If you're looking for the story on my phone addiction, scroll to near the bottom.
Before plopping into the world and taking over everyone's lives, our phones never really came with an instruction manual. So, we've wildly embraced them, unfortunately caught by their genius persuasive tactics to use them more and more, at the expensive of spending our time on more rewarding, valuable life experiences like connecting with our friends, learning new skills, or playing (outside).
While I feel far from equipped to prepare an entire manual, I've attempted to create a sort of mini-guide, highlighting the most important aspects of using our phone. Since the few categories of the phone mentioned in this guide are responsible for most of our phone use, there should be some information that you find valuable.
There have been times in my life, perhaps stretches of a few months, when I have put my phone on airplane mode for most of the day, checking it just a couple of times to unload all the messages that pile up. Recently, I have been reminded of these pleasant calm times in my life, as I currently have the fortunate pleasure of being without any obligation to us my phone for communication. Because of the happiness it is bringing me (and has brought me in past), and simply that it seems like it would be an impossible task for those of you currently living in modern society, I feel that the lessons I have learned from reflecting on this experience could be very valuable for you.
To get the most out of today's post, I ask that you keep an open mind. Since the phone has been such a deep part of our lives (taking hours out of every day) for so long (over a decade), we've become biased from over-exposure. We have become comfortable with it, and are biased towards holding onto it for comfort's sake. All I ask is that you become aware of this bias, and try to view the ideas below without it. If you allow yourself to be fully open, you might be surprised.
There are so many better things to do than use our phone.
If you're anything like me, the prevalence of phones in our society has caused you to forget about the awesome, fun things in life. Here are a few incredible ways to spend time that don't use a phone at all. (I made the link short so you can remember it easily!)
With so many fun things to do, using our phone for anything pales in comparison. But since it's easy, and always with us, we usually forget about these other fun things and opt for the easy, quick fix of guaranteed, effortless fun. It's a shame, really.
Over the long run, I think that going for a quick fix is really hurting us as a society. We are playing a lot less, connecting with each other in increasingly shallower ways, which is both contributing to us becoming more anxious. I have the feeling that phones are secretly killing us, but since we use them so much, have grown to rely on them, and are too afraid to get rid of something that makes us so comfortable, no one really wants to talk about this.
So here I am, talking about it. I am pretty certain that pursuing our interests in ways that don't use our phones is a lot more fun, and better for us, than anything that involves our phone. If we're reliant on our phones, chances are we haven't discovered enough of the world to find something we're interested in.
Without many interests, we revert to our newsfeeds to tell us what we should like. We leave it up to the newsfeed gods to determine how we spend our time. And, as we'll learn later in this article, this is a terrible idea, since the newsfeed gods show you whatever will make you most likely to keep scrolling. It's like asking a drug dealer for advice on what drugs to buy; they're going to make you pick whatever keeps you coming back for more, so that they can make more money.
To maximize clarity, here are three goals of mine that the phone directly prevents me from reaching.
1. I want to build deep relationships.
While we can use our phones to arrange meetings with friends, I usually get sucked into over-communicating, sometimes "hanging out" on the phone, instead of in-person. The phone tricks me into thinking that deep friendships can happen over the phone. They can't. They happen in person.
2. I want to be present-focused.
Using my phone always pulls me away from what's happening around me. I strongly value my able to be calm with all of my energy going towards focusing on the present moment. Since my phone distracts me from this, convincing me that things other than what's around me are important, and convincing me to continue to focus on these things (persuading me to scroll further), I have to let it go if I want to become truly present-focused.
3. I deeply value my ability to focus.
Beyond being focused on the present, I want to be able to focus on anything. The phone teaches me to never be focused on one thing for more than a few seconds. It erodes my ability to focus my attention on any one thing for an extended period of time. Since I need to focus to reach any goals, and being able to focus allows me to reach my goals faster, letting go of the phone makes a lot of sense.
