I Tried Breaking My Phone Addiction for 10 Days

a top-down photo of a blank pad of paper, a couple of white card stacks, a cell phone, a cup of coffee, and a pen.

I started an initiative for myself–an unplug initiative, if you will–to use social media and my smartphone less. The reasons were numerous and the effects were concerning: shorter attention span, need for instant gratification, using my phone to distract myself from my real feelings, spending far too much time scrolling endlessly, sad or pissed off at the end of the day anyway.

I’m going to share what I’ve learned, what else I feel I can change, and what has already changed for the better. I’ll also be taking a look at the goals I set for myself at the end of that first post about breaking my phone addiction. Did I achieve them in week 1? Let’s first talk about my general thoughts, feelings, and takeaways of week 1.

Week 1 Reactions to Breaking My Phone Addiction

  • Irritability, at first. Lots of irritability. Think: road rage, without being on the road.
  • Picking up my phone, frequently. With no goal. Scrolling through the home menus, searching for nothing.
  • Watching too much YouTube. Seriously. It’s a slippery slope and it’s hard to stop once you’ve started slipping.
  • Loneliness. I felt lonely, at first, from not chatting with Twitter friends every day or supporting people on my favorite self-improvement subreddits, or leaving comments for my Facebook friends. It made me crave human interaction, so I reached out more to friends I hadn’t spoken to in awhile.
  • I need to learn to have fun again, without my phone. So I picked up collaging again, with just materials I already had on hand. I also dug out some old coloring books and realized I’m unironically into word searches. Admittedly, I still spent more time watching YouTube, but it was cool to rediscover these interests and hobbies I still have. I’ve also been doing WAY more creative writing, something I had not thought I would pick back up.
  • Seriously. Have I mentioned YouTube? That’s clearly still a problem. Yikes.
  • I crave drama. Scandals. Something entertaining that engages the “grab some popcorn” section of my brain. Previously I’ve gotten that from Grey’s Anatomy, before season 9 got all weird. I also seem to fulfill this through some of the more “drama”-centered subs on Reddit, like r/relationships or r/trashy. I now entirely rely on YouTube for that with critiques and analysis of pop culture things.
  • I’m reading Medium more, which is cool, but I find myself scrolling it to look for “juicy” stories about divorces and couples drama a lot. Again, I must be craving drama. I do read a variety of things, but I’d say a good chunk of my reading there is based on someone’s life lessons from a sticky situation.
  • It’s okay to want to waste time, do a mindless activity, or just not be productive. The goal of breaking phone addiction wasn’t to just be more productive. It was to be happier, to feel more in control. I just wanted my phone activities, YouTube and Medium included, to be more in-check and controlled. It’s also been a push-and-pull struggle of realizing when I need downtime, and when I’ve gone too far and need to gently nudge myself into something else.
  • The FOMO of not being on Twitter especially is real. I feel like I’m invisible anytime that I try to post or interact lately because of Twitter’s visibility algorithm. It seems to reward you the more you post, the more you comment, the more you’re on. I want to use it to engage with others and keep putting my blog out there, but if I’m not on enough, it seems I fade into the background. I don’t want to use it just for the fear that I’ll no longer be seen, but they’ve got me in a bind. My goal was to use Twitter mindfully, but I’ve only even been on to scroll/engage a couple of times and I found myself getting restless very quickly.
  • My desire to have fun vs my desire to do something that makes me feel accomplished is way harder to manage than I thought it would be. Coupled with my need for competence, things get tricky, and I still don’t think I have a balance figured out.

My Goals for Breaking Phone Addiction – Revisited

1. Find enjoyable ways to decompress when I get home from work that don’t include watching YouTube videos, or scrolling social media endlessly.

Well, I inconveniently got sick during this, so it made it really hard to do anything on some days, besides watch TV or YouTube. But aside from that, I still wanted to approach decompressing in a new way. By the way, I define decompressing as something that helps me relax and unwind after work before getting into my goals for the evening.

I did eliminate mindless scrolling, but an increase in YouTube time doesn’t feel like the response I was looking for. Even when I only watch a couple of videos, I still can’t help but wonder if there’s a better habit I could have instead. My rediscovered and established hobbies, like collage art, coloring, word searches, creative writing and yoga, feel like “work” to me. I like doing them all and feel accomplished after doing them, but my brain still categorizes them as being far more effort than what I need at that time. Therefore, I need to come up with something that’s not YouTube that helps me relax before I get into any heavy mental lifting.

This is a topic I still want to explore.

2. Delete social media apps, including Reddit.

I did delete all social media apps! Success! This doesn’t mean I deleted the accounts or want to stay off them forever. I wanted to use them with intention. If that’s considered the only goal here, then it was a total success, A+. Considering that I wanted to use social media with intention, like interacting with my friends/followers and posting engaging content that’s related to my blog, though, I have failed. I haven’t gotten on for days at a time, and when I do, I haven’t stayed long or done much.

