Our phones are the first things we see in the morning and the last things we see at night. They’re regularly by our sides (and bedsides). Any time we’re waiting anywhere for anything, we automatically pull them out. At the checkout line. At the doctor’s office. At the bank. At the bus stop. In the car line. In front of the microwave. In front of others.
Basically, any time there’s a pause, we pull out our devices. And often we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Because it’s become a reflex.
We also turn to our phones when we’re bored and when we’re feeling blue. We turn to them when we’re lonely and unsure. We turn to them to ease our discomfort. We turn to them because they’ve been designed to get us hooked. They’ve been designed to hijack our minds like slot machines.
On average Americans spend more than 4 hours a day on their phones. Another study found that we check our phones once every 12 minutes. One in 10 people checks their phone every 4 minutes. Half of Americans check their phones in the middle of the night—unless you’re between 25 and 34 years old, and then it’s over 75 percent.
And all of this is changing us. Maybe you can relate to Catherine Price’s words in her must-read book How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life: “My attention span is shorter. My memory seems weaker. My focus flickers. Sure, some of this might be due to natural age-related changes in my brain. The more I thought about it, however, the more I began to suspect that there was an external factor at play—and that the factor was my phone.”
But the empowering thing is that we can change this. In How to Break Up with Your Phone Price lays out a specific daily plan for an entire month. Below are some of my favorite tips, insights and examples from Price’s important, practical, wise book.
Explore your current and ideal relationship. Price suggests reflecting on these questions: What do I love about my phone? What don’t I love about my phone? What changes do I notice—positive or negative—when I spend a lot of time on my phone? What changes have I noticed since getting my first smartphone?
Now imagine the future: What would I like my new relationship with my phone to look like? What would I like to have done with my extra time? What would I like someone to say about how I’ve changed?
Price even suggests writing our future selves a letter or email addressing what success would look like and/or congratulating ourselves for cultivating a healthier relationship with our phones.
Create poignant reminders. There are many small, yet significant ways that we can use our own phones to inspire a healthier relationship. Price recommends writing this question on a piece of paper: “What do you want to pay attention to?” Then take a photo, and make that photo your lock screen.
Or ask a loved one to hold the piece of paper, which might make a more powerful image. Whatever image you choose, “whenever you reach for your phone, you’ll be reminded to check in with yourself first,” Price writes.
Focus on fun offline-activities. Using your phone less means you have more time for other activities. According to Price, “Unless you have some sense of how you want to be spending this reclaimed time, you’re likely to feel anxious and possibly a bit depressed—and you’ll be at risk of sliding right back into your old habits.”
Think about what you love to do, and what you’ve always wanted to do. Think about what fascinates you, and the people you’d like to spend more time with. Then make a list of specific, fun things you can do—without your phone, of course. This might be anything from doing a crossword puzzle at a café to writing a short story to cooking a new dish to taking a hike.
Create new triggers. This helps you set yourself up for success, and makes it easier for you to do the things you aim to do. Price shares these examples in the book: If you’d like to read more, keep a book on your beside table or inside your bag. If you’re planning on meditating in the morning, decide beforehand how long you’ll meditate, what the focus of your meditation will be, and where you’ll meditate.
If you normally bring your phone into your room to soothe yourself to sleep, refocus on making your bedroom into a sanctuary in other ways (which really work): Buy a nice set of sheets, hang up calming pictures and use a lavender oil or spray.
Exercise your attention span. “In order to undo the damage caused by the cumulative hours we spend on our phones, we need to restrengthen our attention spans—and engage in regular exercise (both mental and physical) to keep our brains in shape,” Price writes.
For instance, you might devote time to solely focusing on a single project or problem (while you’re walking somewhere, for instance). You might take a “music bath,” which is simply closing your eyes, listening to a favorite piece of music, and trying to pick out each instrument. You might write a letter to a loved one, or get lost in a book.
In fact, “over time, regular reading causes physical changes to the brain in areas responsible for reasoning, processing visual signals and even memory,” Price writes. It also encourages creativity and problem solving.
Smartphones aren’t evil, of course. They help us do all sorts of cool, worthwhile things—everything from sending an important email while away from our desks to communicating with our families over FaceTime.
But many of us also turn to our phones way too much and for way too long—and our phones can stop us from paying attention to what really matters: our relationships (with others and with ourselves), our emotions, our creative ideas.
The key is to rethink your relationship with your phone: What does it currently look like? What meaningful changes do you want to make?
For Price, reducing screen time has sharpened her focus and it’s meant more time engaging in genuinely fulfilling activities.
“And I’ve learned that, just as light will fade a photograph, spending too much time on my phone was sapping color from my experience,” Price writes. “The more I pay attention to the actual world around me, the more vividness returns.” Maybe you will find the same.