I think most people would agree that they want to spend less time on their phones, but for some reason, they can’t quite kick the habit. The problem is, phones are addictive.
As Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager who now is known for critiquing the big tech companies for “hijacking people’s minds,” explains, phones are like slot machines. “Every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, ‘What did I get?’ This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit, to form a habit. What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward.”
These “rewards” Harris refers to are things such as likes on Facebook or Instagram, new followers, funny gifs in a text, comments on a post. This “pull-level-get-reward” design is embedded in all the products on our phones. And, so, just like people become addicted to gambling, we have become addicted to our phones.
So it’s no surprise that we live in an age where people are addicted to their phones. You don’t need to listen to a Ted Talk or read a book to know this. Just go out to any restaurant and you’ll see an entire family sitting in a booth all staring down at blue screens.
I, like everyone else, have been guilty of too much phone usage. And I still am from time to time. But recently, particularly since becoming a mom, I’ve made big strides to use my phone less. Especially after I heard Dr. Katie Penry interviewed in a podcast where she talked about the importance of looking up from our phones more. She explains how people love to talk about the negative effects of screen time for kids but argues that “the negative effects of distracted parenting is worse.” She explains how our children have fundamental needs to thrive and our as responsiveness as parents is a big part of that. But that the constant distraction of our cellphones is severely handicapping that.
So, I wanted to share my journey to using my phone less. I’ve cut back how much I use it, and these are the steps that I used.
Step One: Acknowledge that Phones are not the Devil
Ok, the first step to learning to put your phone down is to learn that you can’t just straight up blame the phone. Phones are NOT the devil here. And, in fact, I would argue that phones are can very much be the opposite. Phone can act as lifelines, both figuratively and literally. They can help us answer questions. They can connect us to others. They can build a community. They can help someone feel less alone. They can aid in a creative outlet. They help us out when we’re lost. I know personally, phones have acted as a lifeline for me during some hard and isolating moments in motherhood, and they’ve been key in helping me build my business.
Phones have done a lot to better our lives. And, while the makers and engineers behind many apps MAY be taking advantage of our reliance on them and trying to invent ways to make us use them more, you can’t put the blame on the phone itself. The goal of learning to use your phone less is really just about learning to use it more intentionally and mindfully. It’s not about completely giving up your phone altogether.
Step Two: Become Self-Aware of Your Phone Usage
Face Your Usage
Just like with any habit, the first step is admitting the problem. The best way to do this is to face your phone usage time. Turn “Screen Time” on for your phone if it’s not already. You’ll be able to see your daily usage and how much time you spend on each app.
Ask Yourself Why
The biggest crux here like I said is that it’s NOT about NOT using your phone. It’s just about using your phone more intentionally and mindfully. So, a simple way to do this is every time you pick up your phone ask yourself “Why am I picking up my phone?” Is the answer something mindful or intentional? Are you checking a recipe you’re cooking? Are you responding to an important email? Or are you just opening it to see how many likes your last photo got or to mindlessly scroll through social media?
Just by simply having to answer why when you pick up your phone, you’re building in a mindset about your phone that makes you accountable for what you’re doing with it.
See the Benefits
Like with any habit, you’re not going to kick it without your own intrinsic motivation. So you need to know why you’re doing this. What’s the benefit to you in using your phone less? For me, it came down to two big things.
- I’m a better mother when I look at my phone less. This is just a simple fact. I am more responsive to Miles, I’m more present in the little moments, and he’s overall less fussy because he’s not fighting for my attention.
- I’m more productive when I look at my phone less. Yes, sure, sometimes I need my phone for productivity, but often it’s a time suck that takes me away from getting work done.
So, find your own benefits. Maybe you want to be more attentive in your relationship. Stop procrastinating. Decrease social media use for your mental health.
Step Three: Make Active Steps to Decrease Usage
Have Sacred Times and Places
Something I love that Dr. Katie Penry says about phones is that it’s not about limiting screen time. While this method works for kids, it’s not really ideal for us as adults because we actually use phones for function as well. Instead of having a limit on screen time, she suggests having “sacred times.” These are times and places that you DON’T use the phone. This is a so much more attainable and intentional way to decrease usage.
For me, I’ve started with the following:
- No phones for the first hour when my son wakes up (in the morning and from a nap).
- No phones the hour before my son goes to bed.
- No phones at any meals (so whether we’re sitting down at a restaurant or having breakfast at our table at home. The exception is if we’re having a lazy adults-only dinner in front of the TV one night).
These take a little adjusting too. I still find myself accidentally grabbing my phone after a nap or before bedtime. But just by catching myself doing it I’m starting the process of breaking the habit.
And I’ve seen big benefits already. My mornings with my son start so much smoother and more engaged. We have really dedicated one-on-one time in the morning because he’s not competing with me trying to catch up on the day’s emails. Bedtime is also better. Often the hour before bed can be a time when Miles gets a little fussy because he’s tired from the day’s fun (especially daycare days). By just putting away the phone, I’m more responsive to him and it decreases the fussiness.
The mealtime rule I had already had, so it wasn’t hard to adopt. I prefer to be present for conversations with my husband and it’s a “sacred time” I suggest everyone adopt.
Decrease the temptation
There are a few ways to help yourself cut the temptation to use your phone all the time. Try these:
- Turn off notifications for your apps. You don’t need to be notified when someone likes your photo.
- Have Do Not Disturb turned on for dedicated times throughout the day. You can create a list of contacts on “emergency bypass” who could still get through to you if needed such as your husband, the daycare, your kids, etc.
- Consider turning your phone to grayscale. This is great if you’re super guilty of mindless scrolling. Just simply making your phone less desirable to look at can help you kick the habit. Just google the word “grayscale” with your phone type to learn how to do this on your device.
- Opt for a real alarm clock. If you’re guilty of late night or early morning scrolling and it’s stealing away your time, consider switching to a real alarm clock and charging your device somewhere else. This removes the temptation altogether.
Find Alternatives to the Phone
If you have some certain things you use your phone for that leads to over-checking it, see if you can find an alternative to it. For example:
- Have real clocks in all your rooms.
- Keep a notepad around to jot down notes or to-dos. Then you can plug them all into your phone at once later.
- Listen to music/podcasts on a smart speaker or TV.
- Use a real camera.
**A great tip for photos I heard one time was to make a list before a special event of the photos you want. Say it’s a birthday — you might want a photo with the cake, a group photo, a photo with a special gift, and a photo with you. Then that’s all you want and need to get and the rest of the time the phone can be away.