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Turn Setbacks into Setups

Why and How to Put Down Your Phone More Often

February 16, 2019

Living in the 21st century, you’ve probably had this experience before: a friend or partner invites you to hang out, only to spend most of the time on their phone.


If you’ve been in this situation, you already know this behavior is unattractive and super annoying. But truthfully, most of us are guilty of it from time to time. Chances are, you’ve done it as well. Let’s be honest: is it necessary to check our phones as often as we do? Are we just anxious? And should we cut back on our screen time?


Why Too Much Screen Time Is Bad for You


There are a lot of new words we’re using to describe our screen time these days. For example, there’s “phubbing,” the act of mindlessly snubbing someone with your phone. Or “technoference,” a combination of the words “technology” and “interference.”


Whatever you want to call it, it’s bad for us. A 2016 study in Computers in Human Behavior found that “technoference” had a negative impact on relationship satisfaction. The study, which surveyed hundreds of US adults, noted that phone overuse can actually “undermine the bedrock of our happiness.” And researchers at Brigham Young University went a step further. Their study concluded that “technoference” can damage our own psychological health: people who spent more time on their phones had more relationship conflict and lower satisfaction in their life and relationships.


Essentially, an overuse of screens not only damages your relationships, but also your personal satisfaction. Worse, constantly looking at your screen makes those around you feel rejected. It tells them you’re more invested in your online life than you are in the present moment. Or, in other words, “what I’m doing on my phone is more important than you.”


How Turn It All Off in 3 Steps


Going cold turkey on screen time is pretty unfeasible in the modern world. But for many of us,  something needs to be done. Fortunately, it’s possible to break the habit by setting clear goals for your habits and life.


  1. Be mindful.

Before anything else, observe where and when you’re most likely to pull out your phone. Are you using it during family dinners, or pulling it out when walking from place to place? Do you check it often in public, or only at home? If needed, jot down some notes in a journal to keep track.


  1. Differentiate between necessary and unnecessary use.

Once you have a better idea of your habits, sit down and figure out what qualifies as “necessary” and “unnecessary” use. For example, maybe it’s important that you respond quickly to certain important texts or emails, or that you read the local news in the morning. Some amount of phone use is normal, after all—that’s what they’re for.


But you’ll also need to define what’s not acceptable, such as scrolling through your social media feed when you’re out with friends. There are a few easy ways to track these “unnecessary” uses. For example, if friends or family members have complained about your phone use, it may be a sign that you need to stow your screen more often when around them.


And if you find yourself multitasking often in certain contexts (e.g. talking to someone while texting), that’s also a red flag.


  1. Lay down some rules.

Finally, decide when and where to use your phone less. For example, maybe you’ll decide to define certain places, like the bedroom or the kitchen table, where the phone is off-limits. Or maybe you’d prefer a time limit, such as no screen time after nine on weekdays. Whatever you decide, make it publicly known—and solicit the help of friends and family to remind you to stick to it.


As you turn off your screen more and more, you’ll find yourself reaping the benefits of giving loved ones your focused attention. Putting down your phone helps you more fully connect with the people and events of your own life, in the present—which is key to a happier, more fulfilling life.

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