10/20/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2014

Kick Your Facebook Habit in 7 Steps


Facebook is like fast food. You crave it, you can get it on the go, and you feel crummy afterward.

Behavioral studies show us that Facebook can negatively affect your mood -- the longer you are on it, the worse you may feel. We log in to make a social connection, and yet research is finding that our passive news feed browsing leads to increased feelings of loneliness, envy, and overall unhappiness.

If Facebook is leaving you less than satisfied, follow these steps to wean yourself from the habit.

1. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Limit your superfluous usage, like every time you are waiting in line, by making Facebook less accessible. On your mobile device, move the Facebook App and Messenger App off your main page and away from other frequently used apps. The alluring blue icon should be hidden away in a remote folder that takes some effort to get to. On your desktop, delete the bookmark and log out. Unselect the "keep me logged in" box. Taking a few extra steps to navigate your way through the search engine and log-in process will deter you from one-click access.

2. Unfollow the Fluff
This is an easy way to "curate" your news feed's content, and see more of the posts that are important to you. This is not the same as unfriend, and the person will not be able to tell that you have unfollowed them. Simply, their posts will not show up in your news feed. Unfollow peripheral friends. Unfollow people from your past whose daily updates don't impact your life. Unfollow friends whose posts tend to flare up your negative emotions -- irritability, jealousy, sadness, etc. Choose to follow close friends or family, and people whose posts lift you up.

On your mobile, select the drop down arrow in the top right corner of a friend's post. Select unfollow. Alternatively, log in from your desktop and select the friends tab. See all friends. Hover your cursor over a friend's name. You will see a following tab with a checkmark. This means you are following that person. When you click this button it will change to follow, telling you that you have unfollowed that friend.

3. Turn Off Push Notifications
Push notifications are a distraction that take you out of the present moment. Research suggests that when our mind wanders from the task at hand, we feel less happy. From your mobile device, go into your Facebook app and select More > Settings > Mobile Push. Unselect the boxes.

4. Stop Posting
That's it. Just stop posting. Pay attention to your internal dialogue during this time. In the first week or so, there may be times when you find yourself in the middle of a real life experience, and instead of feeling that experience to its fullest, in all of its amusement, joy, or wonder, you are taking yourself out of that moment by mentally composing the perfect status update, or pulling out your phone so that you can capture it for your timeline. The impulse to post will fade over time, and you will enjoy more present time awareness.

5. Stop Commenting
But first, you may want to let your good friends know that you are taking a break from Facebook, so that there are no hard feelings or misunderstandings when one of their biggest Facebook fans is suddenly MIA.

6. Stop Liking
Now that you are not posting, commenting, or liking, you have become an observer. As you browse your news feed, be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to different posts. If a negative emotion bubbles up, do not get down on yourself. Simply pay attention. This non-judgmental awareness is characteristic of mindfulness meditation, an ancient practice that provides countless health and happiness benefits.

7. Browse Less
Start with a goal for yourself, like only checking once a day at lunch -- just don't use right before bed, as research shows that backlit screens can negatively affect sleep. Over time, as you stop actively participating in the news feed, you may notice a couple of things: Life goes on without you. The news feed is the same as it always is. You feel less interested in its content. Your urge to browse is subsiding.

Now what?
Move through these steps at a pace that feels natural to you. Don't try and quit cold turkey. Understand what emotions are evoked when you are "Facebooking," vs. how you feel when you have not checked in for a few days or weeks. When you stand in line for your coffee, without your nose in your phone, do you feel more anchored to the present moment and connected to others around you?

Decide for yourself the level to which you want to be present on Facebook. You may be ready to use your new found time to start a meditative practice, pick up a book, journal, or go to sleep early.

If you are ready to jump back in, use what you have learned from your period of observation. Which actions brought you feelings of connection and happiness, and which took away from it? One study found that users had an uptick of happiness when "liking," messaging, making plans, or writing on a friend's wall. Use Facebook to grow relationships, and do your best to limit the meaningless browsing.