The next sections are designed around each of the ways we can use the phone. To understand what's good about the little black box and what's bad, we need to break things down. At the end, you'll find a personal story of my phone addiction.
Enjoy, my friends.
Basically, I think consuming social media brings us very little happiness. I think it does a terrible job at its goal: helping us be more social. And I think it takes away time from us that we can spend on much more important, big things in life. I can't just call social media bad as a whole, so we're going to break down each part of it, understanding its supposed purpose thoroughly, and why it does a bad job achieving this.
1. Consuming social media brings us further away from our friends, not closer together.
Consuming newsfeeds about what our friends are up to, whether its Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, is just a bad means to the end of us deepening our relationships. Instead of us deeply connecting with other people in person, or at least over a call on the phone/FaceTime, we are tricking ourselves into feeling connected with our friends when we actually aren't. Certainly, it makes sense that liking a friend's photo, or just viewing what they post has no affect on us improving our friendship with them. But in the moment, when we're sucked into scrolling, it feels like we are.
So, to be clear, if we have the goal of using our time to deeply connect with our friends, spending it on consuming social media seems to be a bad way of achieving this goal.
2. Social media tricks us into thinking it's possible to have hundreds of friends.
It's great to be friendly. I think in an ideal world, everyone would say hi to everyone. But, in reality, we spend most of our time with just a small group of our friends. The problem is that on social media, we are tricked into feeling like we have many friends; hundreds, or even thousands. Worse, we are tricked into thinking that the more friends we have the better our lives will be.
For real friendships, our relationship on social media with that person means nothing. It's about the connection we have with these people in-person. And we know this. It's obvious to us now, but not when we're sucked into social media apps.
Instead of worrying about the countless acquaintances we like to think we have to feel better about ourselves - to feel more wanted by the more of the world - it seems far better to forget about the whole thing entirely and spend our energy deepening our most important relationships by using our time for in person hangouts with our best friends.
3. Social media is designed to be addicting.
Since all of the social media apps are actually businesses, they are designed to maximize their profit, which comes from maximizing the time we spend on these apps. The long and the short of it is that the more time and attention we put towards social media apps, the more money they make from advertising revenue (they make money by using our attention to convince a few of us to buy products that we wouldn't otherwise want).
This is why Snapchat has streaks, to force us to come back to the app each day. This is why YouTube and Facebook autoplay their videos, to trick us into spending more time watching "just one more".
Trusting social media with our attention is a bad bet. Their goal is to take as much attention away from us as possible, as opposed to spend it how we want it to be spent. Our interests are simply misaligned. So, we don't trust SM.
For the types of relationships that I want to be building - deep, long-term, fulfilling ones - using my time to consume social media makes achieving this goal take much longer, since I can't devote as much time and attention to it (SM consumes a lot of my time and attention). Instead, using time that I would spend on social media to actually hang out with friends, or to work on important projects, makes me much happier, and closer to achieving my goals.
Unfortunately, I believe social media is having a massive, negative impact on the world's ability to focus. It is teaching us to keep our attention on any one thing for mere minutes, usually even less. Since being able to focus is extremely valuable to society since it allows us to get work done, the phone eroding our ability to focus actually makes us less useful to society. And don't we all want to work to be more, as opposed to less, useful to society?
1. Our phone to teach us to task-switch far too often.
When we use our phones, we are able to do a million things at once. This teaches our brains to never get too focused on any one thing, because it thinks it will be switching to something else soon. If we value the ability to focus to get things done, using our phone makes us far worse at this, so we should aim to use it far less.
In any one day, we may move environments 5-10 times. Starting at our house, we'll prepare for the day, go to work wherever, come home, and maybe go somewhere fun at night, perhaps staying in to work on something fun. This is about five task-switches. Think about how easy it is to switch tasks five times on our phone. Heck, we could probably do it in ten seconds if we wanted to.
