Do I have your attention?
Let’s be honest here: do you have the attention span to read this article?
Compared to your Facebook feed, this is probably less interesting. You’ll probably just scan the first few words, and move on to the next little hit of dopamine from the next update on your feed, from that tiny slot machine of addiction sitting in your pocket.
It’s not your fault. Professionals have been at work fighting for your attention, conspiring with advertisers to sell, sell, sell us our next slice of happiness.
We have been duped. We have been hoodwinked. And we’re completely addicted to our devices. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to get you to throw your iPhone in the lake or go back to a flip phone (for one, I’m not sure my kids know how to talk to me without texting me!)
Yet we can all find a better relationship with our phone. Sometimes you have to go to therapy to improve your marriage, and the same is true here: we can all benefit from being more intentional with our attention. Like any relationship, it’s easy to fall into destructive patterns – especially when those patterns are the goal of many app-makers on that little crack pipe we call a phone.
You, too, have probably lectured your kids to put it down (I do, and they need it) but honestly, tech addiction isn’t limited to the under-25s among us. If you want to change up your phone behaviors, and maybe find some strategies to get your kids to do the same, I can’t recommend Catherine Price’s timely book “How to Break Up With Your Phone” enough.
You should get the book. But in case your attention span doesn’t stretch that far, I’ve got some takeaways for you that were helpful to me.
Ready? Take a moment, check your Facebook feed, get that last hit of dopamine. Back? Ok, first I want you to take the Smartphone Compulsion Test by Dr. David Greenfield.
If you got over an 8, welcome to the club. The first step is to admit you have a problem – and you’re far from alone.
We are all addicted
Americans check their phones about 47 times a day. Collectively, we’re picking up our phones 9 billion times, every day.
On average, we spend 4 hours a day, 28 hours a week, 112 hours a month or 56 days a year staring at our phones.
Nearly, 1 out of 10 adults admit to checking it during sex. Uh, they could be doing it wrong…
How they get you addicted
Have you heard the term intermittent reinforcements? It’s a term used by psychologists to describe that feeling you get when you play a slot machine. You know, that reward you receive when you know that something COULD happen. At any time, you could win that jackpot! When I am forced, I go to Vegas, usually for conferences. Vegas isn’t my kind of place. I walk through the casinos thinking “these suckers” but the truth is, I’m a sucker too. We’re all playing the same game and getting the same rewards – it’s just not a pile of cash.
They’re making us depressed, stressed, and anxious, too – part of that loop of reward/scroll/reward is a feedback loop that leaves us anxious. “The more people use their phone,” Dr. Nancy Cheever, who spearheaded research on the relationship between cellphone use and anxiety at California State University, Dominguez Hills, told ABC News, “the more anxious they are about using their phone.”
For teenagers, it’s worse. According to this Atlantic piece last year, they aren’t leaving the house anymore, or having in-person conversations. The classic “get car, have freedom” goal is now more like “get phone, hide in room, Snapchat.” And it’s not making them happier. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.
Time well spent
“Every once in while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…”
-Steve Jobs, introducing the first iPhone in 2007
Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who introduced the iPhone to such fanfare in 2007 and changed our world, would not let his kids have an iPad and severely limited screen time for his kids. Tim Cook, the CEO who replaced him at Apple when Jobs passed away, admitted this spring that he was shocked by how much time he himself was spending on his phone – while introducing a feature called Screen Time, which is supposed to help addicted folks like us – and Tim Cook – understand our usage and limit it.
But in this, they’re in a war against the very companies that fill out that phone with apps. Facebook, playing mea culpa this year as one of the biggest offenders in dopamine-driving apps, announced they were moving the algorithmic goalposts to reward “time well spent” – but that was six months ago, and Facebook remains as effective an addiction as any opioid. (If you want to know where Zuckerberg got that phrase, look no further than Tristan Harris’ “Time Well Spent” talk.)
Just this month, an AT&T executive, discussing their acquisition of HBO, said “I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”
At least they’re honest. Remember, if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer – you’re the product. (And sometimes, even if you are paying for it – cough HBO cough.)
The Breakup (a 30 day plan)
“Our lives are what we pay attention to,”
– Catherine Price
That’s the ultimate question, the ultimate takeaway from this book. It’s not a book with “hacks” to give up your phone. It’s a refocus on your priorities – and where your phone fits in. It’s a message that you need a mindful plan for your life, and where you want to place your attention – or you’re going to get sucked into expedient, short-term gratifications – your phone, your Facebook feed – vs the long game. She recommends a 30 day plan – we’ve included a cheat sheet below. (Obviously, we recommend reading the whole book.)
Week 1: Technology Triage
- Download a tracking app.
- Assess your current phone relationship.
- Delete social media apps.
- Come back to real life.
- Get physical.
Week 2: Changing your habits
- Say “no” to notifications
- The life changing magic of tidying up your apps.
- Change where you charge the phone.
- Download an app blocker.
- Set boundaries – no-phone zones, wake up times.
- Stop phubbing.
Week 3: Reclaiming your brain
- Stop, breathe, be.
- Practice pausing.
- Exercise your attention span.
- Prepare for your trial separation – and begin it.
Week 4: Your new relationship
- Recap your trial separation.
- Manage your invitations.
- Clean up the rest of your digital life.
- Check your checking.
- Keep yourself on track.
- Congrats! You’re done.
“Discipline is remembering what you want.”
– Flint Sparks (one of the coolest guys I know)
Some extra reading and listening…
Read Tristan Harris on “Time Well Spent” & watch his TED Talk.
Art of Manliness has a list of resources here for folks looking to break their smartphone habit.
Catherine Price did a podcast with Dan Harris that’s a great shortcut to reading her book (in case this wasn’t enough!) Plus, here’s the resources she recommends for that 30-day breakup.
If you’ve tried this, or something similar to it, I want to hear from you. What change was most effective? What habit were you trying to leave behind? How long did it take to feel the addiction break? You can tweet at me – or comment on this blog. I’m still in this struggle myself – so I’d love to hear it.
Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.
Cole–good day. Your list is full of healthy suggestions. A few more: (a) briefly review and mentally prioritize All your emails before responding–once you respond–more will come–people spend all day reacting. (b) a three minute call can cut out yards of email string. Check your outgoing email count versus incoming–(mines 10%). (c) The most important improvement came with the Apple Watch 3–its primary use is to screen and prioritize incoming and weans you off of the phone and attendant apps. It has cut phone checking down to less than a dozen times a day. Only touch the phone for things I am doing–not incoming. All the best
Thank you Neal! These are great suggestions. More to come on this – hopefully I can quote your suggestions in the future. – Cole
Relevant, my brother. Thank you.
Thank you, my brother. More soon. – Cole
This is a great article, Cole. I applaud you for recognizing the smartphone addiction and doing something about it. I am not a giant waster of time on phones, but I will track my hours and delete notifications!
Thank you Jim! Much appreciated. More to come on this soon… – Cole