Why You Should Start Doing Regular Smartphone Fasting
A twenty-four-hour digital detox will do wonders for your wellbeing.
I recently started doing a weekly smartphone detox and couldn’t believe what happened next…
How did we get dependent on handheld devices so quickly?
According to Pew Research, 81% of Americans own smartphones. 85% of smartphone users are so attached, they will check their device while speaking with friends and family. And statistics show 45% of teens feel addicted to their smartphones.
With the COVID-19 and election news cycle reaching a fever pitch, I decided to set some new healthy boundaries around my phone usage.
I already use intermittent food fasting as a regular part of my diet. That got me thinking: what if committing to a weekly smartphone fast also had great health benefits? I came up with a simple plan to find out.
I started shelving my smartphone for 24-hours every week (9 PM Saturday to 9 PM Sunday). Since making the commitment last month, these shocking realizations have occurred.
We Are Carrying Dopamine Dispensers in Our Pockets
Every time you see a social media notification on your screen, your brain releases dopamine — a powerful neurochemical.
Dopamine is often misunderstood as a pleasure drug. But it’s actually designed to make you want things. The satisfaction of the actual outcome is secondary.
Dopamine can help us get into flow when we’re working or playing sports. But it can also make us impulse buy, and compulsively scroll Instagram or endlessly search Amazon and Netflix. Too much dopamine in a short amount of time can lead to risky behavior and a depressing crash on the backend.
Smartphone notifications are ruthlessly effective as dopamine releasers. We see that little number light up, or a word like “new” next to our favorite social app, and our minds can’t wait to see how many “likes” and comments are waiting for us to interact with.
In addition to going “dark” for 24 hours a week, I disabled all of my phone’s notification settings permanently. Now, I decide when to interact with an app on my terms — not by being coerced by a dopamine trigger.
The crazy part was, after locking my phone away, I actually went through a dopamine withdrawal. It only took a couple of hours phone-free for me to start feeling edgy.
Most of us check our email or Facebook every 30 minutes. For the first few hours into my device detox, I was irritable and jumpy. I realized my brain was missing that regular dopamine hit my smartphone usually gave me.
I was determined to fight through it. After a few uncomfortable hours, the craving subsided. I began to relax and really enjoy the rediscovered freedom of not having a screen tethered to my hand.
We Are Killing Our Productivity
On a normal workday, I actually juggle two iPhones — one strictly for work and one with my personal number and contacts.
It’s common for me to not look at my work phone much on weekends. After powering off my personal phone as well, I suddenly had gained a lot more time back in my day.
Even after spending quality time with both of my kids and having less-distracted conversations with my wife, I still had time to organize my closet and donate a bundle of old clothes and shoes to Goodwill.
I looked through some old photo albums from college and enjoyed remembering things I hadn’t thought of in years. I went for a long run. I meditated. I finally finished reading the book on my nightstand that I had been struggling to get through for weeks.
It’s not that these enjoyable things would have been impossible to do with my phone in my pocket, it’s just that I wanted to do them because the easier choice of picking up my phone was no longer available to me.
Normally, I connect my phone to my truck when I drive. With my smartphone unavailable as my music player, I pulled out an old mp3. It was still loaded with old songs from years ago that I used to love. I had a blast driving to the donation center while singing along to this audio time capsule.
I chose a weekend to not use smartphones because I didn’t want to disrupt my ability to work. However, smartphones may be doing more damage to work productivity than we think.
In a recent survey conducted by flexjobs, 99% of office workers admitted to feeling distracted most of the workday.
Smartphone usage at work is a large contributor to that. I work for a tech company. I’m not denying that smartphone technology has made work more mobile and convenient than ever. The problem is not the technology, it’s that the majority of the things we choose to use our devices for at work are not work-related.
When we use smartphones as our escape or reward system, they keep us from getting the truly important things done.
We Are Not Missing As Much As We Think
One of the most shocking things that happened to me occurred after I picked my phone back up at 9 PM Sunday night.
I assumed I would return to a slew of missed calls, unread messages, and important news alerts.
Instead, I realized that most of the things that seem so immediate and urgent when my phone is in my hand can actually wait.
In previous weekends, before smartphone fasting, I would spend lots of time scrolling through a news app while my kids asked me to play them. Now, I spend exactly one minute reading a recap of the weekend’s biggest headlines before getting ready for bed.
Besides getting one email from an old friend on Saturday night, everything else I “missed” seemed so trivial after getting some healthy distance from it.
FOMO is a powerful motivation driver. But by putting your mobile device away for a fixed period of time, you’re gaining much more back than you’re missing.
Smartphones and social media have won the competition for our attention, but the real important stuff is still right in front of us: in the eyes of our loved ones, in the goals scribbled in our physical journals, and in the moments of quiet contemplation where we realize who we really are.
I don’t think you should get rid of your smartphone. But maybe it’s time we treated them more like nosy neighbors.
Start setting some healthy boundaries around how and when you interact with your mobile device.
Starting a weekly phone fast is a great way to start.
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