I use my smartphone far too much and you probably do too. But, like me, you will most likely only admit that if you’re being really honest with yourself. And it’s not often we’re actually being brutally honest with ourselves, is it?
NZ telco 2degrees recently surveyed 2,200 Kiwis for their #GoodChat campaign, which focuses on how New Zealanders communicate with each other. It’s something that I’m genuinely interested in because I believe that better communication is a crucial factor in improving our mental health.
The more open and honest we are with our loved ones, workmates, friends and everyone else, the more we are able to deal with our feelings and emotions in a constructive way.
The #GoodChat campaign has resulted in some really eye-opening findings, such as;
“Over a third (39%) of New Zealanders say their partner is spending too much time on their smartphone.”
(You can see the rest of the results on their website and their podcast about it… here.)
If they had surveyed my partner I’m 100% sure she would have been part of that statistic.
Quite often I’ll turn my phone on and check it as one of the first, if not the very first thing that I do in the day. I will also turn it off and put it on my nightstand to charge as the last thing I do in my day. And in between, I use it a lot.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that the smartphone (coupled with the internet) is one of the most amazing things ever invented. If you told a person even just 50 years ago that you could have pretty much ALL of the world’s information available to you at any time just by reaching into your pocket and typing a few words on a tiny screen they wouldn’t have believed you. It truly is miraculous.
A mobile phone is pretty much a ‘life essential’ these days, and for good reason. They are key in our businesses, our social lives and our general connection to everything, yet we tend to use them to constantly check if someone has ‘liked’ our post from dinner last night on social media.
So, the question is…
DO I HAVE A PROBLEM?
I talk about this in my book, the first step to understanding ourselves and changing a behaviour is always awareness. You see, most of us are blind to our own problems, it’s human nature.
Alcoholics don’t think they have a problem, people with depression often won’t admit they’re depressed and so on and so forth… So, what we need is an impartial judge to rule on our own shortcomings! Funnily enough, our partner or someone close to us isn’t always the best one to point these out so, we need to figure it out for ourselves.
I’m going to help you with that, and give you some ideas to figure out what you can do to see how much time you’re spending attached to your phone and how to make some simple changes to transform the relationship you have both with your phone, and with the people around you.
So, here is step one… Download more apps for your phone. Wait, aren’t we trying to cut down on our screen time? Hear me out… Start with Moment for IOS or Space for Android. These are a couple of great tracking apps that will allow you to monitor exactly how long you are spending on specific apps, tell you how many times a day you pick your phone up and a few other things as well.
This is where you might get a surprising slap in the face.
‘I spent HOW LONG on my phone today?’ Yip…that long.
I know personally that I have a problem because my wife will point out to me when I’m spending a bit too much time on my phone instead of interacting with her or the world around me. I tend to sometimes let this go in one ear and out the other but these apps are in your face and hard to ignore. My wife might say ‘too much time’ but the app tells me cold hard facts about my usage to the minute. I can’t argue with that!
DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Studies have shown that simply being shown the information about how much we use our devices allows us to make better choices in disconnecting. So, with the apps showing us just how much more we are using our phones compared to what we think we are, coupled with their constant reminders, this should encourage us to start cutting down our usage.
Here’s another trick you can try. In 2012 I wrote about the phone-stacking game. It’s a pretty simple concept. When you’re out to dinner with friends, you all stack your phones in the middle of the table and the first person to check/answer their phone has to pay for everyone’s dinner. There’s nothing like a solid financial incentive to keep people off their phones!
I say this often and it is something that I truly believe; everything is a choice. The amount of time you spend on your phone is your choice. You might think that checking your phone is no big deal and a fairly benign daily activity but it can be much more detrimental than you might think. Which leads me to…
A BIGGER PROBLEM…
Let’s get something clear up front (or maybe here at Step 3), you are not likely ‘addicted’ to your phone itself. Your phone is useful for calling people and helping to get to your destination but you’re not addicted to those things, they’re just practical realities.
