Breaking the cell phone habit

How many times a day do you look at your phone? If you’re like me, probably quite a few. At this point, it’s just a habit — something we do without even really thinking about it.

Because cell phones have become so ingrained in our lives, it’s almost surprising to remember how new they really are. With the exception of our youngest generation, most of us have lived most of our lives without being constantly able to contact anyone, anytime; or with non stop access to the endless reservoir of information available on the internet. That changed almost overnight — the first smartphones appeared only about ten years ago. Now, they’re seemingly indispensable.

Rather than look at our phones as being good or bad, I think that it is most helpful to acknowledge two things. First, that phones have a powerful impact on how most of us live. Second, that we can really benefit by paying attention to our relationship with our phones, and using them in a mindful way.

There are plenty of useful things that I do on my phone every day. But many of us jump on our phones any time we have a free moment. Sometimes, it’s for fun — we text a friend or read an article or play a game. Other times, we might be checking our work email or getting back to a colleague. But regardless of our motives, what we’re often doing is using our phones to distract us from the present moment right in front of us.

I’ve started asking myself “what am I using my phone for?” every time I pick it up. The point is to check in and find out if there’s a good reason for me to be on my phone or not. If I realize I’m only using it to zone out, I (sometimes) put it away instead. 

Honestly, that’s not always easy to do. It can be so comforting to have an escape hatch with me everywhere I go — waiting in line, on the metro, in between patients. I know that I’m far from alone in this. But if we’re constantly numbing ourselves to our surroundings and life going around us, is that really to our benefit?

Of course not. 

The more we really pay attention to how we use our phones, the more we can begin to teach ourselves to use them to our benefit. Our behavior can become conscious, rather than automatic. 

Cell phones can be a wonderful tool, but like most things, they’re best in moderation.