“It is not what technology does to us, it is what we do to technology. Used skillfully, it can improve and enhance our lives beyond our wildest imagination. Used unskillfully, it can leave us feeling lonely, isolated, agitated, and overwhelmed. Get smart with technology, choose wisely, and use it in a way that benefits both you and those around you.” ~Andy Puddicombe
I love to receive a notification or two. Receiving those tiny pellets from the mobile universe gives me a nice little rush—especially when they’re arriving from a particular person. And browsing through certain apps is always enticing.
But I’ve realized that my smartphone can be a huge distraction.
I’ve had days when I haven’t been able to stop myself from staying glued to my screen’s glow. I’ve had other days when I’ve compulsively unlocked my phone more times than I can count. On many days, I’ve done both.
I’ve even felt the experience of having a phantom phone in my head, attached to the “could-be” notifications, bells, and whistles that could come from my physical phone. Perhaps I’d be walking down the street, but actually, I’d be in two places at the same time instead of embracing the world around me.
Why Are We So Attached to Our Phones?
We all know what it’s like to check our phones for no reason other than boredom, loneliness, or anxiety. According to studies, the average person unlocks their phone an incredible eighty to a hundred times per day.
It’s becoming clear that we don’t all use our smartphones with intention. Instead, we look to them for comfort when we feel unfulfilled.
We ponder the musings and exchanges we’ve had or have yet to have on our smartphones. Perhaps we yearn for small escapes in our daily routine. But those escapes fritter our attention, which is our most precious commodity.
By giving our attention away so carelessly, day after day, we aren’t able to live as meaningfully.
Before overcoming my smartphone addiction, I remember typing in “f” for Facebook in my mobile browser more times than I can count. There were days where I used to check my Gmail inbox more than twenty times. Even after uninstalling the respective apps, I couldn’t help but go on the mobile sites.
I was addicted, trying to scratch an itch, looking for that notification that would give me a sense of connection. Maybe you know the feeling. I was unequivocally attached to the “little checks.” Part of me wanted to see something new pop into my life.
I realize that this behavior is slowly becoming the norm rather than the exception, but it’s far from sane. And we can only get what we want to experience within ourselves and in the real life world around us.
The Mental Price of Constantly Checking Your Phone
Does checking my smartphone improve the way I feel? Perhaps a little. But after a certain point, it only gives me the illusion of feeling good. In reality, it ends up making me feel unfocused and unfulfilled.
Checking my phone so many times in a given day frazzles my brain. It disconnects me from myself while giving me the hope that something outside myself, on a four to five-inch screen, can give me a sense of greater well-being.
I was able to realize this on a profound level once I turned off my phone for a couple of days.
Part of me felt like I was missing out on something. Instead of giving in to the urge, I sat with it and then came to realize that it was merely an illusion, one that was keeping me away from being the conscious director of my day.
As the hours passed and I slowly untethered from the beehive and noise, I began to feel more and more of a disconnection. After a day, I felt far more connected to myself and those around me.
We have this underlying assumption that our smartphones can whisk us away to somewhere more stimulating and exciting. Our phones have become the equivalent of cigarettes for our eyes and sugar for our cravings, and we just can’t get enough.
But the more often we check our phones, the more we fracture our peace of mind and disconnect from ourselves.
Why Getting Rid of Your Smartphone Isn't the Answer
I realized I needed to find a way to break my addiction, so I decided to take the shortcut. I went back to using a standard phone with no apps.
After several months, despite the wonderful benefits, I began to miss being able to use Google Maps, getting an Uber, taking a photo, or interacting with friends from around the world via Messenger. I missed listening to songs, audiobooks, and podcasts.
I’m not knocking anyone who’s let go of their smartphone permanently. But in this digital age, it’s not a sustainable option for most of us to let go of our devices. Doing so also inhibits us from enriching our lives meaningfully, with the myriad benefits of technology.
Smartphones aren’t the enemy; what needs to change is how we use them.
7 Ways to Break Your Smartphone Addiction
A smartphone, in the glove of your pocket or a couple of meters away from your view, doesn’t just lie between you and your peace of mind, focus, and awareness. It also lies between you and which direction you go.
Because more time spent in front of your phone's screen means less time doing what you truly want to do in life. By implementing the steps below, I was able to cut the amount of time I spend in front of my smartphone by half and radically improve my peace of mind and productivity.
1. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock.
Many of us habitually use our phone first thing in the morning. Doing so means we start our day with other people’s agendas instead of our own.
2. Put your phone on flight mode every night, ideally at the same time.
You'll avoid getting your sleep interrupted, and you’ll be less tempted to go on the Internet first thing in the morning if it’s already in flight mode. That means better rest and a calmer morning.
3. Turn off your phone for a full day once per week.
Taking a weekly day off from my phone has been a blessing for me. It’s made me realize that my smartphone is just a tool, and not something that I need to hold on to 24/7. It’s helped give me that distance between myself and my phone.
4. Use a time tracking app to see how much time you spend looking at your smartphone every week.
On Android, consider TimeUsed on the Play Store. On iPhone, consider Moment. Once you see how your smartphone easily eats up your time, you’ll realize that all those little checks take up a good part of your day.
5. Disable the apps you don’t use.
Only keep the social media apps you truly enjoy and get rid of the rest. For instance, I don’t have Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook installed on my phone, but I have WhatsApp and Snapchat. Figure out what works for you.
6. Disable email on your phone.
And if you’re seriously addicted, consider disabling the Internet browser as well. Taking email off my phone has been so relieving for me. You can use PackageDisabler Pro on Android to disable the stock browser. Otherwise, uninstalling your favorite browser might just work.
7. Remember that when you use your smartphone with a purpose in mind before you unlock it, then you’re using it for the right reason.
Try to be conscious of whether you reach your phone out a need to feel comforted, or because you have an intention. This will radically change how often you check your phone.
Imagine a movie where the main character constantly checks his smartphone. A distracted character wouldn’t make much of a hero.
What’s to say you’re not the main character of your life?
Break the habit, and start using your smartphone to your life’s advantage.