By Doreen Dodgen-Magee, Psy.D.
Most of us are highly dependent upon our devices. We use them to connect, to find our way, to determine where to eat, and to keep our notes to ourselves. There is no place off limits, any more, for where they will accompany us: the bedroom, the bathroom, on our camping trips. Our habits around our use are strong. Very. Very. Strong.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my life and practice as a psychologist is that it is easier to establish healthy norms than to break bad habits. Read that again, this time more slowly and with greater attention.
It is easier to establish healthy norms than to break bad habits.
As someone who has never begun smoking if it would be easier to stop or to have never started. They’ll tell you every time, “never started.” We can, likely, relate to this as we consider our dependence, and, sometimes, addiction, to our devices. For this reason, to consider creating a healthier relationship with them, we must break habits and then reset norms.
Both of these tasks require a strong sense of determination and at least some ideas of the norms we’d like to put in place. I find two guiding principles to be huge helps as we work to become “de-viced.”
First, working toward moderate, rather than excessive, use makes the process palatable. Second, investing in efforts to make our embodied lives more interesting and rich provides us with “muses,” of sorts, which compel us to turn away from our devices.
Tips for Breaking Bad Habits:
- Do a simple assessment. Tell yourself the truth. Download an app that can send you a record of your engagement with your phone everyday (new iPhones come loaded with this, others can refer to “Moment”). Multiply your total number of minutes or hours in a day by 7 or 30 and really take in the amount of a week or a month that you are investing in your relationship with your phone. How does this feel?
- Set reasonable expectations. In looking at your use, determine an area or two that you would like to reduce. Is it the number of minutes or hours overall or would it be better to attempt to disengage from a certain platform that is harder to walk away from? Determine the places that tend to hold you hostage and consider how you might limit or completely cut out access to them.
Tips for Setting New Norms:
- Envision the relationship you’d like yourself and your family to have with technology.
Perhaps you’d like to increase your brain power and ability to wait by resisting the urge to reference Google every time a question comes up or maybe you’d like to have tech free meals. Maybe you’d like to play more board games or read more than binge on Netflix. Really lean into these visions and determine how to get buy in from yourself and your family. Begin to map out small steps to take toward arriving at the goals.
- Work to make your embodied space and life more “fiery.”
Be willing to be bored, inconvenience, and uncomfortable in the service of a more “de-viced” life. If our most exciting and interesting experiences happen for us in our digital spaces, we’ll be unlikely to break our technology habits.
Consider the platforms that pull you in and find embodied alternatives. Take a dance lesson rather than binging on dance competition shows. Find a recipe in paper form. Try a restaurant without reading reviews. Get out yo-yos, balance board, and other embodied “toys” and leave them out to be played with. Put a bin of legos out at your next party, even for adults.
We will only tame our technology addictions by telling ourselves the truth about our own use, having non shaming conversations with ourselves and families, and working hard to change our norms. We can do it…we just have to commit to it.
Doreen Dodgen-Magee, Psy.D., is a psychologist and author of “Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.”