I don’t like the little red bubbles that appear over the icons on my phone. I dread notifications. Even the noises irritate; it’s why I keep my phone set to mute most of the day.
Those little red dots set me off. You know the ones. They tell you if there’s a message or if someone posted on Facebook or Instagram. They tell you you’ve got mail, and that your inspirational quote app has something to say, and that Toon Town misses you and hopes you’ll stop by and play a game again soon so here are fifty gold coins.
Some people can let it go. I saw the screen on my friend’s phone today and she has red bubbles with numbers in them all over the place; it doesn’t seem to bother her at all. I don’t get it. I would be severely distressed.
I attend to notifications immediately. I want those little red circles gone. It’s why the notifications on most of my apps are turned off. Some remain, though. Once they signal me, the summons is impossible to ignore.
They’ve become an anxiety trigger. I crossed the behavioural line from quirky to compulsive. I’m not the only one either. The notifications stress a lot of people out.
In response, I’ve set a challenge for myself. I’m making a behavioural change. I’m not turning anymore notifications off; the ones I’ve kept are reasonably important. But I’m going to learn to ignore them. All but the messages – I’m allowed to pay attention to those. But the others, I’m going to let them be for periods of time. They will show up and stay.
I’m taking a break from immediately attending to the apps they’re related to anyhow. My phone tells me that my daily screen time is creeping up and I don’t like that. Phones are sneaky. We use them more than we think we do.
I pick compulsive behaviours up very easily; it’s a personality characteristic of sorts though not one I’d recommend. Still, we are who we are. I just have to remain vigilant, notice when behaviours start spiraling out of control.
The easy thing to do would be to write it off my notification anxiety as harmless. It’s a small thing in the overall scheme and I already allow myself a few anxiety-based behaviours. I would prefer, however, not to add anymore.
Compulsive behaviours tend to be escalatory.
Quitting behaviours like these, anxiety-tics, as I call them, is surprisingly stressful. It’s kind of like smoking. You don’t know you’re an addict until you try and stop. Then you find out that stopping sucks. Behavioural changes suck too. They’re hard to maintain even when the change will be beneficial. Habit is a powerful draw. The brain is lazy; it prefers well-worn tracks over forging new ones. You want to go back to the old behaviour because the new routine is uncomfortable. It makes you edgy.
I avoided making changes for a great many years. I learned a few things, finally, about doing it, though I still don’t always follow through.
I’ve learned that while change is uncomfortable, uncomfortable feelings don’t actually kill you. Uncomfortable feelings will pass. When you’re in them it can feel like death is just moments away. It feels like you can’t stand it. It can feel unbearable.
It isn’t. I know this to be true with absolute certainty. We survive uncomfortable moments. It’s just that when we’re in them, we can’t see it. So, we ameliorate the feelings rather than letting them play out. We don’t learn that we are in fact capable of surviving them. We are capable of letting difficult emotions go.
The freedom that comes from letting go of compulsive behaviours is worth the misery you experience to get there.