Our brains take a long time to focus on any one thing. This is why hanging out with our friends, in person, for hours, actually allows us to build relationships, and scrolling pictures, connecting with each person for mere seconds does not. Beyond our brain working this way, it also takes time to get anything done. Even if we could become hyper focused on our phone for the ten minutes while checking it while at the bus stop, what could we really accomplish in that amount of time that's worth real value?
Less task-switching means more focus, which means more getting stuff done, which means our lives actually improve. Unless we want to get better very slowly, we need to ditch the phone.
2. Using our phone to fill gaps of time tricks us into feeling more productive.
The cost of teaching our brain to go back and forth between things really quickly, a cost we incur whenever take our phone, is much greater than the benefit of being able to reply to a couple of texts, or check a couple of newsfeeds. It feels like we're getting more done, since we have less downtime, but we're not.
To better understand why, let's dig into a new concept: batching. Batching takes repeated instances of doing a task, and batches them all together. This saves time because it eliminates all the set-up and take-down costs necessary to perform each of these tasks individually, and incurs only one set-up cost and one take-down cost for the entire batch. Batching is a great way to improve productivity.
We should check our phone in as large batches as possible. This means checking them as infrequently as possible. By checking our phones much less frequently, our brains will take the same amount of time to focus and unfocus from our phone, but in the overall picture, we will be focusing and unfocusing far less frequently, since we will be getting more done each time we check our phone.
Every time we use our phone should be a large event. Since we don't want to use it that often, and we recognize that our brain takes a long time to switch tasks, if we're going to check it, we check everything. We get it all done. This way, our brain will be able to fully focus on whatever we move onto next, and we won't be worrying about the few messages we still have to reply to.
3. Increased task-switching teaches us to waste time on unimportant things.
With our brains trained to focus on things for a very short amount of time, they will work to quickly find things to do. Often this speed prevents us from taking the time to filter out what is most important to be worked on, and we end up wasting our time on unimportant things.
Think of how many times you have taken you phone out and scrolled newsfeeds, finding yourself no better at the end of the scrolling session, when you could have called your mom, when you haven't talked to her all week. Or, better yet, you could have talked to that person at the bus stop, asked how their day was going, and boom, you've made a friend.
There are always more important things to do than check our phones, so, to force ourselves to focus on these other more important things, we stop checking our phones as much. Our phones are incredibly powerful persuasive machines, always persuading us to dig deeper into the pit of scrolling, not pushing us towards spending our time on important things. So it's important that we keep our phone session long, and infrequent.
I believe focus is the most important meta-skill in our lives. If we can't focus, our lives won't move towards any of our goals. Heck, if we can't focus, we can't even set goals. Now, we don't need to be perfect, but it makes sense for us to work to be as good as we can be, right? And if our phones take away from our ability to focus far more than they add anything else to our lives, it makes most sense to let them go from our lives.
You're probably saying that it's impossible not to use our phones - we need them for messaging. Well we don't absolutely need them for anything - the world worked just fine without them about a little over a decade ago. If we want, we can choose to use them for messaging, but it's not life-or-death. As we've figured out from what's above, the less we use our phones, the better we will be able to focus, and the more time we'll have for other things. So, we need to use our phones for messaging in a way that limits the time we spend on our phones.
1. We check our incoming messages as infrequently as possible (NOT as they arrive).
When we teach our phones to interrupt us whenever we receive an incoming message, we are never really able to focus. So, we schedule checking all of our messages all at once, as infrequently as possible. This allows us to focus as much of our energy on the more important things in our lives, like actually being present while we spend time with friends, and working towards making serious progress towards our goals.
This means checking our phones once a day, or, if possible, once a week.
While I know this might seem crazy, it's the only way we can truly protect our ability to focus. Of course, if someone calls us, we can pick up. If we're meeting someone and they haven't arrived, maybe we can shoot them a text or call them. But for all of our e-mails, facebook messages, and texts, since they are rarely urgent, we bear the cost of potentially missing something important for the benefit of being able to live much more presently, more deeply focused on what's around us.
