How To Break Phone Addiction | 7 Effective Steps

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How to break phone addiction?

Reaching for your phone has become a universal experience, as inevitable as a sunrise or taxes. 

You pick up your phone out of habit and before you know it, you’ve been sucked into the vortex of your Instagram feed. A Gmail notification pops up, displaying only part of the subject, and you seamlessly switch over to make sure you’re not missing anything important.

Fifteen minutes into your conversation with your friend, you feel an irrepressible urge to pick up your phone. 

Are you really in control? When does it become an addiction? And what can you do about it? 

To break your phone addiction there are three distinct actions you must perform:

  • Assess The Problem
  • Understand The Challenge
  • Cultivate 7 Habits To Help Break Your Phone Addiction

Ready to unshackle yourself?

Let’s get into it!

How To Break Phone Addiction

Assess the problem

According to RescueTime, the average smartphone user spends between 3 to 4 hours on their phone every day. Another study revealed that we touch our phones up to 2617 times a day. 

Now, that already feels like an unsettling amount. However, the quality of your interactions with your phone is a critical factor.

Is all the engagement with your phone fulfilling a necessary function?

Answering urgent work emails and scheduling tasks are unavoidable. And unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of casting aside our phones or replacing them with old-school feature phones.

Those instances aside, do you feel anxious when you haven’t used your phone for a while? Do you have trouble sleeping or feel underslept when you wake up? Are social interactions challenging to navigate without your phone? 

If the answer to those questions is a resounding yes, you’re dealing with phone addiction. 

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Symptoms Of Phone addiction

Some of the other symptoms of phone addiction include: 

  • Eye Strain
  • “Text Neck” or Neck Pain
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of time

To break your phone addiction, you need to understand the challenge you’re facing and cultivate a few habits to replace the cycles that pull you into your phone.

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Understanding the Challenge

Your phone is designed to be addictive.

Vibrant Colours, notifications with attention-grabbing noises (scheduled randomly to increase engagement), and the infinity scroll. These are just a few of the elements in your smartphone built to trigger your brain’s reward centres.

Teams of engineers, User Interface designers, App Developers, and a veritable army of other professionals work around the clock to create an experience equivalent to playing a slot machine.

This isn’t meant to make you feel defeated, but to help you understand that the frustration you may face along the path of breaking your phone addiction isn’t simply a matter of pitting your willpower against your phone.

So what should you do? Build positive habits to turn your phone into a tool at your disposal, rather than the other way around. 

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How to break phone addiction? Cultivate These 7 Habits

Habit #1: Begin with the “Why” and the “What Next.”

Our experience of constant distraction at the behest of our phones might be universal, but our reasons for yielding to it are varied. 

The next time you feel the impulse to reach for your phone, pause and ask why? 

Does stillness make you uncomfortable? Are you afraid of not looking busy enough? Maybe you feel alone, and picking up your phone makes you feel less so. And at that moment, does picking up your phone address any of those concerns?

When the answer to the why isn’t satisfactory, make a habit of disengaging. 

If you’ve established genuine intention while reaching for your phone, ask what is next before you even unlock your phone. Anticipate the allure of other apps. 

Make a note of the patterns you slip into when you’re on your phone, and commit to avoiding them. 

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Habit #2: Build Up To A Day Away

For many of us, a day away from our phones seems daunting. But try thinking of it as a day you get to spend engaging with the things that fulfil you. 

Don’t you deserve to read a book, spend time with family, or meditate without being interrupted by your phone?

The trick is to build your way up to it. For example, rather than immediately committing to an entire day without your phone, begin with 3 firmly scheduled hours a day. It could be back to back, at mealtimes, or when your work schedules permit – dealer’s choice! 

Then, set your phone to silent and leave it somewhere it can’t steal your attention.

Next, pick an activity that you thoroughly enjoy well ahead of time for those hours. Setting these activities in stone will prevent you from backsliding or yielding to the siren song of push notifications.

Soon the appeal of your time away from your phone will grow, and you can add more time to it until you can finally build up to a day.

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Habit #3: Strip Down To The Bare Essentials

Another reason we have such a hard time breaking our phone addictions is that they’ve become a bit too…smart. 

Phones have taken on the role of organizer, entertainer, and confidant – a far cry from the brick-like communication devices that they used to be. 

And therein lies another opportunity to break your phone’s hold over you. 

Make a shift to an analogue calendar or planner.

If that feels like a stretch, move those tasks onto your laptop at the very least. For notes, try a notepad. The satisfaction of crossing items off a physical to-do list is a great motivator! 

In an ideal situation, your phone should become nothing more than a tool for communication. But, anything you can do to make sure that your phone doesn’t wear all the hats is a step in the right direction.

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Habit #4: Establish Phone Free Zones

Part of what makes your phone so addicting is the ease with which you can access it. So setting up phone-free zones in your home and workplace is key to breaking your phone addiction.

Place your phone in a kitchen cabinet or a cupboard as soon as you walk through your door. 

Don’t charge your phone near your bed, or better yet, don’t charge your phone in your bedroom!

Making a habit of removing your phone from your immediate vicinity in these spaces has a dual benefit. 

First, it prevents your phone from interrupting your focus or your relaxation. And second, it helps you build the ability to ignore your phone when it is at arm’s length.

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Habit #5: Make Your Phone Less Appealing

An assortment of tactics is at your disposal to make using your phone a less attractive distraction.

  • Switch your phone to grayscale
  • Eliminate ALL non-work-related notifications
  • Banish all your social media apps from your home screen
  • Set an annoyingly long password
  • Use the web version of your most frequented apps
  • Make silent mode your default setting

Implementing these suggestions all at once may seem like a tall order, but that’s precisely the point.

You’ll discover that most of your notifications are extraneous noise as soon as you do. Next, emergencies don’t occur often enough NOT to set your phone to silent, and the web versions of many apps can’t suck you in without the user-experience bells and whistles. 

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Habit #6: Consider A 30 Day Smartphone Detox

If just dipping your toe in the water doesn’t quite cut it for you, an extended 30-day detox could be the ticket. 

No activity on your phone except text and calling. 

To help you along, put a hairband or thick rubber band squarely in the middle of your phone. This makes it harder to swipe or scroll for anything other than answering your phone when it rings.

The benefits of this kind of separation from your phone can’t be overstated. Thirty days away from the “smarter” elements of your phone will earn you peace of mind you never thought possible.

Habit #7: Be Compassionate

On the journey to break your phone addiction, maintain a sense of compassion; for yourself and others. 

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What you’re about to embark on isn’t easy, but it is achievable – provided you don’t flog yourself on days when you inevitably slip up. Work may overwhelm you, a family member might be unwell, or maybe things just don’t go according to plan.

On these days, just breathe, observe the feelings and emotions that arise, and float on.

Treat these days as opportunities to expand your mindfulness, and speak to yourself kindly. Being kind and firm doesn’t have to be at cross purposes. 

Finally, remember that you are not alone. Millions of people all across the world are struggling with the very same thing. 

Reach out to friends and family for support, or lend a helping hand to those who may not be as far along on the path to healing. 

Interested in finding out more about the psychology of phone addiction?

If you find yourself staying up late at night to mindlessly scroll through social media, you might be experiencing a phenomenon called Revenge Bedtime Procrastination.

Check out this article to find out what it’s all about:

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Alexander Thomas is an Anthropologist and Writer based in South India. He loves to immerse himself in the cultures, objects and stories that get to the core of the human experience. When he isn't doing that, you can find him hiking the forest trails of the Southern Indian Hills.

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