I have a confession to make: I have a slight addiction to my phone.
I am home on maternity leave and have been realizing how much time my phone steals away from my kids each day. Granted, I have four children under the age of seven, and I’m sure you can’t blame me for wanting to escape down a digital rabbit hole from time to time. But I think I may be escaping a little too frequently.
Effects of phone addiction
I’ve started reflecting on how my preoccupation with my phone is affecting my life.
I’ve found that it can make me irritable (particularly if I’m interrupted), and also likely to disengage from conversations.
Sometimes I feel enslaved by compulsion, reaching for the phone when it dings or just out of habit when it’s completely silent.
Could my phone addiction also have made me late or rushed because I spent too much time mindlessly scrolling while getting ready in the bathroom or after waking up in bed?
My toddler will even carry me my phone if I don’t have it, as if she feels like I need it or that it’s part of me.
I don’t even know how much time I spend staring at my phone during the course of a day rather than being productive or interacting in a meaningful way with the world around me.
How much more present as a parent and wife would I be without my phone?
What causes phone addiction?
First, let’s acknowledge that phone addiction is an actual addiction. It’s not just a cute way of saying that people spend too much time on their phones.
This author of this article from Forbes describes a study that showed when participants’ phones were taken away, they experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as decreased mental acuity, higher heart rate, and “a sense of loss, or lessening, of their extended self—their phones.” The culprit is dopamine, which causes us to “want, desire, seek out, and search” and rewards us with a feeling of pleasure when we indulge these impulses.
So if I want to cure phone addiction, I need to somehow escape the desire to continuously seek—or at least stop acting on it by turning to my phone.
Phone Addiction Triggers
While studying my own behavior during the day, I came up with six personal triggers for my phone addiction.
If I am waiting somewhere or my kids are occupied and I realize I have a moment to myself, I will often turn to my phone to fill the void.
Moment of Transition
I’ve noticed that sometimes when I am between tasks, instead of taking the time to decide what to do next, I default to checking my phone.
Having an Idea
Often, an idea will trigger my phone addiction. I will suddenly think of a question I’d like to answer through a Google search, a message I should respond to, or something I need to order. Rather than put it off, I immediately grab my phone and take action. Instant gratification.
Of course, hearing a notification from my phone will distract me. It’s hard to sit idly by while the world’s most important text or email is surely just a click away.
I am likely to be distracted by my phone if I am anxious about a problem I need to solve or waiting for an important reply from someone. I will either endlessly work on satisfactorily solving the problem or mindlessly check my phone over and over waiting for the response.
Opening the Gateway
Grabbing my phone to take care of a legitimate task (take a picture, check my calendar) can sometimes open a gateway to checking my email, my Facebook notifications, the weather, the news headlines… you get the picture.
How to cure phone addiction
The short answer to how to cure phone addiction is that I need to rewire my brain. It is an actual addiction, and recovery takes time.
My goal is twofold:
a) to be purposeful and mindful when it comes to using my phone, and
b) to replace my reactions to my phone addiction triggers with different actions.
Set a mission statement
First, I will specify how I want my life to look different as a result of curing my phone addiction. How do I want my children to see me differently? How do I want to feel and act differently? What is the “why” behind this challenge? I will also identify some observable goals to help me measure my progress.
Plan my phone time in advance
Rather than try to go cold turkey, my strategy is to time block. At night, I will write down everything I want or need to do on my phone the next day. Then, I will choose two or three chunks of time when I will accomplish those tasks.
Make a to-do list or schedule for the day
How do I want to use my time? To regain control of my time, I will consider all the areas of my life that need attention and build a plan for the day based on those needs. I may get as specific as a schedule, but I may function better (at least at first) by simply making a list.
Plan for triggers
Knowing that my phone addiction will be triggered during the day, I will try to set myself up for success. I will attempt to eliminate some triggers by turning off notifications. I will also create a list of alternate reactions when I am triggered.
Examine and reflect
I will keep track of the moments when I want to grab my phone so that I can see if any patterns emerge, track my progress, and hold myself accountable. I will also routinely reflect on how my life is changing and whether I am achieving my mission.
As I work on integrating this new strategy into my life, I hope to be able to kick the phone addiction and become happier with how I am using the precious time given to me.
Image credit: Styled Stock Society