How to Outsmart Your Smartphone and Take Back Your Life

How to Outsmart Your Smartphone and Take Back Your Life

Your smartphone is a tool. Even Steve Jobs described technology as a bicycle for your brain — and that sounds pretty healthy. However, as recent documentaries and studies have shown, we need to ask ourselves: Are we using the tool — or is the tool using us?

When your smartphone demands too much of your attention, putting a limit on screen time is a good way to start taking back control. “It’s important to be mindful and find a balance,” says founder and director of Digital Citizen Academy Dr. Lisa Strohman, Ph.D. “Make sure you’re spending equal time on your phone and off your phone.”

Here are some easy strategies for outsmarting your smartphone.

Get the most out of your screen time by streaming a live class or on-demand workout on the Openfit app. Try it here free!


How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

Anything more than two hours of non-utility use is concerning, Strohman explains. “It doesn’t have to be consecutive. It can be sporadic usage. The way we toggle in and out of social media throughout the day still adds up from a mental health or wellness standpoint.”

Studies have found a link between social media, anxiety, and depression, which means there’s a good chance spending hours scrolling through other people’s pics isn’t serving you.


Why Are We Hooked on Our Phones?

woman in bed looking at phone | phone addiction

The tech industry works with behavioral psychologists to develop apps that stimulate dopamine and activate our brain’s and reward system (similar to loading junk food with added sugar and salt). Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter linked to the reinforcement of drug use.

“Our brains are most excited by the anticipation a buzz or notification produces,” Strohman says. “That anticipation is like waking up to a present on Christmas morning and not knowing what’s inside. But when you open it, you see oh, it’s just socks… again.”


6 Easy Ways to Limit Screen Time

For reasons similar to sugar “addiction,” smartphones can trigger addictive behavior. Here’s how to take back some measure of control.

1. Set an intention

Pulling out your phone during a down moment can become automatic, but a smartphone is a tool; you wouldn’t whip out a hammer just because you’re bored. “Use your phone mindfully and have a purpose,” Strohman says. “Really examine why or how you’re using your phone. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by fancy lights and notifications.”

2. Control your settings

phone notification illustration | phone addiction

Alerts are turning us into Pavlovian drones. “You should be seeking out information, not being pushed into a notification,” Strohman says. You can switch your phone to Do Not Disturb or manage apps individually to minimize pings.

3. Explore shades of gray

When it comes to being hypnotized by shiny objects, we’re fundamentally no different than babies. “Try using the grayscale setting for at least for 24 hours to better understand the science behind how colors and images make your phone enticing,” suggests Strohman.

4. Clean out the distractions

“Delete apps you don’t use,” Strohman says. For example, if you’re using Zoom on your computer, you probably don’t need it on your phone as well. A digital declutter could also save you money on data.

5. Turn off location services

gps tracking on phone | phone addiction

Eventually, smartphones will threaten to hurl themselves off the nearest bridge if you don’t pay attention to them. But getting notifications on places you typically go, such as how long it will take you to get to work, is just another similar ploy. Unsubscribe.

6. Buy a cheap alarm clock

If the first thing you reach for in the morning is your phone, then it’s setting the tone for your day, whether it’s an upsetting headline or a stressful work email, Strohman advises.


Healthy Screen-Time Swaps

You can do so much more with the powerful tool at your fingertips than “like” cute cat pics (although, no one’s arguing that they’re not adorable). The goal is recasting those mindless spirals into deep, dark rabbit holes with mindful, empowering behavior.

Stream a workout

Lost a half-hour of your life to Tik-Tok? Counter it with a 30-minute cardio class. As a tool, your smartphone enables you to work out on your schedule, anywhere you want. (With Openfit, you can join live online workouts in real time — or on-demand workouts on your own time.)

Use a meditation app

phone next to woman lying down | phone addiction

Your phone is great at holding your attention. Now, if you want to turn that into a positive, it can help you develop a mindfulness or meditation practice. “Even in our fast-paced lives, you can use your phone to slow down and take the outside world offline for a few moments to breathe,” Strohman says.

Discover a different viewpoint

Instead of doomscrolling through negative posts on social media (we get it, 2020 hasn’t exactly been a worldbeater), listening to a podcast or an audio book is an easy way to expand your knowledge.

Set work boundaries

Being able to work from anywhere is amazing — until you find yourself working from everywhere, all the time. A smartphone can enable workaholism, so setting reminders to take a break can help preserve limits.

Even if you think you’re only using your phone for work, check your screen time against your salary and see if those extra hours are worth it, Strohman says.

Get creative

filming on phone | phone addiction

It’s incredible that you can shoot a short movie and make music with your smartphone, which might be more fulfilling than nailing the perfect selfie (but yes, workout selfies have their place too).

Your phone can also connect you to platforms like Master Class, where you can learn from your favorite singers, chefs, and filmmakers.

Learn a foreign language

Google Translate is pretty incredible when you need a quick interpretation, but your smartphone is also a tool for learning a new language.

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