As it turns out, nothing is every truly urgent. I have found this from going months with my phone on airplane mode for most of the day. No one ever died. Everything always figures itself out. And for the true emergencies, we don't need our phone, we will get alerted via some sort of physical method like a fire alarm.
Unfortunately, other people don't feel this way. Everyone likes to feel that they are extremely important, and that everything they ask of the world must be completed as soon as possible. For some people, our transition towards checking messages less frequently may cause them to take offence, thinking that we don't like them because of long reply times. Since we know that our true friends won't base our friendship on our ability to reply to our phones, we don't need to worry about comments like these.
2. We reduce outgoing communications, using in-person as our medium whenever possible.
Ultimately, if we want to make our lives easier, we reduce the amount of incoming communication through our phones that we have to deal with. The best way to do this is to reduce our outgoing communications through our phones. Most things we feel we need to communicate over the phone either don't need to be communicated at all, or can wait. So, whenever we have something to say to someone, we make a note in our brains to ask them next time we see them, or, only if absolutely necessary, we can call them to get it out of the way.
If we feel like sending a note to an old friend, we go for it, but we continue to leave checking the responses to these notes to once a day (ideally once a week). We send the note (without checking our inbox, preserving our attention), and get back to what we're doing.
3. We don't "have fun" with our friends on our phones, we see them in-person.
I cannot count the nights I have wasted away texting my friends on my phone. Since our phones are simply a bad means of connecting with others, if we want to connect with our friends, having fun, and deepening our relationships, we go see them. If we can't, we plan to see them, and then spend our time do something else. Having a present-focused state of being is so important for our happiness, and tricking ourselves into thinking we're connecting with people that are not in the same room is a silly thing to do.
It's much easier to talk with our friends on our phones. In-person can seem kind of scary, especially if it's with someone that we are interested in romantically, or if the subject matter is serious. But the scariness level of either situation means nothing. If our goal is to connect with other humans, we choose the path that best achieves this goal: seeing them. We can't let the phone trick us into having magical connecting powers.
The reality is that any energy we spend trying to connect with other people through our phones would help us connect with them 1000x deeper if we use this energy to see them in person. Let's not get tricked into wasting our time building weak friendships, and let's use our lives to enjoy the deep relationships we deserve.
How To Use Your Phone
Answer: Very little.
It's really this simple. Since nothing important ever happens on our phone, by not using it, we can be sure that we are focusing on some of the more important things in life. Whenever we touch our phone, we want it to be an event. We don't want to get into the habit of checking it obsessively, wasting our time and interrupting our attention. Since our time is best spent on important things, if we choose to spend time on our phone, it should be to deal with important matters. And, since everything on our phone is less important than what's around us, we quickly get on with it, put our phones down, and come back to the present.
Here are some ideas that may make it easier for you to use your phone less.
1. If possible, eliminate social media.
Newsfeeds don't make sense under any circumstances. Even if you want to see something entertaining, take responsibility for your attention, feel what type of entertainment you're looking for, and then search out this entertainment. When we rely on newsfeeds to show us anything, we are choosing to employ someone to make it as difficult as possible for us to stop watching.
For facebook, get the newsfeed eradicator.
For Instagram and Snapchat, see below.
After a long time of thinking about it, I am not sure that social media is the devil and should be entirely eliminated from our lives. It does have the positive benefit of serving as a nice bank of memories. So, if we want to use it to document our lives, I think this is okay. As long as we are careful to spend very little time on the apps, quickly posting, and then getting off the app, we should be fine. And of course, we want to be sure to document our lives, not use the apps as platforms to show off. We don't want to be living our lives for what would look cool on the gram. We want to decide to live it how we want, and then document what we want to remember.
To document, we can download the social media app, post, and then delete it right away. This avoids us falling into the trap of caring about what other people think about what we post (we can't see how well our posts do this way), ensuring we do it just for ourselves, for the benefit of others if they so choose.
2. Batch responding to incoming messages.
When we're not busy building our skills, connecting deeply with our friends, or playing a game, we may find ourselves with a little extra time on our hands. I do not recommend using this time to check our phone for messages. Instead, we work to chat with those around us, meditate in the moment, or just chill.
