Breaking Phone Addiction: My Plan to Stop Mindless Scrolling

Mostly black screen with a pair of disembodied hands reaching from the shadows, holding a phone

I have an existential crisis probably once a year, at least. Sometimes, it’s not that dramatic, and I’ll just find myself directionless and in a rut.

Such a thing has happened to me lately. I haven’t the benefit of hindsight yet to dub this as just a rut or an existential crisis, but I decided to analyze what factors contributed to it.

Upon reflection, here is what I learned:

  • I don’t feel like I have one, true purpose.
  • The things I do find purpose in, like writing, or other things that I’m passionate about, have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another.
  • Despite all my healthy changes, I still come home from work feeling tired, un-energized, and unable to motivate myself for awhile, as I sit on the couch and scroll Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and eventually YouTube videos. I often say to myself, “How has so much time passed? What have I been doing?” It never feels that long when you’re doing it.
  • While I still accomplish some of the learning goals I have with Coursera and exercise 4-5 days a week, I default to playing video games, or something else I consider to be fun. This results in me pushing off other goals that would require more work because I see them as “hard”. I’d rather do the fun thing. By that point I’ve expended my energy for hard things and just want the sweet dopamine release that comes with instant gratification.
  • A lot of time is wasted on my phone. In general, I feel I am too reliant on my phone and use it for the wrong reasons most of the time.

I think this is all tied together somehow. Each point feeds into the next. I believe my phone addiction is the root of it all. Here’s why my phone addiction is hurting me and how I’m relating it to everything listed above:

False Sense of Not Wasting Any Time

I reflexively pick up my phone constantly throughout the day, when I have a spare second, especially when I’m waiting on something else, like things at my job, video game loading screens, something cooking, etc. I do data processing for a mail company, and there are several applications and processes that have to “run their course”. While I’m waiting, I often grab for my phone. This is the insidious and seemingly innocuous part of phone addiction. It feels innocent because how can I be wasting any time on my phone if I’m just doing it to pass time while I wait for something else? However, this adds up to what feels like a hundred times a day of picking up my phone and many hours of screen time (my average screen time has been as high as 5 hours per day, which is surprisingly above average).

Constantly picking up my phone like this, even when I consider it to be “multitasking”, is a ridiculously false way of thinking. Most importantly, this isn’t a productive or worthwhile practice, since I am just doing it to kill time. Secondly and thirdly, it divides my attention, creating an overall shorter attention span, and deepens my phone addiction by causing a Pavlovian response between waiting and picking up my phone. Often, it makes those initial work tasks take longer because I get sucked into the vortex of endless scrolling on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit.

I Pick Up My Phone As a Way to Avoid My Feelings

Similar to the Pavlovian response above where waiting causes me to pick up my phone, I also have this desire to pick up my phone in response to many negative feelings, like guilt and shame. I notice that when I thought or memory comes up that makes me feel bad, I instantly have the urge to pick up my phone. The idea is to probably distract myself from that thought, or to confront it by sharing it on Twitter. But this has evolved into a way to avoid how I feel, instead of facing it with the proper coping tools. It’s amazing how many times I noticed, after becoming conscious of this habit, that I would have a thought or feeling and instinctively grab my phone.

Phone Addiction Has Tried to Serve (Poorly) As a Decompression Tool

My phone use goes up dramatically because I use my phone to decompress at the end of the workday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. I don’t feel more relaxed, I don’t feel better or happier. In fact, I feel worse. Social media tends to cultivate strong feelings of inadequacy, anger, and annoyance in me. Comparing myself to others, disagreeing with strong opinions and hot takes, letting myself get upset by things that are shared or said. It’s all trivial in the grand scheme of things–to be upset by social media, yet I am, and I struggle to oppose this inclination. There are good things about social media, too, like connecting with friends, sharing your lives with people you care about, having a sense of community, learning cool things, and laughing at funny things. However, I find the pros to significantly pale in comparison to the cons. I take away far more toxicity and internalized negativity than anything else, usually.

Social Media for All the Wrong Reasons

I originally started getting on Twitter more to nurture my brand for this blog. I wanted to post more about mental health, self-improvement, and productivity. Before this, I very sparingly got on Twitter. I’d go a year or two at a time with no interaction there. But I wanted to connect with other like-minded bloggers, so I developed a friend group there. I set up a Facebook page for my blog for the same reason. Even if I wasn’t sharing my own content, I could share things relevant to those topics and engage with the community. Instead, I usually have nothing to post on Facebook, and I mostly rant on Twitter or treat it like a diary. It’s morphed into this outlet for my own personal feelings, instead of an outlet for all things mental health and self-improvement.

I don’t want to break my phone addiction so that I can be more productive or stop procrastinating. I certainly could be more productive, especially when it comes to those passions I’m pursuing, things that do require more effort, especially when I have no motivation. But my goal is to be happier. To free up my mental bandwidth. To stop dividing my attention. To do things with intention and purpose. To find relaxing and enjoyable ways to decompress.

