Can Mindfulness Cure Your Cell Phone Addiction?
This week I set out to explore whether practicing mindfulness can help cure cell phone addiction. Recent surveys and studies paint a vivid picture of our cell phone addiction: we feel a surge of panic when we are separated from our beloved mobile phones; we might spend up to 10 hours a day scrolling our social media feeds and texting Bitmojis to friends without having a single in-person conversation with a friend; and, we literally fall off of cliffs and die in car accidents because we are so engrossed in taking selfies and sending text messages.
Lest you think I am shaming others who are addicted to mobile technology, let me be clear that I am aware of my cell phone addiction. While I have yet to fall off a cliff while texting or Snapchatting, I wouldn’t put it past myself. I am notoriously clumsy.
To give you a better sense of the extent of my cell phone addiction, here’s what a typical day at work looks like for me.
A Day in the Life of an iPhone Addict
6:30 a.m.: My wake-up light alarm clock goes off, and then the alarm clock from my iPhone follows. Don’t judge me for using two alarm clocks. Usually, I curse at my phone, and sometimes I also maybe hit the snooze button.
6:35 a.m.: I meditate for 5-10 minutes using background music or an app conveniently located on my phone. I am sure there are Buddhist monks all over the world giving me side-eye, but I gotta do what works, and having my phone resting next to me while I meditate is what works.
7:00 a.m.: I do a short at-home workout or foam roll/stretch, sometimes using a timer app that I’ve downloaded onto my phone and always using the Spotify app to listen to cool workout jamz. Some days, I put on my workout clothes and just sit on the couch because getting dressed for a workout is as difficult as actually working out.
7:30 a.m.: I shower after exercising because I’m not a monster. For the first time all morning, I experience a 10-minute window in which I’m separated from my trusty cell phone.
7:45 a.m.: I do my hair (on some days), put on some makeup, and get dressed, all while listening to podcasts that have been downloaded to my phone.
8:00 a.m.: I start making breakfast. When I’m feeling fancy, I will Snapchat my breakfast using, you guessed it, my cell phone.
8:30 a.m.: While eating breakfast, I scroll my Instagram feed and respond to comments. If I have time, I will also check Facebook or Snapchat. Simultaneously, I may also be listening to an NPR news podcast. Multi-tasking at its lamest.
9:00 a.m.: I walk to work and almost always listen to a podcast while walking. You are probably wondering how many podcasts can a girl listen to? The answer is as many as I feel like. If you have any podcast recommendations, I am all ears!
10:00 a.m.: I have checked my phone at least twice since I’ve arrived at work. My sister and two best friends, Lucia and Sonia, have a group text chat, and by this hour, one of them has already blown up the group chat with a slew of Bitmojis or endless questions about my sister’s upcoming wedding. I often open my phone to 57 new text messages. The sight of so many unread messages makes me feel giddy, and I congratulate myself on this newfound fame. But then I remember that it’s just the group chat, and that these people are obligated to talk to me.
12:00 p.m.: Whether I’m at my desk or in court, I have texted at least half a dozen different people by now. Most of the texts are to the aforementioned group chat or to my boyfriend, usually to ask him if we’re out of toilet paper and if so, can he please place an order on Amazon. Yes, we buy toilet paper online. We live in New York City, and this is what New Yorkers do. Quit judging us with your judgy eyes.
1:30 p.m.: I have my lunch break with a few coworkers in our conference room. I bring my phone along with me because how can I eat a meal without her? Yes, I’ve assigned a gender to my iPhone, and obviously, she is a she.
3 p.m.: I have likely scrolled Instagram at least twice since finishing my lunch break. This happens because I typically leave my cell phone on my desk. Not at the far corner of my desk, but literally inches away from my computer mouse. Because work emergencies and important shit might come up. Also, someone might text me and it might be very important! Don’t tell my bosses though. K, thanks.
5:30 p.m.: I check on one of my many to-do lists, which are conveniently stored in the Notes App on my iPhone. I congratulate myself for getting so many things done even though I suffer from cell phone addiction.
6:30 pm.: I leave work and walk back home (or to happy hour, I have friends, I promise). While walking, I almost certainly listen to a podcast while replying to emails that I have left unanswered for an ungodly period of time. I may or may not run into a stranger or a light pole because I am #textingwhilewalking.
8:00 p.m.: After eating dessert (dinner), I have a glass of red wine and check up on the social media networks. By this point, I am actually incredibly bored with social media and I want nothing more than to put my cell phone away, but my addiction has no sense of logic or reason, so I continue scrolling.
9:00 p.m.: I watch a television show with Max or work on my blog. There is most likely at least one interruption to check my cell phone. I might be getting important late night text messages! Yes, 9 p.m. qualifies as “late night” in my household.
10:30 p.m.: I clutch my cell phone while I get into bed, and wait for Max to pry it out of my hands. Just kidding. I’m not that addicted. I simply set my alarm clock and kiss my phone good night. My iPhone just laughs at me because she doesn’t sleep. She works 24/7. Thanks, Siri/Steve Jobs.
My Week of Minimal Cell Phone Usage
Some of you read that diary and probably felt a little embarrassed for me. But you guys are just in denial about your own addiction. As they say in the not-so-dissimilar world of AA, admitting that you have a problem is the first step. So, I provide you with this blog as a safe space to admit your own addictions. But only cell phone addictions. I’m almost positive I can’t handle sex addictions and heroin addictions on this blog.
