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A long time ago I made a program for my laptop which counts down from 90 minutes and shuts down my computer after. Fool as I am, I included a feature which resets the timer, so while in theory it should discourage me from spending too much time on my laptop, in practice I often spent 2 to 4 hours on it, resetting the timer whenever it's about to shut down. I could remove the reset feature, but then I know I would close the program before it shuts down instead.

My issue is, I'm struggling to limit the amount of time I spend on screens, and my own disincentive hasn't worked. Especially a problem after I downloaded Minecraft for my phone. How can I force myself to have regular and decent screen breaks? My mum sometimes comments when I've been on a while and need a break, but I sometimes ignore her too :(.

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(I've just spent three hours on my laptop and another hour or so playing Minecraft PE. The fact that my eyes are a little blurry prompted this question.) – Leo King Jun 28 '14 at 22:30

I use the concept of friction based productivity, it goes like this:

If you want to stop doing something, make it harder to do that thing. The first step would be to simply uninstall Minecraft and any game while you still have some consciousness of the time wasted there.

Another example is getting rid of your TV (but I am guessing that you are still living with your parents)

For people who want to lose weight, I tell them to get rid of all unhealthy food at home, so that there is no temptation whatsoever, if they are hungry, they can only eat healthy food.

If you want to do something more often, make it easier to do What other activities would you like to do instead? If you want to play guitar, take your guitar out of its bag, and put in the middle of your room. If it is going out with friends, set up a daily reminder to invite someone to go out that evening, etc...

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There is a way out of this. Like any other technique to replace 'bad' habits, it requires discipline but the reason it appears to work for a lot of us is its a good hack to trick your brain:

If you are able to diagnose every habit into its underlying cues, routine and reward, you will be able to attack each component separately and will most likely develop good habits without feeling stressed or worked out.

Here it goes,

  1. Identify the cues that make you start staring your screen. Is it stress from work, physical tiredness, a specific time of day etc. Watch yourself carefully for a few days to hone in on the triggers that make you do what you don't want to do.
  2. Then identify what are the intrinsic and external rewards associated with your habit. In most cases, it might be a change of state from the rest of the day. Ask yourself, what rewards I want when I undergo states of identified cues? For example, if your cue is related to coming home from work and feeling tired, then imagine the best reward(s) you crave for. In most cases you will be able to identify rewards that can be received from a host of behaviors that are not related to staring at screens. For example, if your reward is relaxation of the mind, instead of staring the screen, identify what other activities you like or do that relaxes your mind. It might be a chat with mom, walking the dog out, doing a few pushups, listening to music, calling a buddy etc.
  3. Finally, change the behavior on the cue that result in the same reward(s). Every morning remind yourself that today I am going to watch out for the cue that makes me want to stare at my screen. When the cue comes in, you will start realizing the urge cautiously and then, its a matter of choosing the alternative behavior. The more days you catch the cue and then behave differently, the more your 'bad' habit looses its grip on you and most likely you don't have to be unhappy for letting it go, you just chose a different means to the same end.

Good luck!

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This approach is called the 'Habit Loop' by Charles Duhigg. Helps me many times – Atif Abdul-Rahman Jun 30 '14 at 18:07

A good strategy would be to implement some sort of consequence for breaking your own rules. It has to be something that holds weight though, so that you will consider it when weighing the pros/cons of extending the timer. You will need to determine how best to punish or reward yourself (monetary, caloric, etc).

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I have this problem, too. I love playing games and it is pretty hard to get off when you are having fun.

My solution to this is to force myself to doing some chores around the house. There is usually something you can clean up or fix.

If I run out of things to do, I usually go for a drive. It might not be long enough to stay off-screen but, hey, better than nothing.

Hope this helps.

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