Updated: Oct 6, 2021
"I wish I spent more time on my cell phone today..."
...said no one, ever.
Ok, so maybe not no one, and maybe not ever, but you get the point. It seems that every other day I'm having the same conversation about how people feel victimized by their phones and wish they were not so dependent. Creative vitality can both be blocked and enhanced by phone use - how do we create life-giving habits around technology, rather than life-sucking ones?
Before diving too far into this hot topic, I want to name that this is a very privileged conversation - noting that there are still many people on the planet that do not have access to smartphone technology, and indeed do wish they were able to spend more time on their phones as they incredibly useful tools, used for cross-continental communication, banking and taking photos just to name a few. With that said, this post is primarily geared toward individuals who have had access to these devices and are now feeling overwhelmed, tethered, distracted, and crazed by their inability to manage their behaviors.
Recent statistics show that the average American picks up their phone 47 times per day, and spends an average of 4 hours staring at their little black box. (TIME)
Since the launch of the i-phone, on June 7th, 2007, our lives have changed drastically. We now have a powerful device in our pocket, that talks to us, gives us directions, tells us the weather, gives us games to play, connects us to our friends, feeds us constant news updates, allows us to capture every waking moment with high resolution photos and videos, track the stock market, run businesses, check on our kids, and so much more. Something so powerful at our fingertips does not come without huge changes, neurologically, physically and culturally.
So here we are, connected, whether we like it or not. If these devices are truly becoming an integral part of our lives, is there a way to create a healthy relationship with them, or do we all have to revert back to "dumb phones" and memorize our best friend's landline?
As much as I'd like to go back to the days of landlines and snail mail, I also really enjoy so much of what the smart phone has to offer. This privilege has allowed me to stay in touch with my loved ones, get inspired, learn new skills, capture priceless moments, find a job, start a business and share my gifts with the world.
This article is a compilation of the tips an tricks I have picked up along the way, about how to try and cultivate a healthier relationship with my phone:
1. Paying attention
This has been invaluable for me. How do I feel when I'm using my phone? No, but really, what's going on for me in this moment? Do I feel anxious and in need of a social pacifier? Lonely? Do I really want to be seen or affirmed? Am I seeking authentic connection or a feeling of belonging? Am I feeling bored? Am I procrastinating? Am I reaching for my phone out of habit or compulsion? Am I misdirecting my urge to create art or feel loved? Or do I actually just need to use Google Maps to head to a friend's house for dinner? Pausing to take a mindful moment to notice what I'm doing, gives me a bit more spaciousness to shift out of autopilot, and address the needs that may arise. Sometimes that may mean calling instead of texting, taking a walk instead of scrolling or simply noticing my behavior and showing myself some compassion.
2. Black and White
This one seems so simple, but it is so powerful: changing my screen display to black and white instead of color. The lack of color takes away the hypnotic quality for me. Without the pink glow of the Instagram icon, or the richness of the photos on my social feed, I'm nowhere near as drawn to fall into a "cell hole" and loose hours to my phone. I've started having black and white, and color days, designed around when I will be using my phone the most for work and creative purposes. For example, I usually post and edit on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I keep my phone in color during those times so I can effectively see the quality of the photos I'm posting and reviewing. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I'm on black and white mode, allowing me to focus on the color of my life and the richness of the world around me.
3. Create a Charging Station to Truly Recharge
This one seems obvious, but it took me a while to really settle into a system that worked for me. For a long time, I slept with my phone next to my bed. Not only did this disrupt my sleep, it also made my phone the last and the first thing I was engaging with - yuck. Creating a charging station in another room in my apartment, has made such a difference in my sleep in overall wellbeing. Setting my phone to do not disturb with only a select number of close family and friends set to come through in the case of emergency, has given me the peace of mind to be able to really unplug at night. This also frees up my mornings to be able to take some quiet time, stretch, spend time with my partner, or write, instead of scrolling on my phone.
