How to Break Your Phone Habit

There are apps on your phone that can tell you how long you've been on your phone.

Do You Need to Cut Back?

A number of apps can tell you how much time you spend on your phone and how long you're in each app. Even if you don't think you're on your phone too much, seeing the cold, hard numbers may inspire you to put it down.

Turn off your alerts on your phone if they are distracting.

Turn Off Alerts

It's easier to ignore your phone if it doesn't buzz every few seconds with a text, email, or social media update. They'll all be there, no matter how long you wait to you check your phone, and you might feel better and more productive if you let them linger a bit. If you can't afford to miss some things -- say a message from your spouse or kid -- you can set your phone so only certain texts get through.

Put a rubber band on your phone to get you to think twice before you pick it up and start scrolling.

Put a Rubber Band on Your Phone

It's a little reminder to turn off the part of your brain that does things without thinking. If a rubber band is too annoying, try a screensaver that asks "Do you really need to get into your phone?" It might save you that 45 minutes of mindless scrolling through pictures of farmhouses before you remember that you don't really like farmhouses.

Use an alarm clock instead of your phone to avoid checking email, texts, and social media.

Get an Alarm Clock

When you use your phone's alarm to wake up in the morning, you're more likely to get sucked into checking your email, texts, and social media. An alarm clock keeps the phone out of your hands at least a few more minutes. Other ideas include charging it overnight in another room and setting a specific time to look at it in the morning.

You can stay off your phone for 3 days to break your phone addiction habit.

Go Cold Turkey

Some experts suggest going without your phone for 3 days. That can help you kick bad phone habits and find new, healthier things to do instead. You can ease your way back into using it -- say, just calls and texts at certain times -- then gradually start to do other things if you decide you want to again.

Set aside a certain amount of time every day in your household that is tech-free.

Tech-Free Time

If you can't imagine life without your phone for 3 days, set aside certain times that are phone-free in your household. (You may want to include other digital devices, too.) That might be an hour or so each evening before dinner or every Sunday afternoon. Go for a walk, or play cards or a board game -- anything that gives you a chance to talk and engage with one another.

Read a book, walk your dog, or meet with friends in person and turn your phone off.

Plan Some Offline Fun

Try something simple like reading a book or going to the park with your dog. No need to post pictures about any of that on social media. Instead, invite some friends to meet you for coffee or a jog and see them in person. Tell them you're turning your phone off, and they may decide to do the same.

Do not use your phone in the bathroom because it is unhygienic.

Create Phone-Free Zones

It's not a great idea to take your phone out in the bathroom. Mainly, for reasons of basic hygiene, but also because it can be good to keep your phone out of certain parts of your life. Those also might include meetings, playtime with your kids, and driving. It's a healthy way to get used to short amounts of time without it.

You can disable texts or calls selectively at certain times of the day.

'Do Not Disturb'

Some smartphones have a setting that lets you limit certain parts of your phone during a set time every day. For example, you could stop all calls and aler­­ts between 5 and 9 p.m. and after midnight.

Games and apps are addictive, so delete them if they take up too much of your time.

Get Rid of Apps

Those games are designed to keep you coming back for more, but they can't if they're not there. You just might be able to get by with phone, text, and email on your phone -- you can check social media when you’re on your computer.

Some apps can deter you from spending too much time on your phone by locking you out of certain things during certain times during the day.

Helpful Tools

Some apps can help limit the time you spend on your phone by locking you out of certain things during set times of day or after you've spent a specific amount of time on them. Others offer encouragement or reward you with time after you've done things like take 5,000 steps in a day.

Use the right language to reframe why you do not use your phone during certain times.

Talk the (Right) Talk

You're more likely to leave your phone in your pocket if you say "I don't check my phone at dinner" than if you say "I can't check my phone at dinner." It might be because "can't" suggests you've been denied something, but scientists don't know exactly why that one word can make a difference.

Tell people you are spending less time on your phone if they are annoyed that you don't answer calls or texts in a timely fashion.

Manage Expectations

If you want to spend less time on your phone but are concerned that people will think you're rude or get upset if you don't respond quickly, just tell them. Say you're trying to break the phone habit and it might be a while before you get back to them.

Get a dumbphone instead of a smartphone so it won't be as tempting.

Trade Your Smartphone for a ‘Dumbphone’

If the temptation of a pocket-sized computer is just too much, a cellphone that can only call and text might be a solution. It can't download apps or access the Internet, but it's much less expensive and might be just the thing that sets you free.

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REFERENCES:

  • Carnegie Mellon University Human-Computer Interaction Institute and Telefonica Research: "Productive, Anxious, Lonely - 24 Hours Without Push Notifications."
  • Gallup: "Most U.S. Smartphone Owners Check Phone at Least Hourly."
  • Journal of Consumer Research: "'I Don't' versus 'I Can't': When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior."
  • National Unplugging Day: "Dr Richard Graham Shares his Insight and Tips on Technology Addiction."
  • The University of Chicago Press: "Can 1 simple strategy help consumers say 'no' to temptation?"
  • USC News: "Long-term behavior change is key to creating healthy habits, research shows."
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