For checking incoming messages, we create scheduled batches. Whether it's every morning when we wake up, every night before bed, or every Monday afternoon, we pick a frequency and stick to it. Outside of these times, we trust that if people want to tell us something urgent, that they'll call us (or be old-fashioned and find us in-person). By not constantly replying to texts and other incoming communication, we're forced to spend our time on the more important fun things in life. My friend Stephen Covey calls the important, fun ways to spend time "Quandrant II activities" (see here for an explanation, and here for the model in action - page 213).
Keeping the discipline to stick to our batches prevents us from obsessively checking our phone, procrastinating what's important. It also teaches us to focus much better, as we will be asking ourselves to task-switch to use our phones much less frequently. Of course, it will take a lot of willpower at first, and may take months, even a year to fully control our phone use, but the end goal of controlling our phones, not having them control us, is worth the effort.
3. Teach others to talk to us in-person.
Since connecting with friends on our phones wastes our energy, since this energy is always better invested in connecting with people in person (the people who are around us at the time), our goal is to move as much communication with friends to in person as possible. Since nothing is ever urgent, we design our lives such that we spend most of our friend time in slow-motion hangouts.
We limit the messages we send to other people over the phone, which teaches them to talk to us more in-person, deepening the overall quality of our relationships. Eventually, we will spend most of our time communicating with people in person, like the real human beings we are.
The less we can rely on our phones for communication, the less we will use them. Number three here is the best thing we can do to proactively make it easier for us to spend less time on our phones.
The more we use our phones, the less time we have for other activities. More than this, the weaker our ability to focus on anything for long, and the weaker our connection with our physical environments. Our relationships become weaker, and I am starting to notice that our spirits may become weaker too.
On the other hand, diving into life head first makes us stronger. Digging deep into learning about other people, helping them with their problems and sharing ours is a deeply rewarding experience. So is learning. Anything. Be it reading new ideas, practicing new skills, or playing new sports. Having fun with friends in any physical form contributes strength to our lives. Even by resisting our phones, we become stronger.
The point is: our phones may be making us a lot weaker, and we can't even realize it, because we can't imagine going without them. Fortunately, we don't need to go without them, we just need to use them a lot less. By eliminating some of the categories of current ways we use our phone (outlined in the above section), we will slowly be able to see that our phones are much less useful than their addictive nature has convinced us they are.
My friend Mara from Argentina that I met in Bali shared with me a very appropriate saying from Latin America:
"When one is aware one cannot be indifferent."
Now that we're aware of the negative impacts phone use has on our lives, by choosing to use our phones, we are actively making the decision that we want to become weaker at focusing, connecting with the world, and relating with other people. And awareness of the problem is the first step towards improving anything.
We're all different.
The ideas I've shared are going to apply to you a little differently than the next person. Maybe you never use social media, but you're texting 24/7. Maybe you don't use your phone much, but you always pull it out during awkward social moments. Maybe you're too afraid to tell people how you really feel in person, so you leave the important communication to the phone.
Whatever your relationship with your phone, your conscience and I are pretty darn sure spending less time using it, and spending more time connecting with the world will force you become stronger in some way. I don't know how you'll get stronger, since it will vary from person to person, but you'll get stronger. And moving towards places of strength usually brings us happiness.
So, ditch the phone, and start living.
My Phone Addiction
Just like our phones cause us to be biased, our sources of information always come with a biased point of view. I am biased against phone use, because I have had a terrible relationship with my phone. I encourage you to take everything I say (and frankly everything everyone else says too) with a grain of salt. Always.
The ideas I have outlined in this article might seem a little extreme. That's because my relationship with my phone is pretty extreme, as you'll soon find out. Before sharing my story, I really want to emphasize that phone use is personal to you. If you believe using social media is a fun thing, something that you find more fun than playing board games with your roommates, then use social media. It's your life. You can do what you want.
