For many of us, our phones have become an extension of our bodies, always in our hands, pockets, or bags. As the Sanvello team started looking at being more mindful of our phone usage, I realized that I’m rarely without my purple, scratched iPhone.
I look at it as soon as I wake up, while I’m brushing my teeth, while I’m walking my dog… you get the picture. I’m far from alone in feeling the constant pull to check my cell, as a recent study shows that people are spending an average of 4.2 hours on their phones, an increase of 30% from just two years ago.
Sure, technology allows us to work remotely, stay in touch with loved ones across the globe, and even meditate with the Sanvello app. It’s not all bad, but if you’re like me and want to be on your phone less throughout the day and be more present in life, it’s helpful to understand the other not so great effects that our phones are having on our bodies and minds.
How your phone is like a slot machine
Think of your phone as a tiny slot machine that you’re carrying around all day. No, I’m not talking about an addictive new gambling app, I mean our phones are designed to keep us hooked just like the loud, flashy casino slot machines are built to do.
Think about it — slot machines are addictive because they are built to activate your brain’s reward center. Thanks to their colorful, flashing lights and encouraging sounds, slot machines lure us in and give our brains that dopamine (also known as the “feel-good” hormone) hit.
They also are unpredictable and the wins are random, so based on the variable ratio schedule of reward, you want to keep playing over and over again because you might win the next time.
What does this have to do with our phones? Well, when you get a flash or a buzz from your phone and open your Instagram app, you may be rewarded with a “like” or a comment. This gives you the same hit of dopamine that a slot machine would and it keeps you coming back for more. In fact, when you perform a behavior over and over that triggers a reward, like looking at your phone, you begin to crave it regularly.
It’s not our fault that this behavior becomes etched in our neural pathways because, just like a slot machine, our phones have been intentionally designed to stimulate the reward center of our brains.
Time for a digital detox?
Now that we understand why many of us compulsively check our phones, let’s look at how we can begin to set some boundaries. There are tons of tactics and tips, but let’s keep it super simple with these four to start.
- Awareness is everything. Changing our behaviors overnight isn’t realistic, so no need to try locking your phone in a cabinet for a week. Start by noticing how often and when you’re checking your phone. What’s motivating you? How do you feel before and after? Get honest with yourself about your habits.
- Kick your phone out of your social life. When you’re having dinner with a loved one or on a walk with a friend, try silencing your phone alerts and putting it out of reach. Not only will this keep you from getting distracted, it will also improve your relationships by keeping you connected and engaged IRL. Let’s face it, no one likes to watch their friend or partner endlessly text from across the table.
- Don’t bring your phone to bed. If your phone is vital for staying in touch with colleagues and connecting socially with friends during the day, start by simply tucking it away at night. The “do not disturb” function is great, but physically putting it in another room can protect the sanctity of your time of rest.
- Set a goal and stick to it. Maybe you want to avoid looking at your phone for the first hour of the day, or you would like to decrease your screen time by 30 minutes each day, or you want to take a social media break for 48 hours. What is your intention or desired outcome? Start small and set a realistic goal that feels right for you.
When glancing at your phone becomes as addictive as a Vegas slot machine, it can be hard to create new healthier habits. Look around you on the bus, standing in line at the grocery store, or just walking down the street and most everyone is on their phone.
For me, my phone enriches life in many ways, but if I’m not careful, it can also take small real-life moments of joy from me too. If you’re down, let’s start by noticing when and how often we feel that compulsive pull to check our phones and try to implement tiny, realistic changes over time. No judgement here, just a reminder to leave the “casino” behind sometimes for a little fresh air.
By Katie Nave, Copywriter at Sanvello
Katie is a writer and mental health advocate living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in publications including Newsweek, Glamour, Business Insider, and Motherly. She has served as a producer for the National Women’s March and worked with organizations like Girls Inc. and CancerCare. She is currently the Copywriter at Sanvello and you can follow her on Instagram: @kathryn.e.nave.