Four years ago, around this time of the year, I decided to get rid of my smartphone.
I wanted to feel less stressed, and more in touch with myself. It took me five painful months to fully detach myself from life with my phone, and if I had known then what I am about to share with you now, it would have been faster and less annoying.
Here's my top tips for a more minimalist smartphone usage:
Don't see it as a loss
Whether you are going to cut down your usage, or ditch your smartphone completely, start with a clear vision of what you would rather be doing with your time instead.
When they're making resolutions, a lot people focus on what they don’t like, or what they want to give up, rather than focussing on what their ideal life may look like. So, once their phone has been removed, they may find themselves lost and frustrated.
Make a list all of the things that you would love to do if you had more time, and visualise your ‘perfect day’ with less (or no) smartphone usage. What would you do instead of checking emails in the morning, or on the bus?
How would you like to soothe yourself when you come home from work feeling tired at the end of the day, if looking at your phone isn't an option?
The more honest and detailed your vision is, the more likely you are to succeed.
Change your environment to remove triggers
When the US military fought in Vietnam, 20 per cent of them got addicted to heroin, which was cheap and accessible.
However, when veterans returned home and went through a rehabilitation program, 9 out of 10 overcame the addiction, which at the time was considered irreversible. As a result, the head of the rehabilitation program discovered that habits could be changed fast if there is a radical change in the addict's environment.
For this reason, the easiest way to change your digital habits is to ditch your phone completely for at least a month, try and make other changes in your environment. For example, get a ‘sleeping box’ for it, and don’t keep it in the bedroom, don’t check it in the same places, don’t take it with you all the time in the evening, and only check your social media from a computer. The mere presence of our devices is already a trigger.
Perhaps the thought of ditching your phone for a minimum of a month brings you out in a cold sweat. It might be that you need a phone for your work, or you need to be contactable in case of emergencies. There is no need to stay without any connection though, and a 'dumb phone' (a phone that has no internet) is a perfect alternative solution.
Another option is to keep your smartphone, but have the sim-card only in the dumb one, so you have smartphone as a spare device. Test it for a few weeks and see how it goes.
Create a set of rules for yourself (but not too many)
Your pre-frontal cortex, where your willpower and self-control live, are constantly challenged by more ancient parts of the brain responsible for your survival.
Because 'smart' devices often appeal to these ancient regions of the brain, your brain may subconsciously perceive your attempt to remove your phone as a survival threat, and so might actually try to sabotage you.
So, rather than relying solely on your willpower, create rules for yourself and decide on when, where and how you’ll use your technology.
For example, perhaps you can only use the phone in one part of the flat, where it’s attached to the charger. Or maybe you have to put the phone out of sight while you're trying to focus on reading.
It will take your brain on average 45 days to build this new habit, so stick with these rules at least for that time period to make it easier.
Be disciplined, but gentle with yourself
You’ll have to plan more, and be better organised once you change your digital habits, as information won’t be there every time you need it. Make sure you look up your itinerary, plan your route, and write down phone numbers of people you will be meeting before you leave the house.
In spite of your best efforts, you may fail sometimes. Treat failure as a learning opportunity, and keep building your new habits. Have some sympathy for yourself.
After all, if you overdo it on hot chocolate one day, that's no reason to abandon healthy eating habits altogether. It’s not about how perfect you can be, but rather how fast you can go back to eating healthily again.
Every day that you win your mind over your smartphone, will help you build better digital habits and ultimately a happier life.
(spoiler: all it takes is a bit of focus and planning)
If you want to avoid packed airports and inflated prices over Christmas, but still have a good rest, you can design your own retreat staying at home. The only investment you’ll need to make is time, because the better you prepare, the more amazing your retreat will be. On the contrary, if you don’t plan your time, most likely your Christmas days will end up being filled by mindless browsing in the internet and social media chats, and you will not feel rested.
So let’s design together your low-budget staycation for this Christmas! Just follow these steps.
1. List what you enjoy and expect from a regular great retreat (time required: 10 minutes)
It can be physical attributes of a place, activities or how the whole experience makes you feel.
For example, here are my thoughts:
2. Decide, what you need to organize (time required: 25 minutes)
Once you have the list above, go one item after the other, and think of what it would take to recreate this atmosphere at home. Draw a table. On the left, write down the item, and on the right, what it means for you on a practical level. For example:
So for each of the things you’ve mention in item 1, write multiple things of what you can do, and what you need to plan to make this happen. If you know that you keep your phone next to your bed as an alarm clock and want to avoid browsing through Instagram first thing in the morning, maybe buy an alarm clock. You get the idea.