But, since I have found such deep pain and negative energy associated with my phone, I am convinced the thing is a beast (and that, if you're anything like me, you'd probably have more fun playing the board game). I'm just sharing what I know.
Here goes nothing.
Growing up, I used to always spend time on the computer, while my family would watch TV. I loved being in control of what was happening on the screen. Not the case for TV. I always thought the computer was much better for this reason. I thought I was way better than my family.
Like anyone though, I fell into the traps of the computer, getting sucked into thinking it was a good idea to spend more time on the silly box. I got sucked into spending enormous amounts of time watching porn, playing online games, and going through YouTube videos (mostly the porn and games though, YouTube wasn't really a thing in 2005).
The porn and the games were bad, but not that bad. While the time could have been far better spent outside playing, or hanging out with my friends (or maybe connecting with my family in the living room), at least the time wasting stopped when I left the computer. I wouldn't really think about using the computer when I wasn't on it.
But when I started to use the computer to "connect" with friends, things changed.
First, it was MSN. This was where I would delude myself into thinking I had many friends, despite having conversations with most of them that didn't use more than four words: sup, nm, u, bye. For the few friends that I dug into deeper conversations with, I was still deluding myself into thinking the relationship was deep. It wasn't. It couldn't have been. I was talking to a computer, not a person.
The problem with MSN, that didn't happen with the porn and games was that it was on my mind, even when I wasn't at the computer. The extreme over-thinking that I was doing before typing every sentence continued outside of the time I spent on the actual conversations. But, whenever I talked with people in person (like at school), we would hang out, talk, and then leave, and I thought about whatever I moved onto doing next.
Without realizing it, connecting with other humans over MSN actually taught me to have conversations with myself, not with other people. I would often find myself seeing someone in person, finally exploding at them with a worry I had been holding in for a long time, only to have them say that they never said that, or that I was totally making that all up. I would usually bring things up online that I was too afraid to say in person, and the same thing would happen.
I was slowly becoming disconnected from other people (and maybe more anxious).
When Facebook came, the time-spend increased. First of all, it became way easier to spend way more time actually on Facebook. There was more to do. Instead of just talking to people, we could look at other people's pictures, rate people on Hot or Not, and write on each other's walls. Spending more time on Facebook is one thing, but the part where things really started to get out of control was when it started stealing all of my attention.
Even when I wasn't on Facebook, I was worried about not having as many posts on my wall as the popular people. I wanted to be rated high in Hot or Not. I started to lose all my attention to not feeling good enough, and proceeded to spend most of my days at home, scrolling through Facebook, worried about how boring my life was, sulking at the inadequacy of my existence.
All the time I was spending on Facebook was capturing all of my attention, even beyond the time actually spent using Facebook. My entire digital world was becoming more important than the real world. When it came to social dynamics, I started to lose touch with things.
Instead of actually living, I started to enjoy spending most of my time dreaming. When I saw my friends go cool places, do fun things, or have parties with the popular kids, I would dream of being there, but I never went, or did any of these fun things. Instead, I would watch from the sidelines, in my home, on Facebook, falling deeper and deeper into feeling not good enough (probably from not actually being that good considering most of my time was spent on the computer at home).
Over the years, with Instagram and Snapchat added to the mix, the problem only got worse. Now with more places to see everyone else's lives, I found it hard to spend any of my time actually doing my own thing. I had to see what everyone else was up to. I had to dream.
Basically, connecting with other people through technology convinced myself that I was actually connecting with other people, when in reality, these apps were just monopolizing more of my time, making me delusional about what social connection is, and ultimately disconnecting me from actually living life.
Scrolling is a much worse story.
Until I became addicted to scrolling, constantly having social media on my brain wasn't too big of a problem. It was still taking hours of my day, but it wasn't taking the entire day. I wasn't able to hang out with friends nearly as much as I wanted to, and I wasn't able to do as many fun things as I wanted to, but I still made it through life okay.
