How many times have you opened a social media app, scrolled through all of the new information, closed it, only to re-open it immediately? You may blame it on muscle memory or a slip of the mind, but this is an intentional design of the app to habituate you into consuming content passively.
Recommended videos, autoplay functions, infinite scrolling and constant notifications are all examples of this. We are heavily encouraged to let go of our conscious choice so that we can be spoon-fed content endlessly and mindlessly. It is only after several hours that we notice that we have not done anything productive for the whole day.
This is unfortunate as our phones and the internet can be of great asset to us when used wisely. We can learn about almost everything from educational videos, we can feel deep emotions and explore different perspectives through movies, while games can be an excellent outlet for stress relief and to have fun with friends.
However, it is so easy to fall into the trap of unintentional leisure, where we passively consume entertainment with no control over it.
To combat this, we must learn to be intentional when it comes to leisure.
Every time you catch yourself reaching for your phone or opening up something like YouTube or Netflix, ask yourself what you are planning to do. Are you wanting to reply to a specific message, or are you just “checking what’s new on Instagram”? Are you planning on watching a specific movie you were recommended, or do you think you’ll end up binging an entire season of reality TV?
If you cannot answer the question, set yourself an “intention“ before opening anything. When you pick up your phone, tell yourself that you will only reply to the message you received from your partner, or that you will look up a very specific thing you were curious about. Then, no matter how much you want to open another app “just to check”, put the phone down. Set a goal and a tangible deadline, such as playing a game for exactly one level, so that there is a definite end, rather than endlessly scrolling down the rabbit hole.
Alternatively, set time aside. Tell yourself that you will browse Reddit or Twitter for exactly 20 minutes (a timer might help), or that you will only view the next three videos on your saved playlist on Youtube. You could even consider time tracking (recording how much time you spend doing each activity through timers or screen-time apps) so you can visualise how much time is spent on each leisure activity. This may highlight significant imbalances or unintentional leisure time that you want to rein back on.
On a similar topic, create systems to fight against your brain defaulting to the easy route. Have phone- or internet-free time set aside each day, disable notifications or make it harder to open apps and put up visual reminders (or have a mantra) to be active and intentional. Go for a walk without your phone, or go to a cafe with a goal to only read a book or write in your notebook for two hours, no matter how little you actually do. Systems and good habits are the best way to promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle, because they become a part of who you are.
Essentially, you want to be active and deliberate about how you use your free time, giving you more control and efficiency over how you enjoy your life. You have so little time in life to grow as a person, to expand your horizons and to follow your passions; why waste it on things that will not add to your life in any way?