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3 Triggers that Cause Us to Reach for Our Phone & Miss Out on Life Experiences

How often are you picking up your smartphone and checking your notifications every day? If you are like most users you say around forty times, maybe less. Which means you are probably underestimating your phone usage by as much as 50%. The real number, according to a survey done by Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, is closer to 85 times per day, and that is a conservative estimate.

Just think of how much time is being spent staring at that screen. How often are we distracting ourselves from more important things? How much additional time is spent getting back on task? What are we missing out on in our day to day lives, or in our important relationships, by ignoring real life? Probably a lot, and it isn’t just our time that is being impacted.

Smartphones could be causing mild hallucinations (such as “phantom buzz”) in frequent users. Social media, commonly accessed through smartphones, may be causing depression and severe self esteem issues, as well.

The first step to breaking this cycle is to break the habit. So let’s isolate some common triggers that cause us to go looking at our phones, rather than staying present in the moment.

1. Feeling Uncomfortable

You have arrived at a work outing and the only other person there so far is someone from another department you have never spoken to. You both give each other an awkward smile as you sit down to wait for the others. But instead of making small talk you reach for your smartphones and begin to fiddle around until someone you each know arrives to alleviate the discomfort.

What To Do About It: Let yourself feel the awkwardness! It might seem torturous in the moment, but discomfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is a chance to overcome social anxiety, engage with someone new, and empathize with another person. After all, they are feeling awkward as well. Let yourself be the kind of person that helps others feel more at ease, and you will start to feel that ease, as well.

2. Boredom

You have plans in the evening, but they don’t start for hours. There is time to kill until you need to get ready. So you pull up Facebook and start browsing, and before you know it you realize you have lost track of time and are going to be late. Boredom sucked you in, and over-stimulation screwed with your schedule.

What To Do About It: Start to appreciate boredom again. We didn’t used to have something so distracting to save us from feeling bored. Now we can crush it the moment it comes, and it leaves us impatient and unfocused in our daily lives. Take some time to enjoy the quiet. Appreciate not having anything immediately needing to be done. Be in the moment without filling it with noise.

3. Too Many Notifications

Beep! Shwing! Chime! The telltale signs that something has happened on your phone. You could leave it be but FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) pushes you to pick up your device and take a peek. It is another useless email, something to be deleted without reading. Yet it has disrupted your train of thought, forcing you to get back on track with your work…until the next little sound draws you away.

What To Do About It: Turn off your notifications! You don’t have to turn off every sound, as some things may actually be important. But you can limit the distractions and temptations that are coming from your smartphone. Go to the Settings and revoke app permissions in the Notifications section. Tun on your Do Not Disturb feature and elect to only let some things through. Get an app that reduces distractions and improves productivity.

Of course all of this may be harder if you are really addicted to your phone. In that case a more brute force measure might be necessary…leave it at home once in awhile! People have managed before to do find without these technological safety nets, and so will you.

3 Triggers that Cause Us to Reach for Our Phone & Miss Out on Life Experiences

Tyler Jacobson

Tyler enjoys going to the mountains near his home in Draper, Utah to connect with his wife and children through camping, hiking, and quality time together. When he isn’t rebooting in the outdoors, he shares his fatherly experiences with the world through writing and creative designs. Tyler shares the ups and downs of family life and the solutions he’s found through lengthy research and involvement in the industry and his own experiences to help parents everywhere. Follow Tyler on: Twitter or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Jacobson, T. (2018). 3 Triggers that Cause Us to Reach for Our Phone & Miss Out on Life Experiences. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 21 Jun 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.