How to quit X? Don’t quit. Substitute.

If you want to know how to quit a bad habit, cold turkey is excruciating. I don’t recommend it.

Behavioral addictions are partly psychological. Even if you still want X but don’t like it, it fulfills some psychological need. Otherwise, you could quit anytime.

And while this sounds like common sense, I’m going to quote science to prove it.

how to quit x Pinterest pin

(Disclosure: I may be slightly compensated if you purchase items I recommend through links on this page.)

Don’t quit by not consuming

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” – Thomas Haynes Bayly

A turkey in the snow. Cold turkey is not how to quit.
(cold turkey)

Dai and Fishbach’s research is the seminal work on nonconsumption. They suggest that “desire depends on the length of nonconsumption of a good and the presence of salient alternatives, and that desire is at least partially constructed.”

Further, “In the absence of salient alternatives, a longer nonconsumption period results in stronger desire for the unconsumed good. However, in the presence of salient alternatives, individuals infer that they have developed new tastes, and thus a longer nonconsumption period results in a weaker desire for the unconsumed good.”

You may want to read that again.

And by the way, desire increases when the study participants “recognize an unfulfilled need.” And “desire implies the feelings of missing something, which is similar to the experience of nostalgia and longing.”

Dependence is partly psychological. Why do you do it? What need does it fulfill? Emotional, social, creative?

See also:
Taming Lightning: Redirect Cravings with the Habit Loop

I was hooked on “romantic” porn because women acting lovingly to the camera boosted my self-esteem. Once I removed self-hate, envy, and bleak future forecasts, I found what I needed was love. Now I practice metta meditation, among other things.

And speaking of that, did you know religious conservatives in the Bible Belt on average consume the most porn? Abstinence-only doesn’t work. You can’t slice off desire like a limb.

So if you don’t like junk food, substitute something healthier. Like in the next study.

“The ceaseless efforts to banish suffering achieve nothing more than a change in its form.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer

How to quit Facebook, or not

The Facebook logo with a thumbs down and ? beside it.

Now, since this blog is about bad tech habits, I’ll get this out of the way. Chemical dependence exists. That’s for physical drugs. I’ve found that behavioral addictions are psychological and habitual, not chemical.

Hence why Dai and Fishbach’s third study is most important to us. The researchers asked their participants to abstain from Facebook for three days. And Facebook meets different needs for different people, chiefly social, sometimes news.

One group, who had tried to quit before, listed their most salient substitutes. And while they listed other social media sites– Instagram, WhatsApp, and WeChat– I’d suggest getting your social need met face-to-face.

Still, what they found was that “liking for their substitute increased over time.” “The more participants grew fond of their substitute, the greater the negative impact on their desire for Facebook.”

,,,Although for some reason, “on the first day of abstinence, reminding participants of substitutes made them desire Facebook more.”

And “Although we would assume the effect on reduced desire diminishes for very low-quality salient substitutes… our effect seems to hold for substitutes that are clearly inferior to the original consumption.” Test that one at your own risk.

But in the end, “desire for substitutes increases whenever desire for the focal item decreases.”

You just have to ride out the urges.

See also:
Urge Surfing: 20 Ingenious Battle Plans to Vanquish Temptation (COMING SOON!)

So how do you maintain this in the long run?

How to quit? Use speedbumps.
With speed bumps.

First, make your vice as hard to get to as possible. Use a blocker like Freedom, Cold Turkey, or any other on my curated blockers list. If you need to, lock your controller, remote, even smartphone in a time-lock Kitchen Safe.

So here are some examples:

  • keeping your phone in a different room at night (buy a traditional alarm clock)
  • using a blocker you can only get around with a complex password you keep written on a note in your garage under a bunch of boxes
  • never saving your login information
  • listening to the urge surfing audio on my resources page

…and substituting as soon as possible. That’s how to quit X.

By the way, some good news: “when nonconsumption was self-selected, longer nonconsumption resulted in a weaker preference… irrespective of substitutes.”

How to quit X

Don’t quit. Substitute. Do nothing but eliminate, and you will fail.

And remember: it’s not the habit you crave, it’s the change in state it delivers. What emotional state are you escaping to? Avoiding stress? Killing FOMO? Are you just lonely?

This is a very basic article, the base of everything, and that’s the takeaway.

  • What do you need?
  • What else can give you what you need?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Also not how to quit: just quitting.

If you’re not sure, the first chapter of my ebook Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors can help. It’s all about VIA Signature Strengths, and it includes a questionnaire, a worksheet, and links to clinical tests that help you unearth your signature motivating superpowers.

From there, you write Quests to build a life that rules out addiction.


How to quit X? Don\'t quit. Substitute.

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