Phones are a sticky subject, it is no secret that teenagers these days are practically glued to their phones, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t, but it isn’t much help just knowing we are addicted to screens, we need to be able to do something about it. The reason this is such a tricky subject for me is that I don’t believe it is entirely our own faults that we are like this, it would be too easy to just blame ourselves and get angry, asking ourselves ‘why can’t I just put this bloody phone down!’ Social media and phones as a whole are designed to keep us looped in, we aren’t meant to be able to go days on end without them! It is honestly quite scary to think about how much control our phones have, how personalised the algorithms are to make sure we become as dependent as possible on our phones. I am not going to get into all the science behind it, but I just wanted to bring this point up as it is important to remember that the reason we are all so addicted to technology is because we are MEANT to be, it is the way it was designed. The social dilemma on Netflix is a documentary diving into how we are kept on our phones, so I’d check that out if you haven’t already.
The reason I am refering to this as ‘breaking up with your phone’ is because, simply put, it is a breakup. We interact with our phones so much we probably spend more time on social media than with our partners! This could be an overexaggeration but essentially, the amount of time you spend on your phone is probably extensive, and so it will be no easy task to cut off your connection with it! My goal for myself, and the expected outcome of this post, is to cut the connection to the phone, not completely stop using, but cut out the addiction and obsession with it! Think of your phone like a toxic ex, but one that has to still stay in your life ( for example a coworker), you have to cut off the connection you have with them, but be able to control your feelings when you HAVE to interact with them again.
I often go through stages where I binge youtube videos following people’s phone detox’s and tips on how to spend less time on your phone, the irony of this is not lost on me. I feel like I’ve collected a wealth of tips and tricks to help me reduce my screentime but I have never fully put them into use, I’m sure this is not unfamiliar to most people as we often are aware of the fact we could be doing something, we just don’t. I was reflecting on this the other day and realised that alot of things in life are common sense. Duh Mia, but seriously. For example, we all want to be happy, we all want to live a more productive life, and although there are always extra tips to help us do this, the fundamental ways of achieving these ‘goals’ ( I say that in speech marks as happiness and productivity are subjective and hard to measure goals) are common knowledge. To be happier, we need to lower stress, focus on the good things in life, and fuel our body with nutritious foods and exercise so we feel great ( note: I am not talking about a diet, purely talking about intuitively feeding your body!) These things are all obvious to us, we all know these things, but it doesn’t mean that we actually do them. This example can be applied widely in life; there are a lot of things we know how to do, but we just choose not to as we are waiting for that one thing to fix our problems for us. I am guilty of this; I’ll spend my evenings watching ‘how to get productive’ videos, to the point where I could probably write a book on it, but that doesn’t mean I have applied all of the information, I am subconsciously delaying my action until I find that one thing that will suddenly make me productive. I am procrastinating self improvement because I am waiting for that one quick fix. I am very sure all of you will relate to this in at least one area of your life.
My point here is that we are all procrastinating our self development in certain areas of our lives, and that’s fine ( to an extent) because we can’t do everything, and realistically some things may just be less of a priority to us than we consciously think.
Now back to using your phone excessively, before you continue reading this ask yourself this: Do I actually want to break up with my phone? Because lets be real, I’ve gone through the circle of trying to detox and relapsing at least 30 times this past year and I know I am not alone! I’ve gone through stages of it improving, of my screentime reducing to an hour a day, but realistically I always fall back into the same habits over and over. The only time I’ve ever seen a sustainable change was when I got serious and asked myself why I wanted to stop going on my phone so much. I wanted to live more in the moment and I HATED the feeling of being sucked in, almost tied to my phone. If your use of your phone doesn’t bother you that much then that’s fine, it’s personal, but don’t expect a radical change when you don’t really care much either way.
Like I hinted at earlier, the main way I am going about this journey is by remaining consistent with my why. I have written out my 3 reasons why I want to spend less time on my phone, and I’ve put them on a post it on my wall. This may sound a tad extreme but I’ve found it helps keep those reasons in the front of my mind, and it reminds me why I’m choosing the option that requires more effort. As humans we are inclined to choose the path of least resistance, we will automatically choose the option that requires less effort- this is why we find ourselves picking up our phones instead of going on that run we have been promising ourselves we will do for the last month. One of the key ways I’m disconnecting with my phone is focusing on the reward and my motivations, because those are the only things that are going to keep me sustaining these habits on those days where all I feel like doing is spending hours mindlessly scrolling. If you take away one thing from this post it’s this, focus on your reasons for doing it, what will you be gaining, how can this habit improve your life?
