Why is it so hard to break up with my phone?
I totally feel you. These apps are designed to be addictive and around 50% people believe they overuse their phone. I am now researching about social media addiction and potential interventions for my MSc thesis, so maybe I can give you some tips. Mostly I want to share the main points of the system that worked for me. It involved both working on myself and changing some settings on my phone.
- I learnt the difference between adaptive and maladaptive behavior, and recognized that I was using social media as a way to escape the negative feelings of boredom, tiredness, and hard work
- Figured out some of the harmful cognitive distortions that I had around social media. In my case, they were mostly related to catastrophizing and choice-supported bias. (check my newsletter post #2. to find out the distortions you might have)
- Replaced my behavior with other activities, like reading ebooks on my phone
- Learnt and internalized how I feel after using social media. In my case, I feel like my thoughts are scattered all over the place, and I find it difficult to focus
- Connected with my values and figured out what specific features of social media I care about (DMs, seeing what my friend are up to...), and which I do not (looking at instagram reels or equivalent...)
- Instagram, I use the web version of it and I check it only in the evening to see updates or reply to messages
- Facebook, I uninstalled the app, but I keep FB messenger
- Youtube, only from my laptop. I use the extension Distraction Free Youtube
- Linkeding, I uninstalled the app. I don't check it, but I have it email me if I get new messages.
- I also created a custom shortcut for my phone to put my phone in black and white when I am on Safari or other addictive apps.
If you are interested in more of this, feel free to contact me directly or check my substack newsletter https://dachi.substack.com
I feel this so much! It's even harder because our phones are so necessary for things throughout the day that it's almost impossible to truly disconnect and keep it out of sight. I don't have the perfect solution but I've been working to try to block schedule my days a bit more, and I feel like if you allot a certain amount of time or certain time of day for scrolling through your phone, you won't feel as guilty about doing it, and also will kind of give yourself a set stop time as well. I'll also just turn the volume up and leave it in the other room now as much as I can so that I know I'll hear it ring or beep if someone needs me, but I don't feel quite as chained to it as I used to.
This is probably the struggle of our time and I think connected to so many other issues, like our difficulty forming community. Real people are so much less entertaining and more difficult than IG. I listened to a podcast about how smartphones affect our attention. Like studies show that if your phone is even sitting next to you while you’re having a face to face conversation, you pay less attention than if your phone wasn’t there. Horrifying.
I noticed this for myself in relation to reading. I was having that feeling of being totally lost in a book less and less because my attention span is so much shorter. I’d read for a bit, then pick up my phone. Repeat.
I don’t have the answers. Just compassion for being right there with you.
This is me! I was off Facebook for 8 years & pretty much every 2 years I delete my Instagram for anywhere from 6-12 months. What I figured out was I am ok with using the socials as long as I don’t post stuff because that’s when I chase the dopamine hit of likes/follows/comments. I use FB purely for one group & my kids school /sporting updates. That’s it. I’ve curated my Insta feed so I have no real life friends or family there, I want to interact with them in real life. I only follow people that I’m truly interested in, so for me that’s cooking people, authors, podcasters & some anti diet people. That’s it. I think it’s around 100 people. It feels manageable & fun right now but who knows for how long.
I find the mindless scrolling is, in a strange way, quite a good interstitial space to land in right after my son is finally in bed. It allows me to decompress after full-on parenting time. But the danger is, of course, that it stretches into, and eats up, the whole evening. So I’ve become (mostly) quite good at setting myself a deadline - eg I allow myself 15/20 minutes & then switch my phone onto airplane & try & focus on something I enjoy & know is nourishing rather than depleting. I remind myself that the evenings are the only chance in the day I’ll get to do said thing, be it a bath, book or movie, & that seems to usually spur me on.
