How to let go of your smartphone and enjoy life

2019-08-02 15:28
Man with smartphone. (PHOTO: Getty/Gallo Images)

Man with smartphone. (PHOTO: Getty/Gallo Images)

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We all know it isn’t really that good for us, yet we seem powerless to stop it. That’s not surprising considering every little social media app is designed to draw you in, keep you in and make you want to come back for more.

Many of us are familiar with that feeling of “quickly” checking a message then finding an hour has passed unnoticed. And over time, without realising it, we’ve become addicted to our phones.

But don’t let the guilt around this get to you – the algorithms of the world’s most popular social media platforms are incredibly manipulative and use some of the most sophisticated psychological techniques to keep you hooked.

The good news is there is something you can do about it – but it requires a little willpower. As with losing weight, there’s no quick solution and you have to be disciplined until you’ve broken the habit.

In a new book, How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, award-winning journalist Catherine Price has practical tips on how to fight your fix and show your device who’s boss. Try it for peace of mind and a sense of control.

Speed bumps

One of the most effective ways to regain control over our phones is to build speed bumps: small obstacles that force us to slow down. By creating a pause between our impulses and our actions, speed bumps give us the chance to change course.

The first is an exercise I call WWW, which  is short for What for, Why now and What else (you might want to consider putting WWW  on your lock screen as a reminder.)Any time you notice you’re about to reach for your phone, take a second to ask yourself:

What for? What are you picking up your phone to do? (For example, to check your email, browse online shopping sites, order dinner, kill time).

Why now? Why are you picking up your phone now instead of later? The reason might be practical (I want to take a photo), situational (I’m in the lift) or emotional (I want a distraction). What else? What else could you do right now besides check your phone?

If you do your Ws and then decide you really do want to use your phone right now, that’s totally fine. The point is simply to give yourself a chance to explore your options for that particular moment so that if and when you turn your attention to your phone, it’s the result of a conscious decision.

Create a physical prompt

To help you notice when you reach for your phone, put a rubber band or hair tie around the phone or a piece of tape or a sticker on the back. That way, any time you reach for your phone you’ll feel the prompt and be reminded to pay attention.

You’ll probably need the reminder for only a few days. After a while, the noticing will become more automatic. You can also do something visual such as changing the image on your lock screen to a picture of a piece of paper that says, “Notice!” or “Why did you pick me up?”

Say no to notifications

Every ding and vibration from our phones triggers chemical reactions in our brains that pull us away from what we’re doing or the person we’re with. Go into your phone’s notifications settings and turn off all notifications except for phone calls and – if you want – messaging apps and your calendar.

You don’t have to keep these notifications turned off permanently, but it’s important to start by reducing them to a minimum. Then you know that whatever notifications you decide to turn back on are ones you actually want. Whenever you install a new app and your phone asks if you’d like to enable its notifications, simply say no.

Delete social media apps

Social media is like junk food: bingeing on it makes us feel bad, yet once we start consuming it, it’s really hard to stop. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to fight back: delete all social media apps from your phone. I’m serious. Do it now. The app, panicking, will respond with a manipulative question (“Are you really sure you want to delete me and all my data?”).

Say yes then shake your head in disgust: everyone knows Facebook didn’t really delete any of your data. It’s all still lurking in the cloud, ready to be used against you and reinstalled/downloaded at any time. If you’re hesitating, let’s be clear about two things:

1. This isn’t an irreversible decision.

2. You can still check social media whenever you want. I’m not trying to get you off social media entirely. I just want you to check it through your phone or computer’s internet browser instead of the app.

The point, again, is to create speed bumps. Browser versions of social media plat-forms often have fewer features than apps and are clunkier to use. So they provide lots of opportunities to ask yourself whether you really want to be checking social media at that moment.

If you decide you do, that’s fine – but check it in a structured way. Define your purpose ahead of time. Are you posting something? Looking for something specific? Just scrolling for fun?You might even want to set a timer. Then when you’re done, log out and close the window so it won’t open automatically the next time you launch the browser.

In short: just do it! Delete the apps for now. You’ll be okay, I promise. In fact, many people have told me that, in terms of breaking their addiction to their phones, this was one of the most useful things they did.

Change where you charge it

One of the biggest problem spots for many people? The bedroom. Many of us complain about automatically checking our phones first thing in the morning and right before bed at night (and in the middle of the night, for that matter).

The easiest way to break this habit is to make it harder to reach for your phone in bed. And the easiest way to do that is to create a charging station that isn’t in your bedroom – or, at the very least, that’s not next to your bed.

This doesn’t mean you can’t check your phone during these times if you want to, or that you’ve failed in some way if you find yourself standing next to an outlet at 2am, squinting down at your phone’s screen. The point is to change checking your phone in the morning and evening from an automatic habit to a deliberate choice.

So do it now: pick a new charging spot. As soon as you get home take the charger from your bedroom and plug it into the new charging station. You’re simply a person who doesn’t charge their phone in the room where they sleep.


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