How to Conquer Your Smartphone Addiction
Apr 16, 2021
Co-Authored by Adam Yasmin, Digital Resilience Coach and Speaker
>> Watch the companion YouTube video with more tips & life experiments! <<
“The most dangerous distractions are the ones you love, but that don’t love you back.” – Warren Buffet
Excessively using your smartphone and digital devices has quickly become one of the most addicting activities of modern life, exacerbated by the COVID-19 quarantine that's forced billions of people to remain at home; often feeling bored anxious, uncertain, unstable uninspired, or looking for some level of stimulation, connection, or distraction.
While your smartphone, tablet, or computer can be a valuable tool for business, networking, and staying connected to family, the overuse of these devices can have long-lasting deleterious effects on your mental and physical health, especially when framed through the lens of habit formation.
What are the indicators of smartphone addiction?
First and foremost, a desire to withdraw from in-person human interactions and a preference to communicate via digital platforms only is a sign of smartphone addiction.
Compulsive use of social media, gaming, online sports, gambling, or online shopping can also be an indication of addiction.
From a physiological perspective, overuse of smartphones and in particular social media has the ability to hijack dopamine levels in your brain, thereby increasing your dependence on the device to give you the "hit" of that neurotransmitter and creating a potential addiction cycle.
Related, a 2014 UK study showed a link between higher rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers who used smartphones excessively. Teenagers tend to compare themselves to their peers more consistently and social media offers the lure of the "comparison trap" which can result in mental and emotional health challenges.
For teens, the risk of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is much higher, especially during the pandemic when in-person hangouts are nearly impossible for most and thus rely heavily on interactions through various social media platforms.
Here are 5 pragmatic ways to be more mindful of your smartphone use:
1. Set a timer to limit the amount of time you're spending on your phone
If you go beyond your limit, create stronger boundaries for yourself in the form of an accountability partner. This can be a friend, partner, or loved one who you ask to hold you accountable for the overuse of your phone. If you create an agreement with them and you break it, make sure there are repercussions baked into the agreement, like owing them money or doing favors/chores for them.
For more efficient productivity while working from home, a pomodoro timer is a much more robust and effective tool than a simple time limit via “Screen Time” on something like your Apple device. The timer creates a system for time blocking, wherein you can create a habit of 25 minutes of deep work and a 5 minute break. You can adjust the time blocks as you desire. You can open a new tab and use the free timer at Tomato-Timer.com.
2. Put your phone in a locked case like a kSafe that has a set time amount that limits your ability to access your phone
This is especially useful during periods of serious, deep work when you need to focus and can't be distracted by your phone or notifications. If you don’t want to invest in a personal safe, instead try tethering your phone to one spot in your home (plug into a power outlet and leave the phone in one, fixed spot). Do this instead of carrying it in your pocket all day and having the phone present in the kitchen or bathroom.
3. Become more present to your emotional state when you're using your phone
That is, if you're reading news articles, scrolling through social media, or using a dating app and start to feel sad, depressed, overwhelmed, or self-pitying, put down the phone and take a break. Go outside and be in nature, if possible, or just close your eyes and take some deep, intentional breaths.
Digital minimalism, as a tech philosophy, aims to set intentions (or goals) with using your phone based on your personal values while happily missing out on all else (aka JOMO, the Joy Of Missing Out!) This might sound extreme to many people with the backdrop of a global pandemic, so as an alternative, try asking yourself regularly why you’re spending time on your phone or a social media platform and if you’re feeling the need to connect – call a close friend or family member and have an intimate, connected video chat. Use your phone as the communication tool that it was meant to be to continue strengthening intimacy and connection with the people you care about.
4. Channel your anxiety or compulsion into physical movement or outdoor activities
This goes back to creating habits to balance your mental and physical health. Create “boxes” of time for your day: time for work, time for walks, time for meals, time to think, time to exercise, time for Zoom meetings with audio-only (maybe even take a walk while you’re in a meeting!) Channel your anxieties and compulsions into talking to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist.
Oftentimes, the anxious energy that you’re feeling and the compulsion to constantly check your phone can be channeled into other activities. There’s a classic adage that comes to mind here, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” If you start to feel the urge to constantly be tethered to your phone, try going on a walk around your block and move the energy. Do some jumping jacks or pushups. Have a piece of dark chocolate or a sumptuous treat. Do something where you are nourishing yourself instead of defaulting to unconscious distractions.
5. Create dedicated phone-free sanctified zones inside your home
It’s important to create boundaries inside your home for tech usage. One way to create a boundary is to designate and maintain phone-free zones. For example, you can opt to keep your bedroom a sacred, intentional space for sleeping, sex, reading, and meditating. Instead of using your phone as an alarm clock, you can purchase an inexpensive traditional alarm so that your phone can be plugged in and tethered outside of your bedroom.
By taking the phone out of your bedroom, it allows you the opportunity to create a consistent, phone-free morning and evening routine. By creating a morning routine where you wake up gently, take care of your physical and mental needs, nourish yourself with a meditation practice and a healthy breakfast – it allows your body, mind and spirit to integrate gracefully into the day. Instead of immediately bombarding your being with notifications, emails, DMs, social media posts, and text messages, you are making an intentional choice to tend to your personal needs first, thereby hopefully reducing feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and resentment.
More bonus tips and actionable strategies:
- Turn all notifications off. Pause to reflect on which ones are important to you. Then turn the 3-5 most important ones back on. That way you’ve just taken control of your time and attention back from your phone.
- Commit to at least one mindful meal a day (a meal where your phone is off / airplane mode / away) so your undivided attention is available to engage all senses and enjoy what’s in front of you.
- Once a week invite yourself to ‘time box’ a new experience, yes even while we are working from home in a pandemic. Try that vegan cookie recipe you’ve been craving, indulge in that monthly tea/coffee subscription, you get the idea. Let us know how it goes!
Free/low-cost resources to support your smartphone liberation:
Freedom.to – a program that serves as an app and website blocker to help you avoid distractions, popups, and notifications. Social media, shopping, videos, games... these apps and websites are scientifically engineered to keep you hooked and coming back. The cost to your productivity, ability to focus and general well-being can be staggering. Freedom gives you more control over your digital experience.
Forest app – a new app that allows you to “gamify” leaving your phone alone. The app features an interface for growing a virtual tree, wherein the longer your keep away from the phone, the more the tree grows.
Tomato timer – a free Pomodoro timer that can be a useful tool in any web browser.
Cheap, analog alarm clock – create a phone-free zone in your bedroom. Get a cheap alarm clock instead of using your phone; helps to create a morning routine while the phone is in another room rather than your nightstand.
If you're looking for more expert guidance on creating resilient tech boundaries and empowered habits, reach out to Adam directly, as he has frameworks and guidance to help you to create support mechanisms and behavioral adjustments to put down your phone and pick up your life!
"A smartphone is an addictive device which traps a soul into a lifeless planet full of lives." – Munia Kahn
We have a ton of actionable tips like the ones in this post to share with you, like how to:
Enjoy and thank you for reading!