Wow, this resonates. I wish I had answers. I just have the same struggle. Only with older kids, now it hurts even more as I see them in the same trap I am in, but apparently without the desire to get out of the trap. I add worry for their mental stability, for their ability to thrive, for the loss of experiencing the world. They seem as addicted to their phones as I. Yet fighting them on it alienates me from them. Despite once thinking I was highly intelligent, emotionally aware, and parentally savvy, I am left with hope and prayer it seems. Maybe more developed people than I figured out how to simply accept the situation and do the best they can within it? Or a less charitable thought - maybe they figured out how to ignore or forget that nagging feeling that something is wrong and just gave up hope? But what are we left with, those of us who wish for things to be different? I commend the woman in Canadian news trying to sue Fortnite for making their game as addictive as possible. I hope she wins something for those of us who feel the impacts most. It might not be something we can solve very well if we have a certain type of mind or tendency towards addiction. But maybe that’s the answer? It’s not an individual problem to solve, but needs societal pressure away from addictive design?
Totally with you on the struggles with dropping nap time - I’ve spent way too much mental energy in fixating about how much sleep my daughter has had in the day, how long they need to nap for, and how it’ll impact their night time sleep. It’s so draining.
In fact, most aspects of parenting small children are. It’s so all-encompassing that, after they’ve finally stopped emotionally abusing me for the day and gone to bed, all I want to do is unplug my brain and fall into an Instagram doomscroll. I’d love to catch up on some of the box sets I’ve heard loads about, meditate or do something worthwhile, but I’m so drained. And I don’t want to go to bed early either because as a parent of a young child, every ounce of free time is golden. I need time to switch off before I go to bed, ready to wake up as dad again.
It’s good to check in with this kind of thing every now and again though. This post will hopefully inspire me to lock the phone away - even for a bit - once the kids are asleep.
It’s like you’re reading my mind, Katie! As for me, in a way Elon Musk taking over Twitter has been a blessing, because ever since he did, that site has become much duller and flatter and more predictable, and I’m finding myself drawn to it less. Kinda the same thing has happened with Instagram too; their push into video to complete with TikTok has, for me anyway, brought about an experience that feels less and less like it’s for me. (I still hop on there, of course! But it feels like it’s all video all the time now.)
At 72, I've given up. Now I wake up from a dream, disconnect the charging cable on my iPhone and wonder why I haven't upgraded to a 14 Pro. I shared your story on caring for your wee one. My son and his wife are dealing with similar challenges each day!
I would suggest trying to give yourself an evening schedule. I’ve done that for a few years pretty successfully. Once I’m “off the clock” the first thing I do is some sort of movement--yoga, Pilates, or a ballet video is what I like. Then I move onto a “task” I chose ahead of time. So on Mondays I might work in my embroidery, on Wednesday I might read, Friday might be logging into a online workshop or virtual social event. The other nights my husband and I spend together, usually without screens. (He reads aloud to me, we read long book series together that way. It’s old fashioned I guess but we both enjoy it).
Of course I go through phases where I scroll to much or put apps back on my phone (usually for a “reason” such as marketing an art show in, IG doesn’t have all the same features on desktop). Where I watch a show alone instead of doing anything I like. But instead of guilting myself for taking a break from the discipline of a schedule, I try to just notice when it’s time to come back. Nicole Antoinette just had a newsletter this week about this.
your evenings sound alot like mine. i am so happy for spring as i do love gardening and that is one thing i do that makes me lose track of my dumb phone completely. i put on some music or a podcast (either with a blue tooth speaker or AirPods with phone on airplane mode) and get down in the dirt. time flies and my head and heart clear. i am no master gardener, more of a putter-er ... but even just raking grass or dead-heading flowers for 30 min is so calming and joyful.
One thing that has helped me is never having social media on my phone. That's right, if I want to get on Facebook I go to my Desktop computer and deliberately look at it just like in the good old days (2007). Sometimes I still spend too much time on it but I have to assume that not having it at my fingertips all the time has helped curb some of that.
First off, condolences on the nap situation. Second, I noticed you quoted Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.” I think it’s fitting and funny that people often use that poem to inspire- to question, to ask what they are “doing” with their lives, she is inviting us to be…”to be idle and blessed”…”to stroll through the fields …all day.” Actual being- actual presence is hard work and the decks are stacked against us currently. Since I started my Substack a few weeks ago, I check my stats constantly and my Substack messages- when will it be enough? This morning while meditating over Beene Browns The Gifts of Imperfection, I reminded myself that I created something beautiful for myself and others. Can I wrap that around me like a warm blanket? Will I still check my messages today? Probably. I am treating myself like a baby/toddler though. I purchased a battery alarm so I can keep my phone out of my bedroom in the evening. I have been so excited about my new writing life that I rise early and start writing and then I am exhausted all day. I know getting up at 5 worked for Oliver, but it is not working for me. I fell asleep at a lunch meeting yesterday with two students. I think Tricia Hersey would have been proud. The nap was probably the only thing I did right yesterday to take care of myself. But I wasn’t present for them or for myself. You have a young child. It is harder to remember to take care of yourself. Hoping you get to give it a go this week. Thank you for your writing.
