Most of us have this nagging feeling that we should be using our smartphones less. But there’s simply no denying that smartphones have transformed modern life – can you even imagine how you got through the day without them? (I know, that sounds dramatic, but seriously consider how integral they have become in your everyday life).
We pick up our phones out of habit. Thoughtlessly, really. But unfortunately, allowing ourselves to be constantly connected has negative impacts on what matters most: our connection to one another.
You know these scenes well:
- You escape into the bathroom, phone in hand, and stay in there a little bit longer than you actually need to. Okay, maybe a lot longer.
- You’re sitting on the couch with your partner watching Netflix. Your wine, popcorn, and smartphone are all within arms’ reach. Maybe you’re even carrying on a few message threads while you watch. You’re great at multi-tasking afterall.
- You try to convince your kids to recreate adorable moments so you can capture the photos…. But you’ve interrupted your experience of being present with them.
This is the opposite of living mindfully.
And admittedly, I have done all of these things…for years.
In fact, I’ve done worse. I’ve layed in bed next to my husband, both surfing on our phones despite feeling exhausted. Despite wanting more rest. Despite wanting more connection and intimacy. Just one more article, message, pin, email.
We each indulge in different ways don’t we? For my husband, his constant news-consumption is certainly looked on more highly than my mindless social media browsing. But there we were, captivated by the digital world. Distracted from each other.
Smartphones have become interwoven in almost every aspect of modern life and have certainly enhanced the way things are done today.
And still. I choose to NOT be controlled by my phone. I choose my relationship with my husband over being plugged in 24/7. I choose to model healthy tech-life balance to our young children.
It’s a choice.
A choice to only allow your smartphone into your life to the extent that it adds value, and nothing more.
This is where mindfulness meets technology. By bringing awareness and intentional decision-making into how you use your smartphone, you’ll begin to feel (and truly be) more in control of how tech fits with your life (rather that it controlling you!).
Here are 7 Mindful Ways To Transform Your Relationship With Your Smartphone
1. Turn off notifications.
While I can appreciate that notifications (the messages that pop-up when your social media or email accounts have activity) allow you to go about your day without actually opening your email or social platforms to check for messages, I don’t actually think they are doing anyone any favors.
When you allow notifications, you’re essentially handing over control to your smartphone. You’re literally saying, “here, YOU decide when to demand my attention. You have the power.”
Even if you don’t normally take action when you see notifications, they’re still incredibly distracting for you and whoever you are with, and interrupt your current thought processes. When you turn off notifications, on the other hand, you’re no longer at the whim of these nagging messages.
2. Give yourself guilt-free designated surfing time(s).
Maybe it’s 30 minutes after the kids go to bed. Maybe it’s half of your lunch break. Choose a time and give er’! Shamelessly endulge til you heart’s content during this time, look at whatever you want, Google those tidbits of info that you’ve been wondering about, message your friends, whatever! And do it without guilt.
But when the time is up, it’s up. Maybe you need to set an alarm. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the intention you set to limit this time.
When you have a designated smartphone surfing time, you can set expectations with yourself and those around you. For example, I have no problem telling my daughters “I’m going to take 20 minutes and do some reading on my phone.” This way, I have acknolwedged my actions, made a conscious decision, and set an expectation for myself and those around me.
Think about it: Wouldn’t you rather your partner tell you they were going to take 15 minutes to hang out with their phone rather than you catching them sneaking it during the kids bath, while laying in bed, or sitting in the car? I sure would.
3. Get curious when you reach for your phone.
Use mindfulness to inquire about your own state when you go to pick up your phone: how are you feeling, what has drawn you in? See if you can take a moment to notice what’s going on either within you or around you that caused you to check-in with your device.
Boredom? Habit? Avoidance? Needing a break? See if you notice a pattern and then focus your energy there.
For instance, I usually want to escape into my phone when I feel overwhelmed or I haven’t had enough “me” time. It’s as if I feel like I somehow deserve a break, as if that is a gift to myself. But interestingly, surfing my phone doesn’t exactly fill up my bucket, so to speak.
Once you start to notice why you tend to pick up your phone, you’ll understand the clues about what might need to change. For me, I needed more self-care and me-time. So instead of escaping into my smartphone, I started exercising more, reading actual books, connecting with friends.
Consider these examples:
- If you’re constantly checking for social media “likes”, get curious about other sources of self-esteem.
