When you hear the ding of a message on your phone, do you immediately get up to answer it? Do you take your phone with you to the grocery, the neighbor’s house, the bathroom? A recent survey by Asurion showed that Americans are checking their smartphones 96 times per day on average. That equates to almost once every 10 minutes when you’re awake.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’ve become dangerously dependent on our devices. Studies have shown we’re now putting our phones on the same level of need as food and water. But what might happen if we take a step back, live like it’s the 90’s for a bit, and let our minds wander instead of succumbing to constant distraction? We might realize we don’t need them as much as we think, after all.
What are the benefits of unplugging from technology?
Existing in a state of constant connection can cause us to miss out on the simple joys of day-to-day life. It’s easy to squander precious moments spent with family by mindless Instagram scrolling or gameplay. We can also put added pressure on ourselves to be perfect when we’re constantly bombarded by the seeming perfection of others on social media. Among the many benefits of disconnecting are:
- Lower stress – The need to be “on” all the time and answering to your device 24/7 can significantly increase stress levels. Breaking away and powering down for a bit, while potentially more stressful at first, over time, can help to lower your stress response considerably.
- Increased focus – Studies have shown that even having a cellphone sitting on the table during a meal with a companion can funnel cognitive capacity away from the conversation at hand. If it’s causing damage to a simple conversation, imagine the disservice having your phone on your desk all day is doing for your work. Simply moving the phone outside your line of sight is enough to lessen the negative impacts.
- Less jealousy and comparison – One of the most tragic elements of social media is that we are in a constant state of comparison. We used to speculate about life at the Jones’, but now we have a direct line into their lavish, albeit unnecessary, lifestyle. By taking time to be alone, you can focus more on the beautiful things you already have and less on those you want.
How do you disconnect from technology?
We take our devices with us everywhere. If it’s not in your hand, it’s in your lap, on the table while you eat, or using Bluetooth to connect to your AirPods or car stereo. It’s easier said than done to pull back from our devices completely. If you’re planning a multi-day device detox, you might need to notify family, friends, or work of alternate ways to get in touch. This is especially true if you’re a caregiver to a family member, or your job requires high availability.
The reality is that most of us can spare 30 minutes to an hour of device-free time each day to be alone with our thoughts. Here are a few ideas for how to spend that time.
- Go for a walk. This is one of the best things I do for my mental health. A walk sans phone allows thinking freely and letting your mind run wild. Use this time to daydream or take a chance to think through the work problem that’s been bothering you. Especially if you’re logic-focused all day, letting your mind wander can be critical to making breakthroughs on problems.
- Go to the grocery store. Many of us keep our grocery lists on apps, but once every few weeks, put your list on good old fashioned pen and paper and head out to the store without your device. Take the time to look at what you’re buying instead of burying your head in messages and worrying about everything else you need to do. You might realize a thing or two about the ingredients in your favorite purchase as a result. The other week I realized that most pickles have yellow food coloring! What?!
- Read a book. I could go on endlessly about the benefits of reading. Not only can reading a fiction book increase your empathy towards others but learning something new is incredibly valuable for your brain. Heck, you might even be able to use this time to read one book a week!
- Get to know your friends and family – It’s amazing how many people think proximity to another human translates to quality time. Look around the next time you’re out to eat and notice how many tables have one or all of the patrons independently looking at their devices and not speaking. How about starting a genuine conversation with a family member instead? Ask your mom about her childhood and grandparents you may not have gotten to know. Ask a sibling about their career aspirations. Go deep and long-form into conversations. I guarantee it will leave you feeling so much more fulfilled than asking how someone is then proceeding to scroll through Instagram next to them for an hour.
- Pick up a hobby or side hustle – I’m all about the hustle, but one of the commonly cited challenges is lack of time. Disconnecting from your device can provide much more time than you initially thought you had available. You can dive into a creative endeavor or make a little extra cash.
A challenge to you
Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of why it’s essential to disconnect and tips to help you do it, I am issuing you a challenge. For four of the next seven days, I challenge you to walk for 20 minutes without your phone. Take your dog, your neighbor, your best friend, or your mom, but go out and walk device-free. The benefits will be immense, and I think you might realize that your phone will be just where you left it when you return. Once you do it, tell me about how it felt in the comments!