How to Break the Cycle of Device Addiction

By Tracey Dowdy

Ever feel like the devices we once claimed were going to make our lives easier and give us hours of free time have actually had the opposite effect? Instead of leaving us time to relax, we’ve become preoccupied with checking our phones, even without being prompted. We’re obsessed.

The upside, according to research from Pew, is that we consider our fellow Americans “less loud and annoying than they used to be,” since we’re all glued to our screens.

The downside? Balancing the benefits of having the world in the palm of our hands against all the demands on our time and attention that access brings.

Psychologists, life coaches, self-help books, and Lord knows your mother-in-law, all think we’re spending too much time on our phones and we’ve become addicted. How addicted? Well, Adam Adler, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, found the average response time for a work email is six seconds. Six. Seconds. That’s how often we’re checking in. In his research, Adler found that not only do we spend an average of three hours a day on our phones, when asked which would be worse – a broken bone or a broken phone, 46% of young adults chose the broken bone, with many of those who chose a broken phone “agonizing” over the choice.

Calling it addiction may be distasteful but if you examine what addiction is and how it interferes with relationships, work, and responsibilities, it makes sense.

To break the cycle and disengage from your bad habits, follow these addiction breaking tips:

Be Intentional. Change the default settings, turn off push notifications and silence your phone if safe to do so. When we see the screen light up or hear a tone, like Pavlov’s dog we have conditioned ourselves to immediately pick up our phone and see what’s happening. By turning off those notifications, we can start to take control.

Flip your mindset. Atler suggests instead of saying “I can’t check my phone,” say “I won’t check my phone.” “Can’t” suggests an external force is controlling your actions, whereas “won’t” puts you in control and control is what it’s all about. Simply flipping the script from “can’t” to “won’t” gives us that power.

Set time limits. Just like you do when you’re trying to get your kids to practice playing the piano or manage their screen time, determine before you get lost down the rabbit hole of cat videos or Tasty cooking demos how much time you will spend on your phone.

Model appropriate behavior. Speaking of your kids, remember they will do what you do more than they will do what you say. Common Sense Media has a clever video with Will Ferrell promoting their Device Free Dinner initiative that shows how your screen time behaviors are seen and noted by your kids. You can’t ask them to do what you’re not willing to do yourself.

Track your habits. If you’re not sure this really applies to you, keep a journal or a running tally of how many times you jump on Facebook, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans or whatever else you’re into. After a few days, take stock and determine if that time is keeping you from other more productive or life-enhancing activities.

Take a break. Whether you see yourself as addicted or not, putting your device down and spending time away is a healthy habit to cultivate. Your mother-in-law isn’t totally wrong. It is important to spend time with family and friends to engage in real-world connections and conversations. A recent article from Forbes Magazine examined the struggle millennials are experiencing with face-to-face conversation having grown up in a digital world. They aren’t alone. Taking a break doesn’t have to be for a long period of time, but simply disconnecting, even for an afternoon, can help you reset and re-engage on a deeper level with the world around you.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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