Without realizing it, those of us spending hours on Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and even dating apps are comparing our self-image to the heavily filtered and edited images of other people, thinking these images are somehow relevant to our social survival. We have begun to index our value against images that aren’t real, and in many cases we’re indexing ourselves against images of teenagers, makeup artists, models, and other “influencers” who dwell in an entirely other realm of existence completely irrelevant to our lives.
Research shows that the most attractive people in the room aren’t actually the most visually appealing—they’re the most confident, and confidence is derived from well-being and self-esteem. In a twisted turn of events, self-esteem is now being damaged across the globe by excessive time spent on image-focused apps, which is in turn make us more insecure and less attractive. Oh, the irony!
It’s time to stop the vicious cycle. Here’s how:
1. Move the app location on your phone.
Step one is to begin by moving the location of TikTok (or your other app of addiction) on your phone. Rather than immediately delete the app cold-turkey (if you could’ve, you would’ve already), this simply shakes up your neural pathways by creating friction around your unconscious habit.
You can make a new folder for entertainment apps in your phone and place your most addictive app on the furthest page from ease of access—this is my personal strategy.
The additional effort now required to access the app will break you out of the unconscious cycle of reaching for it to scroll as a product of boredom and habit.
Just changing your routine is enough to force us to look at the app (and its content) more conciously.
2. Place another, similar app in the old location.
Replace the location of your most addictive app with a similar app that you know doesn’t have the same addictive effect on you. When you’re unconsciously locked into a “open, scroll” pattern—as most of us are—you will find yourself opening the new app accidentally and frequently. When you do, scroll through it and engage. This is an important part of replacing the old habit with an improved one.
You may search for healthier and more creative app substitutions, like Dubsmash, Byte, Display, and Smule, to replace your TikTok habit. You may also seek out apps designed to provide upliftment and mindfulness guidance, like Insight Timer, Headspace, or Smiling Mind.
Replacing the old app (even just in location) is a powerful way to begin retraining your mind—especially if you replace it with a new app that reinforces healthier thinking patterns.
3. Time your scrolls.
Once you’ve moved the location of the app on your phone, it’ll be much easier to notice when you’ve begun to scroll mindlessly through TikTok or your other app of addiction. When you begin to scroll, open up your timer app and use the the stopwatch feature to record your scroll duration. Start the stopwatch when you start scrolling, and stop it when you’re done scrolling.
This practice serves two functions: first, it allows you to know exactly how much time you just spent scrolling, and then assess your mood after the scroll.
This is much different than just looking at a “block metric” that tells you how much total time you spent on an app at the end of the day.
By looking back at your scroll time in the moment, you are able to assess your habits in the moment, which creates a more accessible emotional impact than looking at a metric later when the “damage” is already done. Additionally, you can assess your emotional state immediately after spending some time scrolling and determine if that was useful to you or not—after 00:21:49 of time spent scrolling, do you now feel more at ease, more relaxed, more creative, and more productive?
Second, this technique creates a “bookmark in your brain.”
Knowing that you have a stopwatch running on your scroll is likely to lessen the duration of your scroll, which serves to lower your overall time spent on this addictive app. Also, dividing your consciousness into two parts (one that is using the app, the other that is aware you are being timed) will lessen the likelihood of you being “sucked in” and absorbing the images you are seeing deeply.
Your scroll will be more present and shorter in duration as a result.
4. Notice when you *don’t* scroll, and increase those activities.
Suppose you’re engaging in an activity that you thoroughly enjoy. During this activity, you’re present—you’re in a state of flow, meaning that you feel a perfect balance of challenge and pleasure which keeps you engaged. Never, ever during such moments of flow do we reach for our phones to mindlessly scroll. We’re too busy being engaged in the present moment.
If you find that you reach for your phone to mindlessly scroll all the time, during pleasant and unpleasant tasks alike, you’re undoubtably experiencing a severe dearth of activities that offer you a flow state. It’s time to re-evaluate your life.
While you can’t just quit your job and end your empty relationships in one fell swoop, you can begin to implement little changes. Restart a regular creative practice that you enjoy and begin engaging in it a few times a week (bonus: use the time you would normally spend scrolling for this!). During your creative practice, leave your phone at home, out of sight, or in the care of a trusted friend.
The more you increase the activities that bring you joy and presence, the less inclined you will be to pull out your phone and mindlessly scroll. This is because your brain is literally being rewired, and as you continue to increase your involvement and engagement with the physical world, you will find being glued to the non-physical reality of TikTok becoming much less appealing.
5. Meditate every morning.
In terms of rewiring your brain, nothing is more powerful than meditation.
In fact, if you implement meditation every morning into your routine, you’ll find that decreasing your screen-time becomes much easier than you think—meditation significantly reduces compulsive behavior, making it possible to decide “no” and put the phone back down before you engage.
In addition to reducing compulsive behavior, meditation also increases the ability to meta-cognate, meaning to “think about or notice your own thoughts.” This is a very handy ability when dealing with addiction, and is suspected to be the one of the reasons why psilocybin is also so effective in reducing addictive behavior (increase in metacognition).
Download an app like Insight Timer and begin meditating for 10 minutes every morning. This can be either guided, mindfulness meditation, or on a mantra of your choice. Bonus tip: place your meditation app in the spot that was formerly occupied by TikTok (or your app of addiction) on your phone.
The more consistently you meditate, the more easily you will be able to break out of all habits—including that pesky social media habit that is ruining your self-esteem.
Our addiction to social apps runs much deeper than boredom—it serves to fill a void in our lives that we can’t seem to fill any other way.
The good news is, that void can be filled, and all of the happy, addiction-inducing chemicals that social apps release in our brains can be healthfully released through other, healthier mechanisms and activities. Our job is simply to find those activities.
Now you have the tools to begin reducing your social media usage. The next step is to believe that you are worthy of engaging in creative activities that you love, hobbies that you’re passionate about, and dreams that you previously believed were unattainable.
The truth is, the moment we step away from what “everyone else is doing” on social media is the moment that we realize what we are actually capable of—and the answer is, anything and everything we want. So, hunker down and prepare to change your life—it all starts with one little habit.