Ever get together with a friend and find yourself fighting for their eye contact as they’re constantly pulling their phone out to check every ring, buzz and beep?
Or worse yet, do you find yourself unable to go an hour without checking your phone to see if you’ve received any texts or app notifications?
(Seriously, time yourself, you’ll be shocked how hard it is to leave the thing alone for an hour.)
Smartphones ride along in the pocket or bag of just about everyone these days, but research is telling us we should be concerned about reducing our attachment to our phones, for both our mental and physical health.
Why should you care about reducing your phone time?
If you didn’t already notice the alarming attachment we have to our smartphones, now the phrase “smartphone addiction” has actually become a commonly used term by psychologists and researchers.
That’s right, brain scientists are teaching us that you can actually be addicted to your phone.
Frighteningly, the neurochemical changes to a smartphone-addicted persons brain can actually be detected on some highly-sensitive MRI scans.
Scientists explain that smartphone attachment leads to seeing the phones as an extension of ourselves, which explains why we feel bad or anxious when our device is not with us.
Anxious smartphone attachment, they say, stems from human attachment, and sadly once a person begins an unhealthy relationship to their phone, they’re more likely to develop characteristics that mimic the need for human connection in a real relationship.
The only problem?
The relationship they’re seeking a human connection from is with their smartphone.
But what’s the harm of all this phone-attached behavior?
Early experiments are showing that the mere presence of our devices on our person (or in our bag, desk drawer, etc.) reduces our cognitive capacity, something scientists are calling “smartphone-induce brain drain.”
Another study of 200 college students found that those who were addicted to their smartphones were more likely than their peers to be lonely and depressed.
On top of the psychological issues caused by excessive cell phone use, we also know that cell phones emit radiofrequency energy (a form of electromagnetic radiation) at levels that can be damaging to human tissue.
And while having the phone powered off or out of sight do not prove to be a helpful barrier to the inability to maintain focus or the danger of radiation exposure, researchers have found one effective measure to reduce the potential negative effects of smartphones: separation.
Yes, you actually need to spend time separated from your smartphone in order to extract yourself from it’s damaging effects.
So just how do you separate yourself from something so interwoven with every part of your daily life?
Here are five simple ways to reduce your need for your smartphone (in a healthy way!).
1 | Set Limits On How Often You Check Your Phone
So now you know the truth: research shows you actually have to spend time separate from your phone in order to improve your mental health and relationships with others.
But how do you do that when you have coworkers, clients, children or partners accustomed to be able to reach you for the smallest question at the push of a button?
The first step is to set limits for yourself on how often you check your phone.
Start by getting an old-fashioned alarm clock and no longer sleeping with your phone in your bedroom (really folks, if you don’t need the alarm there’s no excuse to have it on the bedside table).
Next, after your first check it for missed calls in the morning, spend the next two hours not even glancing at your phone. Nope, not even to check the time.
Remember clocks? Ya, you may need to get a few.
Now gradually extend this distraction-free time by one hour per week. If you slip up, don’t worry, just get back to it the next day.
Over time it will feel less unnatural to avoid picking up your phone, and instead you’ll spend more time focusing on the people and events around you.
2 | Remove Unnecessary Apps From Your Phone
The more apps you have on your phone, the more push notifications you’re receiving all the time.
And even if you have alerts turned off on your phone, simply having the ability to check into multiple social media platforms and information sources all in one place makes it much harder for you to spend time without your phone.
So try this: go through your list of apps, and figure out which ones you could get the same information from during a carved-out time at a desktop computer.
Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so many others are unnecessary because you can get all of the same information in a more mindful way by accessing them from a computer instead of your back pocket.
Now here’s the big step: delete all of those apps from your phone.
Yep, pause your reading and go do it right now.
Now that you’ve done that purge, recognize that it’s not as extreme as it feels at this moment.
The apps can be re-installed when you find you truly need them, so you can consider this a temporary experiment in mindfulness.
See how long you can live without all those apps on your phone (and maybe some will stay off your phone forever!)
3 | Install an App That Tracks Your Screen Time
I know, I just told you to delete all the excess apps from your phone.
But there’s one exception that will actually help you reduce your phone attachment in the long run.
One amazing tool for becoming more mindful towards your smartphone use is Moment.
This time-tracker app lets you manage your screen time and can even be programmed to manage your whole family’s screen time and set hours of “device-free” time such as during a family meal.
The app’s motto is “put down your phone and get back to your life.”
4 | Schedule “Screen-Free” Time Where you Leave Your Phone at Home
Now that you’ve reduced your need for screen time significantly, it’s time to take the next step and actually leave home without the smartphone from time to time.
Rewarding positive behaviors tends to lead to more positive behaviors, so for your first outings without your phone be sure to head out on one of your favorite excursions.
Maybe this means you leave the phone at home and go for a walk on one of your favorite trails on a sunny day.
Or, maybe it means you ditch the device and head to your favorite cafe and order that amazing dish you’ve been meaning to try.
If you’re really anxious about someone needing access to you (I’m talking to you, small business owners and parents of small children in childcare), make sure to let 1-3 people know what your plans are and your route (if walking) before leaving the phone behind.
I promise you, being untethered will feel amazing, and you’ll wind up craving longer and longer adventures without your smartphone.
5 | Plan more mindful activities into your daily routines to reduce mindless scrolling
Developing and maintaining a connection with your true self is a powerful antidote to the mistaken attachment to the smartphone as an extension of yourself.
And if you know anything about addiction science, you know it can helpful to replace the addictive behavior with a healthy substitute, especially in the beginning stages of a behavior change.
If you need a substitute for the unhealthy scrolling you seem to do when you’re bored or have free moments in your day, pick up an awareness-based habit like meditation, yoga, qi gong, or connecting with nature.
These hobbies are all free and can be done almost anywhere, reducing possible excuses and barriers to you making the healthy shift.
Closing Thoughts On Having a Mindful Relationship With Your Phone
The first step in any major behavior change is deciding that enough is enough.
If you’ve come to a place where you’re ready to inject more mindfulness into your daily habits and spend less time attached to your phone, I hope you’ll give these strategies a try.
Be sure to let us know which techniques worked best for you in curbing your smartphone use!