5 Ways to Overcome Your Digital Addiction
You are waiting for an elevator. The doors slide open, you enter, and they close. As the elevator begins its descent, you notice another person is in the elevator taking this ride with you. The silence soon grows uncomfortable.
Pop quiz. What’s your go-to move?
A) Stare blankly ahead
B) Initiate a greeting
C) Get on your smartphone
D) Briefly look over to the other person and make eye contact
If your answer was C, you’re like most of us. Our attention is always on our smartphones, glued to the digital world.
We have become a society where we avoid real conversation or even eye contact with other people. And technology and the applications it powers make it easier than ever to avoid making actual human-to-human contact with anyone. In fact, a 2019 study found that when we meet people in public places, our phones can thwart us from exchanging even brief smiles.
Because technology is becoming ubiquitous and entwined in our modern existence, we are losing our ability to have profound and spontaneous conversations with others. This is changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.
The social effects of our smartphones are altering the role of conversation in our everyday lives, impacting our capacity for empathy, introspection, creativity, and intimacy.
Put down your smartphone and talk to a person.
Earlier this morning, I stopped by a coffee shop. I’d just completed a fantastic, energizing 6 am spin class and was still covered in sweat. Forgive me.
I love to get in these early morning workouts because I start the day full of new ideas, an intentional desire to do substantial work (after I shower), and a passion for helping people via my minor contributions.
As I stood in line to get my coffee, I dreamt up an exciting new concept for a solo podcast episode. After receiving my coffee, I sat at a nearby table to check my emails.
As I did so, I noticed a young man seated at a nearby table. He was dressed as a typical entrepreneur with a t-shirt, a pair of shorts (we live in Florida), and flip-flops. But, instead of working on his computer or phone, he was reading a book by Robin Sharma, one of my favorite authors.
Intriguing. And so, I said, “Good morning.”
He looked up and was gracious enough to respond back the same. I told him I had recently finished reading The Everyday Hero Manifesto he was reading. I also told him I had the privilege of interviewing Robin Sharma about it two weeks ago for an upcoming episode of my podcast.
His face lit up, and we spoke.
He told me how much he enjoyed reading Robin Sharma’s advice and its impact on his life. He asked me about his influence on my life and what we discussed in our interview. He then spoke of his trials and tribulations as a young man growing up in the fast-paced digital world that surrounds us.
I told him I also have a son his age who is struggling with many of the same things impacting him. The young man spoke of his family and shared some of his early entrepreneurial disappointments and his resolve to succeed. I told him I’ve been coaching entrepreneurs for over two decades and gave him my brief history.
We talked for another few minutes about the trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with starting a new business. The joys that come with success and the need for grit in staying the course through the valleys that come along with the peaks.
Initially, I’m embarrassed to say I almost didn’t talk to him.
All I know is that I must put down my phone more often to have conversations with others who will make me continue to improve.
Now let me relate this story to you.
What is phubbing, and what is its impact?
I recently came across a new term I’d never heard of dubbed “phubbing” — a portmanteau of the words phone and snubbing.
If you are out with a friend, your kids, or your partner, and they continuously check their phone or reply to emails or messages, you are being “phubbed.”
Although being on your phone may seem benign, it can negatively impact your relationships with others because it is your quality time. And the real problem is that you don’t even realize it is happening.
In some ways, our devices were created to foster and maintain relationships: They help you find friendships, let people connect with distant family and friends, and even allow you to find your match.
Still, the usage and even the mere presence of a smartphone during in-person interchanges can reduce the quality of those moments. When someone is phubbing in your presence, the subconscious message you are receiving is that their priorities on their smartphone are more important than you.
How do smartphones affect human connection?
Genavee Brown, a psychologist who studies the risks of technology on relationships, said, “Smartphones allow us to be connected to our loved ones easily through texts and calls, but sometimes when they intrude upon our face-to-face conversations, it can be a problem.”
Brown’s analysis, published in the journal Emerging Adulthood in 2016, revealed when friends used their phones longer, it lessened the quality of their interactions. Her study discovered that all parties had poorer interactions when on their smartphone, regardless of how close they were as friends.
Another recent US study published in the journal Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies had a similar finding. The research discovered that people felt distant from their conversation partner when the person was on their smartphone for an unimportant reason, such as messaging friends, compared with a critical situation like a work emergency.
In other words, when you are constantly engaging with your phone, you cease engaging with those you are with, which harms the quality of your relationships. It tells the other person that your mail, a message, or a call is more important than they are and take precedence. And that makes the other person feel insignificant.
Consuming too much time on your smartphone is damaging to all your relationships. According to published research by Virginia Tech University, it decreases the quality of dialogues and creates a disconnect between individuals.
