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Thursday 5 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
# live a better life
Live A Better Life: 6 things you need to know about using your phone less
Want to use your phone less? We found out how.

#LIVE-A-BETTER-LIFE-banner-image-final (1)

AFTER FOUR WEEKS, we’ve reached the final day of our Live A Better Life series.

Along the way we’ve learned new skills, challenged ourselves, and seen how live can change when you change how you use your phone.

Thanks to all of you who followed along, commented, and tried new things thanks to Live A Better Life.

For the final article, we’re taking a good look at what we learned about our smartphone use throughout the series. (Yesterday, we gave you five things you should change about how you use your phone).

shutterstock_607474652 Shutterstock / Iakov Filimonov Shutterstock / Iakov Filimonov / Iakov Filimonov

1. The first step is to do nothing… but watch

During the first two weeks of the series, we looked at ways of changing up how you use your phone. That’s because a lot of us have ingrained habits around phone use, and breaking them could help us use our phone less.

To help break habits, we need to do nothing – nothing but observe our behaviour. As Gretchen Rubin, a habits expert, explained in day two:

What research shows, is that even if people aren’t specifically trying to change a behaviour, if they monitor that behaviour they tend to do a better job of it – whether it’s exercising, eating healthfully… there’s something about monitoring that helps us change in the right direction.

HSE Senior Psychologist Mark Smyth explained that our phones are designed to be used a lot. So it’s up to us to figure out how what we need to change.

“I think they are almost predicting what could be the issues,” he said. “If we are told we cannot function without [phones] we internalise it into our own belief system.” This means that when we can’t be without our phone, “automatically that will increase our anxiety levels”.

But he says that using phones for everything can have negative impacts, such as on our ”problem solving skills and ability to work out solutions”.

2. Taking a digital detox can teach you a few things

In week one, we heard from two housemates who tried a total digital detox, and they told us they learned a lot from it.

Dermot Heslin and Darren Ryan run the Get Better At Life blog and podcast, where they are trying a series of challenges in 2017 to, well, get better at life. Among those was a digital detox – a serious one, where they got rid of anything fun off their phones and turned their smartphone into a minimal utilitarian tool.

They wrote about the things they learned from the digital detox, including:

  • They didn’t miss technology
  • A lot of their technology use was more about distraction than utility
  • Finding a middle ground is hard

Read more of their findings in their column.


3. People do want to use their phone less

Our commenters didn’t all want to use their phones less, but a lot of them did – and they shared with us their thoughts on the topic:

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4. Cutting down on using your phone is difficult for legitimate reasons

It’s easy to scoff at how difficult it can be to stop using your phone a lot.

But it is difficult – and that’s backed up by research.

As Dr Larry Rosen, professor emeritus at California State University, and author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, told

“When we removed phones from students in a study, those who were light users of their smartphone did not get more anxious over a 60 minute period where they were not allowed to do anything (to induce boredom and the urge to check in),” he said.

Those who were moderate users of their smartphones showed no change in anxiety until about 30 minutes into the period and then showed an increase that levelled off. Those heaviest smartphone users showed an increase in anxiety within 10 minutes which kept increasing throughout the hour-long period.

As Mark Smyth, a HSE senior psychologist, told us:

“We have certain needs we have to have: we have to have sleep we have to have food and we have to interact with others,” said Smyth.

“What phones and advanced technology have done is they give us instant access to connect with others… the positive and scary thing about it is it gives you potential worldwide reach.”

He also said that there is a fear of missing out – “what if I miss out on the latest and greatest trend of conversation topic and I get into work and I haven’t kept up with what has happened”.

He also said that we are rewarded for using our phone and “that’s why it’s so hard to break the habit”.

5. The key to using your phone less? Out of sight, out of mind

shutterstock_485085364 Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem / Antonio Guillem

We asked people for their tips on using their phone less, and they told us.

And it turned out the main takeaway from this was to keep the phone away from you when you can, and to cut down on things like notifications.

Here are some of them:

If you have to have it beside you, put it facedown. If I’m at a meeting or chatting to someone, I’ll put it on the table face down so as notifications come in, they don’t catch my eye. It’s the temptation that distracts sometimes, if it’s face down you’re more likely to forget it’s there.
Mute most pointless notifications (like Facebook updates, Instagram, etc).
Sometimes I make everyone put their phones in the middle of the table if we’re having dinner/brunch/drinks, it’s surprising how much more you actually talk to each other if you can’t touch your phone. Also to put your phone in the hall/your bedroom when you come in in the evening so you have an hour or two without it!

6. Change is possible

Just take it from these participants in the newsroom:

I deleted FB off my phone and stopped getting notifications from Insta. I have definitely done less mindless scrolling, and I haven’t even gone once to my phone to check Facebook intentionally (which shows how much I was on it, even though I didn’t really want to be). I’ve gone whole weekends not checking it once, and I haven’t missed it.

“I re-deleted FB off my phone (I’ve done it before for similar reasons) so there was no temptation to check it just because I had a spare minute.”

I make more of an effort not to ‘double up’ – do something while on my phone at the same time. Burning less dinners now.

“I’ve committed to turning off my wifi every night. I know that seems stupid but it mean when I’m suffering from trigeminal neuralgia-induced insomnia, I’m not mindlessly scrolling to ignore the pain, instead I’m focusing on getting back to sleep, which is much healthier. It’s actually made a big difference. I won’t turn it on before 8am most mornings now (unless I’m in work at 7.30am).”

I find that some days I’m terrible at mindless phone stuff,  but overall I’m way more aware of when I’m doing it. I’m able to tell myself ‘you don’t need to use your phone right now’ and put it away. I did a lot less mindless scrolling at the start, I’ve started to slip in recent days so gotta get back on the wagon.

“I’ve also made a conscious effort to leave my phone behind more often. I left it in my coat pocket (not accessible from where I was sitting) during a dinner at the weekend, and it really made me notice how much other people automatically check their phones when they’re waiting for something or there’s a lull in conversation.”

I’ve also made a conscious effort to leave my phone behind more often. I left it in my coat pocket (not accessible from where I was sitting) during a dinner at the weekend, and it really made me notice how much other people automatically check their phones when they’re waiting for something or there’s a lull in conversation.

“My phone now automatically goes onto Do Not Disturb from 11pm, and I think I’m sleeping better because it’s not lighting up randomly in the middle of the night.”

Thanks to all of our readers and commenters over the past month. If you’ve changed how you used your phone – or found it hard to! – let us know in the comments below.

Read the rest of our Live A Better Life series here>

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