I don’t know which article first made me aware of my phone addiction, but I’ll tell you what really brought it home: my kids. It wasn’t that they had to keep interrupting my train of thought to get my attention.
It was that they had stopped trying.
Oh, sure, they’re kids and occasionally couldn’t help themselves. But, generally, if my cell phone was in my hands, they would ignore me as completely as I was ignoring them.
Yes, that’s terrible. But I’ve started to change. I’ve tried to conscientiously keep my phone in my pocket or on a shelf when I’m at home and the kids are awake.
And I thought I was doing great until recently. We had friends over for dinner and stayed up later than normal. After we realized what time it was, our friends hurried off with their kids and we rushed to get ours in bed.
Once the kids were down, the last dishes cleared, and food safely stored away, my wife and I sat down at the table, held each other’s hands, and, maintaining eye contact the whole time, had a deep and meaningful conversation before retiring to our own rest.
Wait. No, that’s not what happened. It actually went something like this:
Once the kids were down, the last dishes cleared, and food safely stored away, my wife and I sat down…and I pulled out my phone.
Yes, I did.
After a day in which I’d been away in meetings and concerned with my own projects; during which she made sure the kids were cared for, educated, and getting plenty of fruits and veggies; ensured the house was spotless for our guests; planned and prepared a delicious meal for the evening; took care of the ever-growing menagerie that is somehow accumulating on our property; and was a pleasant and gracious hostess…
I pulled out my phone.
Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention but I’m sure that if I had been I’d have seen the look of resignation on her face as she, following my lead, did the same. Not because she’d rather do that than have a conversation with me, but because I wasn’t available for that conversation.
I realized my mistake while waiting for another article to load. But by that time, it was too late to do anything but go to bed and try again the next day.
I woke up the next morning, ready to put the phone down and lift my family up.
Not so fast.
I typically get up earlier than the rest of the crew, so it was just me and the dog. I took her out, wandered around the backyard while she, well, you know, and went back inside. Got her kibble bowl filled, made sure she had fresh water and plenty of toys, and…pulled out my phone.
Do you ever get that feeling that someone is watching you? I got it about five minutes later.
I glanced down from my screen and there’s the dog. Staring at me. With those sad, puppy eyes.
Even the dog knows when a set of glowing pixels is more important to me.
And the fact that even the dog knows that makes me want to radically rethink my relationship with my technology.
I hope that I’m the only one who struggles with this problem. It’d end up being a pretty terrible world if more than one person were walking around giving more attention to a hunk of glass and metal that beeps occasionally rather than to the living, breathing, feeling beings surrounding him.
But in case I’m not the only one, and to avoid that terrible, distracted world from being our reality, here are some tools that have been helpful to me in cutting the umbilical cord attaching my face to my screen. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.
Like just about every other life change worth making, overcoming a phone addiction is easier when you don’t try to do it alone. In a previous post, I mentioned a statistic: 8 of 10 commitments fail without some means of accountability.
We need accountability. I need accountability. That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this article. That’s why I’ve talked to my wife about my commitment. I shared my intentions with my small group at church. I’ve enlisted others who will bolster my commitment to changing.
You should too.
You know that device you’re carrying around that you’re addicted to? Did you know that it can be fooled into actually helping you break your dependence on it?
There are apps that will remind you to not be on your phone so much. There are apps that help you slow down from time to time. And, if you’re like me with the self-control of a single-cell amoeba, there are apps that will block your use of those apps that are most addictive to you.
My choice was the Freedom App which I use to block social media access on my phone (I like it well enough to be an affiliate for them*) but there are others out there. Find the ones that put the power of your smartphone to work for you, instead of against you.
One of the addictive aspects of your phone that is often billed as a feature is the virtual friendships you can have on social media. People get a high from interacting with other people’s online personas through likes, retweets, shares, etc.
Did you know you can get the same endorphin rush, and an even better one, from interacting with friends, in real life?
Invite some people over for a phone-free evening. Commit to one another that you won’t check up on your digital friends when your flesh-and-bone friends are hanging out. Play games. Eat dinner. Make something. Listen to an album from start to finish. Do something that doesn’t involve you being in the same room looking at different screens.
Try it. You just might end up liking it.
Phone addiction is built on hundreds of tiny bits of focus being diverted to “just check it real quick.” One way to combat this segmentation of your attention stream is to focus intently on something else.
I recommend books. (If you need ideas, check these out.)
Books require you to engage your attention both deeply and over longer periods of time. They require the ability to not just get caught up in the moment but to simultaneously retain previous statements even as you anticipate future developments.
A good book is a great antidote for your phone’s poison.
Let The Battery Die
Turn your phone off. Unless you’re reading this post on it right now, then just pretend. Look at it without the glow of the screen. It may have a nice cover and sleek lines, but I bet you wouldn’t be tempted to stare at it for hours on end, right?
I didn’t think so.
You can achieve this same effect by not charging your phone from time to time. Let it die on occasion. The first time it happens, you will panic, but it gets easier with practice.
Eventually, you’ll want to remember to charge it, but letting it die can help cut the tether it has attached to you.
These are just five ideas for breaking a phone addiction. I’m clearly no expert here, so what is working for you? Let me know in the comments.