Five mindful ways to manage smartphone addiction and take your attention back Marie Kondo-style.
For many people, spring naturally brings forth a burst of energy, a sense of vitality, the possibility of new beginnings and an urge to purge the clutter around the house. Garage sales pop up everywhere as spring cleaning commences and people make the deliberate choice to clean up and clear out their physical space.
But, as we’re cleaning out closets—likely Marie Kondo-style this year—and graciously letting go of things that don’t bring us joy, inspiration or serenity, we should also notice what are we doing with our thoughts and attention, which are arguably our most valuable and powerful assets.
In my last blog, Joyfully Spring Clean And Clear Your Mind Marie Kondo-Style – Part One, I talked about how Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering our homes could be applied to mindfully noticing and clearing out the running thought patterns that do not serve us or spark feelings of joy. Essentially, rather than engage in worst-case scenario thinking or perpetually tossing around our presumed mistakes and failures, we can notice and categorize those thoughts and then graciously let them go. This approach, while simple, isn’t easy, but with patience and practice, it is possible to cultivate thoughts that bring us joy. It really is possible to choose to engage in thinking that promotes feelings of serenity rather than fall victim to the disastrous, unproductive thinking that only creates increased stress.
Once we notice and start cleaning up our thinking, the next step is to thoughtfully consider where our attention goes. There are, of course, some attention grabbers that we can’t avoid. Our child is upset; the phone rings; a loved one is ill and needs our care. But, there are some attention grabbers that we do have control over, and for many—if not most— of us that is how we engage with technology. More and more people are suffering from smartphone addiction, spending more time falling down one media rabbit hole after another, rather than giving attention to those things that bring them real joy.
Understanding Tech Clutter
If you’re like most Americans today, you likely have a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet and possibly other devices around your home and office. And, these devices, especially our handy-dandy, highly portable smartphones, are addictive. In today’s faced paced, information heavy world, there’s a built-in fear of missing out (FOMO), and the internet, alerts, social media platforms and millions of apps constantly reinforce the feeling that there are all sorts of things happening everywhere, yet we’re not there. And, all this media and the devices that deliver the information are intentionally designed to distract you. Your attention has literally become a billion dollar commodity.
Much like noticing and decluttering our physical environments and thinking patterns, with patience, practice, a little perseverance and a few helpful tips, it is possible to let go of the hold that your phone has on you and, consequently, experience more peace and joy.
A Mindful Approach To Managing Smartphone Addiction
Clean up notifications
Our phones are constantly pulling our attention away from what we are doing with the dings and bings of alerts. Someone commented on your Instagram post. There’s breaking news. You just received an email or a text. And, for many of us, these alerts are set up as our default. In order to take more control of your attention, I invite you to consider what information you want to invite into your attention and get distracted by. Is it really important that you’re alerted each time you get a like on a social media post? Do you really need to get constant alerts on the news of the day? The great thing about technology is that you have the tools to customize your experience with it. Take the opportunity to do it mindfully and intentionally, which will allow you more time to give your attention to those things that bring you joy rather than mindlessly dropping into one rabbit hole after another on your phone.
Ask yourself why
After cleaning up your notifications, thoughtfully consider why you kept the alerts that you did? Remember that you are inviting those alerts to interrupt you whenever they occur, no matter what you may be doing at that time. Are all of the notifications pared down to only the essentials? There is no right or wrong answer. Rather, what’s important is that you are honest with yourself and then deliberate with how you choose to proceed.
Interrupt your pull to the shiny stuff
Once you get clear on what form of technology is stickier for you than others, consider the draw you feel toward it. Although you might not be ready to remove its presence in your life, you do still have the ability to control how and when you engage with it. And, if you’re struggling to maintain your attention on the world outside your phone, the following technology interrupters can help. The next time you reach for your phone, consider doing the following:
Take a breath.
Ask yourself why you are reaching for your phone. What is it that you are really looking for?
How will you know when you are done with it?
(Full disclosure: I actually have a sticker that I made and stuck on my phone case that reminds me to ask myself these questions before I open it up and look at my screen. It helps!)
Another helpful tactic is to use technology itself to help you track your technology use. Apps such as Screen Time and Moment can help you track how and when you use your phone. As much as you might resist seeing the true numbers, you can’t change anything without first seeing and acknowledging it.
Explore any resistance
It’s normal to experience resistance to any kind of change, including when it comes to evaluating smartphone addiction and restructuring your relationship to technology. If you feel resistance around deleting an app, alert or letting go of something else technology related, be kind to yourself. Change is hard, and these devices and apps are literally designed to hook and hang onto your attention. I invite you to explore your resistance, though. And, when you do decide to let go of a specific app or way of using technology, try to approach it with gratitude. Thank the application for the service it once provided as you hit delete, and thank yourself for the space you just created in your life.
Take a digital Sabbath
Taking a break from all technology, even if it’s just for a few hours, can help you notice how much of your attention actually goes into it. Maybe you take a walk and choose to leave your phone at home, or ask that everyone shuts off devices for an hour every night to talk and reflect on the day. Even a small break can help you keep your attention on doing those things that truly do bring you joy.
Create More Space For What You Love
Once you’ve cleaned out some old, unproductive thinking patterns and created more space for your attention, what are you going to do with the extra time and space? Spring is a wonderful time to plant new intentions and build something new, beautiful and joyous. Look out for part 3 of this blog series in which I’ll offer some ideas on how with less clutter and more space you can plant seeds today that can bring you increased joy tomorrow.