Even though I have never been a hardcore YouTube addict, I would often lose myself in the endless sea of entertainment where every ounce of water is a new video, and the shore far away. Sure, I will make it to the shore, but it requires a lot of swimming on my part—a lot of watching “just this one last video.”
Today, I am in firm control of my YouTube consumption, and I can assure you from my personal experience that there are addictions, even behavioral ones, that are harder to get rid of. So do not worry if you feel like you have a serious problem. You do have some willpower, don’t you? Sure you do, hence all you need is the strategy presented in this article to overcome your YouTube addiction/overconsumption for good.
But let me first say that I get it: YouTube is awesome. It is the richest source of entertainment in human history. You can learn about everything on YouTube, listen to music, or laugh at cats, babies, and people all over the world. All you have to do is sit on your ass, click, and let armies of videos stimulate and numb your passive mind.
Every thumbnail, every click, every video gives you a little dopamine hit. Your brain rewards your behavior by releasing dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. This feels good and motivating, so you do it again, and again. One more video, and tomorrow anew. Over time, synaptic connections between neurons strengthen, a habit forms, and genes in the nucleus accumbens become overexpressed (specifically, ΔFosB). You become addicted.
Being addicted to watching YouTube videos is a behavioral addiction like addiction to gambling, porn, and video games. When you impulsively watch more and more videos and compulsively log in more and more frequently, even though you have planned to do something else, then you are addicted.
Psychologically, the causes of YouTube addiction can be manifold. Is the work you have to do so unfulfilling that you need to distract yourself with procrastination? Do you have an exaggerated desire to wind down and relax by, ironically, stimulating your mind? Are you afraid of missing out on something if you do not watch the latest videos by your favorite YouTubers? Do you need to escape from yourself—from loneliness, silence, anxiety, negative recurrent thoughts?
It helps to consider these questions, but this article is not a therapy session, nor should it become another source of procrastination. Here is what you can do:
Set yourself a specific time of the day to watch YouTube
Let’s say you choose [6-7 pm]. The time itself does not matter. What matters is that it fits well into your lifestyle.
One hour is enough. It is important that you do not extend this time window. This will teach you to choose your videos wisely while getting rid of all the unnecessary bullshit. (If a video is longer than one hour, you will watch it over the course of multiple days.)
Also, it does not matter what kind of videos you prefer. No video on earth can replace the necessity of going outside, becoming active, productive, creative, and making your own experiences.
Do not make excuses. No matter how much you might learn from a video or how urgently you need a certain information. It can always wait, and it never requires more than one hour per day. Real life trumps everything.
Imagine you have recently discovered a YouTuber whose videos you find inspiring. What exactly does he inspire you to do? To watch more and more of his videos or to actually do stuff? In the latter case, there is no problem: you turn off YouTube and turn your inspiration into action. In the former case, however, you are not truly inspired, but you are confusing inspiration with entertainment.
Another case is music. If you must mildly distract yourself with background music while you are working or writing an essay, do not use YouTube for that purpose. Rather, get an app or device that plays only music.
Ok, enough of this…
Let’s get serious
Just deciding not to watch YouTube videos outside a certain timeframe will not work. If you are using the Internet, it will not take long until a link pulls you back on the edge of the rabbit hole and probably pushes you down as well. That is why a common recommendation is to disconnect your computer from the Internet or to turn it off altogether.
That is great advice—if you can follow it. But be honest with yourself: You probably can’t, especially not in the long run. There is no shame in it. That is just how life works today. Most people need the Internet for school, college, work. So I do not advise you to limit your computer time. If it is out of your control to be 100% persistent with your restriction, you will not be successful.
Therefore, focus exclusively on limiting your time on YouTube, and here is how (no, you do not need to buy or install any fancy programs):
- open folder C:\Windows\ → right-click on notepad.exe → run as administrator
- open file C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts
- add this line at the end of the file:
- save file
(Edit: Mac users, click here.)
Now you have blocked your access to YouTube (you may have to restart your browser).
Later or tomorrow at [6 pm] (or at whatever time you have picked), repeat the four steps, but instead of adding a new line, put a hashtag in front of it:
Then set an alarm for [7 pm], put your alarm clock or phone out of your reach, and watch whatever videos you like.
- Putting your alarm device far away from you is key here! You must force yourself to get up and away from your computer in order to turn off the ringing alarm.
- It is like getting up in the morning: If you have your alarm clock right next to you, you will hit the snooze button and fall back asleep. You must place your alarm out of reach so that it forces you to get your ass out of bed. Then you will have a much easier time getting up. Use the same trick here.
When your alarm goes off at [7 pm], remove the hashtag (in order to re-block the site), save the file, and close the editor. This moment is crucial! Here you have to be strict:
- The moment when your alarm goes off matters the most. You must immediately close all YouTube tabs and remove the hashtag in your hosts file. No excuses. Then you walk away from your computer to turn off the alarm.
- I know how hard this is. I know the desire to finish what you have started very well. If you are watching a video, you want to know how it ends. Well, you should have considered this beforehand, since you now know that your consumption time is limited.
- Do not hesitate when your alarm goes off at [7 pm]. You must quit YouTube immediately. It’s over. No excuses.
In addition, uninstall the YouTube app on your smartphone. You will never watch YouTube on your phone again. Either you sit in front of the computer at your specific time or you do not watch YouTube at all.
- Do you feel you need to watch videos while you are travelling or waiting? Read a book, talk to people, or practice mindfulness instead.
- Do you feel you need to show your peers funny videos on your phone? I am sorry but you will have to find another way to entertain them. This restriction will also teach you how to exert self-control in social settings, so do not disregard it.
Once you have set your individual timeframe, do not allow yourself to be inconsistent. You do not have time to watch YouTube between [6 and 7 pm]? Great, you are not watching YouTube today. Whatever you would have liked to watch, you will watch it tomorrow. If you come home at 6:30, good, you have 30 minutes left. Do not ever shift your time window! Even a minor inconsistency can quickly cause you to say “ah, fuck it” and ruin everything.
Instead of procrastinating on essential tasks, learn to procrastinate the unimportant stuff like watching YouTube videos. And keep in mind that successfully managing an addictive behavior is a very powerful experience. If you stay strong now, your character grows, which will benefit you in other areas of your life as well.
Again, do not extend your 1-hour window
Maybe you are doing homework and you realize that you need a better understanding of photosynthesis or the double-slit experiment. Maybe you want to have a time machine and need a YouTube tutorial on how to build one. Or maybe you have already been working for 8 hours straight and need a way to numb your mind with stupid entertainment. Well, whatever it is, it must wait until [6 pm] (or whatever time you have decided on). Again, learn to use the power of procrastination to your benefit.
If you truly need some information from a YouTube video, write down the topic on a piece of paper and search for a video on it at [6 pm]. Most of the time, you will realize that it is not that important anyway.
The same applies to random videos your friends share on Facebook. If someone posts or sends you a video, stay patient and watch it between [6 and 7 pm]. You do not need to comment on it right away (or at all, for that matter).
If you see this through, you will have more time to take action, to get after your goals, or simply to enjoy life more. I hope that you have something else to do besides watching YouTube videos. Typically, YouTube is a means of procrastination and you know very well what you should be doing instead.
In case you do not have anything else to do and you think you might as well watch some YouTube, don’t do it. Better play a sport or an instrument, create something awesome, practice mindfulness, read a book, walk into nature, or talk to attractive strangers in the streets. Life is too amazing to be wasted away, so go outside and play—or back to work.