A 2015 study found that smartphone notifications alone negatively impacted performance on attention-demanding tasks. This event occurred even when the parties did not directly interact with their device during the assignment.
Good conversation and concentration on what is occupying your time beat interacting digitally every time. When we dialogue in person, we engage with the other person, building lasting relationships. It also ensures that what you say to the other person is not misinterpreted.
The reason is straightforward. When you interact face-to-face, you can clearly articulate your ideas and lessen the risk of misinterpretation.
On the other hand, smartphones impact human connection because they prevent the other person from seeing your non-verbal behavior. Using them means not giving your undivided attention and being fully present, which is the most potent expression of affection and respect in a relationship. Those you care about should not have to compete with your devices for your attention.
When it comes to phubbing, your smartphone is ruining your relationships. You are effectively concentrating on something virtual instead of real and destroying your real-life bonds.
Take this digital addiction quiz to see if you are addicted to your smartphone.
The typical user of a smartphone touches their phone 2,617 times a day. You heard that right, 2,617 times, equating to over 3 hours on their phone daily.
So you may be wondering, are you the master of your smartphone, or does it master you? Review the subsequent statements and answer as honestly as possible.
- When you receive a new message alert, your natural inclination is to check your phone immediately.
- You keep your smartphone by your side at all times.
- You communicate with friends or family members using your device, even in the same place (such as your home).
- You have an urge to need to check your device constantly.
- You bring your smartphone to meals with you.
- You take your smartphone with you into the bathroom or locker room.
- You have an impulse to respond to messages when you are driving.
- At occasions like concerts, weddings, or other events, you constantly want to be on your phone instead of enjoying the moment.
- You check your phone while doing mundane tasks or the second you are alone.
- You feel anxious when you can’t get to your phone.
Now grade yourself. How many did you score? The higher the score, the more addicted you are to your phone.
One of the tell-tell signs of any addiction is maintaining obsessive behavior, even when it can cause severe negative consequences.
Research has revealed that people who overuse smartphones experience psychological and physiological health impacts, including:
- sleep problems
- conflicts in relationships
- subpar work or academic performance
- Increased obesity
Five proven ways to break digital addiction
I believe the journey ahead is not one where interaction is done without technology but is learning how to live in better harmony with it.
Smartphones are helpful and, when used correctly, have their purpose….right now, you are likely listening to this podcast on your smartphone. But, as I have discussed throughout this article, they also have the potential to negatively impact our lives and human connection.
So, how do you maintain smartphone usage in alignment with the life and relationship you want to foster?
Here is a list of five I have used or learned from others.
No smartphone occasions
An initial step could include setting aside what I call “no technology” occasions. These are times of gathering such as meals, time spent in the car, family gatherings, or having coffee with a friend. Intentionally make these device-free and set aside for dialogue and connection.
Set aside one day/week.
This is, by far, the most common approach I have used and seen others employ who have taken intentional steps to constrain their cell phone habit. Select one day each week (usually a weekend day) and leave your phone on the charger. That’s it. Make a habit of it.
Don’t charge your phone where you sleep.
One of the most common pieces of advice I hear sleep experts who have been on this show give is that if you want better sleep, don’t charge your smartphone in your bedroom. Want to get your kids off their smartphones? Don’t allow them to charge theirs in their bedroom.
Many of the adverse effects of overuse (insufficient sleep, hindered connection, and intimacy) can be stopped by placing your cell phone out of your bedroom. This is something I do, and it’s made a huge difference.
Employ a ‘screen fast.”
Like intermittent fasting, taking a screen fast is an effective way to alter your habits. How long you decide to screen fast ultimately depends entirely on your frequency of use. I started mine with a 16-hour fast to mirror the typical fasting I do as part of my health routine. This might not be practical if you have to work, but the idea here is to achieve as much complete avoidance as possible.
Create rules around your daily use
If you cannot do the screen fast, another trick I’ve used that is less stringent is to distance yourself from your phone daily. What has worked for me is to try not to use my phone when I start the day before or after my work day is complete. This means putting your phone in a place that is out of eyesight, like putting it in a box during mealtime.
The simple premise here is that if you permit your phone to be with you in all that you do, you will be drawn to it. However, if you can’t physically get to it, you will not use it.
Brian Solis, a best-selling author and expert in digital anthropology, said, “Breaking away from digital addiction requires recognizing what truly matters to you…your passions, your relationships, your creative self.”
When you engage with your family or friends, and all you can do is constantly reach for your phone, you miss out on the kinds of conversations where empathy is created and real intimacy blossoms.
So allow for those human moments, accept that life is not a steady “feed,” and learn to savor the pace of conversation — for empathy, community, and creativity.
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles.
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