How to Break Up With Your Phone
- Catherine Price
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You’d think that the best way to get us to check our phones obsessively would be to make sure that there was always something good waiting for us. But what really gets us hooked isn’t consistency; it’s unpredictability. It’s knowing that something could happen—but not knowing when or if that something will occur.
If you try to cut back on your phone use without first figuring out what you’re trying to achieve or avoid, you’re dooming yourself to failure. Either you’re going to relapse, or you’re going to find another, potentially more destructive habit that achieves the same effect.
There is nothing wrong with mindless distraction. There are times when zoning out on your phone is exactly what you want to do. What is problematic—and what we’re trying to avoid—is letting a state of mindless distraction become our default.
Our goal isn’t abstinence; it’s consciousness.
write a few sentences in response to the following questions: • What do you love about your phone? • What don’t you love about your phone? • What changes do you notice in yourself—positive or negative—when you spend a lot of time on your phone? (Depending on how old you are, you can also ask yourself if you’ve noticed any changes since you got a smartphone to begin with.)
Next, imagine yourself a month from now, at the end of your breakup. What would you like your new relationship with your phone to look like? What would you like to have done or accomplished with your extra time? What would you like someone to say if you asked them to describe how you’d changed? Write your future self a brief note or email describing what success would look like, and/or congratulating yourself for achieving it.
Your emotional state right before you reach for your phone. (For example: bored, curious, anxious, happy, lonely, excited, sad, loving, and so on.) • Your emotional state right after you use your phone (Do you feel better? Worse? Did your phone satisfy whatever emotional need caused you to reach for it?)
I’d like you to choose several moments in your day when you seem to pick up your phone the most often, and see if you can identify a consistent trigger that makes you repeat this habit. For example, maybe you check your phone first thing in the morning because you’re anxious. Or maybe it’s just because it’s on your bedside table. Maybe you check your phone in the elevator because everyone else is also checking their phone. Maybe you check it at work because you’re bored with whatever you’re supposed to be doing. We’re not trying to put a judgment on any of these triggers; we’re just trying to become aware of them so that we can begin to identify patterns.
I’ve always loved to: • I’ve always wanted to: • When I was a kid I was fascinated by: • If I had more time, I would like to: • Some activities that I know put me into flow are: • People I would like to spend more time with include:
Where do you charge your phone? • At what time do you put it away for the night? • When do you check it for the first time in the morning? (This can be a time or a situation—for example, “I don’t check until I get to the office.” You could also have different times for weekdays and weekends.) • Where do you keep your phone while you’re at work? • Where do you keep your phone while you’re at home? • Where do you keep your phone at meals? • Where do you carry your phone? • What do you use your phone for? (For example: practical purposes like navigating, social purposes like calling and texting, or educational and entertainment purposes such as listening to podcasts.) • What are the situations in which you have decided that you don’t use your phone? In the elevator, waiting in line, or when you’re bored or feeling socially awkward? • Which apps are tools that enrich or simplify your life? • Which apps do you know are dangerous/the most likely to suck you in? This can be a particularly useful question to answer because it limits what you have to worry about. If you know you’ve got three apps on your phone that tend to steal your attention, then you can put yourself on high alert when you use those particular apps—and not worry as much about the other things you do on your phone. (Or you could delete those three apps. Just saying.) • Based on your answer to the previous question, which apps/websites do you block—and when?
create a monthly reminder to check in with yourself. Questions you could ask yourself: • What parts of your relationship with your phone are going well? • What about your relationship with your phone do you want to change? What’s one thing you could do to start? • What are you doing—or could do—to strengthen your focus? • What are your goals for the next 30 days? • What fun plans could you make to spend time with people you care about? • Have you reinstalled any of the apps that you previously deleted, let your phone back into your bedroom, or turned notifications back on? If so, does it feel like the right decision? (No judgment.) • What do you want to pay attention to in your life?