Are you a slave to your smartphone? Changing this relationship and taking back your power requires self-discipline and, occasionally, a complete break from internet technology, otherwise known as a digital detox.

Take a moment and reflect on the times throughout the day when you pull your phone out for no real reason. Sitting in traffic or waiting rooms, after a class or a shift at work? Workout time, lunch break or when running errands? Imagine that you don’t have a phone and can no longer default to this common activity.

What if we had the self-discipline to not let ourselves waste time staring at a screen? What if we could break the habit of checking our messages and social media notifications all the time?

Sadly, the best intentions of leaving our phones out of sight and out of mind more often can be forgotten the moment we remember we wanted to send someone a message or do a “quick glance” at our Instagram feed that turns into an hour of mindless scrolling. Smartphones are both incredible resources and highly addictive gadgets.

These phones were designed, not so much for making and taking actual phone calls, but rather for connecting to the internet through an infinite array of apps. Each time we receive a new notification, email or text message, dopamine is released in the brain. This “feel-good” neurotransmitter drives us to seek rewards and trains us to keep coming back for more.

While the vast majority of businesses, restaurants, hotels around the world, including spiritual retreat centers, offer free wi-fi due to consumer demand, some sites are starting to offer tech-free digital wellness retreats.

Digital Overload

With the advent of smartphones, we are globally connected as a society, yet the digital age is a far cry from Utopia. According to the Digital Detox website, the average American spends “more than half of their waking life staring at a screen.” A whopping 61% of adults admit that they are addicted to the internet and their devices which enable them to access it 24/7.

A typical employee will check 40 websites each day, essentially changing tasks every two minutes. This requires them to spend two hours per day simply recovering from distractions. Only two percent of the population can actually multitask without a decline in their performance of the skills being completed simultaneously.

Worse yet, one-tenth of Americans admit to being depressed. Scientific studies have shown that heavy internet users are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from depression. Excessive use of social media can lead to increased feelings of loneliness, jealousy and fear.

Yet, we’re using these devices day and night. An astounding 95% of people use electronics in the hour before bedtime. The artificial light emitted by screens increases alertness negatively impacts our sleep patterns, performance and mood. It suppress the hormone melatonin, a natural sleep aid produced by the body, by up to 22 percent.

When their phone is lost or broken and they are forced to unplug even briefly, the most dependent internet users will experience severe mental and physical symptoms not unlike those of heroin withdrawal.

7 Steps for Starting and Successfully Completing a Digital Detox

So, have you realized you’re too attached to your phone and laptop? Are you online every day, without fail? Do you feel a need to check your messages and notifications on social media?

If so, here are some suggestions on how to start and, more importantly, stick to a digital detox.

1. Identify the gadgets

First, write a list all of your tech gadgets: computers, tablets, phones, etc. Reflect on how dependent you are on these devices. Then, create a list of all the things that you enjoy doing and would like to do more of.

2. Identify the topics and platforms

Make a list of the websites or apps where you’re spending tons of time. Ask yourself why you’re drawn to these particular ones. Create a way to find that satisfaction in real life. For example, if you love artistic photos on Instagram, visit an art gallery with a friend. If fitness blogs are your think, go out for a hike.

3. Go at it gradually

Go into your detox gradually, rather than cold turkey. Decide on a maximum daily time allowance for screen time. To increase the chances of sticking to your detox and ultimately break free from your dependency, begin by setting small limits for each day. if you slowly eliminate technology from various parts of your day, your detox will be easier to stick at. Habitual rituals help us achieve our targets, but only if they are achievable themselves.

4. Set a specific time

Set a specific time of day to check each and a time limit for how long you’ll spend on the site, such as 20 minutes. This way you’re not going offline entirely but rather choosing when to access your social media sites and networks, puts you back in control.

5. Rest on Sundays

Eliminate phone and computer use completely on Sundays. Give it a rest. Experiment with it. Notice how your feel. Observe any feelings of anxiety, boredom, pain or pleasure that arise throughout the tech-free day. Write in your journal to document your experience. Take a walk. Try even to avoid watching television or listening to the radio. Read a real book.

6. Increase time without tech

After you’ve been on mild detox for a week or two, start to turn off your phone more often. A couple hours at a time, or designated an additional day of the week. Use your self-discipline. The solution really is this simple: just turn off your phone and laptop and store them away.

7. Use your body and mind instead

When the urge to take and immediately post a photo arises, instead take a picture with your mind. You could even make a frame with your fingers, and take a mental snapshot of that sunset or beautiful breakfast plate just for you, not your social media network. By engaging with the present moment with all your senses, you’re more likely to keep this memory. When we’re too busy snapping photos and posting status updates, we can’t be immersed in our real lives.

9 Tips for Moving Toward Digital Minimalism

To cut back on your digital dependency, disable your phone’s push notifications. Do this for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, news sites, dating apps—anything that sends an alert when someone contacts you or likes a post.

Sleep issues often overlap with technology addiction. Turn off all screens at least two hours before bed – that means no phone, no laptop, no iPad. Your bedroom is for sleeping. Do not store devices in there overnight. This will prevent you from using them right before bed or first thing in the morning.

Make a rule of ‘phone stacking’ in a meeting or at a family meal. Everyone puts their device in the middle of the table. No one is allowed to use their phone until the meeting or meal is over.

Turn your phone to Do-Not-Disturb mode and keep it out of sight and reach when you’re driving. Even hands-free phone systems slow reaction times and inhibit concentration on the road.

Go on a digital detox retreat. It could be a personal holiday or family trip with no screens. Take a vacation from work emails as well as social media and text messages. Try starting with a weekend and working up to a whole week or even a month!

Manage your time well. By imagining your life divided into thirds, you can move toward a healthier balance. Spend roughly 8 hours a day at work, 8 hours asleep and the remaining 8 hours free to do as your please. Being a workaholic is actually counterproductive. Working smarter not harder and keeping free time for leisure, hobbies and relaxation enables our minds to wander and wonder. This makes our work time much more focused and effective.

The iPhone’s Screen Time feature and Android phones Digital Wellbeing app can be set to automatically lock you out when you’ve surpassed your app limits.

In order to use a smartphone as a tool rather than a toy, train yourself to gradually disconnect from it more often. Not just on silent mode but completely turned all the way off.

Conclusion

Smartphones are not necessary to our survival. Using them less improves our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Beginning to notice and change our habitual dependency on the phone helps bring us into the present moment and release our grip on ruminating over the past or planning for the future. It releases us from the need to act on our every impulse to pick up the phone and send a message, Google how to make natural toothpaste, or whatever.

The phone can give us the illusion of escape. It becomes a device of mindless entertainment, a means of taking selfies and photos of any mundane moment. Taking back our freedom from the devices starts with the choice to disconnect from the tech and reconnect with yourself, Mother Earth and your loved ones.

Once you get used to it, it’s fun to pretend like it’s 1994 and have face-to-face conversations, read actual books or gaze at the clouds drifting across the sky. Digital detoxing enables us to integrate more mindfulness into our daily routine.

What do you think? Would you, could you, should you live without a phone within reach at all times?

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