Addicted to your phone? Here are 8 strategies that can help

Wondering if you are you addicted to your phone?

If you get nervous when you can’t check social media every 5 minutes, then you’re probably addicted to your phone.

If you forgot how to go to the bathroom without access to youtube, then you’re probably addicted to your phone.

If you find yourself grinning at the LED screen, caressing the edge of your phone, and giving it pet names, then you’re probably addicted to your phone.

The truth is, (even if you haven’t named your phone), most of us are phone addicts today.

I know I’m one of those people, and ever since having kids I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I use my phone.

I don’t want my kids to grow up and believe that I find my phone more interesting than them.

But this isn’t just about family. If you want to be a leader anywhere, then you need to be present with people. Phone distraction inhibits your ability to serve others and therefore, be an effective leader.

If you’ve ever seen or read Lord of the Rings, then you know how Bilbo and Frodo both obsess about the One Ring:

They have a powerful item, but it still fits in their pocket. They love to touch it, and when they put it on they gain access to new information and become more connected to the spirit world and become invisible to people in the physical world.

Sound familiar? Switch out the “spirit world” with digital world and that’s a great description of a smartphone.

I catch myself playing with it in my pocket. I want to turn it on, just to have a look. It may not turn me invisible, but it makes everyone around me invisible.

It’s only a matter of time before I start calling it “my precious.”

Is it hard to put it your phone down? As Bilbo said, “well no…and yeeesssss!”

I’m not here to say that using a phone is bad – they can be amazing tools and simplify life in many ways. You’re probably reading this on a smartphone. But like most good things, too much can become a real problem.

Today I’m going to talk about how phones can negatively affect our lives, and also share some strategies for curing the addiction.

Let’s do this!

The Problems with Phone Addiction

I know “addiction” may seem like a strong word. But let’s look at the impact excessive smartphone use has on you as an individual and on society.

Phones actually are addictive:

You may not realize it, but smartphones share an important quality with alcohol, smoking, and gambling. They release dopamine into the brain, which can be a very addictive experience. Simon Sinek explains the issue really well in the following video:

Something that Sinek points out is that, we put age restrictions on gambling, drinking, and smoking because of how they affect the brain. We don’t have those same restrictions on smartphones. This is dangerous.

Phones provide a poor alternative to problem solving:

Again, Sinek points out the way dopamine dulls the mind and makes you feel better (or numb). This is the reason many alcoholics turn to a bottle instead of a friend or confidant when they’re struggling. The bottle makes them feel better, and frankly, it’s easier.

The same can be true about smartphones. That bright LED screen is almost hypnotizing, social media likes makes you feel better, and simple games distract you from the real issues. While distracting yourself from issues isn’t always a problem, it becomes a problem when those issues are never dealt with or resolved.

Phone addiction is linked to depression

A recent Forbes article, Phone Addiction is Real, points out how both depression and suicide rates have increased dramatically over 5 years for teenagers: “The CDC had noted a rise in the rates of both over the years 2010-2015, and found that girls were particularly at risk: Their suicide rate rose by 65% in those five years. The number of girls with severe depression rose by 58%.”

While there could certainly be other causes for rising rates of depression, phone use is certainly the biggest change in the lives of teenagers over the last few years.

The article goes on to offer a helpful alternative: “Interestingly, teens who spent more time doing sports, homework, socializing with friends in real life, and going to church had a lower risk for both depression and suicide.”

Smartphones play a significant role in guiding your choices:

There is a pretty fascinating article from a magician and google ethicist. In the article, he explains how technology hijacks your mind by controlling the number of choices you see, giving you the same buzz you get from slot machines, feeding our fear of missing out, and so on.

While we’d like to think smartphones have given us more freedom and unlimited access to knowledge, the reality is, we’re being fed information largely based on advertising, analytics, and convenience.

Phones dull the imagination: 

It’s amazing how quickly I whip out my smartphone when I’m bored. Even if I have a mere 15-20 seconds to wait on something, it’s on opportunity to look at my phone. Riding an elevator for one floor? Better check my phone!

As someone who loves writing, creating, and performing, I miss those opportunities for imagination. The simple, quiet moments are great for creative thinking and exploring the world around me.

