We're all guilty of checking our phone, even while we're with people who deserve our undivided attention. Our friends, significant others, and family all become secondary characters—even for just for a second—when your phone notifies you that someone has reached out. We'll be eating brunch, and when that ping sounds, we feel like Pavlov's dog. Immediately our mind goes to the phone. Who could it be?! What do they want?! MUST FIND OUT NOW.
Of course, you don't have to read it. Unless you're a medical professional whose patients depend on your immediate response, whoever is sending you that text can surely wait until you finish your last slurp of coffee. So why does it feel so incredibly urgent? Especially when you know the text is most likely a notification from your dry cleaner letting you know your clothes are ready, or your roommate asking if you've seen her blow dryer.
It's not your fault you're addicted
A recent study from NYU showed that almost 50% of young adults would rather live with a broken limb than a broken phone. That's how enmeshed phones have become in our lives. If you're now pondering whether you'd prefer to be separated from your phone or seriously injured, you're not crazy. It's because your phone is addictive. Every time your phone notifies you of a text, email, or affirmation (someone "liked" one of your photos!), your brain reacts like it would to a hit of heroin. Dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters that sends a "happy" signal to nerve cells, floods your brain. Every time we check our phone, we're hoping for this chemical reward. While dopamine may not be as detrimental to your health as a street drug, it does create an addiction.
Phones are actually designed to be addictive. Ever wonder why an iPhone chimes twice after you've received the text? The time between chimes was carefully calibrated. It interrupts your concentration twice, both times triggering the craving to see the message. Product developers are fully aware that engaging with your phone is addictive, and take full advantage of this to manipulate your emotions.
Tackling the breakup
Now that you know why checking your email, texts, and social media feels so imperative, here are a few ways to wean yourself off your addiction. Think of this as the six steps towards a healthy relationship.
1. Admit you have a problem – Let's face it. If you don't think you have a problem with your phone use, you're not going to make an effort to decrease your usage. You have to want to change to see any change.
2. Set goals for yourself – When does your phone detract most from your life? Is it keeping you up at night, as you check your work email one last time? Or has it become more interesting than real-time conversations with friends and family? Perhaps its tempting presence distracts you from being fully present and concentrating on the task at hand. Whatever your reason, write it down. This will be what you return to when temptation strikes, and what you'll gain when you finally achieve power over your phone.
3. Tell your friends/family your goals – The more public you make your goal, the more likely you are to achieve it. Now you have more than just yourself to answer to, and have a built-in cheering squad when you feel tempted. Just remember; if you feel the addiction rearing its ugly head, make sure you call someone, don't text them. Texting is part of the problem. Calling means you're interacting in real-time, not breathlessly waiting for a response or becoming distracted when one finally comes.
4. Write the steps you'll take on a daily basis – From turning off the sound/notifications, to leaving the phone at home (just sometimes, not all the time! Baby steps), these are the actions you'll take to realize your goals. The key here is to start small and be consistent. If you decide to leave your phone at home when you hit the gym, do this every time. You need to form new habits to replace old ones, and doing it part-time will never cut it.
5. Reward yourself for small milestones – So you spent the entire morning focused on completing a work project—take out your phone and catch up on what you missed. Respond to texts, comment on photos, do whatever you enjoy- but limit yourself to 15 minutes. Then go back to the task at hand, muting your phone, or even turning it off. Don't gorge on unlimited phone time; give yourself small, measured tastes and savor them.
6. Look back at what you've gained – If you've successfully snuffed your phone addiction, or even made progress, take time to consider how it has changed your life. Do you feel closer to your friends and family? Are you more productive at work? Do you feel happier about yourself?
You know what you've got to do
Your relationship with your phone can be similar to a relationship with a guy/girl who you know isn't right for you. You have an attraction that feels amazing at times, but in all other ways the relationship is pretty dysfunctional. It prevents you from enjoying the rest of your life. Being together as lovers will never work, but as friends you'd be great.
It's the same deal with your phone. Obsessing over it and constantly engaging with it is feels so necessary, but you'd be better off spending most of your waking hours IRL—and not getting turkey neck from constantly looking down. Trust us on this one. Once you're able to gracefully extricate yourself from your addictive relationship with your phone, you'll wonder why you ever thought it was so all-encompassing.