Hello everybody, welcome to episode 142 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino and I’m coming to you today with a question about the strong pull of technology and digital distractions. What do we do when it’s seemingly inescapable and preventing us from doing our normal activities – and even getting in the way of physical health? Let’s consider why such a thing might happen, and what technology dieting strategies we can apply to it. Here’s the question for today…
QUESTION: “Every moment I have to spare – I find myself reaching for my phone, watching videos on Facebook, going on Instagram, or playing games on my phone. I used to read so many books, and I used to have so much writing inspiration! But this never ending source of entertainment is really wrecking my life – especially when I am going down a depressive episode rabbit hole as I’ve been in before.
I really want to change this – sometimes it feels like that the inside of my brain is too noisy, I'm muting it by diverting my attention to my phone/laptop/tablet.
All of this technology is really limiting my creativity, productivity, and health (as in, I don't end up going to the gym because I decided to pick my phone up while brushing my teeth, and then I find myself slowly hovering to my bed, and the next thing I know, it's been 2 hours and I need to go to bed).
Or maybe it's that I am just too bored! Like, I don't want to do study as it's a long-term reward, but if I pick up my phone now, it's a really quick and short-term reward. It is not good.”
Boredom and Technology
All right, good question – question very appropriate for 2020. Thank you for submitting this. It’s nice to see someone who is taking their addiction to technology seriously. It seems to me that many people are struggling with this same thing yet not realizing it (though they may not be struggling to the same extent that you are.)
Your last thought about boredom being the culprit was an interesting one. Based on what you’ve said, I’d probably count out boredom since you cite these other things you want to do or have enjoyed doing in the past such as reading, writing, going to the gym and other creative endeavors.
I do think you’re on to something in searching for a short-term reward, however, and I think it alludes to what you said about escaping your noisy brain and instead diverting your attention elsewhere.
When Did the Addiction Escalate?
For many people who are spending more time on their phone than they’d like to, it’s a very quick way to not be bored, and indulging in ever-awaiting technology is a subconscious way to avoid boredom and maintain stimulation.
And if any of you are listening and thinking to yourselves that that’s a good thing…it’s not. (Editor's Note: See this article, Boredom Strikes a Technology-Driven Society, for more info.)
But for you, though it may help you a bit when you’re bored, it’s much more likely to be about something more serious.
One step that I believe will be crucial for you to take is to reflect on when this addiction to technology reached a level that you started to be concerned about it. When did the reading and writing stop? When did you start getting lost in your phone as you were about to leave for the gym? When did it start to feel like a depressive rabbit hole?
Explore What Happened In Your Life
My guess is that in the crosshairs of all these events you’ll find that something more significant happened in your life that you haven’t quite handled and are trying to run away from. Should you discover something like this, make it your point of concern rather than all the time you spend on technology, because technology is the middleman right now.
Still, that will be a discovery to make on your own time, and not something I can help you with right now since I don’t know what it is or if it’s even there. Let’s spend the rest of the episode today talking about what you can do in the meantime to detach from technology a bit.
Building Healthier Habits
As I’ve said many times on the show, particularly in episodes focused on habits, you must be patient enough with yourself to pursue slow, steady changes. If your addiction has gotten this bad, trying to do away with it all overnight will be challenging.
Surely you can just get rid of your phone and your laptop and you’d accommodate, but there’s no need for such extremes. These things are still useful, and we want to establish a healthy relationship with them rather than banishing them before doing the work necessary to make that healthy relationship possible.
So my first recommendation is to start treating your heavy technology consumption as you would treat heavy food consumption. When dieting with food, people often find healthy limits for themselves, and you can do the same.
Technology Dieting via Intermittent Fasting
Ever heard of intermittent fasting? You can do the same thing. Pick times of the day when you’ll allow yourself to indulge in your devices. For other times, put them away.
If you’re currently on your phone 12 hours a day, maybe create 10 hour windows for yourself the rest of the week, and then 8 hour windows the next week, and so on.
Like eliminating food that is bad for you, you might also want to consider deleting the apps that take up a lot of your time, yet do nothing for you.
Which apps have the worst ratio of time spent and value given? My guess would probably be the games you play, but that’s for you to decide. Maybe you can try deleting one or two apps per week and see how you feel after 3 to 4 weeks.
Technology Dieting: A More Active Approach
You might also consider a more active approach based on things you want to get done rather than things you want to trim. This would mean making your plan about goals you want to hit and making sure that you accomplish what you want to accomplish before giving technology a chance to take over.
Maybe you can’t go on the phone until you’ve studied for two hours. Or you can’t go on the phone until after the gym. This is similar to the intermittent fasting idea, but again, it’s more driven by making sure things that need to be prioritized are being prioritized – sort of like dessert after dinner or playtime after homework.
If you go down this route, you may want to put an extra twist on it by basing some of your goals on the objectives you unknowingly seek to achieve on your phone (aside from boredom).
What I mean is:
- What apps do you find yourself on regularly and what real-life alternatives are you substituting them for?
- Are you spending time on Facebook to give you a hit of socialization?
- Are you spending time on dating apps rather than calling up someone you’ve met and felt and interest in?
- Are you playing games to substitute playing sports?
This will require a little digging, but if you can sort out what itches you’re using your phone to scratch, you can then look for how those itches can be scratched in-person and the same needs will be met, yet in a healthier way.
Technology Dieting: Conclusion
And finally, whatever approach you decide to take, I encourage you to track your progress – another thing someone who’s dieting would do.
Track your screen time from day to day. Track the amount of priorities you accomplished that you wanted to accomplish (or track how many of them you didn’t accomplish).
It’s hugely advantageous to track things like this, as your habits will now have a concrete, written existence, and that’s a lot more convincing than whatever thoughts you have in your mind that are hard to measure and easy to make excuses for.
And that brings us to a close, everyone. As I mentioned at the top, to me, this is a much more prevalent problem than I think is being given credit for, though everyone does seem to at least have their suspicions.
I’m hoping this episode was able to help not only the woman who sent this in, but also those of you out there who may be suffering more with this than you think. God speed – there’s a lot of tech out there.
If you’ve got a question of your own that you need help and support with, do email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’ll take your questions there and do what we can to help you out on the show and over email. Hope to hear from you, even if you just want to email us with some feedback – supportive or constructive. I also hope you’ll all stop in for the next one. I’m taking off until then, have a wonderful day everyone and I’ll talk to you again soon.