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7 Smartphone Habits Of Highly Effective People

Catherine Price
March 14, 2018
Catherine Price
By Catherine Price
mbg Contributor
Catherine Price is a Philadelphia-based author and science journalist. She is a graduate of Yale and UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
March 14, 2018

The following has been excerpted from Catherine Price’s topical new book, How to Break Up With Your Phone, and modified for mindbodygreen.

Let’s get something clear from the start: The point of a digital detox is not to get you to throw your phone under a bus. Just as breaking up with a person doesn’t mean that you’re swearing off all human relationships, "breaking up" with your phone doesn’t mean that you’re trading in your touch screen for a rotary dial.

Today, just over a decade since smartphones entered our lives, we’re beginning to suspect that their impact on our lives might not be entirely good. We feel busy but ineffective. Connected but lonely. The same technology that gives us freedom can also act like a leash—and the more tethered we become, the more it raises the question of who’s actually in control. The result is a paralyzing tension: We love our phones, but we often hate the way they make us feel. And no one seems to know what to do about it.

The problem isn’t smartphones themselves. The problem is our relationships with them. Smartphones have infiltrated our lives so quickly and so thoroughly that we have never stopped to think about what we actually want our relationships with them to look like—or what effects these relationships might be having on our lives.

In order to stick to our intentions, it’s essential to have a plan. Use these as a guideline, but I request that you come up with your own personalized descriptions for the following seven habits about how you interact with your phone and other wireless mobile devices. (Don’t be surprised if their effects spread into other areas of your life as well.)

1. Adopt healthy phone routines.

A lot of the changes we make to our routines (for example, keeping phones out of our bedrooms) have the potential to become habits—but since they’re new, until they feel automatic, any changes are still pretty fragile.

In order to create true habits, these new behaviors need to become so second nature that we do them without thought. The best way to accomplish this is to make decisions ahead of time about how we want to act in particular situations so that when we encounter those situations, we follow our new, healthy habits without having to think.

For example:

  • Where do you charge your phone?
  • When do you check it for the first time in the morning? (This can be a time or a situation—for example, "I don’t check until I get to the office." You could also have different times for weekdays and weekends.)
  • Where do you keep your phone while you’re at work?
  • Where do you keep your phone at meals?
  • What do you use your phone for? (For example: practical purposes like navigating, social purposes like calling and texting, or educational and entertainment purposes such as listening to podcasts.)
  • Which apps are tools that enrich or simplify your life?
  • Which apps do you know are dangerous/most likely to suck you in?

2. Practice good phone etiquette.

Where do you keep your phone—and how do you interact with it—when you are:

  • Spending time with people?
  • Watching a movie or television show?
  • Having a meal?
  • Driving a car?
  • In classes, lectures, or meetings?

It’s also worth thinking about how you’d like other people to interact with their phones when you spend time together and how you will request that they do so.

3. Cut yourself a break.

It’s important to cut yourself a break if and when you slip back into old habits. This happens to everyone. The less time we spend beating ourselves up, the faster we’ll be able to get back on track.

You may also want to actually give yourself permission to scroll mindlessly through your phone during a particular time of day (in other words, to use your phone to take a break). Allowing yourself regular guilt-free phone time will help you avoid bingeing and make it much easier to stick to your overall goals long-term.

Also, given the effects our phones have had on our attention spans, you may need to schedule regular phone time for yourself when you’re trying to work on your ability to focus. Start small—maybe you concentrate for 10 minutes and then give yourself one minute on your phone—and then build up to longer durations of focus.

If you’re worried that a half-hour of free phone time will quickly become two hours, then use an app-blocker to schedule sessions for yourself in advance. Describe your plans for how and when you will give yourself free phone time.

4. Try a "phast."

There are a lot of different ways to take breaks from our phones. You can do a phone fast for a single meal, an evening, a day, an entire weekend, or more. Or maybe, for you right now, phasting one hour at a time is enough. Now’s the time to put our intentions down in writing. How and when will you phast? Identify a simple, achievable place to start, and begin there.

5. Have a life.

If we don’t have predefined ways to pass the time (or, dare I say, have fun) without our phones, then we’re much more likely to slip back into our old habits. So take a moment to write a list of some non-phone-related activities that bring you joy or satisfaction and what you will do to incorporate those activities regularly into your life. For example:

  • I enjoy playing guitar—so I will continue to take guitar lessons and will set aside time every weekend to practice.
  • I enjoy staying in touch with people I care about—so when I find myself with 20 to 30 minutes of downtime, I will use my phone to call a friend or family member.

6. Practice pausing.

Why do you think stillness is important to practice? What will you do when you find yourself with a minute of downtime? A half-hour? Several hours? Instead of picking up your phone, find a way to pause—whatever that means to you.

7. Exercise your attention.

In order to undo the damage caused by the cumulative hours we spend on our phones, we need to restrengthen our attention spans—and engage in regular exercise (both mental and physical) to keep our brains in shape. Identify several attention-building exercises that you would like to habitually practice or that you are already practicing and would like to continue.

If, after reading this, you're interested in a 30-day phone breakup challenge, go for it! This seems like a good place to point out that if you’ve gone through this entire "breakup," and your relationship with your phone still doesn’t feel perfect, don’t worry: It’s not supposed to. In a sense, our phones—both our relationships with them and the physical devices themselves—are reminders that everything in life is constantly changing and that fluctuations are inevitable. On some days, we will feel good; on others, we won’t. And that’s OK. As long as we’re cultivating self-awareness, we’re on the right track.

Want more digital detox? Here's your official checklist for a tech-free day.

The above has been excerpted from Catherine Price’s topical new book, How to Break Up With Your Phone (Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC) and modified for mindbodygreen.

Catherine Price author page.
Catherine Price

Catherine Price is a Philadelphia-based author and science journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in The Best American Science Writing, the New York Times, Popular Science, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications. A graduate of Yale and UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, her book, How To Break Up With Your Phone, dives into the neuroscience of addiction and gives readers a 30-day plan to command focus and power over their smartphones. Her previous books include Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food and 101 Places Not to See Before You Die.

Price is also a recipient of a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Reporting, a two-time Société de Chimie Industrielle fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, an ASME nominee, a 2013 resident at the Mesa Refuge, a fellow in both the Food and Medical Evidence Boot Camps at the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, and winner of the Gobind Behari Lal prize for science writing.