There is much being said and written these days about the impact our smartphones have on us. These powerful devices are not only shaping the way we connect with the world, they’re also shaping the way we connect to others and ourselves. Now I understand there are incredible benefits to utilizing this technology and in fact have a smartphone myself! Trust me: I won’t be telling you to revert back to flip phones. Instead, my aim here is not to tell you to make drastic changes to your phone use, but simply to help you evaluate your use and offer practical suggestions if there’s anything you’d like to change.
I believe we have a lot of freedom in what we do and the things we use. There isn’t always one right way to do things, however it is wise to think about the impact habits and choices have on your life. Start asking if it is truly working for you. And by “working” I mean whether it is beneficial to you and your wellbeing. Does it help you live out your values? Does it reflect what you want to be true about yourself and how you spend your time? Smartphone use is just one of the many areas you can apply these questions to. Cell phones are not good or bad. They can provide many benefits! But also present challenges to productivity and genuine connection.
First, evaluate how phone use is affecting your mood and your view of yourself. How do you feel during or after using your phone? Do you notice that after checking social media you feel inspired and refreshed? Or do you more often feel sad, lonely, and insecure? Social media use can easily draw you into the comparison game, one in which there are no winners. People can curate what to share and they usually share the highlights. Be careful not to compare your ups and downs with someone else’s highlight reel.
Another question to ask yourself is why you are reaching for your phone. This is also related to mood but looks at how you are feeling right before you reach for it. This takes slowing down and noticing, which is a change from the reflexive phone habits we’ve all developed. Try noticing and recording this for a day or two and make note of what you’re feeling that leads you to reach for your phone. Is it boredom, curiosity, anxiety, loneliness, happiness? This can help you identify what purpose your phone is serving and the needs it meets for you.
Relationships and good social support are an important part of wellness. Smartphones and social media promise but rarely deliver to meet the need for connection central to the human experience. When used thoughtfully they can help facilitate but will never be a replacement for genuine connection with other humans. How does your phone use affect the way you relate to others? Does it help facilitate meaningful connection or is it fostering avoidance and isolation? Our phones can provide an easy, quick way to connect with others but they are not a substitute for authentic intimacy. Smartphones can also be a distraction when you are physically present with friends and family. Unchecked phone use inhibits active listening, empathy, and understanding.
If you’re looking to make some changes to your phone use, here are some ideas to get you started.
Delay your phone use.
Whenever you feel the urge to reach for your phone, see if you can wait 5 minutes. Use those 5 minutes to ask yourself some of the reflection questions above. Try to find out what you’re feeling, what you are looking to your phone to give you, and whether there’s another way you can get that need met. It might even be as simple as calling your friend to have a quick conversation instead of texting them. As time goes on you can make that delay longer.
You can also try designating specific times in the day to check your phone or even specific apps.
Another option is to block off times when you will not check your phone. An example would be an hour before bedtime until an hour after you wake up. Make checking your phone the third, fourth, or fifth thing you do each morning, rather than the first thing. Try keeping phones out of the bedroom and away from the dinner table. When you’re out with friends put your phone away and don’t check it until you’re ready to leave. Rather than just checking a friend’s profile or status update to see how they’re doing, call them up or make plans to get together in person.
Try a couple of these suggestions out for a week and see what you think. Hopefully you will get some ideas about how to make your smartphone use work for you. If you want to talk more about how to develop better habits, call me today!
Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt
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