Consistently choosing the action that requires more effort can become draining, and at times can seem impossible to maintain. What if you could take this struggle and turn it around to benefit you instead of challenging you? When you break it down it becomes quite simple: we choose the path of least effort, so make your desired habit ( in this case choosing other activities over phone time) the path that requires the least effort. Say you want to reduce your phone time to allow more time for you to read for pleasure, picking up your phone and scrolling will always require less effort than picking up a book and focusing. However, the way to put reading on your side would be to create more resistance in choosing to pick up your phone, and making it as easy as possible to pick up a book. For example, to decrease the effort it takes to read you could make sure to carry a book with you everywhere you go, and to place one on your bed so you don’t have to move to pick it up. To increase the effort of going on your phone, place your most used apps in difficult positions, for example in random folders in your phone, or remove them from your home screen. Better yet, you could delete after every use. I do this with Instagram, I will often download it and delete it everyday so if I want to use it, it has to be for a purpose. I have not yet managed to do this for other apps but deleting instagram and tiktok has helped me hugely, as I know I can redownload at any time, but I have to go through the process of redownloading and logging in again. Little added resistance can actually make a difference in this case, I often find I’ll move towards something other than my phone because I can’t be bothered to redownload instagram. To sum up this paragraph simply: create resistance between you and your phone.
Whilst this is still a journey for me, I have made some significant progress in my screen time of my phone. The first time I noticed a sustainable change I did some reflection on what had changed, what was I doing differently than I was doing before? The answer was clear: discipline. I can imagine you all rolling your eyes at it but honestly, in my opinion, discipline is the key to unlocking life- bold statement I know but I have come to believe this over the past year. I’ll go into it in more detail in a post some day, but developing discipline seriously upleveled my life. We are so quick to complain about lack of motivation and having no energy to do something, but at the end of the day there will be no quick fix, no singular tip that sparks the permanent motivation within you, it all boils down to discipline. Granted, there are times when my discipline fails me and I do spend hours scrolling, but the majority of the time it’s my discipline that keeps me going with breaking up with my phone. The first stages of implementing a habit are always hard, you will always face push-back and an urge to just give up on it and live normally, but you’ve got to push through these first weeks. You can have accountability partners, set time limits and do every single tip you find online, but at the end of the day you’ve got to want to do it, you’ve got to want to make the change for yourself as you are the only one who can implement the change. Every time you make that conscious decision to pick up a book instead of your phone, every time you choose to turn off your phone instead of clicking on the instagram icon, it gets easier. It takes 21 days to form a habit, and whilst I am making no promise that after 21 days you’ll have no slip ups, if you can continue making the conscious decision every day for 21 days then it will become habit. Once it has become a habit to avoid your phone, you won’t notice any difference. You won’t miss the pointless hours you used to spend on your phone, you won’t have missed out on anything simply by not being online 24/7, you’ll realise what a waste of time it was for you. At this point is when the disconnect happens. During lockdown one I implemented this habit, my screentime was the lowest it had every been, and when I had kept it up for a few weeks it became so natural to me, I didn’t feel tied to my phone anymore, and honestly it was really refreshing. You may think I am being extreme, but going from 7/8 hours screentime a day to 2-4 was a big leap and it has definitely improved my life for the better.
Overall, breaking up with your phone is a journey, and one that is much tougher than expected. I don’t think you can really appreciate it until you’ve tried it. I used to constantly tell my dad I could easily not go on my phone if I wanted to, but turns out I couldn’t- not that I’d ever admit that to him haha! It is a lot harder than you think to breakup with your phone, especially during a pandemic, but what I’ve come to realise it it’s meant to be hard, that’s how these companies are making their billions of pounds. We are fighting against personalised algorithms, so personalised it sometimes feels like your phone can read your mind, the companies job is to keep you engaged as long as possible to make as much money as possible, there is a reason phones are so addicting! Essentially, to sum this long post up in brief: you have to have clear reasons to want to disconnect, you’ve got to create resistance and you’ve got to build up discipline. It isn’t easy but every little step you take towards spending less time on your phone will benefit you for the better, I for one do not want to look back at my teenage years and realise I wasted the opportunity to live in the moment and enjoy being young, all for the sake of watching tiktoks!