How To Beat Phone Addiction

How To Beat Phone Addiction

How long do you think the average work email goes unread? Ten minutes? Five minutes? One minute? Try six seconds. In reality, 70% of office emails are read within six seconds of arriving. Instead of improving our lives, technology is increasingly getting in the way of enjoying our lives. And the biggest source of trouble is that device that is with you wherever you go.

Are we really phone junkies? Phones aren't drugs. So why do we get addicted? Because addiction is not about pleasure. Addiction is about soothing psychological distress. It's using something to cope with a problem in life. It doesn't actually matter what you use to soothe that addiction, whether it's playing a particular game that lulls you into a distracted state or whether it's taking a drug. In terms of soothing those psychological ills, behavior and substance addictions are very, very similar.

We live in an age of anxiety. And phones can soothe that anxiety. But they can also add to that anxiety. Some researchers refer to smartphones as "adult pacifiers." We get cranky, bored, or distressed and the pacifier soothes us. Okay, so what do we do about it?

"Don't" say "can't"
When you make the commitment to change, tell yourself, "I don't check my phone more than once an hour" as opposed to, "I can't check my phone more than once an hour."

"Don't" is a declarative statement about what kind of a person you are. When you say you "don't" do something you give yourself the power to have made the decision not to do that thing. When you say "can't" it feels as though some external force is telling you you shouldn't be doing this thing. The process of how we make decision is that we do better when it's something that feels like it arises within us. We don't like being told what we can and can't do.

Proximity is destiny
When you don't absolutely have to have your phone by your side, put it somewhere you can't easily reach it. Across the room is a good option. You can design your environment to maximize your own wellbeing. There are two main ways to do this:

  • Ensure that your temptation is far away. So if there's something that you keep doing obsessively, make sure that it's not in your environment and you're less likely to do it instead of trying to suppress your desire to feed into the temptation.

  • Turn off all non-essential notifications. Turn off the "ding" sound when you get a text message so that instead of your phone saying, "Hey, check me now," you decide when it's time to check. You're removing the control from the phone and you're bringing the control back to yourself. You can also take the apps that are most addictive for you, and bury them in a folder on the fourth page.

Use a "stopping rule"
Ever said you're going to "just check your phone real quick" — and then an hour goes by? You check email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram… And by the time you've done all that, it's time to check email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram again. You may call this your "happy place." Researchers call it a "ludic loop." It's what slot machines are designed to produce.

The "ludic loop" is this idea that when you're engaged in an addictive experience, like playing slot machines, you get into this lulled state of tranquility where you just keep doing the thing over and over again. It just becomes the comfortable state for you. You don't stop until you're shaken out of that state by something.

Make sure you have that interruption planned ahead of time so you don't go down the rabbit hole and spend 3 hours hanging with the rabbits.

That's your "stopping rule." Again, frame it with "I don't." It's a rule that says at this point it's time for me to stop. It gets you outside of the space you've been in. The best thing to do is to use a declarative statement like, "I don't watch more than two episodes of a show in a row, that's just not who I am."

Your phone contains a countdown timer. Use it to give yourself a time limit when using your phone. A "stopping rule" can prevent endless checking. But how do you break this habit for good? You don't…

You don't break habits. You replace them.
Proximity is destiny, right? When you sit on the couch, make sure the phone is far away and a book is within reach. So now you're not just gritting your teeth trying to not check your phone. You're substituting a good habit for the bad one. When you want to check your phone, you grab a book instead.

Find a behavior that is a stand-in for the behavior that you don't want to be doing. You replace the bad thing that you shouldn't be doing with something good that you should be doing.

Out of sight, out of mind.
By making smart decisions in anticipation of a problem, you make sure that future-you doesn't do anything stupid like addictively checking your phone. It's very, very hard to do the right thing today. Ensure that you push that person, that future self, to do the right thing.

Going over to a friend's house for dinner and know you're going to be tempted to rudely check your phone at the table? Leave your phone in your coat knowing future-you will be too lazy to go to the closet every five minutes.

In summary, here's how to stop checking your phone:

  1. "Don't" say "can't": You can always check your phone. But decide to be the kind of person who doesn't.

  2. Proximity is destiny: Put your phone across the room and laziness becomes a superpower.

  3. Use a "stopping rule": Leaving the house with your phone at 5 percent battery is extreme… but it'll work.

  4. You don't break habits. You replace them: Good apps up front. Evil apps must be downloaded.

  5. Out of sight, out of mind. Put your phone somewhere out of sight and you’ll be less tempted to look at it.

When you have a full life and when you have good methods to soothe your worries like good relationships with people you love, you're less likely to develop behavioral addictions. Addiction is really about soothing a psychological ill and that's true no matter what the addiction is. People who have a strong social support network, tend not to develop addiction.

The long term solution is not about the phone. It's about getting closer to that special someone and spending more time with them. And letting that bond soothe the worries you're running to your phone for.

So if you're reading this on your phone, text or email that person. Let them know you care. Set a time to see them. And then put the phone away.

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