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There is no greater misnomer than a “smartphone.” The device in itself is not smart at all; it’s just a thing. It is as smart as a vacuum cleaner or a hammer. And smartphones make 99.99% of their users dumber, not smarter.
Yes, there is an incredible computing ability. Yes, you can access with your smartphone the Internet – the biggest knowledge database ever created in human history. Yes, you can leverage incredible applications to track your habits or finances, to do your daily tasks more effectively, to manage your calendar or a to-do list.
This device also bombards you with a zillion notifications beeping in the least desirable moments. When you pick it up and check one thing, you are mysteriously drawn into opening another app, then scrolling through its feed, watching funny videos, then reading another thing. Now, you are not only distracted, you actually wasted several minutes of your precious time on this planet.
That’s not smart at all. That’s dumb. Thus, this device deserves a more apt name – a dumbphone.
Smartphone – a Great Tool for Developing the Mindfulness Habit
Some time ago, I decided to develop a new tiny habit. Here is the recipe for it:
Before I unlock the phone’s screen, I will think what I’m going to do on the phone; I will also give this activity a specific intention.
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To deconstruct this habit for you:
“Think” means I will name the specific action I’m going to perform on my phone. So, not: “Entertainment!” but rather “Check out new releases on Netflix.”
However, most of the time, I’m using my phone compulsively to check notifications, my book sales, or the number of steps I have done today. Thus, before unlocking the screen, I’ll state in my head the purpose of using the phone this time: “I will check out my steps count… I will answer a message from my customer on Coach.me… I will check the weather forecast…”
“Intention” has a religious meaning. I found this on the first page on Google after typing “intention religious meaning”:
the person or thing meant to benefit from a prayer or religious offering.
(in the Roman Catholic Church) a special aim or purpose for which a mass is celebrated or prayers are said. ‘Many of the pilgrims who travel there today pray for a special intention.’
After practicing this habit for about a week, I already could tell I hit the jackpot. I wanted to be more mindful (or less mindless, which I suppose has the same effect) when using my phone, and I achieved this result in a very short period.
Why Such a Design?
First of all, I wanted a habit, not a productivity technique. A habit for me is something which integrates into my being and subtly (or not so subtly) changes me from the inside out.
Second, I value mindfulness very highly, and I know that I default to the worst in me when I lack it.
Third, I value spirituality above all, so I knew that adding a spiritual component to the habit would make it more important for me (read: will develop faster and become stickier).
Fourth, I noticed how my smartphone started to be for me a “dumbphone” – a tool that turns off my conscious mind and wastes my time.
Many times, when I wanted to check out something necessary – like the weather forecast or if I have just gotten a message from a customer – I unlocked my screen, saw some random notification and woke up two minutes later trying to recall why I took the phone in my hand in the first place.
Lastly, using my phone for this habit was a great idea from the habit development standpoint. Unlocking the phone’s screen had been something I had been doing about 75 times a day. And you need around 66 repetitions to make something a habit; the worst-case scenario is 254 repetitions according to eggheads. Also, pausing before unlocking ideally fits the definition of the Tiny Habit – something that:
-you do at least once a day,
-takes you less than 30 seconds,
-requires little effort.
Development of a Habit
At the beginning, it didn’t do as well as was planned. I was picking up my phone and unlocking it without pausing all too many times.
Of course! You always suck at the beginning! It’s only normal. One of the biggest dangers in habit development, and this habit was no different in that regard, is not the difficulty level, or the effort to remember about a habit – it’s frustration with yourself.
If you get frustrated and beat yourself up for each failure, your chances for success are miniscule. At first, you fail more often than not and it’s NORMAL! But if you beat yourself up and feel constantly frustrated, guess how likely it is that you will keep trying? Yep, that’s how most New Year’s resolutions end up.
It doesn’t mean you need to pat yourself on the shoulder when you fail and be proud of yourself. You should focus on noticing when you do the right thing, not the wrong one.
I know myself well, and I didn’t expect perfection from the start. Quickly (in a couple of days or so), I started catching myself whenever I grabbed the phone and unlocked it mindlessly.
Thus, I developed another tiny habit on top of my ‘dumbphone habit’ – if I unlocked the screen without going over my small mindfulness ritual, I locked it again, went over the routine and continued using the phone.
A week later I needed to lock the screen back less often. Most times, I go straight to my mindfulness routine.
I thought I would pick up my phone less often. Usually, this is how tracking an activity you want to get rid of works. When you start realizing how hopeless you are, the sheer act of tracking builds the resistance against a bad habit.
However, when I checked the actual data after a few days in the ScreenTime app, it appeared that I was picking up the phone more. The sub-habit of locking the screen again added more attempts to the app’s counter.
The nice measurable result was that my screen time went down by 8%. And that included about an hour on Netflix at Sunday evening. The hour, which I consciously decided to spend that way.
And that was the greatest output from this small mindfulness discipline – I use my phone more as a tool and less as a mind-sucking vortex. Of course, there are also the nice byproducts I built into the habit – increased mindfulness and spiritual activity.
The Tiny Dumbphone-to-Smartphone Habit
The basic recipe for this habit goes like this:
After I pick up the phone to unlock the screen, I will think (or say aloud) what I’m going to do with the phone.
You can add some whistles and bells to it – like I did with intentions – but not much. Remember that the tiny habits definition says it takes less than 30 seconds. Attaching an intention to my tiny habits takes me literally a couple of seconds, tops.
I strongly recommend you check out the Screen Time (it’s in iPhone settings) or its equivalent first. Set a baseline, so you’ll know if you make progress or not.
It’s quite probable you will forget your tiny mindfulness habit many times. Shrug it off. It’s part of the process. It’s normal at the beginning.
It’s also probable you will start catching yourself at forgetting about your new habit right after you unlocked the screen. Your brain loves to remind you what you are doing wrong. Use it to your advantage. Lock the screen and perform your unlocking-screen ritual.
This habit is relatively easy to develop because you will have many repetitions every day. It can become semi-automatic in a week or so (depending on your success rate and how many times you picked up your phone in the first place).
I highly recommend building this habit to everyone who feels they are not in control of their screen time (probably 99% of the smartphone users population).
You will get dozens of opportunities to pause and reflect. It will do wonders for your mindfulness. And mindfulness does wonders for your self-awareness. And self-awareness is the first step to self-knowledge.
Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves–their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” — Peter F. Drucker
Plus, you will save yourself from the mindless scrolling!
Originally published at Medium.