“I should stop using my phone so much.”
If you’re a phone addict like me, you’ve said this to yourself a lot of times; maybe it was part of your New Year’s Resolution, or maybe it was just an offhand comment that you made in your head as you shut your phone off for the night and went to bed. If you’re like me, you’ve also struggled a lot with actually following through with this statement. You’re aware that it’s unhealthy, and you know that if you put your phone down, there are many other things you could be doing to be more productive, and to be more present in the moment; yet bringing yourself to actually put this into practice is a lot easier said than done for a multitude of reasons and excuses. Did I just call you out? Yeah, I called myself out too.
Although keeping our eyes glued to our screens is not healthy, our phones also have a lot of great utility to them. So rather than abandoning our phones completely, how do we develop a healthier relationship with our phone? One in which we allow ourselves to use it, but not one in which we always resort to it first thing when we need a distraction? And how do we create a world in which we are more mindful of ourselves and our surroundings?
I found a potential solution to this dilemma that I’ve dealt with: How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan To Take Back Your Life, a guide written by Catherine Price to breaking bad phone habits and developing a healthier relationship with screen technology.
While I have always known that it was unhealthy, reading the first part of her book in which Price laid out all of the specific effects of excessive phone usage, as well as the ways that phones are intentionally designed to keep our eyes on our screens, made that thought feel a lot realer. For example, did you know that the constant flow of new content on our phones keeps us coming back for more, but also greatly tires out our memory system? This essentially means that as we overload ourselves with new information from our screens, our brain loses its capacity to hold memories, and thus its ability to connect memories together and produce deep thought. (Honestly, even without trying out the 30-Day guide, the first part of her book was already enough to scare me into putting my phone down.)
Out of curiosity and a newfound fear of the screen, I dedicated 30 days to follow Price’s guide in an effort to build a better relationship with my phone. Here is what I have learned from reading her book and trying out her techniques:
1. Breaking a habit is not as easy as quitting cold turkey.
Throughout the past month, while I reflected on my old habits and took steps to build better ones, I realized that a big reason why my past efforts to develop better phone habits never worked was because I didn’t really make an effort to develop better phone habits; I only tried to force myself into stopping my bad habits altogether.
An important aspect of breaking a bad habit such as excessive phone usage is also being able to develop good habits to counter those bad habits. In my case, I needed to break my habit of picking up my phone as a distraction, and develop good practices for keeping myself present and fulfilled, so that I would be less likely to resort to my phone the next time I needed something to do. Reading Price’s tips and engaging in her activities really helped me find said good habits that I still use, even after finishing her 30 day plan. For example, a good way of making sure you do not resort to your phone first thing when you’re bored is to place an alternative in plain sight! If I’m planning to read a good book tomorrow, I will put it on my desk, front and center, so that I am more likely to do what I set out to do, rather than reach for my phone and go into a social media spiral!
2. The excuse “I have nothing else to do” is not really true.
Another big thing I realized: I missed out on so much of the world when I took out my phone. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. A big part of the guide was, as Price puts it, “taking back your life.” Throughout the 30 days, I started getting back into old hobbies that I had missed doing due to the time that scrolling through my social media took out of my day. I started reading books again, and found myself immersed in the adventurous Life of Pi by Yann Martel in a way that looking through celebrity Instagram pages could not give me. I started exploring music again, and rekindled an old love for playing the piano that had died back in high school. As part of one of the activities, I went on a 40-minute walk without my phone; it felt so refreshing to get outside that I hadn’t even realized 40 minutes had gone by. And in those 40 minutes, I did nothing but walk and just take in my surroundings.
After all of this, on one day of the plan called “The Trial Separation,” I went for a full 24 hours without my phone, and let myself return to the real world. And it felt good to be back.
3. Developing healthier phone habits is definitely not easy, but it makes all the difference.
One of my favorite mindfulness practices that Price recommended in her book was WWW: What For, Why Now, and What Else. The essentials of it was: as you reach for your phone, stop and ask yourself why you’re picking up your phone, why you are doing it now, and what else you could be doing at the moment. This was one of the habits that I picked up, alongside several others, that helped me differentiate times when I actually wanted to use my phone versus when I was only looking for a moment of reward that wouldn’t satisfy me in the long run. As a result of this, my screen time has since gone down by an hour, as I have been finding other ways to make myself happy that are actually fulfilling, and not just a spur-of-the-moment-thing.
After those 30 days, I came out feeling like I had really made solid efforts to improve myself, and to be more present in the real world. While I won’t say that it solved everything, as I still sometimes find myself mindlessly scrolling during a dull moment in the day, that’s the great thing about making progress: it doesn’t come to you perfectly on a platter right away, and no one is expecting it to.
My final verdict
Even without strictly following the 30 Day Guide in order day-to-day, Price’s book contains a lot of good tips to build a better relationship with your phone, as well as great mindfulness practices that we can use to create that world I was talking about: a world where we are more present and mindful of our surroundings. By reading her guide, I was able to find some practices that worked to keep myself present, and built a better world for myself that felt more fulfilling than before, all without completely throwing away my phone altogether. If you are a phone addict like me, give the guide a try; maybe you’ll discover something new, or even rediscover a love for the world like I did.
Linda Tran is a student at UCLA who is passionate about making social change through the power of words. In her free time, she enjoys playing the violin, reading, and binge-watching anime to her heart’s content.