Do you think you should stop using your smartphone so much? Are you addicted to it?
Smartphones and especially social media apps are so addictive that, nowadays, smartphone addiction is so widespread that it has become normal. The Internet, of course, has played a huge role in this, and although Internet addiction is extremely real for both desktop and mobile, the latter is far more common, since computers are a little more difficult to carry around.
Allow me, then, to tell you a short story to show you what smartphone addiction looks like.
Can You Live 2 Minutes Without It?
The following story is about the time I, who used to spend way too much time on my favorite apps, finally realized that smartphone addiction was real and actually scary.
A few years ago, I was spending a weekend at my friend’s house, when I saw his sister—let’s call her Amy—using her smartphone while cooking, while eating, while pouring water in a glass, while running (walking, actually) on the treadmill, and while brushing her teeth (unfortunately, I am NOT joking).
I was already kind of shocked, but what really scared me was when she ran out of mobile data and therefore couldn’t access the Internet. She immediately entered a state of madness (how else could I describe the way she acted?), and started begging her brother to give her the password to their home Wi-Fi. My friend, who had kept the password a secret from her because he knew how addicted his sister was, said: “If you can stay 10 minutes without Twitter and Instagram, I’ll give you the password.”
Two minutes later, she couldn’t resist anymore. Two. Minutes. She first begged me, but because I couldn’t help her, she then called her parents and asked them to convince her brother. In the end, she “won”.
When I later asked Amy why she acted like that and what was so urgent that she couldn’t wait 10 minutes, she said:
“I just wanted to know why I couldn’t access Twitter from my phone, and wanted to find what actually caused that problem.”
I don’t know about you… but to me, that wasn’t really a convincing reason for acting like that after spending only 2 minutes without reading tweets of people insulting each other for disagreements on who was the best actor in a certain TV series.
You know what’s the worst part of this story? That this kind of behavior isn’t even that rare. An incredible amount of people have the same problem.
If you are anywhere near Amy’s level, I hope I convinced you to stop using your smartphone too much.
Now let’s see how you can quit or prevent smartphone addiction. I’m not an expert, but I believe I have learned a few things from experience that will probably be useful to you.
In fact, the strategies I’m about to show you are the ones I used to help not only myself, but also some of my friends that wanted to stop their smartphones from ruining their lives.
First Things First, Recognize That You Have A Problem
Recognizing and admitting to yourself that you have a problem is the first and most important step towards its resolution.
Amy, the protagonist of the story you just read, never thought that she had a problem, so even though more than three years passed since I tried to help her, she’s still the same.
The thing is, most people tend to become defensive in this kind of situation, which is to be expected, because they don’t like being told they might have a problem or, even worse, an addiction. They come up with dozens of different excuses, some of which are, quite frankly, nonsense. I mean, do you really have to read or even write an email while walking down the stairs? You just have to risk breaking your neck, don’t you?
I want to reiterate the importance of recognizing and admitting that you have a problem. That’s because if you believe that you’re fine and have everything under control, you won’t take action to solve the problem, because you don’t have a problem (according to yourself, at least).
But, since you’re reading this, I assume you are aware that you might need to stop using your smartphone as much as you’ve been doing up until now. You are ready to learn and apply the strategies that follow.
Recognizing and admitting that you have a problem is the first and most important step towards its solution.
1. Identify What You Really Crave
Smartphone addiction, before becoming an addiction, starts off as a simple bad habit which simply gives a reward that satisfies a craving. This is essentially how every habit works.
So what is it that you crave? Why do you feel the urge to check your phone every few minutes?
Smartphones, specifically social media apps, are so addictive because they tap into the innate human need to be noticed and appreciated by others. For most people, this is the reason behind their addiction. They get addicted to likes, comments, and shares, because these make them feel acknowledged.
But for you it might be different. To find out, ask “Why?” every time you feel the urge to pick up your phone.
Once you identify what you actually crave, try to follow a different routine that satisfies that same craving.
