I knew I had a problem when in one week, I checked my phone over 15 times because I thought it was vibrating when in fact it was not.
It turns out there is a scientific term for this “Phantom Vibration Syndrome”: the feeling people get when they think their phone is vibrating, when it is in fact, not at all. Not a single notification has appeared.
It was then that I knew I had nomophobia – phone addiction. In other words, the feeling of having your phone feel as if it is surgically attached to your hand. For the most part, a phone provides tremendous benefits. However, walking into any restaurant, workplace, meeting, family gathering, or even a wedding – it’s clear the crippling effect it has on society.
The statistics do not lie either. 71% of people sleep with their phones, and 40% of people do not unplug at all; even for vacation. Studies have consistently linked phone addiction to adverse mental health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety.
After the clear realization that phone addiction is a real thing, it left a puzzling question: “How does one then reconcile the need to “switch off” with the fact that people expect others to be connected to their phones 24/7? Work, family, and friends demand constant connection.
However, after three years of failed experimentation, here is how I finally successfully beat my phone addiction:
“The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg left an everlasting impression on me of the importance of cues. A cue is what triggers the habit. To beat phone addiction, it’s vital to create new cues.
One tool that makes a significant change is the in-built alarm clock on the phone. The alarm clock was used as the cue for when I could look at my phone. After the alarm sounds, I gave myself time to check messages, browse social media, and reply when necessary.
Here’s a breakdown of how I did it:
Week 1 – 10 minutes alarm clock
Week 2 – 25 minutes alarm clock
Week 3 – 35 minutes alarm clock
Week 4 – 45 minutes alarm clock
Focused attention without phone distraction of 45 minutes allowed me to engage in deep work. This technique takes small steps to wean off phone usage.
It’s important to note that for this technique to work, friends and family need to made aware to expect less frequent replies to messages. This will reduce the response anxiety associated with instant text messaging as the expectation of an instantaneous reply is diminished.
Use Apps to Track Phone Usage
Another technique I found to be useful is to track phone usage. It may seem counterproductive to add another app to reduce time on other apps, but in fact, apps like SPACE and Moment track screen time and set limits on website or app use.
Moment also allows for parental control where family screen time can be managed from the app as well. This way, the whole family can learn to detox from their screens together, providing the much needed social support from each other.
Families will have more time to do activities together instead of spending time on their phones separately. Both apps personalize phone detox plans and promise to help every user find their phone-life balance.
The effectiveness of a phone usage app is not in the controls, but in the ‘shock’ factor of the realization of how much time is spent on the phone.
Calm the Mind
Last but not least, learning to calm the mind is essential in beating phone addiction. Studies have suggested that using a smartphone is almost the same as cocaine. Phone users get a high (a dopamine surge) every time a notification lights up the screen. The brain reward system becomes activated and reinforces this behavior.
Practicing mindfulness can help calm these surges. Exercise, yoga, and meditation help with the natural release of dopamine, thus curtailing the need for people to get a dopamine rush from their phones. Therapy or treatment centers can also be useful.
More important than the type of mindfulness is consistency – i.e., being committed to the regiment you choose. I’ve found that anything that I can start my day and conclude my day with is most effective. A mix of mindfulness, yoga, and exercise proved to be the key.
It increased my mental and physical health.
After months, I was no longer experiencing phantom phone vibration, nor did I feel anxious about not looking at my phone every minute of the day. As a result, it drastically improved sleeping patterns and energy throughout the day.
Although unintended, it increased work productivity and my creativity. Most importantly, it reinvigorated interpersonal relationships because I merely ‘looked up from my screen’ and maintained eye contact.
In summary, the benefit of beating phone addiction was not only overcoming the numbing feeling of not having the power of your eyes and hands. It also made me a better person and gave me the freedom to move closer to my goals.