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How to Break Bad Media Habits
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We live in a world that is absolutely saturated with media. It’s a rare moment when we don’t have a screen either in our sight or within our reach, each one connected to all the “content” in the world. A nearly endless list of articles, videos, songs, social media posts, podcasts, pundits, and influencers are begging for your attention, sometimes literally.

This level of media overload is a new thing. We don’t think about it much because it is “normal,” but it marks a drastic change in how people live. Many of us are old enough to remember a time when life wasn’t online; when phones were used to talk to each other, and you had to wait a whole week to “binge” the next episode of your favorite show.

Does that mean we are now better off? Or are we just more distracted? It feels like we are busier, since every moment of down time is filled. We tend to be more anxious and isolated; social media hasn’t made us more social. And having access to all the information in the world hasn’t necessarily made us smarter about what media we consume.

Why Media Choices Matter

We’re not saying that all media consumption is bad. (Obviously, we hope this article is worth reading.) And the goal isn’t to be legalistic; we each have wide freedom in what we consume. However, although “All things are lawful” for us, “not all things are helpful”—and we should “not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

Your media use becomes a problem when it negatively impacts what you think about, how you think about it, or how you act. If you constantly fill your eyes (or ears) with things that are worthless (Psalm 101:3), untested, or outright sinful (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22), it will have an effect on who you are and what you do (Matthew 6:22-23).

You become what you love; that’s why we must guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). God’s Word encourages us to focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). It is possible to find those things in media; the question is whether you are even trying to.

Do You Have a Problem?

How can you tell whether your media consumption is becoming a problem? Here are questions to help you discern whether or not you have a healthy relationship with media:

  • Why are you consuming the media? Are you looking to feed your flesh, numb a pain, or escape from dealing with pressing problems?
  • Do you consume media as an occasional break from reality, or is facing reality more like an occasional break from being online?
  • Does your time online stir feelings of jealousy, lust, worry, or discontentment?
  • What media defines you? Are you known among your friends as the go-to guy for discussing the latest sports, celebrity gossip, or “mature” TV shows?
  • Is there anything in your life that is chronically deprioritized so that you can spend more time with media? For example, is your house consistently a mess or your quiet time nonexistent, yet you are constantly up-to-date on the latest social media trends?
  • What recommended titles does your streaming service algorithm think you will like? What customized ads do you get online based on your browsing history? Would it make you nervous for those lists to be publically known?
  • Are you addicted? Is it difficult for you to not check social media? Does the thought of canceling Netflix cause you anxiety? Could you survive if your smartphone was just a plain old phone?

Answer honestly, and think about what your answers say about your use of media.

Nobody is perfect; we probably all have ground we can take. So how do we go about making those changes?

Building Better Media Habits

Chances are, your current media consumption is driven by habits. You habitually check your phone, scroll through news, an turn on the TV at the same time night. You don’t think about it; you just do it.

We think that you should think about it. Be conscious of what you consume, and why. If you are going to fill your mind with something, do it for a good reason.

Here are some ideas of how you can break bad media habits. They range from “easy; everyone should do this” to “kind of extreme, but in a good way.”

  • Be selective. Maybe you don’t need to cut down on your media consumption; you just need to consume better things. You can rarely go wrong consuming Philippians 4:8 content.
  • Track what you consume. You’re probably not even aware of how much time you spend on different types of media, and you might be shocked to learn how much media consumption is consuming your life. An honest audit can bring insights and clarity on what needs to change. Tools like Screen Time and your browser history can provide automated tracking, or you can spend one week keeping a log of how you spend your time.
  • Check your follows. What accounts are you following on social media? What channels, podcasts, feeds, or email lists are you subscribed to? Do they tend to be focused on certain subjects, or biased towards only one point of view? Unfollow anything and everything that is not helpful.
  • Trade phones with a friend. Let someone you trust look through your apps and your social accounts. Ask them to share what your smartphone says about you, your priorities, and what your heart is focused on. If you wouldn’t dare let a trusted person do this, in your presence, consider what you are hiding and then eliminate those habits from your life. See Luke 12:2-3 for inspiration.
  • Seek accountability. Share your media consumption choices with your community group. Ask for input or feedback (Proverbs 12:15). You can also give each other recommendations for things to read, listen to, or watch that actually encourage you to become more like Christ.
  • Commit to time without media. Some people have regular “book nights” when TVs must remain off. Some literally lock their phones in a box every evening. Others take social media fasts, choosing to delete apps completely for a set period of time. Taking intential time away from media breaks up your mindless scrolling or binging habits and helps you discover other ways to use your time.
  • Just get rid of screens. Although there’s a fairly good chance that your job or school requires some kind of device, your home life does not. For example, you can survive without a TV in the house, and you might even be surprised to find you don’t miss it that much.

Tossing your TV or trading your smartphone for a “dumb phone” might seem like a big change, but remember that most of these devices devices didn’t even exist in prior generations. What seems “radical” today in terms of limiting media consumption would have been “normal” throughout most of history. So, don’t be afraid to be radical.

Fix Your Eyes on Jesus

Ultimately, the goal is less about curbing consumption and more about focusing your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). The way to end an unhealthy love affair with media is to fall more in love with Jesus. Follow Him. Spend time in His presence; fill your heart and mind with God’s Word. By doing so, you can avoid becoming “conformed to this world,” and instead “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” able to discern “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38), and your media habits will take care of themselves.