I knew I had to change my phone habits when I would squander my precious “down-time” browsing or watching Youtube videos instead of accomplishing my personal goals. Seeing how it was also affecting my thought process (Part 1 blog post), I implemented ways to regain some control: turning off the internet at night, not bringing it into bed and not looking at Social Media until noon. But with these restrictions in place, it then became the tempting forbidden fruit in my hand. When I did allow myself to indulge, it gave me the dopamine release I was craving. I just couldn’t win as it had a firm hold over me either way.
Feeling guilty for wasting my God-given time and not making any progress on my passion projects, I started to feel useless. This led to even more screen time to numb this feeling to make me feel better. Like binging on junk food: great in the moment but after the dopamine fix, I was mentally and spiritually sluggish. I thought I should disassociate this feeling of ‘guilt’ by accepting phone-use as part-and-parcel of my life and incorporating it into my routine as a tool. So I tried to view it as a ‘reward’ for working hard and in turn a motivator to get things done. It initially spurred me on to be productive, but instead of feeling satisfied with what I’d accomplished, my eyes were always fixed on that “digital carrot” hanging over me. It wasn’t long before I slipped into yet another addictive dopamine cycle of instant gratifications, where my ‘rewards’ quickly began to outweigh the actual work I was doing. I was back exactly where I’d started.
So how did I break the cycle? It took a couple of months to figure it out. My first step was buying a cute grey “dumb phone” without any Internet capabilities. I put my simcard into the dumb phone so I’m always contactable – if anyone really needs me and it’s urgent they’ll call me. In this way, I was able to separate myself from my smart-phone when I needed to. My dumb phone is now my alarm clock, so there is no temptation for me first thing in the morning. However another month rolled by, when I realised I still had the smart-phone in my hand during the day. My excuse was that it had WhatsApp which I mostly use for my students/work but then it dawned on me: “WhatsApp Web”.
Now I have WhatsApp Web open on my laptop when needed and I treat it like my email account. It’s much better using it on the laptop anyway as you can attach documents and write faster. My smart phone is kept in a spare room far away from me (or if you don’t have a spare room, put it hidden in a drawer), or I keep it in my bag when I’m at school. I make sure it is kept charged just so I can access WhatsApp Web from my laptop and the smartphone no longer leaves the spare room when I’m at home. The physical distance from my smart-phone gives me power and it’s simply – out of sight, out of mind. My mind has also gained back its sense of clarity and focus.
I allow myself to use internet but only on my laptop. Internet is no longer the forbidden fruit that I crave and it actually wasn’t the problem after all. It was the “scroll-hole” tendency that comes from the smart-phone being in your hand and the posture that comes with it. Instead of being nestled in the couch, snuggled into my smartphone, I’m sitting upright at a table behind a laptop, productive and in “work mode”. As a result, my internet use is now minimum as I’m getting more of a pleasure and satisfaction from being productive and accomplishing my goals. Internet is now used as a “break” from working, rather than breaking away from the Internet to do work!
I’m free from my smart phone’s grip and finally, I’ve learned how to use technology, instead of being used by technology.
Read 1st Part “Smart Phone, Dumb Mind” – how smart phones have changed how we think.