When I started to have a smartphone, I used to use it a lot. For everything and anything.
Then I had kids.
And I decided I wanted to be a better role model for them with that matter. So I explored ways of using this device (and others) less. Or, at least, for specific reasons. Not just because “I was bored“!
In this post, I share what really worked and how to overcome the obstacles.
1. Understand your brain’s addiction mechanisms and get rid of them
Something I discovered during my research, is that most of our apps, installed on our phones, are using reward mechanism. These mechanisms traps our brain into a system where it wants more and more rewards.
- This is the case for games, where you earn points and levels.
- This is the case for social medias, where you receive views, likes and comments.
- This is the case whenever you are turning on notifications. So it can apply to emails, messaging apps like Slack or Teams, etc.
This happens because the brain releases dopamine, whenever we feel rewarded, and makes us want to repeat what generated it.
It more or less acts as an addiction as you want more and more.
How to counteract this?
What I did, and you can do as well, is that I removed all notifications. I also decided – ahead of time – how long I was going to spend (more or less) on each. And I decided when I was going to check.
For example I would not spend more than 30 min/day on Social medias, and I would open my emails twice a day: in the morning and in the afternoon.
Disabling notifications, you will probably face is what is called the “Fear of Missing out” (Fomo). FOMO is when you feel the urge of checking your phone for news, emails, interactions.
But don’t worry, it is totally managable. When you feel this urge is coming, you get to slow down and take a deep breathe. The best way to overcome the urge is to feel the feeling you have and put words on it.
For example: “I feel afraid“, “I feel bored“.
It is important to realize there is no real threat. We can perfectly let go of this information and live without it.
But it is important to feel your feeling and not resist it or push it away, as this can backfire on you.
It takes a conscious practice, but once you are over it, then you don’t even miss notifications or rewards anymore. And you can be much more deliberate on your device use.
2. Use it for its purpose
This summer, I challenged myself to reduce my phone use by 50%. To do so, I did an interesting exercise of using it only when I had no other tool available.
I read exclusively on my Kindle, I wrote on paper or on my e-paper. I created visuals using my computer. I used paper map when I was hiking. Etc.
In the end, I only used my phone for calls and taking pictures.
You’ll tell me: you’ve reduced time using your phone but not your screen time! It’s true. And it brings me to the third tip.
3. Create your own, deliberate rules
We are all so different that there is no perfect system that applies to everyone.
Instead, I prefer relying on general pragmatic frameworks that can be adapted and adjusted to our needs and way of living and working. When it comes to creating your own rules, a few questions can be raised:
- How do I want to use my device?
- For which purpose?
- Which place does it have in my priorities?
Given the answers, ask yourself the following:
- How much time do I want to spend on it? You can ask this for each important app you use.
- When will I use it during my day?
- Do I allow exceptions? If so, what are they?
Stating these rules for yourself will help you be clearer and more deliberate on your devices use.
4. Clean it up
This is also something that I find very useful, because I am not just cleaning my phone from apps and notifications. By doing this, I am also getting more peace of mind.
Each quarter of so, I go through the apps I have and uninstall the ones that are not useful for me anymore. I also make sure I remove the notification icons in the settings for any new apps I am using.
I also prevent myself from downloading games, to learn how to cope better with boredom. If I play a game, I want it to be for the fun, not as a buffer for boredom. The Iine is thin between the two but the difference is in the intent and in the feeling you have when you make the decision to play. This is definitely more advanced but so fascinating to experience.
A recap of the framework
1. If you feel you need it, the first job is to work on reducing your brain’s addiction to rewards.
2 and 3. Clarify why, when and what you want to use your device(s) for moving forward and create your own rules.
4. Keep it a clean and deliberate practice.