Here’s a statement that’s become as overused as, “I’m sooo busy”: I check my phone way too much.
Also, similarly unoriginal: I check my phone while I’m working, in the morning as soon as I open my eyes, in the middle of the night, right before bed, and while I’m in the bathroom. And I don’t like it.
I had a feeling.
There are many articles that dole out tips to save ourselves from ourselves when it comes to technology. And with good reason. Because, while technology is absolutely amazing, it also creates and adds to our overwhelm. It’s just too much information and too much noise to consume (before we even put our feet on the floor). It also takes us away from our loved ones. And it takes us away from ourselves. From our feelings, from our physical sensations, from our imagination, our wonder.
A big help in reducing our over-reliance on technology is clear-cut boundaries. For instance, in her thoughtful, honest, inspiring book Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World, Brooke McAlary shares the simple, significant boundaries she and her family have set around technology: no screens at the dinner table (so they can ask questions like, “What was a good part of your day today?” and “What was a not-so good part of your day?”); no screens in the bedrooms; minimal tech use during the week for the kids (so they can use their afternoons for swimming, reading, gardening and playing outside).
McAlary, who pens the blog Slow Your Home, also shares additional recommendations, including: removing all the notifications from your phone (some research shows it takes up to 23 minutes to return to our original task after getting distracted by a dinging phone or email); putting your phone inside a drawer while working on other tasks, so it’s out of sight; moving all your social media apps to the final screen on your phone, so you don’t immediately see them; only checking email when you can actually answer it; setting a time limit for social media and email; and taking a break from your phone, whether it’s two hours or an entire day; not using any screens an hour before bed, and an hour after you wake up. Take this opportunity to create and savor nourishing nighttime and morning routines.
Of course, it’s all-too easy to get sucked into mindless tech-related tasks. After all, it takes zero effort to tap on a screen, to hit refresh, and, after all this time, it’s likely become a deeply ingrained habit. And even more so, the scrolling, the refreshing takes us away from our discomfort. The discomfort of boredom. The discomfort of sadness or anger or anxiety. The discomfort of dissatisfaction. And that’s likely why we ultimately do it.
What can help is to go from mindless to mindful. That is, the key is to check in with yourself, to become aware of your behavior, and how it affects you. McAlary, who too is familiar with using tech as a crutch for easing uncomfortable experiences, includes these thought-provoking questions to help us rethink our actions:
- Is this making my life better? In a real way?
- Am I learning something? Is it worthwhile?
- Am I avoiding something? What is it?
- If this is causing comparisons, negativity, or anger, why am I still here?
- If it’s bringing positive feelings of validation, popularity or connection, can I find that elsewhere?
- Should I be sleeping?
- Should I be working?
- Are there people here who want to spend time with me?
The other key is to confront our discomfort. It’s to learn to sit with different emotional experiences, without trying to erase them. It’s a learning that takes time and takes practice. And we do it by not running immediately to our phones, by pausing, by identifying the emotion that’s arising, and by getting curious: What is happening inside my body? What thoughts are coming up? What might’ve triggered this? After I’m done processing it, what helpful action can I take?
It’s also helpful to think about why you’d like to turn away from your devices and what (or who) you’re turning to. As McAlary writes, “I disconnect in order to hold my daughter’s hand and tell her stories and brush her cheek as she goes to sleep and never document those moments anywhere other than my own memory.”
Similarly, it’s important to fill your life with moments that you want to connect to—like being with loved ones, playing, creating things, and doing anything else that’s fun and fascinating and life-giving.
Technology is a tool. It’s a cool tool. It’s one that allows us to work and play and connect. If we use it that way.