You’re sitting in a fancy restaurant with an evening dress on, trying to follow the words of your date as he talks about his obsession with…cars. This is only the first date, and you already know it’s not going to work out. You can’t help it. As soon as Mr. Wrong’s eyes flicker away from yours as he continues his rant, you reach into your handbag and bring out your cell phone to browse the Internet. But you stealthily keep it under the table so Mr. Wrong stays oblivious.
We’ve all been there, done that. Whether you’re at an hour-long business meeting, an obligatory family reunion, or a monotonous first date, it’s hard not to whip out your smartphone and check your email, Facebook, or the many other mobile applications that become available with a simple finger swipe. It’s become more than just a “bad habit”; it’s second nature—a reflex. You may not even realize you’re reaching for that phone until it’s already in your hands and you can’t help but check the latest Twitter updates for “just a second.”
This may seem harmless, but the amount of time you take to stare at your phone (again) is time you could be using to ask thoughtful questions at the business meeting, asking your not-yet-senile grandfather about his childhood days, or working to find common interests between you and your date. Every time other people see that cell phone come out, they think you’re uninterested (and honestly, they’re turned off by your company). As long as that phone is keeping your attention, any chance for face-to-face human connectivity with is missed.
Breaking this reflex isn’t impossible, and you CAN learn to become less obsessed with checking your phone. Here are five baby steps for you to take this weekend:
1) Charge your phone in a different room. This really works! The phone can’t disconnect from the charger, and the charger can’t get detached from the electrical outlet in your wall. To ensure this method is effective, choose a room that you never spend time in, like the laundry room or bedroom closet. Unless you want to spend the next hour listening to your laundry tumble around in the washer, you’re probably going to just leave your phone there and work on more important things (I hope) until it’s finished charging. Even if you do take one or two trips to the laundry room, this will still train you to not check your phone so often.
2) Consider the Offline Glass. A beer glass that relies on a smartphone to stand upright? Genius! You’ll look pretty desperate if you try to hold your unsteady glass with one hand and surf the internet on your phone with the other hand—if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with an unpleasant spill. Best to just leave it under the beer glass until after happy hour is over. Since the Offline Glass can’t be bought in stores (and in case you don’t regularly visit Salve Jorge Bar in Sao Paolo, Brazil), try an alternative approach based on operant conditioning: Every time you check your phone without a good reason, add fifteen extra minutes to your next workout. And if you catch yourself reaching for that phone and are willful enough to stop yourself, reward yourself with a re-run episode of The Walking Dead.
3) Put your phone on ‘Silent’. It’s easier to forget about your phone when it’s not buzzing every few minutes with an email or re-tweet notification. Without those audible (and annoying) distractions, you can focus more on the task at hand or the person you’re conversing with. It’s called living in the present, y’all.
4) Restrict the number of times you can check your phone per hour. When you clearly define the limits that you put on yourself, you’re more likely to keep to them. Resolve not to check your phone more than five times in one hour. (“Baby steps”, remember?) Once you’ve mastered that, make it three times an hour. It might be difficult at first if all you’re thinking is, “When is the next time I can check Facebook? In a quarter of an hour?” Concentrate on whatever it is you’re doing or whomever you’re talking to at that moment, and soon you’ll forget all about your phone.
5) Keep your phone in the most difficult-to-reach pocket of your bag. Don’t keep it in your pocket. That’s too easy. You’ll feel the phone against your leg or through your pants and it’ll be that much harder to resist. Drop the phone in your handbag or backpack. Bury it under the notebooks, pens, gum wrappers, and other knickknacks. The more time and energy it takes to find your phone, the less likely you’ll be to casually (and reflexively) reach for it.
Once the weekend is over, stop by this post and let us know in comments if these steps worked for you. Were you able to maintain self-control and limit the amount of times you checked your phone? What happened when you checked your phone less?
“Digital Detox” is a weekly series curated by writer and curriculum developer Wendy Lu. Every Friday, we want to inspire you with content that focuses on disconnecting from technology and rekindling a human connection. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #digitaldetox on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Ding Yuin Shan)