From a psychological perspective, the same general mechanics for changing a behavior apply to a wide variety of habits. Whether the goal is to start exercising, stop smoking, floss more, or eat less, some preliminary work is important to increase the chance of success. An often overlooked step is to honestly consider what the current undesirable behavior does for you. In my case, what am I gaining, or seeking to gain, by hopping on my smart phone so frequently? What do I stand to lose by stopping?
This step is often skipped when people approach their goal with emotional “grim determination” instead of a systematic plan. They rely on the predicted outcomes of their behavior change to motivate them, and they dismiss potential hardships as “excuses” to be ignored by sheer will. (In the case of exercise- “No WAY I’ll sleep in instead of going running if I just focus on how healthy running will make me.”) The problem with this approach is that the anticipated benefits of the new behavior aren’t real yet, but the hardships are. So, without any realistic preparation for those hardships or losses, people often choose to abandon their attempt at behavior change to escape them. In the running example, it would be wise to acknowledge and plan for the loss of sleep that exercise would require instead of assuming that you’ll “power through” it.
These hardships are the answer to the question from my previous post: If I have complete control over how I use technology, how can I end up dissatisfied with my own smart phone use? Because in one, or dozens, of discrete choices throughout a given day, my desire to unplug conflicts with something else that I value and don’t want to lose. With this in mind, I set out to explore why I use my smart phone in the first place. Then I can better anticipate what I might lose by reducing my use and plan for those losses in various ways. I identified three broad benefits that I personally seek from my phone use, which is by no means an exhaustive, generalizable, or necessarily accurate list. It’s a start though:
Benefit: I think convenience is by far the greatest benefit that smart phones, and most technological gadgets, offer. Real time traffic and weather information is always available. (“Back in my day,” we had to watch The Weather Channel and hope that we tuned in at a serendipitous point in the 20 minute looping broadcast.) I even have a voice-controlled personal assistant, Siri. I keep several lists in my notes app so that any time a random bit of information flashes through my mind- something I want to buy, a movie I want to see, a mini-milestone Rowan achieved, a gift idea for someone- I can capture it for later. I have an app that will track my baby’s eating, sleeping, and activity data, and can email it as an Excel file (even to the pediatrician!?). My recipe apps will make grocery lists for me automatically. I can take good quality pictures on my phone, and there are a dozen ways to share them electronically in seconds. And of course, having instant email and text capabilities has cut down on the phone calls I make by about 80%, and it’s a less invasive form of communicating (for better or worse).
Plan: Use Alternatives
Since I don’t plan to stop using technology completely, I won’t lose most of these convenience benefits. I’ve found that stopping by my PC for most of these tasks is equally effective, and forces me to contemplate whether I really want or need to look up this information. This practice has greatly reduced my overall smart phone and computer use. How many times do I really need to check the weather in a day? Turns out, sometimes zero. The only bittersweet inconveniences I am still troubleshooting relate to photos. I’ve loved being in the moment more instead of looking for photo opportunities, but I’ve also missed a few cute quick pictures of my son since I didn’t have my phone in my pocket. And I’m getting much better quality photos by using my “real” camera for pictures, but I am also much slower to share pics when I can’t instantly zap it from my phone to blogger or email or wherever. For instance, we went to Lego Kidsfest three weeks ago when it was in Houston. Here’s a cute pic of it! Woo……hooo…….I’m pretty sure I missed my window to contribute to the local buzz about that event.
Benefit: The phone acts as a virtual coffee break for any situation. As a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), when the flood of pantomimed “I need food,” “I need a drink,” “I want to drink from your drink,” “I ran out of my drink,” “I’m mad that I can’t watch TV,” “I want outside,” “My truck is stuck…..” subsides momentarily, I jump on my phone to switch mental gears for a second in a place that I can find fully formed thoughts written out in complete English sentences. Thankfully, I am not into modern computer games, but I’m sure that diversion-seeking is also behind all of the hours of Angry Birds and Candy Crush that people play nowadays.
Plan: Critically Analyze This “Benefit”
Most of my smart phone use time is spent pursuing this goal. But if I am honest, it is not actually meeting my need for diversion very well. When I take a “virtual coffee break,” I usually hit about four websites plus Facebook, where I read my newsfeed and that of 3-4 groups I am a part of, plus my RSS feed reader which compiles posts from dozens of sites. Yet truthfully, I am still restless and unsatisfied after I’ve checked all of these pages. The workable plan here is to conclude, from my experience, that the smart phone isn’t the place to look for diversion, and to find a better resource for the mental break I’m seeking.
Benefit: I alluded to this above, but the smart phone holds the possibility of connection and interaction with others through email, text, and Facebook. Conversing with other adults through any medium is a rare treat for SAHMs some days.
Plan: Use Alternatives, Modify Use
Again, I have found that using my PC in these instances (aside from text) is not only equally effective as using my smart phone, but it leads me to engage in these activities much less frequently. I find that these smaller chunks of dedicated time that I spend on email or even Facebook are more meaningful than a dozen small log-ons throughout the day. (And my real-life interactions during the day are more meaningful without the dozen digital intrusions.) I like to think that my online contributions are more meaningful, too, because for every email, blog, or Facebook update I post, there are 3 or 4 that I considered sharing but that didn’t pass the “walk over to the PC to do it” or “second thought” and/or “what is my motivation” test. I think all FB users have seen some of their friends’ mobile upload photos and thought, “They must be really bored or reeeally in need of FB attention.” Those are the kinds of things that likely wouldn’t pass those tests. Lastly, for text, and for real phone calls I should add, I still plan to use my phone.
Soon I’ll share my trial and error process for determining practical ways to reduce my smart phone use. I *think* I have the beginnings of a system that is relatively effective for me.