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Electronic friends or enemies?

4 ways to foster a healthier connection to your phone

Imagine removing one thing from your life and instantly improving your social skills, creativity, ability to sleep, safety, wellbeing and productivity. It’s the ultimate life hack and you can implement it right away. All you have to do is switch off your phone and not use it for the foreseeable future. Have I lost you already? Am I talking crazy? Being hysterical? A luddite?

People’s connection to our little electronic friends fascinates me. We personify our phones, dressing them in pretty colours and decorating their screens with personal momentos (a photograph with my fiancé on a recent trip home to Ireland in my case). We bring them everywhere – to work, school, bed, public transport, the gym, on walks, to the bathroom even. They’re in our hand so often that they’ve become an extension of who we are. How many times have you had to avoid someone walking towards you on the street, their gaze lost in their phone? Or sat in a business meeting where a colleague spent the duration fixed on the little screen six inches from their face?

Simon Sinek has spoken about how our mobile phone and social media habits are hard wiring responses to stress in people akin to how an alcoholic turns to the bottle or a drug addict to a needle. We’ve become addicted to the dopamine hit provided by the artificial sense of connection that our phones can bring. The blue light from technology, and our phones in particular, supresses melatonin, a chemical which promotes sleep. Therefore, overuse of our gadgets before bedtime is a contributor to the estimated two thirds of people in developed nations who do not get the recommended eight hours sleep per night. This, in turn, has implications for our ability to concentrate, be productive or creative, as well as a range of other factors impacting our general health and wellbeing. In addition, there has been an alarming rise in the number of phone related pedestrian injuries in the fifteen years since the smart phone became a staple in our lives and similarly troubling figures around phone related driving incidents

Steve Jobs wanted to change the world and the iphone, and the imitations it has spawned, has done just that. The mobile phone is now a ubiquitous part of our culture but the great irony of life is that too much of a good thing leads to bad. Too much chocolate leads to obesity, too much alcohol to liver disease, too much work to burnout and too much of your phone leads to a dulling of your brain and a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. How then can we address this?

Go without

Connectivity is constant in today’s world – buck the trend. The next time you’re waiting for a train, or in the queue at lunch, or in those spaces throughout your day where boredom creeps in, resist the urge to reach for your phone. This seemingly small change can have a big impact. It will help your brain to break the circuit that when you’re idle you need a distraction. In addition, mental breaks like this allow our unconscious to go to work, connecting information gathered throughout the day with previous learning, thus supporting creativity and innovation – highly sought after skills in the disruption conscious world of today.

Help yourself in moments of weakness

‘Nudging’ is an approach in behavioural science that seeks to influence people towards a particular decision or course of action. You can use this to help you with your phone habit. Nudge yourself away from using your phone by removing all apps that you use regularly, particularly those that draw you down rabbit holes and eat into time you’d prefer to be spending doing something more productive or meaningful. Remove all automatic log ins for social media accounts and favourite links to websites too. Make it as difficult as possible for yourself to get sucked in. If this doesn’t work then set a timer (e.g. 5 minutes) as soon as you get drawn in and put it away after the time is up. 

Go on a phone diet

We’re all familiar with the concept of a diet when it comes to limiting our food intake but not so much when it comes to managing our phone usage. This can take many forms. You could only allow yourself to use your phone for a set period of time during the day – for example, an eight hour window turned on and then have it off for the other sixteen. You could also categorise your usage via the value the thing you’re using the phone for brings to your health and productivity – for example, you might allow yourself a lot of time on the Kindle reading app but a much more limited time on a social media equivalent. You might also have particular days during the week where you don’t use your phone at all, or you curtail usage in a similar manner to how the five-two diet is used to moderate calorie intake with food.

Get rid of it

As hard as it might be for many of us to imagine, It is possible to live in the world without your phone. Humans survived for thousands of years without little electronic devices accompanying their every move. You could choose to get rid of your phone completely, a path that would lead to a healthier, more socially connected and happier existence. The choice is yours!

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