For example, let’s say that you constantly check your phone because you don’t feel like working on your tasks. Instead of mindlessly going through your Facebook or Instagram feeds, or playing some mobile games, just take a break. Stand up and take a short walk. Most of the time, lack of motivation is caused by tiredness, which can be easily solved by taking a short break.
2. Track Your Usage
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker
Tracking your time (the time you spend on your phone, in this case) is one of the best habits you can develop. In order to stop using your smartphone so much, you need to know how you spend your time.
So not only should you know how much time you use—which, by the way, is 3 hours per day on average—but also how you use it. Only then you will be able to reduce the time you spend on certain apps and, if possible, delete the ones that are the most time-consuming and add no real value to your everyday life.
Nowadays, there are tons of apps (the irony!) that can do the job for you. Some devices even have a built-in feature that lets you see how much time you spend on your device, as well as your most-used apps.
When people see with their own eyes the actual amount of time they waste, they are more likely to do something about it.
3. Fill The Voids
Most people waste time on their phone because it’s the easiest way to “put every minute to use” and because, according to them, there’s nothing else that’s interesting to do anyway.
If you don’t schedule your time, it’s easy to waste your “empty time spaces” doing useless things on your phone.
In order to live a more satisfying personal and professional life, you need to know your priorities and plan your days and weeks accordingly. You need to do more things that make you forget about your phone and are actually useful. By doing so, you will automatically—and happily—stop using your smartphone so much.
You can read a book, learn a new skill, practice an instrument, exercise… whatever you like. Just make sure it’s something more useful than mindlessly wasting time on your phone.
4. Go Analog
One of the biggest problems of checking your phone is not just how often you do it (for most people, it’s 58 times a day on average), but also the collateral effects of doing so.
The problem of checking your phone when you should be doing something else is that the more frequently you unlock it, the more likely it is that you will waste time doing all sorts of things, even if all you wanted at first was to check the weather.
To reduce the number of times you unlock your smartphone, try to use the physical counterparts of some digital apps and services.
For example, write on a physical notebook, check the time on a watch, read on a printed book, use an analog alarm clock.
5. Schedule “Smartphone Time Slots”
Another huge problem of checking your smartphone when you shouldn’t is that a single distraction, even if it lasts less than 1 minute, can result in up to 20 minutes of inability to really focus. That’s how much time your brain needs to be able to concentrate again. Under such conditions, it’s basically impossible to focus effectively.
To avoid that, you should put some thought into scheduling your “smartphone time”. This will make sure you don’t check your phone haphazardly, whenever you feel like it.
One way to do that is to use the Pomodoro Technique and to check your phone during the 5-minute breaks between every 25-minute work session. However, if you’ve read my article on the Pomodoro Technique, you should know that checking your social feeds or your email inbox during the 5-minute breaks is actually not an optimal thing to do, because this kind of activities generates open loops that ask your brain for attention even after you’ve resumed your previous task.
Still, it’s a good starting point, and if you can resist the temptation and only check your phone during the long pauses between every 4 Pomodoro, that’s even better. Back when I used to waste several hours per day on my smartphone, I did exactly this, and it worked pretty well.
Anyway, if there’s ONE thing you must remember, it’s to make sure you don’t use your smartphone during non-smartphone time slots, lest you ruin your focus unnecessarily.
Work hard on what you have to do, and unless it’s for an important reason, only use your smartphone during a time-frame that you’ve scheduled beforehand.
6. Make the Start and the End of the Day Smartphone-free
What do you do right after waking up or right after washing your face? Do you check your phone? If yes, you are not the only one, and you’re also not the only one who should stop this bad habit.
If checking your phone is the first thing you do in the morning, you are already off schedule. Why?
Because during the first hour after waking up, our brain is extremely sensitive to things happening around us. This shouldn’t be surprising: we all know how loud and annoying everything sounds to us when we’ve just woken up.
Now, if the first things you put into your brain in the morning are news, emails, and social media, you will get overwhelmed and ruin the momentum for the rest of the day.
You should also stop using your smartphone one hour (or 30 minutes, at least) before bedtime. The main reason for this is the blue light that all electronic devices emit and that ruins the quality of your sleep.
