When I put my phone away for two weeks

In my last post, I announced that I was going to do a challenge on smartphone detox for two weeks. I will reiterate the rules that I have signed up to:

  1. Do not look at phone first thing in the morning
  2. Do not look at / post on social media all day except during designated slots in the morning and evening
  3. Leave phone at home when going out for short distances from home
  4. Do not look at phone before (at least one hour before) sleep

Firstly, let me explain why I have decided to do this challenge.

Why?

Some background first. I have had a smartphone for years now. I use it mostly for connecting to people via social media, mails, a bit of working and online shopping (I shop most of my stuff online these days, I don’t like the crowded malls/shops). I mostly use Whatsapp and Instagram. I have a FaceBook account but I deleted the app from my phone over two years ago. I’m not at all active on Twitter and I hardly ever use it. Finally, I don’t have push notifications for anything. (except of course for normal calls and texts).

So, I’m somewhere in the middle of the phone addiction spectrum. Why did I take this challenge?

  • Reality check: How much am I really addicted to my phone? And if the addiction is really bad, use this challenge as an initiative to get de-addicted.
  • Phoneless life: How does life feel like without constant checking of phone?
  • Know myself: By cutting down the clutter/noise from phone, I was hoping to be more aware of myself.

How did it go?

First thing in the morning and at least one hour before sleep:

Initially I struggled to even remember these but eventually, these became easy to stick to. Somewhere in the middle of week 1, I gave in and spent an hour on the phone in the middle of the night because I got woken up by my two year old (who went back to bed and I couldn’t! So typical!). But overall, I can say there has been success in these two rules.

Check social media apps only at pre-determined times:

I chose two designated times for this – 11.30am – 12.30pm and 6.30 pm – 7.30 pm. I sucked at this in the initial few days. To remember firstly and then to resist the automatic urge to check Whatsapp messages and Instagram feed. These apps were filling my empty spaces between one task and the next, while waiting for something or sometimes while eating too. Any moment when I’m not actively “doing” anything, I’d automatically open the social media apps, even without my full awareness. I sort of knew this was the case but taking up this challenge confirmed it.

So in these two weeks, after crossing the hurdle of being able to remember the two time slots, I got better at being aware when my hand would go out to reach for the phone in auto-pilot mode. Then I got better at resisting my strong urge. My strong urge was related to my mind-talk along the lines of “what’s the harm in quickly checking Whatsapp messages?”, “let me just check if XYZ has replied”, “I’m not doing anything for the next 10 mins so what’s wrong in just browsing through my Insta feed?”, “Who cares about this challenge anyway?”. Overall, there were days when I failed and there were days when I was able to go by the rules of the challenge.

Leave phone at home when going out short distances:

I did not follow this well as I failed to remember to not take my phone with me when going out.

What did I learn?

Now that I know how much I’m addicted, I think I’m going to continue the ‘check social media apps only at these times’ rule. I’m almost out of the urge to check phone first thing in the morning and last thing in the night. I don’t see a strong reason to leave phone at home as long as I stick to the ‘check social media apps only at these times’ rule.

Phoneless life did not seem extremely different from life before this challenge mainly because I don’t have alerts/push notifications anyway. It was definitely different in that I had sudden pockets of space which I could choose to deal with differently, which actually links to the next point:

I chose to use some spaces in between tasks to meditate for a couple of minutes or may be just take a step back and see how I was feeling. Was I feeling calm or stressed or annoyed or just about anything? This allowed me to catch any negative emotions or even meaningless mind chatter before they became big. Sometimes, during these spaces or waiting times, I chose to just zoom out and watch around – my surroundings, nature, people, other sounds apart from the voice in my head.

This experience is my favourite part of this challenge. It almost is a ready-at-hand self-awareness and calming trick. I was using these spaces to check phone which just resulted in more information noise into my head or aggravate existing emotions or just plain distraction from what is. By cutting the phone out, I feel more calm and balanced as I now realise that I actually have some ‘me’ time at hand if only I choose to use that time in this way.

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