Would you believe me if I told you that young people are now estimated to spend up to five hours a day on their smartphones? Well, my friends it’s true. The incredible technology that’s allowed us to connect, share and have access to more information than what we know to do with has lead many of us (myself included) to be permanently attached to our devices. If you find yourself unconsciously reaching for your phone while watching telly, chatting to a mate or even trying to get some work done, then you’re not alone; as a society, we’ve become a little bit addicted to the instant gratification these communication devices provide.
Although there are too many benefits of these little handheld black mirrors to mention, they definitely bring with them negative consequences and a whole load of us are starting to fight back. The moment I realised I spent too much time on my phone was when I started to suffer with a repetitive strain injury; my wrist became so sore I could barely hold my phone, let alone tweet, and the tendons between my thumb and forefinger were incredibly inflamed. I hadn’t really noticed it had become a problem up until that point, but when scrolling starts to cause physical injury you sit up and pay attention. From thereon in I tried to consciously leave my phone on my desk, avoid spending so much time scrolling and generally being a bit more ‘present’ – but when I found out there was a book dedicated to the subject (thanks Amazon recommendations for knowing me so well) I hit ‘send to basket’ quicker than you can say ‘Insta Story.’
‘How to Break Up With Your Phone‘ is a thirty day guide to supposedly getting your life back. It first helps you to understand why we can have such an addictive and damaging relationship with our phones (spoiler, but it’s not all your fault!) and then breaks down small tasks and actions you can do on a daily basis to reclaim the balance within a month. In author Catherine Price’s words: “We’ve never stopped to think about which features of our phones make us feel good and which make us feel bad; we’ve never stopped to think about why smartphones are so hard to put down, or who might be benefiting when we pick them up; we’ve never stopped to think about what spending so many hours engaged with our devices might be doing to our brains.” Reading this book provided me with a great opportunity to stop, reassess what I want my relationship to look like and build a healthier connection in the future.
Before I’d even got to the daily tasks I found the first section of the book, entitled ‘The Wake Up’, an absolute revelation. I had no idea that phones were designed to alter the way our brains work and rely on dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel pleasure) to keep us coming back for more; I’d never thought that social media apps have a never ending timeline to keep you scrolling and in a trap of flicking from one to the next and back again; I wasn’t aware that my smartphone was driving anxiety and having such a negative impact on my overall wellbeing and mood, simply because we’re in a constant cycle of validation. The one snippet of information that blew my mind? Instagram deliberately integrates a delay on notifications popping up when you enter the app, just to keep that feeling of excitement and anticipation brewing – and it becomes addictive.
What I found hugely reassuring was the fact that my phone addiction wasn’t just the result of me being a bad friend / daughter / wife and feeling the need to whip out my phone at every opportunity, but it had been created by the technology companies I so relied upon on a day to day basis. Even becoming aware of this made me view everything a little differently, but when I got stuck into the daily tasks for real it all changed completely.
Now if you’re thinking about undertaking the thirty day programme yourself, but are a little cautious about giving up your phone, let me tell you this: the point of the book isn’t to encourage you to throw your iPhone out of the nearest window or face the day with it locked in your desk drawer, but instead finds small ways for you to understand your relationship better and build far healthier habits. It starts off small by encouraging you to consciously become aware of your habits and usage (downloading a tracking app is a great way to start,) and asking you to write down what you love and loathe about your phone; it progresses to writing down what you’d like to achieve and how you’d like to spend any additional time, before organising your phone and helping you to stop picking it up at every given opportunity. A lot of the daily tasks are quite ‘blue sky’ and based on mindfulness techniques, rather than being physical, but there’s a lot of practical advice that when implemented starts to make a huge difference.
If you want to give breaking up with your phone a go, here are five of the tasks I found the most helpful and had the most impact on me long-term…
1. Download a tracking app (In Moment is free and super helpful) so you can assess how much time and on how many occasions you pick up your phone daily. The results may shock you and provide a great incentive to change your habits.
2. Turn off as many notifications as possible, so you’re not constantly being distracted. I turned off anything social media and email related, so I have to actively go into the app to see what’s been happening. It absolutely has helped me to stop picking up my phone every time it pings, and find myself still scrolling half an hour later!
3. Organise your phone so apps are tidied away in folders, with social media and games being away from your homescreen. The thought process is that if you can’t see them, you won’t be as tempted. Although I still check my apps regularly because it’s my job, I feel a lot less anxious to check every single social platform whenever I receive a text.
4. Change where you charge your phone. How many of us reach for our phones the moment we wake up, or have them in our hands moments before we sleep? It’s a bad habit to get into (and the blue light impacts the quality of our sleep) so taking the charge point away from the bedroom and into another area of your home will benefit you in more ways than one. Oh, and get a proper alarm clock if you rely on your phone!
5. Establish ‘no phone zones’ so your attention is focused on the task, activity or conversation in hand. This may be no phones at the dinner table, or no phones while you’re watching telly, but the lesson learned here is to be present and not to be distracted by your digital life when you should be living your real life.
It’s key to become aware of your own habits, emotions and actions during the thirty day period – because awareness drives conscious decisions and therefore change. If you choose to lay in bed scrolling for half an hour before you get up then that’s your choice, you do you; but if you’d rather put that time to better use then there are simple ways to make that happen. Although the purpose of the book is to help you build towards having a weekend away from your phone, it’s not essential; it’s not practical for me to delete apps entirely or not touch my phone for days on end, because I need to be connected in order to make a living. What I did do, however, was reduce the amount of time I spent on my phone and stopped continually wasting time looking at content that wasn’t enriching my life.
Over the last month I’ve started to read more, have been taking hot baths again and actually followed along to shows on Netflix rather than half-watching-half-scrolling. I’ve started to leave my phone on charge in my office or on the kitchen counter, rather than feeling like I need to have it in my hand 24/7. I no longer feel a constant need to check for notifications or document every single thing I do, instead consciously choosing where and when I delve into my digital world. I’ve not moved my apps from being tidied away on my second screen and my overall usage has dropped by around half; time will tell as to the long-term results, but right now this has been the best thing I’ve done for myself in years. (And that includes discovering pink KitKats.)
‘How to Break Up With Your Phone‘ doesn’t provide a complete solution to rebalancing your life, but instead encourages awareness and conscious decisions. It’s helped me a great deal and I’ve been recommending it to friends left, right and centre as I believe it can do the same for them; our devices are supposed to enrich our life, not control them – and it’s about time we hit the reset button.
Buy ‘How to Break Up With Your Phone‘ from Amazon and all good book shops, priced £12.99.
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