Not just that. When people use their phones right before going to bed (or even when they’re already in bed), they tend to stay up for much longer than expected, usually reading or watching useless things online.
10 PM: “I’m going to sleep after checking really quickly what my uncle’s friend’s brother’s cousin did today.”
A few moments later…
2 AM:”This video of a hydraulic press crushing things is so satisfying!”
If you really want to quit or avoid smartphone addiction, make sure you stop checking your phone before bed and right after waking up.
7. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Just like every other habit, a great way to break smartphone addiction is to hide or eliminate the cues.
For example, if you want to stop eating unhealthy food, you should throw all your chips and chocolate bars away and not buy them again.
So simply silencing your smartphone is not enough; if you keep it near you, it’s easy to give in to temptation and pick it up.
Instead, you should put it somewhere you can’t see and reach easily, such as a different room or a high shelf.
By simply removing it from your sight, you will be much less tempted to check your phone every few minutes.
8. Make It Harder
If you have read my post on how to break a bad habit, you probably already know that hiding the cues might still not be enough.
Putting your smartphone out of sight makes it more difficult to reach, and reduces the chances of you going through the trouble just for checking your phone, but it doesn’t make the actual act of using your smartphone more difficult. That’s why you should make the routine harder to execute, as well.
For example, you can delete your social media and email apps from your phone and access them only via browser, and you might also want to use a very difficult password that you need to insert every time you want to unlock your phone.
Whatever you usually do on your phone, make it more difficult to do. Laziness will be a good ally.
9. Be More Present
If you use your smartphone all the time, even when you should be doing something else, guess what happens? That’s right, your brain gets used to it and becomes convinced that constantly using the phone is completely normal and that you should keep doing it.
But, you already have plenty of occasions in a day, so why don’t you stop using your smartphone during times when you should be more present?
When you’re out for dinner (and when you’re eating at home, as well) with your family, don’t use your phone.
When you’re with friends, don’t use your phone. I know that “everyone does it”, but it doesn’t mean it’s good, and if no one takes action in order to change that, nothing will change. Be the first, make hangouts more interesting than just holding a sandwich with one hand and checking the phone with the other.
Finally, when someone’s talking to you, don’t you dare look at your phone. That’s flat out disrespectful, and it’s sadly become quite common nowadays. If you have this bad habit, stop immediately. It’s making you unlikable and it’s ruining your social skills.
Be present, listen to what others say, engage with people. Always nourish your real identity more than your online identity.
10. Enjoy Boredom
I have seen an awful lot of people justify their (and other people’s) excessive use of smartphones saying that “it’s not addiction, it’s just entertainment”. They say that everyone has different ways of using their time, that checking your phone is just a simple way to fight boredom, and that most people don’t have any problem with knowing when to stop.
First of all, it’s not true that most people don’t have problems with controlling their smartphone usage. If anything, it’s the opposite: most people have problems with keeping their smartphone usage under control.
Second and most important point, boredom is boring only if you make it boring.
What I’m trying to say is that boredom is not exactly a positive thing, but it does have positive benefits, when used correctly.
Because let’s face it, the idea of seeking entertainment in order to avoid every hint of boredom is wrong. You don’t have to fill every unspent minute.
Embracing boredom is actually a really useful thing to do.
It allows us to recharge our energy and, most importantly, it gives our brain time and space to think. By using your phone every time you felt bored, you have been anaesthetizing your brain for years, making it incapable of actually focusing and thinking anymore.
If you get used to thinking again, you will gain clarity about your life and about what is important and what is not. You will also improve your creativity and come up with more interesting ideas.
To conclude, I want to make one thing clear: I am not telling you to stop using your smartphone altogether (although some people do make this drastic decision). I’m just saying that you should use it less frequently and less randomly.
If you stop your smartphone from stealing so large amounts of your time, you will improve your productivity, focus, creativity, health, and social skills. You will also get clarity about the important things in life.
Admitting that you have a problem is not easy and it doesn’t feel good, but is necessary.
If you think you should stop using your smartphone too much, then it’s time to take action and work on it. Now.
It won’t be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.