I was meeting a friend for tea. I was the first one to arrive and as soon as I was seated, I check my email. After all, it’s been an entire city block since I last checked it. There was an email from my friend saying she’s running late. Habitually, I finished checking my email then went over to Facebook. After scrolling through the feed for a minute or two, I hopped over to Twitter. Again, scrolling through the feed. I then checked Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn. Few messages, nothing exciting. Instead of feeling satisfied that there was in fact nothing urgent, no earth shattering message requiring my immediate attention, I went back to my email. Then to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and few other social media platforms. This repeating cycle was happening on autopilot. Part of me said “STOP IT!!!” but I couldn’t pull myself away. I’ve been wondering about this compulsion to repeatedly check, re-check and stare at this tiny screen. What is that all about?
What I was realizing that I was misusing this tool, this digital device and I wanted to find a better way of engaging with it. I wanted to release myself from this compulsion. I wanted mindful iPhone use.
I decided to bring mindfulness to my iPhone use and simply pay attention to the compulsion. Here’s what I observed and learned after 1 week.
- Most mornings, my day starts with the iPhone and coffee.
- Most evenings, I check the iPhone immediately before going to bed.
- Some evenings, I stare at the iPhone screen while in bed.
- If I’m without my iPhone, I feel anxious.
- I don’t really enjoy my time on the iPhone.
- I check my iPhone to fill any gaps in my day.
- I check it when I’m bored. When I’m tired. When I’m stressed. When I’m overwhelmed. When I’m procrastinating.
- It fills the void. Makes me feel connected.
- I don’t want to miss anything.
- It gives the illusion of being productive.
- It’s a habit.
Once I had a better understanding of the iPhone use, I was in a better position to experiment and see if I can find a better way of engaging with it. I wanted to figure out a way of releasing this habit. Here’s what I tried.
- Breathe. Pause. Reflect. Whenever I found myself reaching for the iPhone, before I pushed that little round Home button, I took a breath, paused and asked myself “what is the purpose?” Reflecting on the purpose of using the iPhone made me realize that oftentimes, I had absolutely no reason for pushing the Home button. Oftentimes, I was simply bored, anxious, avoiding doing work, or it was habitual.
- Leave it behind. Leaving it at home for the entire day did not work because everyone relies on instant communication. I couldn’t check my email to see if a client had cancelled her appointment. I couldn’t text my husband to say I was on my way home. I had more success at leaving the phone in the car for fairly short durations such as appointments, movies, a lecture, a show, going for a walk, etc. I regularly started leaving the phone at home when going for the morning walk.
- Never in the bedroom. I started using a real alarm clock and moved the iPhone out of the bedroom. Having it on my nightstand made it way too tempting to check my email at 2:00 AM when I woke up to go to the bathroom. Also, this physical distance made it easier for me to not check it first thing in the morning.
- One charge per day. On most days, I charge the iPhone continuously throughout the day. Not charging it until evening made me pay attention to how much I was using it throughout the day.
- Log out. Logging out of applications like my Inbox, Facebook, Twitter, etc so that I had to log back in to check drastically reduced how much time I spent on it.
- iPhone sabbath. Designate times for iPhone free zone. This can be in the evening, on the weekend, or even during the day. I love the idea of powering down the iPhone on Friday night and rebooting it on Monday morning. I have yet to do this but even powering it down for one evening has a way of helping me let go of the incessant use.
In speaking with others, many of us struggle with mindful iPhone use. No doubt that this technology is hugely valuable but it can be misused. Because it’s so easy to engage and connect with people online, I fear we’ll miss out on precious face time. I also fear that all this connection means a lot less alone time. Time to be with ourselves. Time to reflect. Time to sit in boredom. Time to daydream. Time to simply practice being.