The AIR method - Phase III
Taking some (baby) steps forward.
“Many things which cannot be overcome when they are together yield
themselves up when taken little by little.” ― Plutarch
Phase III is the “fat middle” of the AIR method and the part you will spend the most time in by far. As always, don’t focus on how long you’re taking. Live your life and let the river of time carry you.
The single biggest piece of advice to remember during this step, is to not override your timers or turn them off. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. The timer is the best tool you have. It’s better to simply increase the time allotted than to turn a timer off. Work with your brain, but always stay ahead of it!
Slowly decrease the digital wellbeing/screen time timers
Learn to recognize your cues
Taking mini digital detoxes
Periodically remind yourself why you’re doing this
1 - Slowly decrease the limits on digital wellbeing/screen time timers
At this point you should be used to having the timers around, and have them set at a high enough limit so that you’re only rarely triggering them.
When you are feeling good and grounded, decrease the timers on your “junk food” apps. You can tell when you’re ready by noting which timers you haven’t reached in a while.
Decrease in small increments, five minutes or so. Short enough that it doesn’t feel shorter. It’s like going into a cold pool inch-by-inch. No shocks to the system here.
If you have multiple junk food apps, don’t feel you have to shorten all timers at once. A little here… a little there… let it accumulate.
Don’t put a timer on the “whole grain” apps (yet), they are there for when you run out of time with the junk food apps.
If you are regularly feeling frustrated at a timer you recently decreased, it’s better to increase the time allotted than to turn the timer off. Strive to always see them as a companion you’re working with, not as an obstacle you are working against. Better to temporarily push back than to remove entirely.
You’ll find that some apps are much easier to reduce. I personally got Instagram down to about ten minutes/day within two months, and with shockingly little FOMO. That surprised me because it was easily my top app screentime-wise. The last ten minutes did take a several more months to get over, but eventually I removed the app entirely and (importantly) I still don’t miss it!
Supplemental Phase III activities:
2 - Identify your cues
Cravings of all kinds rise and fall over time, but it starts with a cue. With smartphones that cue is often as simple as having nothing to immediately entertain you. Recognizing cues is an important part of drug rehab programs, but it works here too:
Craving always starts with a cue—it is triggered by some sight or sound or memory or body sensation associated with the drug or its effects.
3 - Take mini digital detoxes
Next time you find yourself in a moment of of brief, temporary boredom, a moment that would usually trigger you to take out your device- try keeping in your pocket until it ends. Choose a moment you know will end within a few minutes. For example:
Waiting for the bus/subway.
When you arrive to a restaurant before a friend does.
Plain ol’ sittin’ on the toilet.
These little breaks may feel weird and pointless at first, but they are teaching your brain something else it can do in that time. The more often you do it, the less intense the initial boredom feels. You may even come to look forward to these brief periods of quiet as I did.
Take a look around you during these times and notice all the other people staring at their devices. Feel proud you’re not one of them, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
4 - Periodically remind yourself why you’re doing this
Ironically, the closer you get to your goal, the less important it feels, and the easier it becomes to back slide. Surround yourself with material that supports your mission.
Remember that social media companies serve users addictive, toxic material without warning labels.
And try to automate away the meaningful parts of our relationships.
And psychologically manipulate content creators into making their art more generic and commercial.
Social media companies are for-profit companies who’s goals don’t fully align with your understanding of reality, or your feelings of stability. Only you can ultimately look out for you.
As you’re slowly chipping away at your timers, it will often feel like you’re not making progress. But part of the point is for this to not to feel like work. Look back at where you started. See that you are not there. If you find yourself frustrated at a lack of progress (and you will sometimes) remind yourself:
It is better to make no progress than to move backwards.