Overcoming My Cell-Phone Addiction
I’ve been on an aggressive campaign to free myself from my cell-phone addiction since March, 2018. This is my story.
Way back in March I downloaded an app an app (Moment) that tracks my screen time. I was shocked, horrified, appalled, and ashamed by the amount of time I spent on my phone. Moment allows you to set limits, aggressively track your phone usage, and participate in multi-day challenges. After a month of challenges and almost no improvement, I realized this habit was more than a bad habit, it was an addiction. I felt so ashamed that I was literally wasting my life staring at a screen, and worse, I couldn’t take control of my behavior.
I knew I couldn’t share my story with you until I had some good news to report. Now that my screen time is at a manageable 60-90 minutes per day (still not great), I want to share some thoughts with y’all.
Humans tend to underestimate how much sugar we consume, how much alcohol we consume, how much we spend, and how much time we spend on our phones. That’s a loaded statement, but today we’re only talking about screen time, so let’s stay on track. According to Nielson market-research group, Americans adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media. In the first quarter of 2018, American adults spent four hours and 46 minutes watching TV every day and three hours and 48 minutes a day on computers, tablets, and smartphones. You get the picture. It’s bad. Even if the average American is spending 135 minutes a day on a phone, there’s a long tail on that bell curve, meaning many people are spending more than 135 minutes per day on the phone.
Turns out, picking up the phone for 30 secs to 2 min at a time is actually depriving us of several hours per day. We all know how math works: hours a day converts to days in a month, weeks in a year, and years in life. This study estimates the average person will spend 5 years and 4 months of their life on social media alone.
Just think, what could you do with an extra hour each day?
None of this is news. It is however, difficult to face our own poor behaviors with courage and admit, “okay, I have a problem.”
Or you could try what worked for me, “I am missing out on my life because I’m addicted to a germy, hand-sized slot machine designed to steal my time and manipulate my choices.”
For me, it was important to step into the power of my own truth. When we face our fears and sources of shame and anxiety, we take back the power. We shift the balance from something that has control over us to something that is entirely within our power to manage.
And let’s be clear, I had and continue to have, shame around my screen time usage.
Much like trying to lose weight, I realized that my goal was too vague and too large to attack in a simple way. “Cut down cell phone usage” was not a specific goal. I needed to take this addiction one day and one week at a time. I incrementally introduced all the hacks on the internet- turned my screen to black and white, deleted distracting apps, and reorganized the apps on my phone. These things all made minor impacts, 5 minutes a day here and 5 minutes a day there, but it still wasn’t enough.
Over the summer, I ramped up efforts. I started leaving my cell phone in a drawer or location far away from my person and only allowed myself to check my phone periodically. While at home, my husband held me accountable by gently asking, “do you want me to hide your phone for a while?” I also worked on shutting off my phone for an entire 24-36 hour time span on weekends. I started finding it easy to keep phone usage under 60 minutes a day on weekends but still struggled during the week.
Next, I started leaving my phone behind for extended periods of time. Any time I took a walk or went on a date with Drew, no phone allowed.
Then, I imposed a no phone in bedroom rule. Simon Sinek says in this great interview, that if you are checking your phone before saying good morning to the person next to you, you have a problem. This resonated with me. I had developed a bad habit of scrolling before bed and reading the NYT first thing in the morning. We ordered an alarm clock and voila! No phone in bedroom!
Finally, I started to feel a space between me and the noise on the device. I felt some control over the urge to check for messages or news updates. It was finally getting easier. However, my screen time still wasn’t down to 60-90 minutes a day.
In October, I took the final step. I started enforcing strict rules about Instagram and facebook. I deleted the app and periodically deactivated my facebook account for a few days at a time knowing that I can always login and/or reactivate to check back in.
Now, it’s December. Work and life has been busy, so I stopped obsessing over screen time numbers. To my surprise, I now feel delighted every time I check the Moment app or my screen time usage in settings. I am consistently under my target screen time target usage. I’ve heard that a habit is broken (or developed) when it comes easily.
