Breaking My Phone Addiction

Most studies say people check their phones around 150 times a day. It’s an obsessive tick that literally makes us less happy. But how do we break the habit when smartphones are a necessary tool for our work and social lives? I have been tethered to my phone for years now: texting, checking Instagram, answering emails, etc. I sleep next to my phone, often being on it for hours before bed, causing me to wake up tired and agitated.

A new iPhone feature allows us to track weekly screen usage. While I knew I was on my phone a lot, I was shocked when I found out just how much. I’m spending nearly four hours, each day, on my phone. I was so surprised (and embarrassed) once I realized. And here’s what I’ve realized: while I’m very rarely on my phone for hour-long stretches, all of those smaller moments add up to a seriously unhealthy dependence.

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Even coming to grips with my addiction has been a struggle, admitting to myself that I’m still spending far too much time connected. And I wish I could say that the majority is spent doing work. Yes, I answer emails, respond to school and business-related texts, and a lot of my blogging is dependent on being active on social media. Since all of the information is broken down into categories though (social media, creativity, and productivity), there’s no denying where the majority of my time is being spent: on Instagram.

Like a lot of people, I have a love/hate relationship with the platform. In some ways, it provides me with endless inspiration, serves as a fantastic place to interact with this community, and allows me to document moments in my life in an organized, appealing way. On the flip side, I occasionally find myself doubting my abilities, questioning why I wasn’t included in social outings, and feeling an overall sense of malaise. And here’s the scary part: I’m spending an average of two hours on Instagram a day (which adds up to nearly an entire day browsing each week) and that simply can’t be good for anyone.

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These statistics are staggering and I need to make a change. Aside from a rather obsessive sweet tooth, I’ve never dealt with any sort of addiction before, and this is about as close as I’ve come. I suppose acknowledging it is the first step, but ever since I did that nearly a year ago, I’m in the same exact place. The main issue is that after recognizing the issue, I didn’t make enough critical changes. I still sleep next to my phone, but I try to not use it the hour before bed. But that doesn’t account for the other countless times throughout the day I’m picking it up and mindlessly browsing.

And that’s where I take the most issue with this behavior: It’s not even something I’m conscious of—it’s impulsive, thoughtless and draining. And it eats up time I could be dedicating to countless other more productive things: exercising, studying, working – the list goes on.

I’ve since implemented some of the tools now available, like setting downtime to be away from my phone from 8:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. so that only phone calls are allowed. Because if I’m being honest with myself, between those hours are not when I’m creating content or doing any internship work—it when I’m just mindlessly scrolling. I’ve also set limits so that I’m only allowed to be on social networking apps for no longer than hour a day. It’s still more than I’d like to spend in the long term, but decreasing my usage by 50% each day seems like a good place to start. I’ve also begun setting a timer in the morning for ten minutes. I start by going through my email and then allow myself a few minutes to scroll through Instagram and answer a few DMs. And when the timer goes off, my phone gets put away—not so I’m unreachable, but so it’s just out of reach so that I’m not picking it up every few minutes.

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Real change takes time and patience. I saw somewhere addiction is like a boulder that’s rolling forward. You can’t just push it in the other direction—first you have to get it to slow down, before coming to a complete stop. Only then are you able to reverse its direction so that it’s going the opposite way. I’ll get there because it matters to me, but it sure does feel daunting right now.

At times, it feels as though I’m swimming against the stream in a time when it’s universally agreed upon that if we have even a few minutes of downtime—during commercials, waiting in line, or on the metro—it’s accepted that we’ll just be on our phones. I don’t think it’s realistic for me to transition to just staring into space, so I’m trying to come up with slightly healthier alternatives. Two things I’ve been trying out are crossword puzzles (the New York Times app is my favorite) and just old-fashioned reading. Since I don’t have any social networking apps on my iPad, I now carry it with me so that I always have a book or puzzle at my disposal, both of which require some actual thought.

Since I know this topic is one that affects a lot of us, I’d love to continue this conversation. Was anyone else as horrified by the time spent on their phones as me? If so, let’s do this together—since the more we’re able to acknowledge our faults, support one another, and offer tips that have worked, the better equipped we are to make actual change.