When our habits become unconscious they cease to enliven us and begin to imprison us.

Everyone and their mother is addicted to social media. TikTok is the newest in what has become a long line of highly engaging, highly addicting, and highly available products that sit, poised in our pockets ready to pull us out of our lives and into an endless stream of content and social stimulation.

Social media, like many addictive products, is a tool. When we use it, it’s good. But when it becomes us who is used and used up, the tool has instead become a cage.

How can we take something as automatic as filling empty space in our day with social media content and fight back to reclaim our time, attention, and energy? The problem stems from the habit becoming unconscious, so we must confront it by bringing the habit into our consciousness once again.

You may have done this before. In a moment of disgust with your day’s screen time or in a kneejerk reaction against a post that sucked the fun out of the whole experience, you may have removed one of these apps from your phone.

How long did that separation last? These apps have a way of infiltrating back into our lives and our minds. Maybe it’s a friend asking you to show them a picture of someone you’ve recently struck up with. Maybe it’s content that’s locked to the in-app experience that you tried accessing from the web. Maybe it’s just a mind-melting boredom that demands distraction to survive. It’s an addiction.

Whatever it is. The app always finds a way back.

Even if we become conscious long enough to stop a bad habit, often all we have done is pause it, because we have not yet formed an alternative practice to replace it, or worse, we never asked ourselves the right question in the first place.

What is the right question we should ask ourselves?

I was challenged to discover the right question when a friend needed my help breaking his TikTok addiction.

It wasn’t that he hated TikTok, he actually got a lot of joy from it. He only realized there was a problem when he would sit down and reflect. In those moments, it wasn’t looking at how much time he spent on TikTok that scared him, it was realizing how little time he was spending on his true passion, music.

It was simple. He wasn’t proud of how he was spending his time.

So that’s what I asked him: How proud are you of how you spent your time this week?

Just one question. The answer? Not very.

That was enough to get him to delete the app from his phone right there. A start.

That brief moment of consciousness would not be enough to truly break the habit. The key was having a replacement to reclaim that time. For him, it was making music, learning about music theory, getting excited about music, and finding musicians that inspire. But without continued consciousness all we had was a win of the day, what we wanted was to unlock all of those  hours over the course of the rest of his life to instead spend fueling his passion.

We didn’t stop there. We took the energy of that conversation and the power of the right question and implemented a new practice to keep this question ever-present. 

Every Sunday, the question would land in his inbox. How proud are you of how you spent your time this week?

We added two more questions to further disrupt the old programming:

  • Any wasted time you're uncomfortable with?
  • Any habits you're uncomfortable with?

insert time budget template

With a new workflow set up to run indefinitely, we had created a trigger for the elevation of this thought into his conscious mind. How you spend your time is who you are. So the question was truly, are you proud of who you are? Are you proud of who you’re becoming? Nobody wants the answer to that question to be no. But no one asks because it’s a scary question.

This is how his answer changed over time:

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That’s the power of consciousness and the power of Assembly's recurring workflows.

In the chaotic passage of time, it’s not that we are averse  to change, it’s that we lack time to re-engage and reinvest in the change we are looking for.

Creating a new habit, breaking a bad one, and changing in any way, can really be as simple as guaranteeing reflective moments in the future. A habitual check-in between your past, present, and future self ensures you’re staying on course and prevents you being consumed by the ravenous present. This can be the difference between your time slipping away and you becoming the master of your time.