We think screen addiction is something everyone else is guilty of. We scoff at people with necks bent in anatomically horrifying angles, the weight of their heads bobbing in a way that does not resemble homo-erectus. We scorn the zombie-like persons crossing the street oblivious to the world around. We cringe at the way children would rather look at a screen than play with a toy. We lament the good old days when we had to navigate using maps and played using our imagination, when we were okay watching lint float on an air draft with absolutely nothing to do… ya know, boredom.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with someone only to be interrupted by a cell phone, either his/hers or my own. One of us receives a call, a text, or the animal compulsion to CHECK OUR PHONE takes over.
This can be particularly difficult for anyone with a side hustle or personal business.
We are told we need to “brand ourselves” on social media. Facebook dings us for not responding to messages instantly. For a long time I based so much self-worth on the response to my posts. I’m not even embarrassed to share this with you, I think this is entirely normal in 2018.
It has taken me nearly a year to feel that I’ve taken back control of my life. My focus has improved. I delight in seeing the world around.I enjoy smiling and making eye contact with strangers on the street and in the grocery store. I feel an increased sense of gratitude, and my reading time has increased dramatically. On days when I allow myself to binge on screen time, I notice the impact it has on my mood (it’s not positive).
I realized the world gives me enough data to experience awe, wonder, joy, jealousy, sadness, and grief, without adding thousands of additional data points for these feelings. Particularly in these hyper-political times, social media can be an upsetting platform. Even within my own echo chamber, I already consume news, do I need to be exposed to the fears, concerns, anxieties, and opinions of others daily? Probably not. When I do log on, I now find I prioritize the feeds I check. I am more focused about my consumption. I get in and then, importantly, I get out.
I share this not to be on some sort of soap box. I still am on my phone 60-90 minutes a day, that’s a lot. I’ve been a phone addict for years and I’m just now getting it under control. I share this because creating a buffer between myself and social media has had a profound impact on my mood, relationships, and clarity of mind.
Social media is crucial for small businesses like ours. It is a tool to connect, reconnect, discover, and find joy. I am thankful for the timehop photos, the reminders of the past, the ability to see photos of loved ones, the ease of finding activities and events nearby. Social media, like all things, is great in small doses. As Bryana and I work on tackling our screen time usage, we work together to find the most efficient ways to use our screens and then, importantly, GET OFF them.
Lastly, we all love positive feedback on social media. We get a hit of dopamine when people like our photos. There’s a lot of science involved to this, but this post is already too long so instead I’ll leave you with some advice my sister regularly gives me, “it’s okay if not everyone likes you.”
It’s perfectly okay for me to like myself and I don’t need anyone else to like my photo to validate my self-worth.
P.S. If you are suddenly feeling overwhelmed at your own usage, just know that you are not alone. This addiction to our screens is a chemical response. We get a hit of dopamine each time someone likes, interacts, or comments on our photos and posts. It's a boost that we automatically seek to repeat.
Buy an alarm clock and get the phone out of the bedroom.
Download Moment and track your usage. Take the challenges on the app. It helps if a spouse, sibling, or friend tackles this with you. I tackled my problem alone. I was too ashamed of my usage to share much of my struggle with anyone. Recently, Bryana has become my partner in battling cell phone addiction and it has been a HUGE RELIEF to have someone to talk with about the problem, share ideas with, and laugh at ourselves.
Practice keeping your phone away from your person (in a drawer etc).
Don’t place your cell phone on the table at dinner or meetings. By placing the phone within eyesight, you are literally giving the phone a seat at the table. And no, turning it upside down does not make this okay.
Look at people on their cell phones. Notice the way they look as they go about their business with neck bent. Then look at people looking up, smiling, and wishing others greetings and a smile. Contemplate.
Set a “bedtime” for your phone.
Turn your phone to “black and white” mode by pressing the home button three times in rapid succession.
Delete time suck apps from your phone completely. Check those apps either on a desktop (more controlled environment) or download the app when you want to check up on things or post a photo. Downloading and logging into Instagram takes me about three minutes each time but saves me hours every month.
No more phone in the bathroom, lol (read a book or practice boredom...)
Look UP when waiting in line! Smile at someone! Interact with the real world!
Notice the complexity of the world around you and the gratitude you experience when looking around instead of looking down.
Try taking less photos, including on Snapchat and Instagram stories. Take 1-3 great photos, then put the phone away and be present.
Good luck friends! And let me know if you have questions or comments! You can do this!