Scrolling served as an awesome way for me to procrastinate. It was finally possible for social media to consume all of my free time. I could convince myself that I was just checking Facebook, and then, by the intelligent design of Facebook, simply checking the app would turn into hours of wasted time. Instead of essays taking a couple hours as they should, they would take nights and nights of scrolling, putting them off, before I would finally spend the last night finishing them.
I slowly transitioned out of this habit, a process that took a long time, but was accelerated by the Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator. Eventually, I was able to transition away from Facebook and towards living real life. I spent a lot more of my time actually doing things, a lot less time just thinking, and most importantly, a lot less time scrolling Facebook.
But the addiction didn't go away, it just took a different form. In fact, most of it was exactly the same. I would put off doing important stuff by wasting time being addicted to something that scrolls. In the overall picture of life, without realizing it, I was spending far less time on fun things.
For example, instead of allowing myself to go out and have fun for the night, I would say that I had work to do, sit down to do work, but then spend the whole night addicted to scrolling something, ending the night shamefully lying in bed. Today, I think of just how many fun nights I could have actually had, if it wasn't for my habit.
From Facebook, I transitioned to YouTube. Youtube wasn't that bad, because it would sometimes even be informative. I would still binge-watch YouTube for hours at a time, procrastinating, but it wouldn't take over my brain with worry and feeling socially self conscious like Facebook did. So, it seemed more manageable.
With Facebook eliminated, I eventually turned to Instagram, and then Snapchat, and the same problem happened again. I was just so insanely curious about all my friend's lives, I couldn't resist the opportunity to "connect deeply" with countless people over the span of mere hours.
The damage was two-fold: I would delude myself into thinking I was connecting with people (when really my social skills were getting worse), and I would feel like my life was inadequate, since I was exposing myself to the perfect parts of many people's lives. Since my life wasn't perfect in every way, like the summation of all that I had seen through scrolling, I thought I must be a failure.
I eventually ended up deleting the apps, and got blockers for YouTube and Netflix. These generally worked, but sometimes I still would find myself, in moments of true overwhelm with work and procrastination, reverting back to deleting the blockers, and binge-watching for hours. Only to find myself at the end of it, entirely out of energy, even more overwhelmed, and filled with shame for what I'd done.
After all of this, I realized that the issue wasn't any of the things I scrolled, it was procrastination. By never having everything done, I always had a big and scary task to hide from. Scrolling was hiding for me, and the problem wasn't the scrolling, it was the hiding. So, I stopped hiding.
Instead of focusing on spending less time scrolling, I focused on getting all my work done, procrastinating nothing. I learned to be more focused, productive, and became a lot happier. When I found I was done all my work, I wouldn't have the urge to scroll. At least not for hours. It would get boring so quickly. I would spend my time hanging out with friends, playing, and enjoying being in control of my life. It seemed like my addiction was gone.
Now, I enjoy a happy life, free of procrastination, wasted time scrolling, and wasted time worrying about feeling inadequate. Unfortunately, I am unable to enjoy the positive parts of social media that some of my friends seem to like. I try to convince myself that the apps are all bad and can't be any fun at all, but I know that this is at least partly because I know I can't use them without getting addicted to them.
The rules outlined in the article above, basically eliminating social media from life, are rules I have devised for myself to help cope with being addicted to scrolling. I figure, since I can't control it, I have to eliminate it, kind of like alcoholics. I always have felt bad for alcoholics, because I have been able to have lots of fun drinking alcohol, and I think it's a shame they can't enjoy such a great part of life. But with social media, and phone use in general, I think the story is different.
I truly believe that our lives would be many times happier if we reduce our time on social media. While total elimination from the world might be drastic (and maybe even have a negative impact), reducing the time we spend on social media will probably help us. It will allow us to devote time and attention to real people, and doing real activities in the real world. These are always better time-spends than anything on our phone.
