The average mobile phone user checks their device over 200 times per day.
Yep, per day (according to research cited by Mary Aiken, Ph.D., in her book The Cyber Effect). That means we check our phones every five minutes.
The Internet that these powerful devices connect us to is like an online casino, with novelty lurking behind every corner, and the whole place is designed to help us lose track of time as we search for another unexpected gem that will release more feel-good dopamine in that craving cortex of ours.
About 12% of the population is estimated to be truly “addicted” to their mobile devices, developing greater levels of “tolerance” and experiencing “withdrawal” and distress when deprived of Internet access. Mary Aiken cites a 2014 study that concluded “90% of Americans would ‘fall in the category of overusing, abusing, or misusing their devices.'” This same study found that 61% of us sleep with our devices under our pillow or on a nightstand, and more than half of us “feel uncomfortable” when we are separated from our phones.
Silicon Valley, we have a problem.
Getting rid of our devices altogether is probably not a realistic solution. I believe the solution is to be more mindful while using our devices AND in reflecting on the role they play in our lives.
1. Ask yourself, why am I turning to my phone?
So often, we turn to our phones simply out of habit. We don’t actually need to check our email, or make a phone call, but we reach for the phone because, perhaps, we’re…
As we cultivate our mindfulness practice, we may begin to become more aware of these micro-compulsions that keep us reaching for the phone, reflexively and unthinkingly. See if, the next time you pick up your phone, you can bring a bit of awareness to the act. Why am I picking up my phone? What am I looking for? What do I need right now?
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be on your phone. If you need directions, or need to call your mom, or can’t remember the pythagorean theorem, then it’s very likely that your phone is the best tool for the job.
But if you’re looking for support, or connection, or relaxation, perhaps an analog strategy would be more effective.
Let your phone be a call for mindfulness: take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you really need at this moment.
2. Check in with how you feel after using your phone.
We often don’t realize the impact our device use has on us. When you put your phone down, take another deep breath. How do you feel?
Check in with your body, breath, heart rate, belly, neck, head, shoulders (and knees and toes, too, just for good measure). Check in with your feelings: do you feel accomplished and productive because you cleared out your inbox? Satisfied because you found an answer you were looking for? Joyful because you just watched an adorable puppy video? Or are you feeling sadness because your life doesn’t look like your friends’ Instagram feeds? Anxiety because you just used up valuable time when your attention needed to be elsewhere?
This isn’t about judging yourself or beating yourself up. Simply notice how using your device makes you feel. This is insight; this is data to help you make more skillful choices about your tech use. You might find that 10 minutes of watching cat videos relaxes you. Or you might discover that 10 minutes of Facebook puts you on edge.
Just notice, and use the data to make wise choices.
3. Non-judgmentally monitor your device use.
There are all sorts of apps that will monitor your phone use for you (which is really strange in a meta sort of way).
The one I use is called BreakFree. It sends me a notification after 10 consecutive minutes of device use, with the heading “Break free to interact.” I love that phrasing; it’s another reminder to check in with why I am using my phone, and a gentle nudge to ensure I am interacting with my life, not watching it on a screen.
BreakFree also gives you an “addiction score” based on your usage, which I admit sounds a little judgy. Be compassionate with yourself as you monitor your phone use, and give yourself props for being proactive and being willing to look at your own habits!
4. Check your iPosture.
Are you reading this on your phone right now? If you are, check in with your posture. Is your neck straining? Are your shoulders tense or hunched over?
It’s probably not a surprise that our posture while we use our devices can cause physical pain. But did you know your iHunch can also impact your mind state?
You may have seen Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on “Power Posing,” in which she describes how we can increase our confidence by taking a power pose (think Wonder Woman). In her (wonderful!) book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, she cites additional research about the postures we adopt when we use our devices. A hunched-over, head-down posture is about as un-powerful as it gets.
In one fascinating study, Cuddy and her colleagues found that the size of the device that people were using (desktop, tablet, or cell phone) correlated with assertiveness: the smaller the device, the less likely people were to advocate for themselves. Cuddy writes, “the smaller the device, the more we must contract our bodies to use it, and the more time we spend in these shrunken, inward postures, the more powerless we feel.”
So check in with your device-use pose, and see if you can make it more upright and expansive — your body and your mind will feel better!
5. Use your phone as a call to mindfulness.
I always set my phone lock screen to an image that will remind me to think about WHY I am reaching for my phone and encourage me to be more mindful of my device use.
And I like to change them up frequently, because, as you’ve probably experienced, after a while your phone background just becomes part of the, um, background, and no longer catches your attention.
So I have 13 — yes, thirteen!! — free images below that you can save to your phone to set as your lock screen or wallpaper. Simply click on the image to get the high-resolution version, and then save the image to your camera or photo roll, and change your screen images in your phone settings.
Also, these 13 images I’ve created for you are organized by category. Of course.
If you just need a reminder to breathe:
If you need reminders to take care of yourself:
If you just want to look at some stacked rocks with no words:
If reaching for your phone usually stresses you out:
Keep Calm and Carry On, my friends.
Latest posts by Sarah Rudell Beach (see all)
- The Easiest and Hardest Part of Mindful Parenting - January 15, 2018
- 5 Ways to Be Mindful While Using Your Phone - January 8, 2018
- 5 Awesomely Mindful Things About “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” - January 1, 2018