The problem is in your brain. Specifically, it’s called dopamine, and scientists has been able to pinpoint this chemical as the primary reason we keep checking our phones. It’s a neurotransmitter, sending a signal to your nerve endings. A new Instagram message or text arrives, you get a signal in your brain. It’s a reward, almost like a tingling sensation. Someone has contacted you with new information–you’re important, you are needed.
In recent weeks, high-profile reports have suggested that the phone we use is is to blame for our addictive tendencies. It’s a big mistake. One report suggested downgrading your phone; another said Apple should take more responsibility for thwarting our addiction.
This is a misguided. That high-powered Corvette is not to blame for your speeding problem. Outback Steakhouse has no responsibility whatsoever to start serving only salads and vegetables, changing their name to the Outback Salad and Vegetable House. Your local Walmart sells Coke and Mountain Dew in 24 packs all day long. There’s no reason to blame the largest brick and mortar retailer on Earth for our pop addiction.
Here’s the real issue.
Let’s say you do downgrade your phone. That Nokia feature phone won’t let you send a SnapChat and use Instagram. Now what? For most of us, if we’re hooked on social media or taking photos of our food, we’ll find a different way to do that. In the past, the only option available was a feature phone. Most of them barely connected to the Internet. A much better approach is to figure out why you’re addicted and adjust your behavior.
I remember hearing a talk once about adjusting habits. It was so long ago, I don’t remember who gave the talk, but I vividly remember the example. The speaker mentioned how a young adult he knew would always go to bed with a phone in his hand. It was a serious problem, because the light emitting from the phone would keep him up later at night. He developed a bad habit that impacted his sleep and even his productivity the next day. The solution? It was simple. The speaker mentioned how storing the phone in a laptop bag in the kitchen would reduce the likelihood of using the phone at night.
It was too easy to access…on a nightstand.
Most habits in life are like that. I recently started eating more healthy food. One of my biggest changes? I stopped buying unhealthy food. It’s not in my pantry anymore, so it’s impossible for me to eat chips and salsa, candy, or any donuts or apple fritter bread. Once you know what causes an impulse, and identify the how, when, and where of any habit, you can start addressing the problem and create entirely new habits.
Here’s another example. My son is constantly tempted to use his phone when he drives, although it is only when he’s parked. How should he avoid the tendency? By always putting the phone in the trunk or stowing it in a bag that is unreachable from the driver’s seat. The dopamine is not going to go away; the reward will always be available. But by stowing his phone, he can deal with the problem in a physical, tangible, and measurable way.
Phone addiction can be serious, but for most of us, the solution is not to blame Apple or stop using a high-end phone. Changing habits is the key.
Put the phone away more–leave it on your desk during meetings, stash it away when people come to visit. In the car, put it in the trunk.
Realizing that the dopamine reward is the real reason you keep checking for text messages and browsing the news for articles can help; the real solution is to identify the impulse, then come up with a plan to reduce the addictive behavior.
If you try adjusting your habits, drop me a note. I’m curious if stashing the phone and dealing with the problem from a habit-forming perspective works for you.