My friend was having brunch at a popular local restaurant — she had waited an hour just to get a table — and while waiting for their food to arrive, she and her boyfriend noticed something troubling.
All around the restaurant — with very few exceptions — people were intensely focused on their phones. Texting. Tweeting. Posting pics of delicious food on Instagram. Scrolling through various feeds while glancing at their dining companions over the top of their screens. Multiple phones at every table. If someone wasn’t actively using their phone, they had it sitting flat on the table or tucked right in their lap — ready to grab!
“It was crazy!” my friend exclaimed. “Everyone waited so long to get inside, and once they sat down, instead of enjoying the food, the ambience, or their friends, they were totally focused on their phones. When did our society become so… phone-obsessed?”
I laughed, nodding my head. I’ve seen the exact same “scene,” too, so many times. Whether it’s at a public restaurant, a coffee shop, waiting in line at the airport or bank, or around the family dinner table, millions and millions of people are — as my friend put it — extremely “phone-obsessed.”
Sadly, this epidemic just seems to be getting worse.
In recent years, more and more parents have set up coaching sessions with me because they’re concerned about their kids’ relationship with technology.
“I can barely remember the last time I saw my teenager without a phone in her hand,” one mom said to me. “She texts so much, her phone is practically a part of her body.”
So many people — parents and kids alike — are feeling burnt out and “phone-verwhelmed.” Many of us yearn for a “simpler time” when smartphones didn’t exist — yet, at the same time, we’re grateful for the solutions and timesaving tools they provide. (GPS to help you navigate an unfamiliar neighborhood, anywhere in the world? Amazing!)
Smartphones definitely aren’t “evil” or “bad,” but people of all ages are struggling to find a “balance” and it’s becoming problematic. What’s the solution?
You’ll be happy to know: you don’t necessarily need to flush your brand new iPhone down the toilet or vow to never, ever tweet again. Things don’t have to be that black or white. But you can take specific steps to create a healthier, more balanced relationship with your phone — and all forms of technology, for that matter.
Here are 5 simple steps that I suggest:
1. Make a plan. If you want to earn a college degree, you don’t just wander through a university waltzing into various lectures and jotting down notes at random. You make a plan. You select specific classes happening at specific times and you attend them. This keeps you on track, moving steadily towards your goal.
You can apply that same logic to your smartphone usage. Choose specific times (say, 8am, 12pm, and 4pm) when you intend to “check in” to read texts, social media updates, and so on, and then do your best to stick to the plan. Try not to just “wing it.” Create phone-routines that help you to create the kind of day (and life) that you want.
2. Savor the sound of silence. If your phone is continually bleeping and pinging every time “something happens,” it’s going to be tough for you to stay focused on whatever you’re trying to do — you’ll be tempted to check in and see what’s up!
This may seem obvious, but turn off those noisy notifications. Better yet, turn the volume on your phone down to zero or power-down your phone completely.
If you’re concerned that you might miss something important — like an emergency phone call from your spouse, parent, or your child’s school — you can create a “call filter” so that certain people’s calls come through even if your phone is on “silent.” That way you can rest easy, knowing that you will never miss something that is truly urgent.
3. Make dinnertime a phone-free zone. For many couples and families, dinnertime is the only time of the day when everyone is gathered together in one place. Make dinner a special, sacred time. No phones at the table.
If people get restless or bored, strike up an interesting conversation by playing a question game (like asking, “What was the best part of your day?” or “What was the toughest part of your day?”) and take turns telling stories. Even if you’re dining alone, set your laptop or phone aside and savor your meal without techie distractions.
4. Enjoy phone-free adventures. A few times a week, try leaving your phone safely at home. Go for a phone-free walk with your dog… a phone-free date with your sweetheart… or a phone-free trip to the grocery story. When was the last time you did that?
See how it feels to move freely through the world without any kind of digital “companion” to keep you company. What kinds of feelings bubble up for you, positive or negative? Take note. No matter what kinds of feelings come up, taking some phone-free time is a valuable experience that can teach you a lot about yourself.
5. Ask yourself, “What am I craving right now?” My colleague Susan Hyatt — a fellow life coach — often poses this question to her clients. It’s a great one! When you feel the urge to check your phone, and you don’t really “need” to, pause for moment. Check in with yourself and see what you are craving.
Do you crave company? Do you want some excitement or entertainment? Inspiration? Connection with a friend? Energy to get through the rest of your day? Are you craving attention or affection? Laughter? Love?
Whatever you crave, see if you can find a non-phone-related way to give it to yourself.
Talk a walk or pop by a friend’s house just to say “hi.” Write a handwritten letter. Go for a jog. Listen to music. Sit and gaze at the sky or the ocean. Read a book. Feed your spirit in some other way.
After satisfying your cravings out in the “real world,” you may discover that whatever is going on in the “phone-world” just isn’t that compelling anymore.
There are so many ways to build a happy, balanced relationship with technology.
These 5 tips are just a few of my personal favorites.
What strategies have you discovered? What works best for you? What’s your favorite part about smartphone technology and what’s your least favorite aspect? Do you think your life would be better, the same, or worse, if smartphones had never been invented?
Talk about these questions with people you love… say, around the dinner table tonight.
Just scoot the phones off the table, first. You’ll all be glad that you did.
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.
She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back — no matter what has happened in the past.
Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at Time, Forbes, Newsweek, NBC’s Today, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and much more.
Step into her virtual office at DrSuzanneGelb.com, explore her blog, book a coaching session, wave hello on Twitter and Facebook, and / or sign up to receive a free meditation and her weekly writings on health, happiness and self-respect.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your health practitioner before beginning any new health or well-being practice for yourself or your family.
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