The problem lies in the constant checking for feedback. That’s what the experts say we’re addicted to. It’s not the gadget we crave, but the micro-rewards and the dopamine kick. And dopamine is the chemical that addicts us to the habit of going back and back and back to the phone.
And that’s where we start getting to the crux of the issue. Yes, the 2degrees study shows that 39% of people think their partner is addicted to their phone but the question is, why? And I’ll answer the same way I usually do…
It’s a mental health problem.
We (myself included) are addicted to having people ‘like’ and validate our social presence and we also don’t want to ‘miss out’ on any of the things going on in ‘social media world’.
I’ll give you an example, a few weeks ago I switched from a personal profile to a business one on Instagram (for business reasons).
As I suspected would happen my engagement, likes and follows dropped a whole lot. When you switch to a business account on Instagram they want you to pay to promote your content which is something I’m not really a fan of doing.
Yes, using Instagram is a necessary part of my business and I accept that they are running a business too but what I wasn’t expecting was that I felt personally affected by the loss of numbers. To an unreasonable extent. It made me feel sad. It made me check my Instagram more often to see what was up. Did people stop liking my content? Did I do something wrong? Am I reaching and helping fewer people now? These thoughts made me feel hurt.
The truth is, I know that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. In the back of my head, I’m reminded ‘it’s just social media’ but in reality, like many other people, I check those apps for validation. I want to be ‘liked’ and I want people to react to my content and what I want to say, positively.
I have spent some time thinking about how to address this issue. It’s a complicated one and I think that it opens up some pretty big issues around self-love and contentment. The answer is fairly simple and one that I find is the answer to many of life’s issues… internal work. We have to keep working on understanding what’s real and what’s not, what’s important and what’s not. No doubt you’ve heard this many times before but for the most part, social media is not real life and what we should be concentrating on a lot more is improving our real lives. How we interact with others and evolving as human beings.
As I mentioned earlier, my wife thinks I spend too much time on my phone and she will always tell me if it bothers her, I mean, I might be on it at dinner or when we’re ‘hanging out’ which I acknowledge is not good.
But, I was watching a Chris Rock stand-up special the other night and he had a really interesting insight. His parents have been happily married for a long time and obviously lived in a pre-cell phone era for most of their lives. His dad left home each morning at 6:30 am and returned from work at 8:30 pm. During his workday, he had ZERO contact with his wife. None. When he got home he sat down with her, had dinner and they shared with each other what went on for them that day.
He had MISSED HER.
I don’t miss my wife. I don’t get a chance to miss my wife. We are now, literally, ‘in each other’s pockets’. We talk, we text, we Instagram, we send pictures. If I watch her Instagram story I can see exactly what she has done at specific times of the day.
When I come home, we greet each other, I am extremely happy to see her, we catch up in general but we don’t need to catch up on the day because we’ve already talked to each other on our phones a bunch of times. So when the conversation ends, I resort to the bad habit of returning to my phone.
I don’t have the opportunity to miss her.
So here’s an experiment we have recently begun trying… Talking to each other LESS during the day, on our phones.
No relationship expert ever has said ‘In order to improve this relationship, you need to communicate less!’
But I believe that it’s the type of communication that matters not the quantity. Mobile communication is great for some things but it doesn’t and shouldn’t replace quality in-person communication. Real talk. Good chat.
The less you know over the phone the more you get to learn in person and that’s a great thing.
If you or a loved one is one of the 39% then step one is being aware of it.
I’ve downloaded those apps I mentioned and it is annoyingly reminding me that I am exceeding my self-imposed limits and I’m actually cutting back in response.
If you’re using your phone too much, it’s not the phone’s fault. That behaviour is simply a symptom of something bigger. Ask yourself what’s the cause? What’s inside me that’s driving it? Why do I need that dopamine kick and social validation?
And finally, why not try communicating a little less frequently with your partner on your phone throughout the day and when you do communicate with them, make an effort to make it better quality.
That’s what it’s all about – the #GoodChat.