We’ve all heard it.
“Smartphones are addictive.” “Social media is destroying our society.” “Mobile phones are harmful.” “Cell phone screens sabotage sleep.”
I don’t know about you, but every time I read this kind of headline I feel overwhelmed and then continue to scroll mindlessly.
I subconsciously push the thought away thinking (or maybe just hoping) that smartphones and social media are destroying other people, but not me.
Here’s the truth about why we can’t stop looking at our phones and 5 simple, guilt-free ways to avoid the negative effects.
Why do we constantly look at our phones?
It is easy to blame our frequent use of the smartphone on its addictive design, but the simple answer is that we don’t like to be uncomfortable.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we are designed to escape discomfort. This very characteristic helps us in many ways.
In his book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, Nir Eyal teaches:
“All motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. If a behavior was previously effective at providing relief, we’re likely to continue using it as a tool to escape discomfort.”
Smartphones are quite effective at providing relief, so we are likely to continue to turn to them as an escape. They provide a rush of dopamine when we are down. They provide a sense of connection when we are lonely. They provide stimulation when we are bored. And, we almost always have our phones with us as a source of relief when we experience any sort of discomfort.
5 Steps to Stop Yourself from Constantly Looking at Your Phone
1. Identify Your Discomfort
If you are constantly picking up your phone or mindlessly scrolling, then it is likely that you are avoiding another uncomfortable feeling or situation. Are you bored? Are you lonely? Are you tired of doing homework? Are you sad? Are you nervous? Are you struggling with a difficult task? (I have the urge to reach for my phone the most frequently when I am writing blog posts) Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you unfulfilled?
2. Identify What You Really Need
Turning to your phone will likely pacify the feeling of discomfort for some time, but it won’t meet your true need. Do you need to go outside? Do you need to talk with a real person? Do you need to ask someone for help with your homework? Do you need to cry? Do you need to record your feelings in a journal? Do you need to acknowledge that what you are doing is hard and keep working on it? Do you need to eat something? Do you need to sleep? Do you need to schedule regular time to do something that is fulfilling for you?
3. Practice Sitting with Uncomfortable Feelings
I learned a method from my therapist called RAIN. It is one of my favorite techniques for dealing with uncomfortable feelings (whether that’s boredom while doing homework, exhaustion after getting the kids to bed, or intense feelings of loneliness). Whether or not you deal with mental health challenges, this practice can help you when you experience discomfort.
Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Name what you are feeling.
Feel that feeling without any judgment.
Ask yourself, “What is this feeling trying to tell me? What does it need from me?”
Ask yourself, “Where in my body am I experiencing this feeling?”
When you use the RAIN method rather than mindlessly turning to your phone, this helps you process the emotion rather than simply pacifying the emotion (which would likely cause you to turn to your phone more and more).
4. Turn Off Unnecessary Notifications
Even if you ignore a notification, the presence of a notification is just as distracting as picking up your phone. Carefully choose which apps are worth interrupting your life.
5. Plan Time to Spend on Your Phone
There is nothing wrong with spending time on your phone, but you will feel much more fulfilled if your phone time is intentional. Choose a specific time of day and amount of time to be “intentionally mindless” on your phone. This will allow you to enjoy your phone time while still being able to process uncomfortable emotions, work on difficult tasks, and feel fulfilled.
Smartphones are part of our reality. I’ve considered getting rid of my smartphone so I wouldn’t have to deal with the negative effects of constantly picking up my phone. But, I’ve realized that with these 5 simple steps I can enjoy all of the benefits of my phone while avoiding the negative effects of constantly looking at my phone.
Take a minute to think about what your most common discomfort is. When do you usually mindlessly scroll? Is it when you are tired, overwhelmed, lonely, or dealing with some other uncomfortable feeling?