How to break a phone addiction without leaving Cold Turkey


“How to build a lifeis a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, addressing questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his new series of podcasts on happiness, How to build a happy life.


Band now, almost everyone knows that we can be addicted to our digital devices. In the words of Anna Lembke, psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Stanford, “We almost all have a digital drug of choice, and that probably involves the use of a smartphone, the equivalent of the hypodermic needle for a wired generation “.

The data suggests that Lembke’s claim is not hyperbole. For example, the average smartphone user rarely goes two hours without using their device, unlocks their device 50 or more times a day, and swipes or taps up to 2,617 times in the process. Young people are particularly affected: A 2018 Pew Research Center report found that 44% of teens said they often checked their devices for messages or notifications as soon as they woke up, 54% said they spent too much time on their cell phone, and 42 percent feel anxious when they don’t. Those who compulsively consult Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp may have felt a version of that anxiety earlier this week, when apps all disappeared from the internet for a few hours.

Addiction to the device is not trivial. It is associated with depression and anxiety. It disproportionately victimizes single people. According to technology research firm CompareCamp, 26% of car crashes in the United States today are due to the use of smartphones while driving.

These problems are obvious to almost everyone; the solutions, less. Some experts are proposing a tax to help curb digital overuse, in the same way the government discourages tobacco use. Others say the only way to beat an addiction is to quit smoking and to go without devices.

But in a world of electronic payments, digital documents and remote working, a truly smartphone-free lifestyle is becoming less and less convenient. A better (and, for many of us, more plausible) approach is to manage addictive behavior by moderating device use. It’s not just about setting screen time limits that you can easily exceed; instead, you can start developing specific, concrete habits to replace the bad habits that keep sending you back to your phone.

Iin some cases, searching for the “right” amount of an addictive substance or activity can be perilous, and the optimal level of use is zero, forever. This is my case with cigarettes. Quitting smoking has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. For three years, I dreamed of smoking almost every night, and today I’m still drawn to the smell of anything that burns, be it incense or a pile of tires.

But this is not always the case with addictive substances, especially when they provide significant benefits in moderation. Carbohydrates are a good example. A lot of research shows that some people tend to become addicted to this essential macronutrient because the effects of its consumption can mimic the neurochemistry of drugs of abuse. But unlike drugs of abuse, the right tactic with carbohydrates is definitely not to get rid of all of them; it means eating them more responsibly and in less quantity.

So the question is whether digital devices are more like cigarettes or carbohydrates. I believe the answer is the last: quitting cold turkey would impose a huge cost on virtually anyone who needs to manage a bank account, communicate with loved ones, call for a ride, work remotely, or perform countless other daily tasks. So the right approach is to find the right level to which we should aspire.

A recent study of 2,000 American adults by academics from Microsoft, Stanford, New York University and the National Bureau of Economic Research offers a model. Researchers have found that people consistently use smartphones more than they expect or want; this is not great news. The authors make a real breakthrough, however, by estimating the amount of use that can be entirely attributed to self-control issues – that is, the amount of time participants spend on their device that they wouldn’t choose. ‘they weren’t addicted. This is 31 percent.

Your addiction quotient may differ depending on your values, the usefulness of your smartphone, and possibly your brain chemistry as well. But the result is a useful baseline for setting personal goals: If you’re using social media more than you want to, your goal, at least initially, may be to reduce your time by about a third. pass.

Ffind the right the goal of reducing is one thing; doing it is another. Some people try therapy, and psychologists have even recommended medications to help treat related addictions, such as internet addiction. But for those who want to find a DIY approach, here are three practices you might find effective.

1. Take the time to scroll.

It might sound counterintuitive, but bear with me. Much of the overuse of devices can be blamed on their unconsciousness: A 2018 study of Australian adults found that 86% of them admitted to using their smartphones “automatically”. You know what I mean: if you have 15 seconds of stopping in an elevator or if you are waiting for a red light, your phone will turn off. You may not even realize that you are looking at it; you’re just killing time.

The best way to counter mindless scrolling is mindful scrolling. Set hours each day or week to look at your smartphone and really focus on it. Don’t do anything else; be all about the phone during those minutes, like it’s your job. Adapt the instructions of the Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh into The miracle of mindfulness: “When doing the dishes, you only have to do the dishes, which means that when doing the dishes, you have to be perfectly aware of the fact that you are doing the dishes. Besides making addiction easier to overcome – studies have shown that mindfulness is very effective in treating addictions – such a practice could also show you how much you dislike looking at your phone.

2. Turn off your notifications.

Most addictions are associated with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. It governs desire and increases when we receive environmental signals such as advertisements and reminders to do something pleasant, like smoke, play or check our phone. Smartphones play against our dopamine, especially through sounds and banners indicating that someone has texted or mentioned you and you have to watch right away to satisfy your curiosity.

The solution is simple: if you have a smartphone, turn off all notifications, except maybe the ones you need to stay on the job, and the ringer when your mom calls.

3. Separate yourself physically.

If you’re trying to eat healthier, a common piece of advice you might hear from a nutritionist is to avoid having junk food at home. The idea is that a poor diet, a choice you might make without thinking about it, should take some effort.

The same idea applies to the telephone. Separate parts of your home where your phone is not physically nearby, such as the dining table and bedroom. My personal strategy is to plug my phone in the kitchen at night before going upstairs to bed. It’s a habit and therefore I never miss my phone when I go to sleep. If I wake up during the night going to check would take a lot of effort, so I don’t.

Some people go even further. Digital technology specialist Cal Newport advocates the “telephone household” method, in which he leaves his phone near the front door when he enters home and does not put it in his pocket before leaving. If he needs to watch him, he only does it in the foyer.

Adrug addiction is a odious thing, depriving us of our freedom. As the Stoic Greek philosopher Epictetus taught in his Speech, “No one is free unless he is master of himself.” Addiction is doubly abhorrent when its damaging effects benefit others, be it tobacco makers, social media advertisers, or smartphone makers.

Epictetus was not writing about digital subjugation, but he could have been. It also provides the most important lesson to be learned as we seek to break free from the Demonic Screen: Be alive, here, now. “Quit the escapes. Stop giving yourself unnecessary trouble, ”he wrote. “It’s time to really live; fully inhabit the situation in which you find yourself now.

About Rhonda Lee

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