An alarm clock, a watch, and a camera

There are many reasons why people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions.

They don’t have a plan or system in place to make it happen. Or they aren’t getting any support or accountability. But many times the problem is that achieving the goal wouldn’t really make a profound impact on one’s day-to-day life. A good resolution is one that, if achieved, would make a big difference. For example, if you have no concrete plans to visit Italy, no Italian friends or particular interest in reading Italian literature in its native tongue, it is going to be very hard to stay motivated to hit the Rosetta Stone tapes often enough to become proficient. In contrast, if you are someone who struggles with anxiety, making, and keeping, the following resolutions will have a big impact: Take control of your focus and attention by controlling your time on-screen.

Research is continuing to pour out showing what many of us already strongly suspected: Being tied to our devices, and essentially mainlining email, social media content, and the news, is hurting our relationships, diminishing our quality of sleep, and cratering our moods. Think of a time you had to go without your cell phone, tablet or computer. How did it affect your mood? What did that do to your ability to focus? Did it make a difference in your ability to connect with the people you were with? For the vast majority of people the answers are yes, yes, and yes — all improved. These factors all have a profound influence on your anxiety.

These devices, as well as the information highways that exist on them, were created to capture our focus and direct our attention in such a way that our attention can be monetized. Improved communication and the democratization of information are secondary, at best. When we consider that the average American freely gives away this precious commodity for 10 hours each day, this feels a little disturbing.

The answer is not as simple as permanently disconnecting. A friend recently lost her cell phone while traveling and, after an initial panic, was ecstatic to be free from the obligations to be constantly reachable, needing react to calls, texts, and posts. After initially declaring that she was never going to replace the phone, she found herself lugging around an iPad to respond to texts, attending a 90 minute long curriculum meeting in a classroom that neither of her children have ever set foot in because she had missed the correction email, and dealing with a very disgruntled husband who was now the sole contact for the family.

Instead try this: Buy an alarm clock, a watch, and a camera.

One of the main problems, and genius of, the smart phone is its endless functionality. Many people check their phones first thing in the morning, right after they turn off their alarm. This is the equivalent of an alcoholic keeping a bottle of Jack Daniels on the nightstand. Bad idea. Use an alarm clock. Take the time to do a little research and find one you like. I hate waking up to a blaring alarm or static-filled radio station, so I found an alarm clock the lights up gradually for 30 minutes before the alarm, birs softly chirping, goes off. Who new?

The addiction continues throughout the day because many of us check the time on our phones, which leads to noticing an Instagram notification, checking email, reading through texts, etc. The little dopamine hit we receive every time we check our phone and something pops up seems to take the edge off a bit, but in fact, our anxiety accumulates as we force our brains to toggle back and forth between on-line and off-line lives.

Finally, when are you typically taking pictures? Probably when you are having connected moments with people you love, you see something really beautiful, or you want to remember something. Your son takes his first steps, you grab the phone to take a picture, and…you notice a text notification from your boss. You try to ignore the text because this is a MOMENT, but now you’re worried about your boss. Get a camera. Stay in the moment. Leave your phone at home when possible.

Smart phones, tablets and computers are amazing. I have and use them all. But they are highly addictive substances that need to be managed in order to live a productive, meaningful, engaged life. There are additional things you can do — definitely turn off notifications, and every person I know who values deep thinking and productivity makes liberal use of “airplane mode.” But have an alarm clock, a watch and a camera changes your environment in a way that supports your goal. Ultimately, not having your phone in your hand or on your person will make a much bigger impact than simply telling yourself not to check your phone so much.

Some of the greatest minds of our generation have devoted their lives to making these devices addictive. Don’t waste your willpower trying to resist them all day. Think of your new alarm clock, watch and camera as barriers protecting your relationships, your mood, and your focus.

Tonya Lester is a psychotherapist in Brooklyn, NY. Her website is