4. Knowing My Why
Really getting in touch with why I want to shift my relationship with my phone has been a driving force for cultivating a new way. For me, I want to reconnect with my creative process, physical body, and loved ones. These types of meaningful connections not only make me feel great, but I also help me show up with more love, compassion and attention for the ones I love.
5. Make a List
I took some time to write down all of the things I used to do with my time before my smartphone was on the scene. This was a quick, fun exercise to really tap into what makes my heart sing: painting, dancing, singing, organizing (nerdy, I know), reading poetry, swimming in the ocean, cooking, stretching, walking and my most favorite, doing nothing at all! The art of doing nothing is all too often overlooked, and my smartphone has decreased my nothing time significantly. Doing nothing has been proven to enhance creativity, in a mega way, and is also a wonderful way to de-stimulate after a busy day.
6. Leave it at Home
When possible, I leave my phone at home. This is so simple, yet so liberating. It makes me think through how things were before smartphones. If something were to happen, I could ask someone to borrow their phone, and call a number that I have memorized or written down in my wallet. If I see something I want to take a photo of, I take an extra moment to savor it and make a mental image. If I need directions, I can ask someone! If I feel like someone may need to get a hold of me, I just let them know when I am scheduled to return. Leaving my phone at home helps me be present, more aware, and somehow even more alive.
7. Deleting Apps
I have gotten into the habit of deleting apps that are "sticky" for me. Instagram and Pinterest are the two that are the hardest for me to moderate. By deleting the apps from my phone on the days I'm not using them (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday), I am way less likely to slip into a "cell hole" as it takes a few minutes and planning to get them back on my screen.
8. Know What You're up Against
These devices and platforms are designed to be addictive, because the more time we spend on them, the more central they become in our lives and the more we are available to receive solicitations and content. By recognizing that this is the case, it is a helpful way to show myself some compassion. Instead of beating myself up, and saying that I am addicted to my phone, what is wrong with me!? I am able to step back and witness my behavior fall into the patterning that the device was designed to create. This gives me a little space to pause and show myself some compassion, and take a breath and make another choice.
My iphone can either breed isolation of connection, depending on how I use it. Having a friend, partner, coach or co-worker to check in about my phone behavior has been really powerful. My partner and I will talk about our tech behavior, stating out loud how we would like to engage with our phones. Naming it helps, and sharing my intention with someone else who is also seeking to change their behavior has been invaluable. As a coach, I support people in all different ways to meet their wellness and creative goals. Having a coach to check in about technology use is a powerful tool - someone who can hold me accountable, and help me develop a tech usage plan that works for me!
10. Sit Down
This may seem silly, but it has helped me a lot. Have you ever been on the way to get your laundry out of the washing machine, and then 30 minutes later you are still standing in front of the washer? I have. CELL HOLE! Having social media open while I am doing other things is not only distracting for me, but dangerous. I've been walking down the street and nearly bumped into someone - not to mention texting is driving - eek! My recent method have been to sit down and use my phone. This makes it more of an event. Just like I feel better if I take a moment to sit down and eat, sitting down to use my phone has been equally life-giving.
There are a bunch of apps out there to help track your screen time, block apps, turn things off after certain hours etc. This hasn't been my path yet, but I think these apps can be a great resource to bring awareness to screen time and help moderate behaviors. Some of the most popular apps include: OFFTIME, Moment, Flipd, QualityTime
12. Make Art!
The juicier my creative life is, the less I am drawn to become a zombie with my phone. There is so much magic happening every moment, if I'm awake to it, and so many opportunities to create! For me, when I am on my phone most is when I am not taking time to create, and somehow my creative urge gets misdirected and tangled up in over use of my phone. When my hands are dirty in the sand, or speckled from paint, I am far less enticed to scroll through my news feed and more inclined to create something bizarre and beautiful.
So, there it is. 12 ways I've found a bit more serenity around my phone...but only a bit. It's a work in progress, like anything. Bottom line, paying attention, showing myself some compassion, making meaningful connections and accountability partnerships, making some structural changes, and making more art have helped a bunch.
What helps you find balance with your smartphone?