Another day, another statistic highlighting our truly addictive relationship with the smartphone.
Why am I not surprised in the slightest at the new survey unveiled by consumer website Muffie.co.uk earlier this week?In fact, I think respondents may have been conservative with their answers as I know of many people whose phone is constantly stealing their attention.
Just look around you on the tube to see a plethora of people all stooped in the same position, heads down, brows furrowed, gadget in hand whilst the fingers scroll and tap to beat of the train chugging along the tracks.
Don’t get me started on family mealtimes! A sad sight for all concerned as kids sit on their technology and parents on their phones at the golden time they have the opportunity to be face to face and communicate.
I was asked to go onto BBC Radio for an interview sharing my views on why we find it so difficult to stop looking at our phones, why it’s important that we get our usage into balance and the overall effects that being on our phones has on not only ourselves but also on our children and relationships etc.
As a mother of 3 kids under 12 years old and an active spokesperson on Digital Mastery, I have pretty strong views around smartphones, tablets and gadgets in the family environment.
With 1 in 10 people saying they were cutting down on their mobile phone usage as a New Year resolution, it’s encouraging to see more self-awareness, an acceptance of overuse (rather than denial) and a willingness to make small changes. What’s key here is that we all have bad days or weeks where our usage creeps up but being aware is key to being able to correct certain behaviours and keep moving forward to foster better habits.
There are many reasons and excuses as to why we use our phones so much, from checking bank apps, making calls, checking the time, social media, business emails etc the list goes on but what I found concerning was that 41% of those surveyed said they were easily bored as there was nothing else to do, so the default position was to reach for their phones, not find something to do.
One of the suggestions I make for those who are struggling with overuse is to keep a brief diary on how they are feeling just before they go on their phone as quite often overuse can be an emotional crutch. Being aware of how you are feeling whether that’s bored, tired, sad, angry, excited, happy, vulnerable, shy etc is a great way to understand your triggers and find alternative ways to either fill the time or address the feeling.
The public general awareness is increasing that using these devices releases the happy chemical ‘dopamine’ which is all about ‘reward’. Each time we have a positive social interaction, sex, exercise and even eating our favourite foods, our brain releases the chemical and motivates us to repeat the behaviour. Smartphones, and in particular social media platforms work on (make money) from exploiting the brains reward features by creating a need to increase the usage of the device/platform. Just think about Facebook over the years and how sophisticated their notifications are now from when they first started, same with the Smartphone. The notifications are fast and furious and keep you locked into a perpetual state of seeking instant gratification. Once you understand how technology interacts with your brain you can start to make small, incremental changes that put you back into Master/Slave role and foster a healthier relationship not only with technology but also those around you.
Did you know that ‘Forest Bathing‘ the Japanese term ‘Shinrin-yoku’ has been known to stimulate the production of dopamine? Wouldn’t it be life-changing if you could swap the dopamine pump of the smartphone for natural dopamine increasing activities? Such a small change will reap huge benefits. Planning is they key, taking structured time out of your day to invest in alternative activities that stimulate your mind, stave off boredom (the height of reaching for that pesky phone) and motivate you to create a healthier way of living.
I’ve been on a few digital detoxes over the years which I’ve loved (Portugal, France, and Wales) and whilst they are incredibly beneficial and a superb way of kick-starting a better relationship with your technology they can sometimes be hard for people to do in one go.
I promote ‘digital mastery’ which is getting back into the driving seat and putting boundaries and rules in place to help people to stay in control, driving more self-awareness around usage and helping to inspire and motivate to create lasting behavioural change.
You can co-exist quite happily with technology once you have balance. Just like a diet high in junk food is bad for you, so is a diet of consuming technology for hours on end, day in day out.
I asked a handful of experts to also share their strategies on how to cut down on smartphone usage and reap the benefits of a more structured approach to technology.
5 Top Tips for Smartphone Digital Mastery
1. Digitally detox in increments
For some people, going a few minutes without checking their smartphone or emails is difficult. For many, the urge is reflexive and habitual. If you are one of those people, then ‘baby steps’ are needed. Such individuals need to learn to digitally detox in small increments (i.e., go on a ‘digital diet’). Start by proving to yourself that you can go 15 minutes without technology. Over time, increase the length of time without checking (say) Twitter, Facebook and emails (e.g., 30 minutes, 60 minutes, a couple of hours) until you get into a daily habit of being able to spend a few hours without the need to be online. Another simple trick is to only keep mobile devices partially topped up. This means users have to be sparing when checking their mobile devices. – Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University.
2. Get your tech fix out of the way
Make time for technology use in the morning and in the evening – get it out of your system and then get on with the rest of your day! – Dr Daria Kuss, Chartered Psychologist and Chartered Scientist Course Leader MSc Cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University.
3. De-clutter your smartphone apps
Remove non-essential apps from your phone – you can check Facebook and Twitter during your lunch break on your computer, for example. – Jo Emerson, Confidence Coach & Human Behaviour Expert at Jo Emerson Coaching.
4. Slave to the rhythm
We’ve become slaves to technology instead of the other way around. Get back in control and turn the relationship on its head. Show your phone you’re the master and turn off your notifications. Remember, if it’s urgent someone will call you. By turning off notifications you will retrain yourself to go longer periods of time between checking your phone. Turning your phone onto vibrate or silent will also help to create more space in your day to immerse yourself in other things.
5. Invest in a watch and/or an alarm clock
With most people sleeping with their phone by their bed, it’s all to common to check the time and use the smartphone as an alarm call. The problem with this is that once you pick up the phone it’s all too tempted to catch up on social media, emails, news etc. Set aside a particular time in the morning and evening (or day if that works better) to batch your tasks into a condensed time slot.
What’s key to remember that we live in a constantly switched on society and we are all going to have days where we use our phones more than others, don’t beat yourself up, just get back into the habit of committing to making small changes such as the tips suggested above. There’s no benefit in feeling guilty, it’s just a wasted emotion. Make small changes and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it gets over time.
A big thank you to our contributing experts.
Dr Daria Kuss
Chartered Psychologist and Chartered Scientist Course Leader MSc Cyberpsychology, Notting Trent University
Confidence Coach & Human Behaviour Expert
LinkedIn: Jo Emerson Coaching
Facebook: Jo Emerson Coaching
The team behind www.muffie.co.uk undertook the research as part of an ongoing study into how people spend time when they’re alone. 2,089 people were surveyed, all of whom were aged 18 or over and said they owned a smart phone.