How to dissolve your smartphone addiction in under 1 hour
I’m not going to explain to you why smartphones are harmful. There are many other well-written articles and videos that have done that.
This is for people who have already recognized their attention and self-awareness is being stolen by their addiction to their smartphone, and are looking for a solution.
How do you actually change?
The answer is not obvious. It involves recognizing the limited power over yourself that you, a flawed animal called a human, actually have. It involves giving up on pure will-power.
Instead, you will make a few smart environmental changes, both inside and outside your phone, that will gently guide your interactions with your phone towards a non-addictive state.
We’ll start with redesigning your smartphone from hyper-stimulating-addiction-machine to dormant tool.
Grab your smartphone and follow along!
Tip #1. Remove The Highly Stimulating
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube, Netflix, Hulu.
All social media and entertainment apps are going to be purged during this step
You might say “Woah woah woah, I didn’t sign up for this. You want me to give up YOUTUBE? What will I do while I’m on the toilet?”
You’ll think. You’ll become smart again. You won’t be an infinitely distracted doofus.
And don’t worry, you can still access these sites, but from now on, if you do, you will access them from a laptop or a desktop computer.
So go ahead, uninstall these highly stimulating apps.
If you’re reading this on your phone, feel free to go to your home screen and commence with the uninstalling. When you get back we’ll go to step 2.
Tip #2. Make The Path Towards Relapse Annoying
This is the part where we acknowledge we’re human. Even if we want the best for ourselves today, right now, that is no guarantee that in 2 hours or 2 days we won’t sabotage ourselves. Some different part of us, the part of us that is addicted, will take over.
Fortunately, we can outsmart them.
Download the free App called “Bashful.” This app simply puts a lock screen with a 10-second delay over your phone for an amount of time you determine. Every time you want to access your phone, you have to wait a full, excruciating 10 seconds. Once you’re in, you only have access to your phone for 20 seconds before it locks again.
This makes it very, very, very annoying to deal with your phone.
“We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.” — Robert Braul
So this step is the obfuscation of the path towards that lesser goal. Make the path annoying and you won’t go down it.
IOS users: I’m not aware if there is a similar app to Bashful available on the App Store. If there isn’t, you can create a makeshift version by putting a really long, annoying password on your phone and removing fingerprint and Face ID access.
Tip #3. Halt the Pavlovian Conditioning
Just like those famous dogs, you are being conditioned.
Dings, rings, vibrations, and pings, all masterfully crafted to steal your attention.
Let’s start with protecting your sleep.
Go into your phone’s settings and create a scheduled Do Not Disturb profile. Set the time frame from at least an hour or two before bed to an hour or two after you wake each morning. This will give you a peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. People who need you can still reach you by calling twice or being put on an Allow list.
Second, let’s deal with texts and messages during the day.
Text and message notifications have both a visual and auditory component. You don’t want to be conditioned to either of these. Go to your messaging apps and silence all conversations with people who do not need you urgently.
This probably means silencing conversations with most friends and family. For example, if you have one friend who likes to constantly text you memes and casually chat, silence them. If you have another friend who never texts you unless they have something important to say, tell, or ask you, you can keep their conversation unsilenced.
Third, let’s deal with email.
If you have a computer or a laptop, you can go ahead and remove your email inboxes from your phone. From now on, check your email only on a computer.
If you only have a smartphone and email is important to you, you can simply disable the notifications from your inbox by long-pressing them.
For everything else.
Most phones have a built in news-feed nowadays. Play around in the settings and disable it. Clear the clutter. If you get notifications from your workout app and your journal app and your prayer app and your daily inspiration app, long-press and disable those notifications.
As you go about your day, notice which notifications are still popping up and demanding your attention. Maybe it’s a news site you didn’t notice during your purge of your other apps. Go ahead and uninstall it. You can read news on the computer. Maybe it’s your sudoku app reminding you to get a session in. Disable it’s notifications. You will play sudoku when you feel like it.
At this point your phone should more or less be a dormant tool. Not hellbent on stealing your attention, but rather waiting patiently for you to use it.
If you’ve followed these easy steps, you’ll have designed an environment within your phone that is much less addictive.
Now, I’ll outline the most important change you can make to your external environment to give you an immense amount of control over you smartphone habit.
Changing Your Environment
Julie wakes up every morning and scrambles for her phone. She squints at the harshness of the screen as she scrolls through her favorite apps. Julie is often late to work and she has started neglecting her hygiene. She finds himself more distracted and uncomfortable in her everyday life. Julie pinpoints her overuse of her phone as the culprit for many of the issues plaguing her. She decides to stop using her phone in the morning, but she knows her brain will put up a fight. To destroy the habit of wake-and-surfing Julie will need more than just a desire to change and willpower. She is going to use an intelligent technique. She is going to change her environment. First, she analyzes the process of her morning phone use. She sees her phone use as a 3 step process:
1. Julie wakes up.
2. Julie reaches over and grabs her phone.
3. Julie uses his phone.
Julie’s job is to insert an obstacle between the steps in this process. She chooses to insert an obstacle between step 1 and step 2.
1. Julie wakes up.
2. Julie reaches over and grabs her phone.
3. Julie uses her phone.
Julie wakes up. She reaches over to grab her phone, ready to see all the things she’s missed while asleep. However, her phone is not there. Julie remembers she has decided to stop wake-and-surfing and has placed her phone outside of her bedroom before sleeping. Rather than being a mere arm’s reach away, her phone is now in an entirely different room.
In this case, Julie has used distance as an obstacle.
There is more effort required now if she wants to go from step 1 to step 2.
Obstacles are powerful because they require effort to overcome, and humans gravitate towards low-effort options.
To dissolve an addictive pattern, put obstacles in your way until it is much easier to not participate in the pattern than to participate in it.
When you first wake, your mind is the most malleable. As you cross from an unconscious state to consciousness, your mind is primed for suggestion. Don’t rely on yourself to make smart decisions when you’re awaking from slumber, you won’t. Instead, the night before, put your phone far away from your bed. Keep it on some high shelf or in a drawer, out of sight, in another room. Wake up in peace. Luxuriate in your morning. Allow your creativity to flow. Take your shower. Establish your intentions. Experience clarity.
Don’t let a billion-dollar company take that away from you.
Summary Of What We’ve Learned:
- Make environmental changes that support your goals
- Uninstall highly stimulating apps (facebook, twitter, youtube, netflix, news feeds)
- Make your phone annoying to over-use (bashful, long password)
- Put your phone on scheduled Do Not Disturb (starting 1–2 hours before bed and ending 1–2 hours after waking)
- Silence non-urgent conversations (meme-senders and chatters are silenced)
- Disable non-important notifications
- Leave your phone outside of your bedroom before sleeping
This is Part 1 of my Digital Hygiene Handbook. Part 2 will cover computers and laptops.