As I’ve mentioned previously, I recently took a break from social media, the internet, and technology in general.
I didn’t go totally tech-free, but I scaled everything back to basics and had something of a digital detox.
I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed. I realised that a huge part of it was that I’d become unhealthily absorbed in producing content for this blog, my YouTube channel, my social media, and generally being constantly available via the internet.
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The first step I took was to put away my laptop. I was spending hours a day staring at the screen and along with the mental overwhelm I was feeling, I was also getting terrible headaches and pain in my eyes. So, for a while at least, the laptop had to go away.
This wasn’t too difficult. I didn’t really struggle with not using my laptop and I quickly felt the benefits of not using it.
However, I knew it would be a different story with my phone.
I’d fallen into the habit of constantly flicking between apps on my phone. Often, it was just an aimless cycle. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I couldn’t seem to put down my phone.
I decided to try something different instead of trying to avoid my phone altogether.
I decided to trick my brain.
I started by uninstalling a load of apps. I did my best to be ruthless, removing anything that I knew I didn’t really need, but would mindlessly browse through if it was there.
I then went through and cleared out my home screen. At first, I removed everything – my home screen was completely blank. After this, I went back through and placed the bare minimum apps on my home screen; WhatsApp (to stay in touch with friends and family), Camera (to snap photos of my cats… essential, of course), my library app (to listen to audiobooks), my calendar (for appointments) etc.
Everything else – things like the Twitter app, Facebook, Instagram, dating apps, anything to do with this blog, Discord, LinkedIn, and so on – remained on my phone but only in my apps list, not on the home screen.
Lastly, I went back through the apps list and if I’d chosen not to put an app on my home screen, I considered whether or not I really needed it; deleting if the answer was no.
The reason I did all this was because I knew that a major part of my constant app-checking was down to simply seeing the app on my home screen. The idea was that if I didn’t see it right there, I wouldn’t feel the need to check it. Also, if I did feel the need to check it, I would have to take the extra step of going to my apps list to find and click on the app. This extra step would give my brain time to intercept the mindless, habitual action.
Worth a try, right?
Well, it worked!
Much to my surprise, I quickly found that I was spending much less time on my phone. I wasn’t scrolling aimlessly and I wasn’t opening apps for the sake of opening them. If I used my phone, I did so for a purpose, then put it down again.
Admittedly, I felt a little ashamed that something so simple could trick my brain out of such an ingrained habit. I chastised myself for not making the change sooner and wasting so much time.
However, I also felt thankful that I’d finally discovered this trick. It was so simple and required very little effort. I didn’t have to actively keep myself away from my phone; physically removing the apps from my line of sight and making them slightly more difficult to access meant that a) I didn’t get the urge to “just check”, and b) my brain learned to identify the difference between habitual checking and purposeful use.
I think the important thing to note is that it is definitely possible to break the cycle of phone addiction without completely eliminating your phone from your life. Smartphones are great tools and have so many uses that can be helpful in our daily lives.
The main thing to establish is how and why we use our phones. Are they helping us, or hindering us? Retraining our brains to see our phones as a useful tool rather than something to which we are glued 24/7 is absolutely possible, and I’ve found that this trick makes it surprisingly easy. I hope you do too.
However, if you feel that you need some additional support or guidance in tackling your smartphone addiction, here are some resources you might find useful.
- The Phone Addiction Workbook by Hilda Burke
- HelpGuide.org: Smartphone Addiction
- How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
Have you had experience with smartphone addiction?
Maybe you have some advice on how to manage phone use?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Related post: On Burning Out
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