The Plan for Breaking Phone Addiction

Here is what I plan to do to break the phone addiction:

  • Find enjoyable ways to decompress when I get home from work that don’t include watching YouTube videos, or scrolling social media endlessly. YouTube is a gray area because I can learn interesting things there, and I like critique and analysis channels, but I’m going to have to be cautious with this. Perhaps put time limits and restrictions around it so I don’t fall down the rabbit hole.
  • Delete social media apps, including Reddit. Note: this doesn’t mean deleting my accounts or totally abstaining from social media forever. It’s to curb the unnecessary amount of time I spend on these app, which has been the source of my phone addiction.
  • If I am to get on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, I will do it intentionally and with purpose, on my laptop. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these platforms and all have their benefits, but I want to develop a more meaningful way to interact with them. Doing so on my laptop, with the express purpose of connecting with others, sharing something worthwhile, or looking for information, will hopefully accomplish that. Some scrolling and seeing what’s new may be permitted, even necessary, especially as part of the “connecting with others” factor that I enjoy, but there will be a time limit on this. I’m still undecided exactly how to execute this. Twitter and Facebook will also be used to post more content in-line with my blog.
  • Resist picking up my phone and using it as a distraction, from waiting or from feelings. Just going to try to feel my feelings and cope with whatever comes up.
  • While not directly related to phone addiction, I want to use this extra time I will hopefully have to cultivate a better working culture around the goals and passions I have that are harder. Things that I often lack motivation for or lose my drive for. I want to find out why I feel this way, and if I need to move on, or keep trying. If I want to keep trying, what’s holding me back, and can I create a better atmosphere and routine in order to work? I do believe getting phone addiction under control can contribute to this, as I should have more time, and won’t have such a negative mindset going into it.
  • Along with this, I want to develop a better time limit for fun stuff and understand myself better. Why do I always default to doing this fun stuff, even when I know there’s benefit to doing my Coursera work or writing? I don’t want to always shrug off those goals and plop down to play video games for the rest of the day. I always feel guilty, but can’t bring myself to do anything that requires more effort. Am I just shorted out on willpower already (although there’s no current scientific evidence for this)? Am I demotivated about my other tasks for some reason? Am I so dopamine hungry from the constant phone use that I have forgotten the benefits of delayed gratification? Have I screwed myself over and shortened my own attention span? I hope to find out the answers to these questions.
  • No watching YouTube while I eat. What starts as an enjoyable combination, leads to more videos, which leads to more wasting time. Mindful eating is a whole other topic, and it’s always made me upset to think about practicing this (that is, eating without watching or reading something, or otherwise being entertained and stimulated while you eat). But it would behoove me to find a better way to enjoy things and reward myself, rather than a tasty meal while watching something entertaining.

This is the start of a new journey. I hope to find out the answers to my questions, develop a healthier relationship with social media, and break my phone addiction! In doing so, I hope the byproduct is healthier decompressing tools, better attention span, a reignited spark for all my passions and goals, and more well-rounded afternoon and evening routine.

Published by Jessica

Writer, YouTuber, streamer, gamer, yogi, self-improver--still trying to figure it all out

7 thoughts on “Breaking Phone Addiction: My Plan to Stop Mindless Scrolling

  1. I should probably do something about my phone addiction, but I’m not sure what I could do instead to keep my mind and hands occupied in order to keep my dark thoughts away

    1. It’s not a problem unless you think it’s a problem. For me, it’s become a problem. But for you, maybe it’s a safe coping mechanism.

  2. This really spoke to me, about using your phone as a way to avoid your feelings. I definitely find that I do that. I’ve recently started trying to not scroll at all, to just check notifications, or look for a few quick share threads, and that’s it. It’s been good for my mental health, especially in light of a loss I had in March.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about you having a loss. Those are always dark times, and I’m glad you’re finding a small way to cope with it. It’s surprising to me how much I was using my phone as just a distraction from feelings, or a reaction to feelings. It’s been an interesting process so far. I don’t know if I’m doing everything “right”. I’m certainly on my phone less, on social media less. But what do I have to show for it? Ah, that’s another post 😉

      Thanks for the comment, Jen.

  3. I’m finding it hard to stay off YouTube lately.. It’s a good source of distraction from the craziness in the world and in my head… I know everything else outside of YouTube is where I should put my focus (sleep, eating healthy, exercise) but it’s so dang hard right now… 🙄

    1. Oh, I am so bad about YouTube. I think we should give ourselves some self-compassion and be kind right now. If it’s helping you, then what’s the harm? I mean, I know it’s not super healthy. But for me, it is much better for me than mindlessly scrolling Twitter of Facebook and getting annoyed or mad!

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