Start and win a war with your smartphone addiction.

Fighting your smartphone addiction will help you begin to realize your values more effectively.

Your phone isn't evil. It's also not a source of happiness. But it is addicting by design, and when we become addicted--we can easily get distracted from what truly matters.

A TechCrunch article reported in March that researchers now say we average five hours a day on our phones, up 20% from the last quarter of 2015. Mindless, purposeless attention to the small computer in our hands over time detracts us from making meaningful progress. What's meant to be used for good is often the drug of choice to find quick fulfillment or escape reality.

In his book, Crazy Busy, author Kevin DeYoung says, "Rather than figure out what to do with our spare minutes and hours, we are content to swim in the shallows and pass our time with passing the time. How many of us, growing too accustomed to the acedia of our age, feel this strange mix of busyness and lifelessness? We are always engaged with our thumbs, but rarely engaged with our thoughts. We keep downloading information, but rarely get down into the depths of our hearts."

Yes, the demon of distraction seems to always be knocking on our door. While we may understand the ills regularly binge-scrolling through social media might create on some level, we can let the fear of missing out on whatever is happening in the digital world drive us to pick up our phones again.

When we see our phones as they are, tools, we're free to use them in a more moderated way. To get there requires proactive thought and action. Here are several things to consider as you start and win a war with your smartphone addiction.

Begin with the purpose

We often don't truly grasp what's possible if we were to put the phone down because we haven't adopted a vision for how healthy smartphone use might be ultimately beneficial. We can only suppress the urge to check email again if we truly know why we're trying to stay focused on something else in the first place.

Without a clear answer to this question, it's much easier to casually look down at Facebook instead of engaging conversationally at a social gathering. Short-term gain (the endorphin hit we get when someone likes our photo) often comes at the expense of long-term goals (experiencing close relationships with friends).

Imagine what might happen with less phone use:

  • Greater space for intentional conversations with family members and friends
  • Expanded mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity for prayer and meditation
  • More time to make progress on large passion projects
  • Deeper ability to be present in an environment
  • More opportunities for boredom, an important ingredient in innovation

Starting from a place of shame or anxiety won't ultimately be helpful. A dose of guilt might be a powerful wake-up call, but it won't sustain us as we seek to lower the amount of time on our iPhones. What will help get us through is gaining a clear picture of what extra hours in our week without our phones might make possible.

Gain awareness

After you've started with why, it's helpful to gain an understanding of what role your phone is playing in your life right now.

I have an iPhone, and I recently installed a free app called Moment. They're also developing an Android version according to their website. (In the meantime, Android users might check out this application as it looks to solve a similar problem. I've never used it, so I can't speak to its effectiveness.) Moment runs in the background and measures screen time. Every time I unlock my phone, the timer starts. When it's locked again, the timer stops.

The application has a bootcamp meant to help curtail phone usage, providing daily challenges to help you move the needle. Moment shares daily and weekly insights into how much phone time you're participating in and compares it to your past. This helps you see if you're making progress. 

Wage a war

While you gain a clear understanding of both your why and your current phone usage, you can proactively put in place disciplines to wage the war on your addiction.

Here are several practices I've put in place to maintain a healthy relationship with my phone:

  • Keep the phone out of the bedroom. I usually leave my phone on a dock in a different room by default when I'm home with my family. This includes when I sleep. Not having your phone within reach at all times helps keep it in its rightful place in your life. Plus, it might make you smarter.
  • Don't check email, text messages, or other incoming streams first thing in the morning. I use my phone in the morning during my workout, so this is tough. But as much as I can, I hold off accessing communication channels until my morning routine is complete.
  • Follow the steps in this article from Brad Soroka. This article does an incredible job walking you through exactly how to structure your iPhone. If you use Android, there are still some great nuggets of practical advice in this article for you. Here are some of the ways I've implemented this.
    • I follow rules 1-4 with a few exceptions.
    • You might think rule one is too much, but just try it for a week. You'll see. Brad is on to something.
    • With rule two, it's helpful to know Moment has a widget and can display your phone usage time at a glance. 
    • In rule three, I've chosen to see text messages, phone, calendar, Voxer/WhatsApp, and a few other app notifcations on my lock screen--but still don't receive vibration or audio notifications from anything other than calls. I don't see these things until I've proactively picked up my phone to engage with them.
    • In rule four, I allow calls from all my contacts--not just favorites. The only time my phone buzzes is when one of my contacts is calling me. And because phone calls are not the cultural default anymore, they (usually) are related to something important. Even then, you can always call someone back.
    • Having do not disturb on all the time quickly makes you realize just how often the buzzes and sounds your phone used to make would drag you away from people and projects unnecessarily.
    • With rule five, I use a different paper-based to-do system during a typical weekday. In a future post, I'll spell out how it works.
    • Rule six is awesome if you need it, but I've found implementing all of the other disciplines means the hairband is unnecessary.
  • Use social media proactively. Social media is fun. It's not essential and not inherently meaningful, but I enjoy it. Keeping it fun requires putting boundaries around it. When it starts spilling out into every aspect of life, it starts robbing us of what we truly value. I've recently started (imperfectly) sticking as closely as I can to the following guidelines.
    • Use social media for personal use at set times each week. I bet you'll find it's easier than you may think. Social media is always calling for us to come and swim in its stream. But most of the time, the stream hasn't changed much and we end up drowning in it. Instead of getting lost in the rapids for hours a day, try intentionally surfing through it at intentional points in a week.
    • Schedule the time in advance. Blocking time off on the calendar for social media in advance helps you check your impulse when you want so badly to scroll through Twitter. "I'll do this tomorrow at 7PM," helps you remember you've got a plan. And it makes that time completely free of guilt.
    • Store content somewhere else. I use Buffer to schedule and publish social media content in times when I'm not checking social media. When the allotted time for social media hits, I'll be able to engage with others on the platforms themselves.
    • Remember people aren't missing us. When you scroll through Instagram, how often are you thinking about the people who aren't currently in your feed? Rarely. The truth is, no one is really missing us on social media. They don't need our tweets or pictures. We might add value and fun when we do post, but no one is out there constantly thinking about how much they'd like us to add water to the stream. This isn't meant to be a hit to our self-worth. It's actually a fact that helps free us from the ties (or chains) we often feel to social media.

Don't be a Pharisee

Avoid the urge to shame yourself if you break these rules, come up with looser ones, or go a week spending every night obsessively checking Snapchat.

In the New Testament of the Bible, we see Jesus more angry with religious rule creators than corrupt tax collectors. Jesus didn't appreciate the Pharisees' adherence to rules in an attempt to gain public respect and God's favor. The Pharisees lacked grace and enjoyed putting a burden on others.

This takes us back to the why. If we focus on regulations and disciplines while losing sight of why we want to rid ourselves of our phone addiction in the first place, we'll find ourselves tired, feeling like failures, and ultimately giving up. Set guidelines, work to stick to them, and bathe the effort in grace.

Don't hate your phone

I love what my iPhone makes possible in my life.

It lets me track fitness, listen to podcasts, communicate with people, find my way around the city, listen to music, be on time, budget, etc. 

My phone can help me strengthen my faith, keep in touch with my family, manage my finances, grow closer to friends, and stay fit. But when it becomes an addiction, this same phone is a tool for erosion in each of these areas.

Today is the day to start the war with your smartphone addiction.

Just imagine what you could do with all the extra time and attention.

Photo sourced via Creative Commons.