Smartphones can distract from joy: 

CNN recently published an article comparing to photos of Disney tourists in 2010 and 2017 (It’s hard to believe how quickly smartphones have changed our lives). The photos were taken by the Theme Park guy, and as you can see, people in 2017 don’t quite have the same level of joy as they did in 2010.

addicted to your phone

You can see the photo was taken in the same location, and it was even for the same parade. The Theme Park guy goes on to say, “Claiming that smartphones facilitate human interaction is like saying slot machines facilitate wealth creation or cigarettes promote relaxation.”

Phones can distract from people: 

I’ve heard it said that we are the most connected generation ever, but we’re also the loneliest. Smartphones can be great for connecting you to other people, but they can’t replace the need we have for meaningful relationships.

I really don’t want to be the guy who spends a dinner with friends looking at his phone the whole time. I don’t want to spend the entire football game looking at twitter instead of enjoying the game and the people watching the game with me.

Smartphones are a global problem:

A former VP of facebook recently expressed feelings of deep guilt about the way social media is changing the world.

He said, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem…This is a global problem.”

I think it’s also worth pointing out that smartphone addiction is not just a problem for millenials or teenagers – if you look around you will notice people of all ages glued to their phones.

Curing the Phone Addiction

Those are a few reasons smartphones can cause problems in your life and in society.

But enough of that, let’s start focusing on strategies to cure phone addiction. I’ve implemented several of these over the last year and they have definitely helped, but there is still more room for me to grow.

1) Take advantage of Screen time apps

The 2018 iOS release came with an excellent native app for reducing your smartphone addiction: Screen time.

Growing up, my brother and I would often fight about video games. I would watch the clock, and after he had played the Legend of Zelda for 2 hours I would demand he surrender the controller so that I could play. His response was always, “but I just started!!”

I can’t put all the blame on him, because when I finally got to play it seemed like there was a flux-time shift that meant my first 5 minutes playing the game actually took 2 hours.

There is something about screen time and slightly addictive behaviours (or maybe it’s just having fun?) that makes us lose track of time.

Here is what you get from most screen time apps:

addicted to your phone - screentime app

  1. It monitors your overall screen time: Think you’re on your phone a few minutes each day? Screen time will tell you if you’re right, or if like my brother and me you’ve actually used it for hours. You can get daily numbers or weekly averages.
  2. It monitors specific applications or application categories: Want to know how you spent 3.5 hours on your phone yesterday? It might surprise you to find that the 1.5 hour of candy crush and 32 times you checked instagram added up. Knowing which apps are problematic can help you set goals to reduce usage.
  3. Set limits: Let’s say you check instagram too much. You can use screen time to limit the amount of time you spend on that app or social media in general. Once you reach that point you get notified.
  4. Schedule downtime: Smartphones at the dinner table are becoming a pet peeve of mine. But it’s hard to ignore those notification buzzes! You can schedule downtimes throughout the day (or at night when you’re supposed to sleep!) that prevents notifications or prevents you from opening the app. You can even select which apps you want downtime from, so you could still receive a phone call if you wanted. This takes away a lot of temptation.
  5. Parental controls: You can also use screen time to monitor your kid’s activity or set limits for them.

For a more in-depth guide on using the screen time app, check out this guide to screen time from Cnet.

I love this application because it helps me monitor my phone usage, set goals, and remove the temptation. Since I started using screen time apps (I used to use Moment before the native iOS app), I’ve gone from averaging 3 hours per day to just over 2 hours last week (probably my best week in years).

I have plenty of room to grow – my biggest struggle right now is “pick-ups.” I don’t spend tons of time on my phone, but my hand is always itching to grab it and just see what’s going on in the world (usually it’s nothing, so I just put my phone right back down).

If you don’t have iOS, then no worries! There are several applications out there that can help you monitor your screen time.

2) Put the phone down and away 

This is probably my favorite strategy.

Tom Glavine is one of the best baseball pitchers of all-time. He once spoke about his pitching strategy and it was relatively simple: put the ball down and away from the hitter. It makes it harder for them to hit!

