How to set your 2018 on fire: Part 6 of 18
6: I will set boundaries around my phone
Last year I stayed in the English countryside with some treasured old friends from uni. They live in a fantastical house with a turret and a moat and one of those amazing freestanding roll-top baths like the one in the Cadbury’s Flake advert. They are testament to the wisdom of the best piece of financial advice — marry the right person in the first place, and stay married to them.
My friend is a big city lawyer but also one of the most laid-back guys to be around. I was wondering how he pulled this off, given the pressures of his job, then I saw him put a phone on to charge. It was an old-school Nokia 3310. The unsmartest of phones.
“Er, is that your phone?” I said, incredulous. “Yup.”
“But you have a work phone too, right?” “Nope.”
“That can’t be your only phone?” I persisted, my brain struggling to compute. “Yes. It’s my only phone. It’s all I need.” “But … but … you don’t have a smartphone? With a screen? With internet? At all?” “Nope. This phone is it.”
It took me a few quiet minutes to let that sink in. This is a man with a seriously massive job, running his life off a Nokia 3310. This in great contrast to me and his missus who that same day had used our phones for Google maps, myfitnesspal, Facebook, IMDb and pinterest.
If you are dumbfounded by this dumb phone revelation, consider that a recent study found Americans spend an average of five hours a day on their phones, and another that some teenagers spend up to nine hours a day across social media platforms. A term has been coined to describe the mild panic that sets in when you can’t find your phone, or it’s out of charge: “nomophobia” (no mobile phobia). No wonder France passed legislation to reduce the pressure to respond to work queries out of hours, calling it the “right to disconnect”.
It’s a modern-day paradox that we are increasingly disconnected in an uber-connected world. Is all of this connectivity good? No. Is all of it bad? No. It is, as it usually is, all about finding the optimal balance. Spending that weekend with someone in a huge job incongruously twinned with a Nokia 3310 did, however, make me consider that the belief “I have to be connected and contactable for work” might not be as true as I thought. Perhaps for many of us “I need it for work” is an excuse for smartphone addiction and that comforting dopamine rush of being needed or liked with each ding or red flag notification.
Being over-connected to our phones dramatically reduces our capacity to be present. The perfect example of this is watching the telly with two screens. If you have ever sat in front of a show and been scrolling through Instagram at the same time you will know the impact that this has on your comprehension of the show. You miss key bits, and the amount of empathetic connection you have will be significantly reduced. It’s the same if you are with a person: if your attention is split between them and your (or their) phone, you miss the full emotional impact of sharing about their mother’s dementia, or a child sharing their delight at bringing you a dandelion, or they will miss your natural enthusiasm for a new recipe.
The present moment is where our joy, happiness and purpose live. We cannot experience them anywhere other than in the present moment. If you want to set your 2018 on fire, one way is to tweak your digital boundaries. There have been a number of times where having a smartphone with Google maps, or a receipt in my email, has absolutely saved my bacon, so you might not want to go the whole hog and ditch your iPhone for a retro Nokia, but think about the following:
- Could you take email off your phone? Do you really need it there? if your office knows you do not have email on your phone you reduce all expectations that you will check it and answer out of hours.
- Do you want to delete social media from your phone? What will you do when you would otherwise be mindful scrolling? Hmmm … that’s food for thought isn’t it?
- There are apps that have been developed to stop you using your other apps so much. Ah, the irony. You could download an app like Offtime, which helps users unplug by blocking distracting apps like Facebook and games and filtering communications. It also includes some fairly alarming information on how much you actually use your smartphone and on what.
- Studies have shown that the blue light from our screens affects natural sleep response, so no phones in the bedroom or a phone curfew before bed might work for you.
- A no two-screen rule might work. If you are watching TV, do that, be fully present and enjoy it. When you are on Facebook, do that. Split focus means reduced enjoyment.
- Choose to be present when you are with people. Put the phone away and on silent. Focus deliberately on real world, real time connection. Maximise your attention, and reap the emotional rewards from that choice. The smart man with the dumb phone is on to something.
More columns in this series
- See How to set your 2018 on fire: Part 1
- Part 2: I will face forward
- Part 3: In 2018 my body will move my mind
- Part 4: In 2018 I will speak up, not eat up
- Part 5: In 2018 I will (sometimes) accept the unacceptable
Through her online Happiness programme “Wellbeing Warriors”, life coach Louise Thompson helps people unlock their happiest and healthiest life. Sign up at louisethompson.com and find more from Louise at bite.co.nz/wellbeing