Phone obsession – when does it cross lines?

December 2, 2023

I have been on a quest to improve my relationship with technology, which includes my phone time. In doing so, I have done a ton of research via videos, podcasts, and more. This research has given me a rather interesting perspective of how much people spend on their phones, the damage it’s doing to them, how much they should be spending on their phones, and how to reduce the time – after all, picking up our phones becomes an ingrained habit. And as we all know, habits can be challenging to break.

So, first of all, how much time are we spending on our phones? Check out these statistics from Reviews.org’s Cell Phone Usage in 2023 :

  • Americans check their phones 144 times per day.
  • 89% of Americans say they check their phones within 10 minutes of waking up.
  • 75% of Americans feel uneasy leaving their phone at home.
  • 75% of Americans check their phones within five minutes of receiving a notification.
  • 75% use their phone on the toilet.
  • 69% have texted someone in the same room as them before.
  • 60% sleep with their phone at night
  • 57% consider themselves “addicted” to their phones
  • 55% say they have never gone longer than 24 hours without their cell phone.
  • 47% of people say they feel a sense of panic or anxiety when their cell phone battery goes below 20%.
  • 46% use or look at their phone while on a date.
  • 27% use or look at their phone while driving.

If you’re wondering where your phone usage falls compared to these stats, you can have your phone send you weekly reports to give you an idea. What does all of this time on our phones do to us? We end up with poor sleep or even insomnia due to the light signaling our brains to stay awake. We have difficulty unwinding as well. Constant use of phones can lead to eye strain and headaches as well as neck, shoulder, and back pain from looking down for extended amounts of time. Sitting on your phone can replace the time you would have been active taking walks, spending time outdoors, working on projects and more. This lack of activity can lead to gaining weight and health problems.

So, picking up your phone all the time is an addictive behavior. People crave using it, use it to cope or adjust their mood and feel withdrawals if they aren’t able to access their phone. All of this can interfere with life. To top that off, adults who are addicted to their phones end up with problems with the part of their brains responsible for transmitting messages. They also experience changes in cognition, equating to poorer cognitive performance.

How much time should you spend on your phone daily? Experts suggest that adults limit their phone usage to less than 2 hours a day outside of work. Any time spent on the phone beyond 2 hours should be spent doing something else – like exercising, being physical, or working out. Stopping a habit is very difficult – but replacing a habit is much easier. Think about it: a habit is cue à response à reward. If you can determine the cue, you can discover a new activity to replace the ‘response’ portion. But you must find a ‘response’ that provides the same or similar ‘reward.’

To reduce phone usage, you need first to start tracking your time. You may have an eye-opening discovery, as we all spend more time on our phones than we think. Once you know how much time you spend on your phone, start experimenting by replacing phone time with other activities. You will discover doing these other activities will result in a decrease in phone time. Even a 9-minute reduction daily will result in an hour per week, so any reduction is a positive step.

Pick activities where you can’t or won’t use your phone. Places I am referring to include going to the gym, swimming, taking classes, dining at a restaurant, reading a book, walking or hiking, listening to music, cleaning the house, or showering. Spend some time talking to friends, family, and neighbors. If you’re bored enough, you will find something to do. And when you wake in the morning, don’t let your first activity be scrolling your phone. This habit can set a negative tone for the rest of the day.

The compulsion will eventually diminish if we make our phones harder to reach. Put your phone in your car’s glove box, for example. And when at home, charge it in a place where you can’t plop down and use it. And you know that screen tracking I mentioned earlier? Many allow users to set limits on phone usage. You can set a time limit and then keep reducing it as time goes on.

Another step that can help is to make your phone less addictive by reorganizing your phone. By reorganizing, I mean making picking up your phone for time-wasting harder. Make your phone less attractive by decluttering your home screen, changing settings, deleting apps, or sticking time-wasting apps into a TIME SUCK folder on a 2nd or 3rd page. Reducing or eliminating notifications will help stop the urge to check your phone. Go into your apps and turn off notifications. Change your wallpaper to simple and solid – less enticing – and adjust your home screen weekly. While in your social media apps, make your feed less crowded by unfollowing pages (and even people) that you aren’t genuinely interested in.

Remember that you didn’t use your phone like this overnight so you won’t fix it overnight either. You’ll slip up and have bad days, and that’s perfectly okay. The importance is to reset and keep trying. Many of us are learning to coexist better with these absorbing new technologies, and reducing phone time is part of this journey. Be patient with yourself, celebrate your small victories — after all, life’s too short to spend it all staring at a tiny screen. We must embrace the world around us and let our phones have a well-deserved hiatus. We’ve got this, gentlemen!

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