With the knowledge of my cell phone addiction, I set out this week to incorporate some lessons from mindfulness in order to limit my use of technology, and my cell phone, in particular. I established two hard and fast rules to help me break my addiction.
Do not leave your cell phone on your desk at work.
No cell phone use while eating meals.
My hope was that the first rule would significantly reduce my cell phone usage at work, and the second rule would help me be more present and mindful while eating my meals.
Hide Your Cell Phone
On day 1 of my experiment, I leave my cell phone on top of my filing cabinet, which is two feet away from my desk. I do not check my cell phone as frequently as I normally do, but I am still checking it more than I would like. On day 2, I decide to place my phone inside of my filing cabinet, lock the filing cabinet, and flush the key down the toilet. Just kidding about that last part. I’m not a totally insane person.
With my phone locked away, I find that I check my phone even less frequently, just once or twice in the morning before lunch and twice in the afternoon. I open up my phone to 156 new text messages from our group chat. I consider replying “did I miss something important? Pls fill me in b/c I’m not going to read this shit,” but I refrain from doing so because I’m not an asshole. I also open my phone to a gazillion unread emails in the iPhone Mail app. Of course, all of them are junk mail, but just seeing the red icon on top of the Mail app is enough to trigger a mild OCD panic attack. I then open Instagram to a slew of notifications, and it becomes overwhelming to even attempt to respond to these very nice and thoughtful comments. So far, not checking my phone is causing me to feel like a self-absorbed, anxious D-list celebrity instead of a mindfulness guru.
On the upside, I find that, without my cell phone at my side, I am markedly more productive at work and am able to concentrate on tasks for much longer than usual. On day 6, I work for three glorious uninterrupted hours on a particular writing piece while listening to Beethoven. After finishing this paper that I assumed would take several days to complete, I brush off both of my shoulders, congratulate myself on my literary excellence, and rejoice that my cell phone addiction hasn’t completely destroyed my attention span. Also, as a side note: listening to Beethoven is much better for productivity than my standard “I Love my 90s Hip Hop” playlist on Spotify. Mostly because I don’t stop working every five minutes to do the Running Man.
Despite the mild to severe anxiety I felt when I would check my phone after hours and have an inordinate number of messages, emails, and social media comments to deal with, overall, leaving my phone locked in a cabinet was a very useful practice that substantially reduced my unnecessary cell phone usage.
The mindfulness component kicked in at moments when I had a spontaneous desire to unlock my cabinet and check my cell phone. When these moments arose, I consciously acknowledged the desire and then asked myself why I had this desire. Usually, the answer was a combination of boredom or wanting a break from work, but sometimes it was anxiety. Anxiety about missed emails, messages, and stories. As I delved deeper into those anxieties, I realized that my cell phone addiction had given me a serious case of FOMO and a craving to be "plugged in" at all times. Thanks, Siri/Steve Jobs.
My one-week experiment certainly did not cure my FOMO, but at least it helped me recognize these previously undiagnosed anxieties.
Don’t Dine with Your Cell Phone
In addition to locking up my phone at work, I decided to banish her from the dinner table. On day 1, I am inclined to place her on the kitchen table while I eat my morning smoothie bowl, but I overcome the temptation and place her on my bed. At least she will have a comfy resting spot while she endures my rejection.
I find myself anxious when I realize that I cannot catch up on social media while I eat breakfast. I resent my lame happiness experiment for the week and gulp down my smoothie bowl. Luckily, by day 4, I begin to appreciate the pleasure of mindfully eating without any technological distractions. I start to notice taste buds that I didn’t even know existed. I finally begin to understand the meaning of the god-awful term “mouthfeel.” Day 4 is a Saturday though, so perhaps this is why I’m feeling more relaxed and mindful.
In contrast to breakfast, I feel good about my decision to eat lunch without my phone present. I very much enjoy the company of my coworkers during lunch. Unlike my cell phone, they laugh at most of my jokes, which boosts my self-esteem more than it probably should. Siri, you could learn a lesson or two from my coworkers.
I eat dinner alone most nights during the workweek because Max is slaving away at his job. Unlike at lunch, I feel lonely and anxious without my phone at the dinner table as my security blanket. This is when I begin to realize that I have been substituting a telephone for real human connections and friendships, and that I have been relying on her during meals because I dislike eating alone. This dystopian realization makes me uncomfortably sad, and I start contemplating philosophical questions on the meaning of existence. This jaunt into the metaphysical is too much for my easygoing nature to handle, so I resort to eating ice cream while watching watching television. Before the iPhone, there was ice cream and T.V., and I rejoice in rekindling these old friendships.
Breaking My Cell Phone Addiction
Okay, so you may be seriously concerned about the state of my mental health after reading that, but rest assured, I am A-okay! I promise. I really do have actual human friends who like me and nourish my soul.
In all seriousness, though, coming to terms with my cell phone addiction has made me realize that (1) I should make a concerted effort to spend more time with live humans, particularly while eating meals and in the evenings after work, and less time with technological devices; (2) I won’t die if I don’t check my cell phone every 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, seven days is certainly not enough time to break an addiction, and this is one of my health and happiness experiments that I will need to carry over into my everyday life.
Do you have a self-diagnosed cell phone addiction? Have you successfully beat a cell phone addiction? If so, I would really love to hear from you, so drop me a line!
Next week I’ll be moving onto the realm of exercise. I’m vowing to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day for the next week, and for each day, do one of the following: (a) try a new exercise, (b) try a more advanced version of an exercise I regularly perform, or (c) perform a particular exercise for more reps or more time than I typically do.
I promise I have friends,