Is your phone the first thing you reach for in the morning and the last thing you touch before bed? Do you frequently pick up your phone to check your lock screen notifications? Do you go on your phone to “look something up” only to discover 45 minutes later that you forgot what you were searching for in the first place? Are you hooked on any number of addicting game apps and find it impossible to avoid trying to beat the current level you’re on and progress to the next one?
Americans check their phones (on average) about 47 times per day. Many even check their phones in the middle of the night. People of all ages – children, teens, and adults – are becoming over-dependent on their smartphones. Most people, myself included, are on their phones a lot more than necessary. Looking at our phones has become default behavior. We check our phones in the waiting room at the doctor, in line for coffee, while out for a walk, in the office, at a stoplight, in traffic, at dinner with friends, in the living room with family! – whenever there is a moment of boredom we reach for our phones to distract us from it.
We’ve become so reliant on our phones for so many (legitimate) uses: maps and GPS, easy communication like texting, following up on work-related emails when out of the office, quick access to information like store hours or business phone numbers. All reasonable uses for your phone. But sometimes (let’s be honest, most times) when you check your phone for an important purpose it’s all too easy to get sucked into news, social media, or funny videos. Suddenly, hours go by and you wonder “where did all the time go?”
We’re more “connected” than we’ve ever been and have more information available to us at our fingertips, but we are less productive and less engaged with the people and the surroundings in our lives as a result. We’ve begun looking to our phones to fulfill something we’re missing in our everyday lives. We’re hoping our phone will provide meaning, happiness, or some kind of positive feeling… but the reality is, it leaves us feeling empty and disconnected.
If you can relate to any of these situations, then perhaps it’s time to break up with your phone!
Before you freak out, hear me out – I’m not suggesting you do something drastic like chuck your phone out the window – what I am suggesting is that you change the way (and amount) you use your phone.
Here are seven practical tips to help overcome the challenge of decreasing our phone use:
1. Reflect on Your Phone Use
Honestly look at your phone use and the reasons behind it: what do you use your phone for most? What apps are you on? How long do you spend scrolling through social media? Is it hard to return your attention back to other things? How do you feel once you realize you’ve wasted a significant amount of time?
2. Resist the Cravings
Like any addiction, quitting ‘cold turkey’ (where did that phrase come from anyway?… excuse me a moment while I Google it!) can result in massive cravings. Try to understand the source of these cravings. Why are you reaching for your phone? Are you hoping to achieve a specific feeling – contentment, satisfaction, excitement? Or you trying to avoid some type of feeling – boredom, frustration, monotony? Instead of picking up your phone, ‘sit with your emotions’ for a moment and see if you can identify what’s causing you to reach for your phone.
3. Set up a “Road Block”
What happens when you’ve got to be somewhere (like work) and you’re on the usual route you normally take when you encounter a roadblock like an accident where traffic is being diverted or a detour because of road construction? YOU GO AROUND, right? You take another path. The same can be done to take a break from your phone. If the temptation to open your phone is too great, set a lock screen “roadblock” to remind you to STOP mindlessly checking your phone! If happiness is what you seek YOU WON’T FIND IT IN YOUR PHONE. Let this lock screen remind you to put down your phone and turn to God (the true source of peace, satisfaction, contentment, and joy).
(Click on the image to open and save to your phone for use as a lock screen reminder).
4. Create a Fail-Safe
Ok, so the lock screen reminder is easily ignored. Simple as the placement of a finger or face-ID recognition, and BAM! You’re in. Create another layer of defense with a Fail-Safe. Oxford dictionary defines a fail-safe as: a system or plan that comes into operation in the event of something going wrong or that is there to prevent such an occurrence. Want another, more practical, action required deterrent? Place something on the outside of your phone to slow you down when you reach for it – something like a sheet of paper or a rubber band.
5. Consider Deleting Social Media Apps
Social media can be the biggest time sucker on your phone. When they aren’t there you’re less tempted to spend mindless amounts of time on your phone. I’ve done this each year at the beginning of the year for a few weeks during our annual 21-day fast. I honestly did not miss the constant checking of my phone or worse, the notifications tempting me to pick up my phone. I didn’t miss scrolling through everyone’s “look at me” parade, and it became so much easier to not want to share every annoying little occurrence of my day with others. Because let’s get real – who cares anyway?!
If deleting the apps all together seems a bit extreme, or if you need to keep certain apps for use in interactions with business contacts, consider moving your apps somewhere other than your front page, placing them in a folder, or (gasp!) turning off notifications for those apps. This way those bright and colorful app buttons and the tempting little red notification bubbles won’t draw your attention as easily.
6. Create “No Phone Zones”
If your family is like mine, at any given point in the evening, no one is interacting and everyone is on their phones – scrolling through Instagram, pinning on Pinterest, flipping through tik tok, watching a movie on Disney+ (yup… on their phone), or sucked into a game.
We’re all guilty of it. On our phones during meals, texting during the middle of a conversation, looking at social media during church, or during a family outing like a baseball game [Rant warning!] (speaking of which… have you ever noticed just how many people are on their phones during a professional sporting event? It boggles my mind to think that these people PAID good money [because we all know those seats weren’t cheap] to watch the game and they AREN’T even watching it because they’re on their phones!) [End Rant].
Consider setting boundaries like no phones at the table, and no phones during a family outing. It disengages us from our surroundings and causes us to not be fully present with the people right in front of us. Put your phones away during meals, parties, and outings so you can be present with family and friends.
Also, try leaving your phone home for errands like grocery shopping, picking up the kids from school, or picking up take out.
And lastly, no phones in the bedroom. Change where you charge your phone overnight. If you charge your phone where you sleep, you’ll be drawn to pick it up. Do you use your phone as an alarm? Then use the ‘do not disturb’ feature to turn off notifications until morning.
7. Find Other Things to Do
Time spent on your phone is time not spent doing the things that make life fun and meaningful. Take the time that you usually fill with playing games, scrolling through social media, or watching videos and use it to do anything else!
We often default to our phones when we’re bored or can’t think of something better to do. Idle time spent on our phones in trivial thoughts is preventing us from being creative! Not sure what you’d do with yourself if you didn’t have your phone in hand? Try going for a hike or to a museum, host a game night for friends, draw, cook, have a coffee date with that book you’ve been meaning to read, take the kids to a craft store and pick out a project to complete together, take the dog for a walk, mow the lawn, pull weeds, wash the car, start a bible study… you get the idea, right? All these activities are healthy and productive uses of our time that will ultimately lift your spirits and make you a happier person.
Shelly Freeman, Executive Ministry Administrator
Based on advice from author Catherine Price in her book: How to Break Up with Your Phone