How can I lessen my use of social media, Internet, YouTube etc and focus more on my studies?

I didn't used to over-use the Internet until we started online school classes because of Corona Virus. since that time I've been spending a lot of time fooling around the Internet, youtube and other similar platforms, which has limited the time I spend on studying my lessons, and it's even more terrible because I've just started university and I need even more time and concentration to fulfill my tasks.
It makes me feel awful when I look back and see how hardworking I used to be but I'm not now.
Asked by Hana

Hi there, I do understand that you are finding quite challenging to keep yourself engaged with the activities you need to do. Internet, with the thousand distractions it might bring, is coming in the way of your studies.

First and foremost, let me say that this is a very common issue that many people nowadays are facing. It is just very complicated to manage your time, especially because it does not seem as much time consuming as it actually is afterwards.

So, there are different reasons that might push you in this sort of behavioral pattern, but all of them lead to the same two root causes:

 - It could be because of procrastination.

 - Your brain is constantly looking for highly rewarding activities.

Let's look into them one at the time.

So, procrastination is not the art of being lazy, as many would suggest and as it was seen in the past years.

It is all about coping strategies. We procrastinate because we fear something. Then the way we procrastinate can vary. Anyways it has to do with emotional stress and with sense of pressure. Taking care of emotions and stressors in your life can be game changing. Many times, when my clients face challenges like this one, I invite them to ask the following question: "What is it that I am afraid of"? This very simple question can open to very deep reflections.

I see that you mention that before the pandemic you did not have such issue. The pandemic did not only affect  the way our education is delivered, it affected our social life as much as our own vision of the world and the future, giving them a way grimmer look. On top of that, I see that you have recently started university. First and foremost: Well done for that. Being in university is a great experience, that can bring a lot of satisfaction, but it can quite quickly become a source of intense stress and pressure and paradoxically increase the number of meaningless activities we engage with. The way you actually wrote that message, and the choice of words and phrases that you have made, give me the impression that you are indeed a high achiever, but as well that you are quite hard on yourself. This can be detrimental to your own confidence and self-esteem. Again here, two elements that are at the core of the reasons we find in procrastination.

Moving on to a more neuropsychological reason, as we said, your brain might be interested in highly rewarding activities. This is one of the most common elements of engaging with activities like web browsing and spending a lot of time watching online material. Our brain has a specific pathway, which involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which is technically known as the reward pathway. It basically creates an element of dependence around activities that make us release high levels of dopamine. The bad thing about this though, is that dopamine is not a compounding substance, so that I watch videos and get 7 dopamine and then do homework and get an extra 3 so that all together I have 10 dopamine. The dopamine receptors work slightly differently: if you watch videos and get 7, an activity that gives you a release of 3 will not look appealing anymore because in order to get that 3 you have to drop the 7. Your brain, as the clever machine that it is, will never take such an inconvenient choice. But unfortunately, your brain is not aware of the society and the rules around you. It will not know that doing your homework can lead to a way bigger reward and sense of satisfaction than those videos. It just thinks about maximum reward in the present moment.

So, now that we have a basic understanding of the root cause, let's make a clarification. These two causes are most of the time related, triggering each other as they please. What this means in regard to your question is that the best way to control such behaviors and feel more engaged with your life, you need two things: Being more aware of your inner world, and create a structure around your life where you regulate accordingly the pleasant activities you engage with.

Increasing awareness is in general always good practice. In your case, being more connected with your inner world can be optimal to raise up again your motivation levels and desire to commit. That will be a key element in order to stick to the structure we mentioned above. Your brain would not like the changes that you need to take, and will try to fight them with all its resources. That's why people many times try to bring structure but fail in maintaining it. You need to have a strong motivation in order to commit to such structural changes. That motivation comes from accepting one's fears and recalling to all the inner resources that one has inside.

Remember that we work as a whole. Bringing just structure without keeping care of your inner world will quickly lead you to burnout. So, you want to approach this challenge in an holistic way and treat yourself kindly while working with your emotional world, and use the same kindness when dealing with your engagement around structure. Building structure is something easier said than done. It needs to be flexible and require to allocate space to self care (which will turn into maintenance of your structure).

These are my suggestions. I hope you find them useful and if you feel in need to explore more such topics, please feel free to get in touch.