I’m trying to get over my ex but I’m constantly checking his Twitter and Facebook pages and I get really upset. I’ll see pix of women or see that he’s gone to some event and wonder whether he met anyone there. It’s crazy-making, but I can’t seem to stop looking. –Unhinged

You know you’ll feel bad when you check his Facebook and Twitter, yet you keep doing it. This is the social media version of being the busty-friend character in the horror movie – the one who says, “I hear creepy reptilian hissing coming from the cellar. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I’ll just rub my large breasts with raw hamburger and go down there with this flickering flashlight to check.”

Unless intelligence tests have revealed you to have an IQ rivaling that of Jell-O, you’re repeating this misery-making behavior because you, like the rest of us, are prone to fall into automatic strings of behavior we call habits. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that “a habit is a choice we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing.” Research finds that every habit has three components, which Duhigg calls the cue (a feeling that triggers behavior), the routine (the behavior itself), and the reward (some sort of payoff that tells your brain, “Oh, yeah, let’s totally do that again”).

You’re probably picturing yourself at 80, with an elderly monkey on your back, still frantically checking Facebook for signs your ex-boyfriend’s shifted position in the last 30 seconds. But Duhigg emphasizes that you can break a habit. You do this by swapping out the middle step, the routine (compulsively clicking into your ex’s social media accounts). To understand what to replace it with, check in with yourself at the moment the urge strikes and figure out the “why” – what reward you’re going after, what need you’re trying to fill. Maybe you’re lonely and longing to feel connected. Or maybe you’re going for a hit of intensity. Intense feelings are called “arousal” in psychology and can be positive or negative. Either leads to feeling stimulated and alive (though sometimes alive and pretty miserable).

Next, you need a plan – a substitute routine to slip in whenever the impulse to cyber-stalk him strikes. This replacement routine is especially important because a “negative goal” – not doing something – is way harder than doing something different. So, if it’s connection you’re longing for call a friend or go impede a co-worker’s productivity. If you’re an intensity junkie watch a clip from a slasher movie or maybe rappel to your car instead of taking the elevator.

Be prepared for temptation to gnaw at you, especially if you’re tired or hungry (when willpower is at its wimpiest). Make it harder for yourself to cheat by mailing your phone to a faraway friend and burying your modem in the backyard – or at least blocking the guy on social media and maybe installing a program on your computer like Freedom (http://macfreedom.com), which prevents you from getting on the Internet. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that time heals most wounds and it should do the job on yours – as soon as you stop picking that 140-character scab every 10 minutes. #sir-veillance #iminthebushes

© 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

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