Over the last six months I have been experimenting with putting my phone in airplane mode for several hours during the day so that I can stay focused and not get distracted by all of my social media notifications, news and texts. It felt a bit uncomfortable at first but I started to notice all of the times I wanted to pick up my phone and took note of the emotions I was experiencing at the time.
Not surprisingly I was picking up my phone when I was bored, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, tired, excited and procrastinating. Then I substituted those times when I was reaching for the phone with a new behavior – I got a drink of water, grabbed some tea, went for a short walk, read a couple of pages of a book, did some meditation, sat down and looked outside at the trees or went and had a conversation with my kids. When I went back to the task I had been working on or started a new one I noticed that I had a lot more energy, focus and creativity.
I use social media for work and love it when I’m engaging it in an intentional, focused way but when I use it mindlessly there are definitely negative ramifications. I have started to use a timer when I’m on social media, blogs and news outlets. I get clear on my goal for being there and make sure to honor my values and priorities.
Have you ever done any time tracking to see how often you check your phone? How much time do you spend on social media on a daily basis? Do you pay attention to your moods and notice if social media is energizing you or actually making you disconnect from yourself?
We talk a lot about alcohol, food, gambling, sex and shopping addictions but not enough about the behavioural addictions associated with smartphones and computers.
Here are some pretty powerful stats on smartphone addiction:
- The average smartphone owner unlocks their phone 150 times a day.
- Using smartphones for longer intervals of time changes brain chemistry.
- 66% of the world’s population shows signs of nomophobia (the fear of not having your phone with you).
- 71% usually sleep with or next to their mobile phone.
- Smartphone use and depression are correlated.
- 75% of Americans use their mobile phones in the toilet.
- 20% of people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone.
I started doing some more research on smartphone addiction to understand how we got here and why billions of people are spending hours on their phones every day instead of connecting with the humans in front of them. Of course I wasn’t surprised to learn that social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter have built their platforms to try and keep you there as long as possible. They sustain your attention with a mix of good user interface design and psychology creating an addictive mix. They are constantly fighting for your attention by tweaking their features and have behavioral psychologists advising them on how to do it.
While there may be people manipulating us and using persuasion to keep us on our phones, we can learn to create healthier boundaries. We have to make the intentional choice to commit to a new relationship by design. What might that look like for you? One way to make a permanent change is to engage in a form of digital minimalism. Cal Newport describes Digital Minimalism as a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
In his book, Digital Minimalism – Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World Cal suggests that the best way to get started with this philosophy is to engage in a digital declutter process.
The Digital Declutter Process
1. Put aside a thirty-day period during which you will take a break from optional technologies in your life.
2. During this thirty-day break, explore and rediscover activities and behaviors that you find satisfying and meaningful.
3. At the end of the break, reintroduce optional technologies into your life, starting from a blank state. For each technology you reintroduce, determine what value it serves in your life and how specifically you will use it so as to maximize this value.
I have done this 30 day exercise with many clients and they have been amazed by the results. Firstly, they are shocked by all of the extra time they have because they had been spending an inordinate amount of time on social media. They also became more aware of their moods and realize there were many instances that time on social media led to stress, anxiety, anger, lack of motivation, comparison, feeling less connected to the people around them and mental exhaustion. They realized they felt pressure to like, comment, contribute and there was a whole lot of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) going on!
I’m not someone who is anti-technology, I think there are a whole host of benefits that come with tech and I’m incredibly grateful. I work with clients all over the world thanks to online platforms like zoom that allow me to do coaching, training, speaking and facilitating. I love having zoom coffee chats and getting to know people in my network who live in different geographies. I’m a community builder and have met incredible people due to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. What I’m advocating for here is not to leave all social media platforms. I am however suggesting that you can have a much more rewarding, rich and meaningful relationship with technology. Where you own it and it doesn’t own you.
Part of this shift is about training your brain so that you can harness your attention to focus deeper, get distracted less, and become more creative. In his book, Hyperfocus – Chris Bailey, talks about how our ability to focus is the key to productivity, creativity, and living a meaningful life.
Watch his TEDx Talk:
What would it look like for you to create healthier boundaries with your technology?
Kristen Harcourt is a Certified Executive Coach, Facilitator and Professional Speaker who helps executives and emerging leaders achieve extraordinary and sustainable results through increased self-awareness, emotional intelligence and mindfulness. She’s on a mission to help leaders transform from the inside out, creating a meaningful career and purpose-driven life where they reach their full potential. To discuss a customized coaching program for your company, individual coaching or speaking/training opportunities email: firstname.lastname@example.org