Hi! I am a naturally early morning riser (530 or 6!) but I found myself scrolling on my phone and not getting out of bed until 8am or later. That was 2-2.5 hours with nothing to show, and I was always in danger of being late to my first meetings.
I run a startup accelerator and one of the companies in our program is Unpluq (unpluq.com). Their app helps you set up schedules to block apps on your phone and "get off your screen and back into your life". If you have an android, you can use a NFC tag to unblock the apps when you need to access them (or there are motions that you can use like shaking your phone or taking a certain # of steps to unblock). I keep the NFC tag on my keys which are rarely near my phone when I'm at home, and it turns out I'm way too lazy to get up and get them when I want to access the apps!
At first i didn't think I had much of a problem or a reason to use their product, but then I realized that I wanted productive mornings back in my life- I used to get so much done by 8am! So I sheepishly admitted my problem, downloaded the app and set it to have FB, insta, linkedin, tiktok, and Twitter blocked from 930pm to 730am. Since January, I have gotten so much time back - over 6 full days so far! In that time I've read nearly 10 books, have managed to improve my sleep (my phone stays out of my bedroom cuz there's no reason for it to be in there), and this month, I've used the extra time to do a 30day yoga challenge.
Long story short, it's been a great solution for me and I enthusiastically recommend giving it a try! www.unpluq.com (yes, a q not a g) and I can also provide an intro to the founders if helpful!
Oh my God! It seemed like you described my whole life's dilemma. I have am constantly looking for ways to help me through this as well. Recently heart in Huberman lab that the only way to really do this is by detoxing yourself for a long time - I am currently on this detox & aiming to do this for 3 months. But my issue is watching too much Netflix - the opposite of you LOL. But still similar in many ways. So I am not going to watch anything for the next 3 months and I am only using social media for work related research - 1 hour a day. The rule I have for myself is to have no screen after a certain hour.
So far I am able to do this. Fingers crossed.
Hi Katie! Wonderful musings, as always.
I used to hate my phone usage, and the way that I expressed that was by criticizing my husband every time he looked at his phone. It was a very productive and relationship-affirming approach to the issue, as you can imaging.
When I was about six months into my infertility journey I got off all social media--it's one of the gifts that infertility gave me. I couldn't stand seeing babies. It was not an option for me to be on Instagram or Facebook, the pain was too extreme. Because that journey lasted for years, I became used to life with no social...so much so that I forgot all my passwords and now can't even sign in to my old Twitter or IG. I have to say, it's wonderful. Unlike you, I did not feel disconnected as a result. I guess my experience was that my close friends kept in touch in other ways, and everyone else...well...I only have a limited amount of friend capacity anyways, it turns out :)
I recently (just a couple weeks ago!), and very hesitantly, started a new Instagram to share my writing. I do not have the app, I do not follow friends, and I basically do not check it much.
The phone is still hard, even without social. Somehow I find another thing to check--the news, my Substack stats 🙄. My best tactic is just putting the phone in another room, ideally on a different floor. I was inspired by Anne Lembke's book, Dopamine Nation. She's a psychiatrist focused on addiction, and she goes into the similarities between modern phone addiction (and sweet foods and many aspect of modern life) and drug addiction. You mentioned some similar themes in this essay. One of the key tactics for addicts, according to Lembke, is "self binding," basically making it hard to get the thing you're addicted to. So I guess I engage in low-level self-binding with my phone.
One other thing - I think it is so tempting to define the poles: either I spend my evenings scrolling on my phone or I spend it learning how to sew and making my own shams. I do this ALL THE TIME. But I think the goal is to land somewhere in the middle. Not scrolling, not sewing, but reading fiction for twenty minutes then watching Ted Lasso. Something like that.
Anyways, thank you for the great food for thought!