The thing about getting off social media is that once you get over not checking it all the time, you realize you don’t miss it. Getting on feels like a rushed check-in, some chore I’m marking off the list. And I am not at all trying to sound edgy or cool by saying that–I still love the friends I’ve made and the ones I know in real life. I want to interact with them and enjoy that aspect of social media, plus post relevant content. It’s just that the other crap feels even more insufferable the more time I’m away.

If I’m going to use it, I need to be habitual about my use, making sure I have time limits in mind, and content to post for my blog, too. I had the idea of using HootSuite to batch post a bunch of stuff at once so I don’t have to continually pick up my phone when I have a thought. But I did that exactly once and just haven’t had the desire to go back.

3. Resist picking up my phone and using it as a distraction, from waiting or from feelings.

I was semi-successful with this one. Let me explain.

Overall, I’ve been able to avoid mindless pickups to check Reddit or Twitter, well, because I don’t have the apps. But I don’t check the mobile versions either. However, many times, I will watch YouTube. It’s led to a LOT of YouTube. One day my screen time was 7 hours because I watched so much. Since I haven’t been feeling well, and as a result, am more tired, I allow myself more leeway. If I’m bored at work, it’s also a go-to because I can easily watch videos while working at my desk. It’s a slippery slope. While it doesn’t make me feel the same way mindless social media scrolling does, it’s not exactly helping my phone addiction. It’s making it worse. The content is engaging and mentally stimulating in ways that social media isn’t, but it’s often satisfying boredom and my need for drama–which only nurtures the parts of me that I don’t want to grow.

I’ve journaled less and less, but written more poetry. So as far as being in touch with feelings, I’d say I’m in the vicinity. I’ve had several moments where I was feeling bored or ashamed or something that makes me want to reach out to my phone, and I mindfully decided to explore that feeling instead. Waiting around at work, another trigger, has also been a window for me to explore my impatience and desire to fill that moment. On one hand, I have been able to recognize when feelings come up that I want to push down, but on the other, I don’t know if that’s really leading to anything except awareness. I suppose that’s something, at least.

Related: How to Exercise When You Have a Mental Illness

4. Develop a better time limit for fun stuff and understand why I put off harder stuff.

I’ve learned a lot about Self-Determination Theory, and it’s really helped me get in touch with what I really need to be motivated, namely my desire for competence. This even explains why I so often would blow off personal goals in favor of video games. Not only are they fun, but they’re rewarding; they make me feel like I’m really doing something. The illusion of accomplishment.

My goal when I found out about SDT was to do more things that make me feel competent, so I could get that need out of the way, and then move onto the hard stuff. Except, my brain interprets everything except YouTube, apparently, as work. But, it’s not that I consider collage art, for instance, to be work, it’s just that it’s MORE work than playing video games or watching YouTube compared to the output or reward that I’d receive. I still enjoy collage art, or anything else that I see as “hard” but still rewarding. The results I get make me feel accomplished and good about my abilities or skills, but collage art is very tedious and requires more patience and work before getting to that point.

So, we’re still at square one here. I’ve gleaned some insight, but I’m still trying to figure out how to make my brain do the thing. I want to get my dopamine fix from delayed gratification, too, not just instant, drive-by fixes. Admittedly, sometimes I just have to brute force it–use the 2-minute rule of procrastination to just sit down and start something that I want to get done, because I know I’ll like the outcome in the long-run.

My pursuit of fun, lack of structure, and just hedonism, I guess, is still a mystery, and still hardly in check. Stay tuned.

5. No watching YouTube while I eat

Absolutely failed this, and I honestly haven’t even tried very hard. I really struggle with this one, and I’m not sure why. I enjoy it so much. There must be some sort of emotional connection, so much so, that it’s upsetting for me not to do it. I may need to actually research this. I’ve been brushing it off as a legitimate problem, but being reminded that this was a goal can set me back on course.

Summary

Phone addiction has made me less happy, less fulfilled, and given me the attention span of a rat, and while social media was a big factor to that, removing it wasn’t a cure all.

While I cherish my hobbies and interests, including ones I’ve rediscovered, I still have issues getting on YouTube, and relying on that for entertainment.

I’m finding I still don’t fully understand myself, and I’m struggling to strike a balance between decompressing, having fun, getting personal goals accomplished, and making sure I feel like I’m hitting all three components of Self-Determination Theory somewhere in there.

This isn’t an exact science, and I’m nowhere near done in my discovery. I hope I can strike a good balance that leaves me healthy, happy, and still getting the online interaction I crave.

Have you ever tried to stop using your phone or social media? What was it like? Did you fail or succeed?

Published by Jessica

Writer, video production freelancer, and still trying to figure it all out

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