The same principle applies to your phone. If you’re hanging out with other people, you don’t need to have it in your hand or in your pocket, so put it down. Putting it down on the table in front of you, however, probably isn’t enough. You also need to put it away. Leave it in the car, leave it in another room, do whatever works because when your phone is down and away, it’s going to be a lot harder use it.

addicted to your phone

I’m even thinking of designating a spot in my home as the phone spot – when I get home I’ll put it there, out of normal reach. I can still hear it if someone calls, but I won’t be tempted to look at it every 48 seconds.

The best part of this strategy, however, is that you actually start to forget about your phone and free up bandwidth in your brain.

Several businesses have started banning smartphones and laptops from meetings. A big reason for this is, “The process of tuning it out sucks up our cognitive resources to try and pay attention to something else.”

In other words, simply having it nearby is enough to distract you, even if you aren’t using it. Keeping the phone down and away removes the temptation and allows you to focus more fully on the present.

If you can’t bare the thought of not having your phone in your pocket, then you can always take advantage of the downtime feature in the screen time app I mentioned earlier in this post. It may not be as effective, but baby steps!

3) Reduce the Apps you have on your phone: 

Here’s a simple one:

Got any apps you use too much? Just take it off your phone.

I had to do this with facebook (and then reddit, and then twitter) last year – I just kept finding myself scrolling aimlessly for no particular reason. If I really need facebook I can still login through a browser, but removing the app has really helped.

Which apps are taking up too much of your time? Using the screen time app can give you some ideas!

Keep in mind, deleting an app doesn’t have to be permanent. Taking a nice break can help too.

4) Charge your phone out of reach when you sleep: 

Smartphones have repeatedly proven to be detrimental to a good night sleep, and yet for countless people, their phone is the last thing they shut off. If you’re married, smartphones in bed aren’t great for your relationship either.

Sleep and healthy relationships are key to living an abundant life. Not only that, but sometimes the night is the best time for hearing from God and thinking through your life issues. While it may be easier to turn to dopamine, it won’t help you grow as a person. The answer is simple – charge your phone in a different room (or at least out of reach from where you sleep).

This one step probably reduced my daily smartphone activity by 30 minutes or more.

5) Ask yourself, “why am I taking this picture?” 

I get frustrated at live events when people are so obsessed with taking pictures that they don’t actually experience the event. I have nothing against pictures, and in fact our family take gazillions of them.

But how often do you actually go back and look at your photos? It’s important to ask yourself, before you whip out your camera phone, why you want a picture. Is it to help you remember the event in years to come? Is it to share the moment with a loved one who couldn’t make it? Or is it because everyone else is taking pictures? Or do you just want some likes on Instagram?

I’m not going to tell you what makes a picture worthy of taking – that’s up to you. I do know this, if you take the picture and never look at it again, it probably wasn’t worth taking.

Just know that when you watch things through your camera phone, you will miss some of what’s actually happening. So take the photos quickly if you have a valid reason, or don’t take them at all.

6) Remember why you actually have the smartphone:

I’ve considered getting rid of my smartphone all together, but it is actually a very useful tool when used correctly. I travel a lot, and the travel apps simplify the process and greatly reduce stress. Social media is great for staying connected with our friends living overseas. I can access reliable news sources any time of the day.

Ultimately, I would argue that phones should be used to simplify life and facilitate relationship. The danger, of course, is that phone addiction complicates life and robs relationship of its power.

Smartphones are great when they bring people together, but once you are actually together, put the phone down and away.

7) Seek out authentic relationships: 

Smartphones lead to great connectivity, but poor relationships. It’s hard to stop doing things, unless you find a better alternative. Seek out stronger relationships, and you will find less of a need for your phone. Seek accountability from others close to you who will encourage you to stay off your phone.

The world is desperate for people like you. You can be a light in dark places when you put relationships with others ahead of your smartphone.

8) Look for satisfaction in the Lord: 

Philippians 4 offers a much more satisfying answer to the anxieties of life than dopamine from smartphones, instagram likes, and fruit ninja.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Remember that your identity comes from the Lord, and not from your phone. When life becomes hard, turn your eyes to Jesus instead of a screen. In him is more than just numb indifference, in him we find healing and wholeness.

Your turn

Do you have any strategies you would recommend for helping people who are addicted to their phone? If so, share them in the comments below!

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