- If you’re checking for work emails after hours, you might want to take a look at your work-life balance and set some healthy boundaries.
- If you’re in bed and choose to stare at your phone instead of your partner, get curious about how your relationship is doing and where your energy would be better suited.
4. Create Space To Listen To Yourself
Smartphones are a brilliant distraction from ourselves, aren’t they?
They can even serve to absorb discomfort, awkward silences, anger, sadness. By taking us out of the present moment, they remove us from being in contact with how we are actually doing.
We are incredibly intelligent and intuitive beings. But self-awareness is a skill, something that must be honed and practiced. We need to foster the communication channels within ourselves so that we can listen to our cues, learn about ourselves, understand what it is that we really want, value, need.
We have allowed smartphones to cut us off from gaining self-awareness and being in contact with ourselves.
Sure, they might “help” us avoid uncomfortable feelings at times, (and I have certainly benefited from this) but can we continue this way?
Life isn’t about being comfortable and only experiencing pleasant emotions. The unpleasant ones are full of self-knowledge and internal messages.
We need to give ourselves space to hear them. Can we let ourselves be bored? Sit in silence? Can we be present with our children? Can we stand in line at the grocery store and look around? Make eye contact?
We must begin to give ourselves space to be. Space for nothingness, boredom, irritation, tiredness. Whatever we are, however we are, let’s pay attention.
5. Resist Expectations of Constant Connection
My mom used to drive me crazy because she never answered her cell phone. Mind you, I could have been in labor and she’d have missed it. But that aside, she actually modeled a beautiful point:
“Other people don’t have the right to demand being in contact with me,” she told me years and years ago. “I don’t have to answer my phone just because you’re calling me!”
Well said, mom.
We have the right to resist the expectation that we will be reachable at all times. And, I believe we can do so in a respectful, connecting, and healthy way. Rather than just hard-ignoring people, we can communicate our boundaries by telling people what they can expect from us instead.
Tell your friends you don’t usually text back right away, that you don’t use Facebook regularly, or whatever describes your situation. Maybe you create an auto-reply on your email that gently tells people that you appreciate their messages, and you’ll get back to them within a couple days.
Once you’ve established this, airplane mode might become your good friend. Feel the relief of turning your phone off, switching it to silent, or simply putting it away.
6. Delete Time-Wasting Apps
I have to admit, I have deleted and re-downloaded my social apps so many times. I waffle between loving the ease of accessing different platforms on my smartphone, with detesting the unnecessary distractions and mindless checking for I-don’t-even-know-what.
Consider what apps you actually need to have access to this easily. Are they useful? Are they aligned with how you want to spend your time?
Another idea is to delete the apps that you use the most. Seem counterintuitive, but really, it’s brilliant. If you’re sinking tons of time in Pinterest on your phone, for example, maybe it needs to go. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Pinterest, but you get to save your pin-fest for indulge-o’clock, not whenever you’re bored.
The idea here is that it’s way harder to actually log-in to a profile to check Facebook or IG, and therefore, it gives you more time to be mindful and make an intentional decision.
7. Go Old School.
Buy a watch. And an alarm clock. Maybe even a planner. Just because smartphones have all the functionality, doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Of course I see the value of streamlining your devices and having everything you need in one place. However, this just adds to the number of times you pick up your smartphone and it becomes more and more important to you.
I don’t want my smartphone to be that valuable, that integral in my life. So, rather than using all these functions (e-reader apps, wallet app, alarm clock, calendar, etc), maybe there’s a way to spread the love?
Consider reading paper books too. Sure, I understand the appeal of e-books but if you’re hoping to engage more mindfully with technology, it might help to limit how much time you are using any digital device in general.
I also believe that constatnly being plugged in to technology puts us on a “digital wavelength” – one that’s starting to really bother me, to be honest. I want to hold a real book. Turn pages. Write something down on a piece of paper. Connect with what’s around me, not a device. Know what I mean?
Most people are shocked to learn that the average person engages in 76 smartphone sessions a day (read more about the study here). If you’re curious, try a smartphone tracking app, even for just a few days to see what your habits are. You might cringe to see the real story. (Here’s an article by The Guardian that gives some good suggestions for tracking usage).
The problem is that most people are not mindful of their own smartphone habits and have no clue about how distracting they early are.
I hope you’ll join me by creating mindful and intentional habits with your smartphone. Start with these ideas above and very quickly, you will shift the picture and take control back.
From one smartphone lover to another,