And when it comes to scrolling feeds endlessly, I truly feel elimination is the answer. When we scroll through anything, even YouTube, we are going down a path that doesn't have an end. The thing we're scrolling is teaching us to scroll more, and the work that we're putting off by doing this is becoming less and less done, and more and more urgent. More generally, I feel eliminating procrastination from our lives would make us all happier.
I feel we are all parts of the same whole, little ice cream scoops from the same large tub of Oreo ice cream. We're all different, with different amounts of Oreos and vanilla ice cream, but we're still just Oreos and vanilla ice cream. We're pretty darn similar. And, if you're a human, which I bet you are, you've probably gone through something similar to the story I laid out above. Chances are you wouldn't have kept reading this far if you didn't feel like you related to the story at least in some way.
If I could share one thing, it would be instilling the belief in you that eliminating procrastination is possible.
So deep in the habit of scrolling to hide from my problems and the shit I had to get done, I never thought escaping the beast was possible. Like any big change in our lives, all we need is focus on a goal, and time. If you can truly prioritize overcoming procrastination, and allow yourself a lot of time (months to years) to achieve this goal, you should be able to win. If I can, you can.
Beyond procrastination, I strongly encourage you to test out spending less time on your phone. I really believe that it may make you happier. You never know until you try, right?. Even if you try something simple like deleting Instagram and Snapchat for one day, or testing out the Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator for a week - baby steps add up. These are easily reversible changes, so there is nothing to be afraid of. You can always add back the app.
Another step in my journey that may help you was downloading the Moment app (for the computer, there's RescueTime). It automatically tracks how much time you spend on your phone (or computer), including how many times you pick your phone up (a stat I found cool). This takes the guessing out of the game, and shows how a few minutes here and there really adds up. Using the app, I found out I would spend four, six, and sometimes eight hours on my phone everyday. The worst part of all? I knew it wasn't lying. As mentioned before, awareness of the problem is the first step to changing anything.
Using airplane mode when hanging out with friends is another great little tip to move towards lessening phone use. After a few times of doing this, you may find yourself starting to actually believe that during some of life's most important activities, like breaking bread with friends, absolutely nothing that comes up on our phones is more important that what's happening around us. At the very least, nothing that can't wait a few hours.
As I mentioned before, less time on the phone (at least for me), was less about reducing the phone, and more about growing other parts of my life (stopping procrastination). This is how I think really change starts. It's going to be a lot easier to spend less time on the phone when we have something else in our lives that we want more (for me, this was having all my work done). For you, this could be hanging out with friends, playing sports, learning new skills, or something entirely different than anything I've mentioned. Whatever it is, it has to force you to grow stronger, which will make ditching the phone easier.
The last note I want to end on is that I kind of went back and forth between using our phone being bad and not bad, because, in some ways, phone use is up for debate. There is definitely some value in social media, or else it wouldn't be so popular. But what I want to clarify, is that spending hours and hours scrolling through anything is a massive waste of time. This idea is not up for debate. It is a fact that in an experiment, you would report feeling far more happy spending four hours hanging out with your friends, in real life, doing anything, than you would spending four hours scrolling on your phone. Those four hours with friends could be replaced with countless other things, and you definitely would still report feeling happier with the non-phone activity.
I am your inner you, crying for help. The gift of life is the most beautiful gift of all, and if you're reading this, you have this gift right now. Nothing needs to change for you to deserve much more than wasting your gift away watching others live through a stupid screen. As your inner you, I know you can amount to so much more, even though we both know it's going to be a scary ride. But you and me also know (especially after all the awareness we've just gained) that we need to let go of the phone. And that doing it now rather than later will be best for us.
The rest is up to you my friend. My job stops here. I can't motivate or persuade you any more. The plan is set, and now it's your turn to do the heavy lifting. Get excited at the strength you're going to build and the lessons you're going to learn as you transition from phone life to real life. Hop on the path to using your phone less today, and a happier you is soon to come.
P.S. If you'd be curious in reading a short book that explains, in detail, the process of eliminating procrastination, send me an e-mail. I am curious.