Are you addicted to your cellphone?

Why You Need to Take Control

Are you addicted to your cellphone?

Here's a question for you: Can you go a whole day without looking at your cell phone? Better yet, can you go a whole hour? Obviously, if you have a job where you have to put your cellphone to sleep for periods of time, then you probably do go hours without looking. But if you don't have any outside constraints, I bet you check it many times in any given hour. I know I do, and I have recently become aware of just how addictive the whole thing is.

It came to me the other day while driving to work, and as usual my cell phone was sitting in the driver's seat with me, face up, while I zoomed down the highway. I picked it up at every stop light, and . . . I have to admit I picked it up sometimes while driving. Just a quick check. Any new emails? Texts? Notifications from Facebook? I don't text while driving, but it's tempting. I certainly rush through a text at a stoplight.

It dawned on me, while going through this usual routine, that the whole thing is rather compulsive. It's not so much a calculated choice of activity, but an automatic, repetitive, compulsive activity. Now we're entering the world of addiction. Not addiction like heroin, but still an addiction.

Yep, Research Confirms It

After a little research, my conclusion was affirmed. Every time you glance at your phone and see signs of new activity, you get a little boost of dopamine in your brain. If you don't know exactly what dopamine is, here's a brief definition from Psychology Today.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.

You might as well be the rat in the maze that is getting little treats every time he picks the correct path. Looking at your cell phone is quickly followed by an emotional boost. Of course it's addictive!

There Are Costs

The question is, what are the costs? There are quite a few.

  • It eats up time. It may not seem that glancing at your phone quickly many times a day eats up time, but it does.
  • It's a chronic distraction. It fragments your attention and focus. Every time you shift your attention away from what you're doing to look at your cellphone, you have changed your focus. Your brain requires more energy and time to refocus when you go back to your task.
  • It's a waste of mental and emotional energy. Do you need to look at every email as it comes in? No. You can check email several times a day and that would be enough. Even if you have a job where email is important and you have to communicate more than several times a day, you can still set up specific times to go through it. Since a large majority of email is just promotions and ads, it isn't necessary. And Facebook? Not necessary!
  • It replaces other activity that is much more productive or rewarding. For example, face to face contact with people, reading, working on something, even just thinking and contemplating. All of these are more worthy forms of activity that provide real benefits. Constant phone checking is more of a manic activity with no real benefit other than that little dose of dopamine. A walk or exercise will give you a lot more dopamine if that's the goal.

Try This

Out of Sight

Try putting your phone out of site for periods of the day, and especially during times when you don't really need to see it. My first change was to put my phone in my purse while driving so that it is not available for viewing. I also stopped looking at it in restaurants, when engaging with other people or during social situations, and while working.

Schedule Email Responses

Decide how often you really need to check your email, and then set a regular schedule for checking and responding to it only at designated times. 

Social Media

Assess your use of social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other venues you use. How much time do you actually spend on these sites? If you spend a good deal of time, then clock it for a couple of days and see exactly how much. Based on what you find out, decide what changes you need to make.

Texting, Texting and more Texting!

If you are a big texting fan, I suggest you replace texting time with face-to-face interactions with real people. Important discussions, real communication and interchange, and authentic interaction take place face to face, not by text. The largest portion of communication is provided by body language, and that is missed in emails and texts.

Ditch the Phone for a Day

Just for fun, try taking a break from your phone for a day. I bet you just reacted to that idea with an "Ugh!" That definitely means you should give it a try. Tell your friends and family you will be unavailable by cell phone for a day so no one will panic, and then do it. You might find out things about yourself you wouldn't know otherwise.

Your thoughts? I'd love to hear! If you've ever gone without using your phone or technology for a day, how did it go and what new insights did you gain?

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