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A beginner’s guide to dealing with smartphone addiction

Well done on having the courage to read this!

Don’t be afraid. Think of why you need to abstain from (or at least minimise) using smartphones and other devices. Make a list of reasons. This will require a lot of honesty. But by being honest you are being kind to yourself and others. These reasons may include the following, which many users have admitted as their first step in their programme of recovery. Please feel free to add your own.

– I have forgotten how to interact with people.
– I am scared of making eye contact with people.
– I get angry when asked, “do you know what a meaningful conversation is?”
– I get bored without my smartphone. Very bored. And restless and agitated and don’t know why.
– I get defensive when asked to participate in a conversation with friends who have invited me over for coffee.
– When my smartphone or other device’s battery has died, I get irritable and even weepy.
– When I tell friends my children live on their smartphones and don’t interact with me anymore, I get defensive and/or fail to understand my friends when they gently reply that I need to set the example.

Little steps to switching off your smartphone or other device and replacing incessant texting, tweeting and gaming
Make a list of things you will do instead of spending time on your smartphone. Ensure none of these activities include a pixelated screen. Items could include a forgotten hobby or other activity: a musical instrument, sports, reading, walking with friends, knitting, sketching, enjoying the sunset for what it is instead of taking photos of it. The sunset has been photographed before. By not endlessly photographing events around you and trying to “fix” them in time, you gradually come to revere the precious, ephemeral nature of each passing moment. That you can never have it back, and need not have it back (because it was never yours) no matter what lie technology may tell you. You may not understand this at first but keep an open mind.

Take a few deep breaths before switching off your smartphone. Your friends will still be there when you see them in the flesh.

Switch off your smartphone.

Listen carefully to the world around you. Observe it. If this becomes too much then:

– Remember a lot of people cannot deal with a life that is not filled with distraction. They are running away from pain in one form or another, and are nowhere near realising that, beneath that pain, is serenity, learning to love what is (instead of resisting what is) and unfathomable joy. You may not believe or understand this now, but please be open to the possibility.

– Switch on your smartphone and “use” for about ten minutes before switching off again. Set a goal of not “using” for ten minutes or so before switching on. You will find that the period of time when you can be without your smartphone or other device will gradually lengthen. It may seem impossible now, but the time may come when you can spend an entire day without your smartphone or other screen.

If you have chosen to be on your own (very brave) when switching off, start paying attention to the sights and sounds around you. Examples can be:

– Turn on the tap in the sink. Watch the flowing marvel of water shimmering in the basin. Listen to the gush and gurgle. Feel the water. Watch your hand dripping. Each drop can be like a musical note.
– Bird noise. This is a beautiful sound and may be a source of many wonderful childhood memories.
– Sing or hum a favourite tune.
– If you have a garden, step outside, and breathe in the many scents and sounds. Or go to a park. Feel the crunch of leaves beneath your feet.
– Read a book. Or at least the first few pages. This will probably require active concentration.

Remember, a smartphone, or any similar device, requires little or no meaningful concentration and is a form of passive absorption which blunts the mind and impoverishes the soul, if you believe you have a soul. You may not have learnt to accept this truth yet. That is okay. Mini steps, remember?

If you have chosen to switch off your smartphone when with friends or family, put it into a handbag or a pocket where it cannot distract you. Now look at your friends’ faces. Notice how their lips move when they talk or laugh or share a sad moment. Notice their eyes, the ineffable way we know when they are sad, happy, vulnerable or hiding something. If you have forgotten how to read their eyes, don’t worry, your natural ability will come back soon. Your friends’ faces are treasure-books of stories and emotions. Think of why they are your friends. Listen (or try to listen) to what they are saying. Make what is important to them just as important to you. By staring at your smartphone, texting and following threads, you are showing they are not important.

Follow these simple steps and you will be amazed by the results! Accept relapses as part of the process. Engaging meaningfully with others is a great way of lifting your spirits, dealing with depression, enriching your life and theirs. Can you accept, yet, that Candy Crush cannot do this for you? It’s okay if you are not ready to. Learning to live without a smartphone, or minimising its use, is progressive.

More on substituting the smartphone habit
Your hands are used to constantly playing with that little black box that distracts you from the world around you. This is a bit like smoking. To give up, some smokers suck a pen or a lozenge. Similarly, you could consider carrying around a small object that you can fiddle with or stroke when you have a craving. Go for a natural object, like a small piece of driftwood, or a lovely smooth stone from a river, something that has been naturally shaped over a long period of time. Remember, plastic objects are not natural. However, a stress ball is a good exception. Not Rubik’s cube. That was the humble ancestor of the smartphone.

Keep a list of all your little victories and read them when you are tempted to use. Do not expect overnight success.