Let’s just get something clear from the beginning: The point of this article is not to make you throw your phone under a bus. Just as breaking up with a person does not mean that you are swearing off all human relationships, “breaking up” with your phone does not mean that you are trading in your touch screen for a rotary dial.
Nowadays, just over a decade since smartphones entered into our lives, we are starting to doubt that their effect on our lives might not be entirely good. We also feel busy but ineffective, connected but lonely. The same technology which gives us freedom can also act as a leash – and the more tethered we become, the more it raises the question of who is actually in control. The result is paralyzing tension: We also love our phones, but we usually hate the way they make us feel. And no one appears to know what to do about it.
The problem is not smartphones themselves, but it is our relationship with them. Smartphones also have infiltrated our lives so fast and so thoroughly that we have never stopped to think about how our relationships with them to look like – or what effects these relationships might be having on our lives.
To stick to our intentions, it is very important to have a plan. Use these as a guideline, but we also request that you come up with your own personalized descriptions for the following seven habits about how you interact with your phone, as well as other wireless mobile devices.
1. Adopt healthy phone routines.
There are a lot of changes that we make to our routines, for instance, keeping phones out of our bedrooms, have the power to become habits – but since they are new until they feel automatic, any changes are yet pretty fragile.
To create some true habits, these new behaviors also have to become so second nature that we do them without thought. The best way to accomplish this is making some decisions ahead of time about how we want to act in particular situations so that when we encounter those situations, we also follow our new, as well as healthy habits without having to think.
– Where do you charge your phone?
– When do you check it for the first time in the morning? This may be a time or situation – for instance, “I don’t check until I get to the office.” You can also have different times for weekdays and weekends.
– Where do you keep your phone when you are at work?
– Where do you keep your phone at meals?
– What do you use your phone for? For instance: practical purposes such as navigating, social purposes like calling and texting, or educational and entertainment purposes like listening to podcasts.
– Which apps are tools which enrich or simplify your life?
– Which apps do you know that are dangerous/most likely to suck you in?
2. Practice good phone etiquette.
Where do you keep your phone, as well as how do you interact with it when you are:
– Spending time with some people?
– Watching a movie or television show?
– Having a meal?
– Driving a car?
– In classes, lectures or meetings?
It is also important thinking about how you would like other people to interact with their phones when you spend some time together and how you are going to request that they do so.
3. Cut yourself a break.
It is very important to cut yourself a break if and when you slip back into old habits. This also happens to everyone. The less time that we spend beating ourselves up, the faster we are going to be able to get back on track.
You may also want to give yourself permission to scroll mindlessly through your phone during a particular time of day. Permitting yourself regular guilt-free phone time is going to help you avoid bingeing and make it much easier to stick to your overall goals long-term.
Also, given the effects our phones have had on our attention spans, you may have to schedule regular phone time for yourself when you are trying to work on your ability to focus. Start small – maybe you concentrate for 10 minutes and then give yourself one minute on your phone – and then build up to longer duration of focus.
If you are worried that a half-hour of free phone time is quickly going to become two hours, then use an app-blocker to schedule sessions for yourself in advance. Describe your plans for how and when you are going to give yourself free phone time.
4. Try a “past.”
There are a lot of diverse ways to take breaks from our phones. For example, you can do a phone fast for a single meal, an evening, a day, an entire weekend, or more. Or maybe, for you right now, phasing one hour at a time is enough. Now is the time to put our intentions down in writing. How and when will you post? You should identify a simple, as well as achievable place to start, and begin there.
5. Have a life.
If we do not have predefined ways to pass the time without our phones, then there is a possibility that we are going to slip back into our old habits. So, you should take a moment to write a list of some non-phone-related activities which bring you joy or satisfaction and what you are going to do to incorporate those activities regularly into your life. For instance:
You enjoy playing guitar – so you will continue taking guitar lessons, and you are going to set aside time every weekend to practice.
You enjoy staying in touch with people that you care about – so when you find yourself with 20 to 30 minutes of downtime, you will use your phone to call a friend or a family member.
6. Practice pausing.
Why do you think stillness is important to practice? What will you do when you are going to find yourself with a minute of downtime? Half-hour? Several hours? Instead of picking up your phone, find a way to pause – whatever that means to you.
7. Exercise your attention.
To undo the damage that is caused by the cumulative hours that we spend on our phones, we also need to restrengthen our attention spans – and engage exercise to keep our brains in shape. Identify several attention-building exercises which you would like to habitually practice or that you are already practicing and would like to continue.
If after you read this, you are interested in a 30-day phone breakup challenge, go for it. This also appears like a good place to point out that if you have gone through this entire “breakup,” and your relationship with your phone still does not feel perfect, do not worry: It is not supposed to. In a sense, our phones – both our relationships with them and the physical devices themselves – are reminders that everything in life is constantly changing and that fluctuations are inevitable. On some days, we are also going to feel good; on others, we will not. And that is OK. As long as we are cultivating self-awareness, we are on the right track.