Think of what you could do to make this staycation not just a good, but a really great experience for yourself. Now re-read the whole thing. Does it look appealing enough? If the answer is no, review it, and add more fun and pleasurable things. Your retreat should not be yet another to-do thing on your list, but rather a supportive and memorable experience. Make sure that you have structured time, but also some time just to allow yourself to relax and do nothing.
Make sure you dedicate special attention to how you will use technology over this break. What will be a supportive use? What make you tired and needs to be eliminated or reduced? How would you do it without relying on your willpower?
Remember that our brains always default to the least difficult solution, so if you haven’t planned your tech use and activities that you enjoy, you’ll probably end up glued to your phone. No judgement if that’s what you want to rest, but most of us would rather do something else.
3. Convert this table into a to-do list (time required: 15 minutes)
Column on the right from the above is essentially your to-do list for the remaining days before Christmas to get yourself organized. Open your agenda and write down when you’ll do each of the steps. For example, I know that I need to set aside time to plan my activities around Christmas, so I will set up 15 minutes today to think through. If I know that I need to buy some elements for beautiful environment, I will set up 2 hours on Thursday to go to the shop.
4. Print out your schedule for the staycation (time required: 5 minutes)
Once you have your perfect schedule (not to-do list), print it out and put it somewhere where you’ll see it every day (next to your bed, by the entrance, in the bathroom, or next to your devices are all good places). You may want to print out several copies. Here is what my holiday schedule looks like.
You may have noted that rather than planning specific activities, I try to use time blocking technique, which gives me enough flexibility to change my plans and not get frustrated if I am a bit late. I also allowed specific time during the day when I will go and check my devices to give me piece of mind during other times.
5. Make a non-negotiable commitment (time required: 5 minutes)
This is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of the whole planning experience. The more thoroughly you do it, the better your experience will be.
Look at your plan, and imagine yourself following it every day for whatever period you have designed it. How does it make you feel? (if uncertain, go back to it and redesign it, it must feel really appealing). Allow yourself to feel this excitement. What would it be like to have lived this experience? Now visualise yourself NOT doing this experience. What would this feel like?
Then make a commitment to yourself to stick to it, and agree with yourself for a support system (for example, if you don’t follow what you’ve planned and fall into behaviour you dislike, you’ll have to pay 50 euros/pounds to charity). This way, you are anchoring both positive experience and a possible unpleasant cost of breaking your commitment.
Enjoy your retreat and happy holidays!
PS If you want to treat yourself with a proper retreat, we're organizing a digital detox this year in beautiful Barcelona - check out, when the next one is!
When was the last time you completely unplugged (and did it consciously, rather than having a panic attack about a discharged phone)? Sometimes we need to stop, so that we can finish the unfinished, think, make plans for the next year, be creative or simply be present with people we love. However, in the modern world not being connected has become a big luxury. Christmas break is a great legitimate time to allow your brain to have some rest from the excessive stimulation that online brings to our lives and process all information you’ve been feeding your brain with over the past months.
Here’s what to do to make your low-tech holidays successful, guilt-free and not suffer from the fear of missing out:
1. Have Fun and Get Physical
When on holidays, you suddenly have much more free time than usual, so make sure you know how you want to spend it. Plan and do as many fun and unusual things as you can, desirably with people you love.
Our brain releases dopamine, the hormone of pleasure, when we discover new interesting things and gain social recognition. If your life and/or your holidays are boring, you will feel an urge to get your dopamine injection by posting some status update on social media, craving for likes. Make sure you’re happy and you won’t spend so much time online.
Also, dopamine gets released through any physical exercise (together with endorphins that instantly boost your mood), so the more time you spend on holidays exercising, the less tempted you’ll feel to go online.
2. Go Basic
Replace your smartphone with a basic phone with no internet. It won’t be scary as it’s only for a few days. If you can’t help taking pictures, bring along a separate camera or (less desirable) take your smartphone with you, but put the sim-card in your simple phone, so that you only use your smartphone as a camera.
You will feel far less tempted to go online if you don’t have a device with you.
Are you a true ninja? Go phone-free for the whole Christmas break! But remember to leave an autoresponder and a phone of the next of kin for any emergency situations, otherwise you may end up worried about the others most of the time.
3. Be Prepared and Organized
Staying low tech means you will need to get more organized. Make sure to print out all your tickets, hotel bookings, train schedule, local maps and things to do, write down all phones you can possibly need incl. emergency, local taxis.
Put an autoresponder on your email saying you will not be picking up messages and asking people to email you back with the same email after the XX.XX.XXXX if it’s important (this way, you will save yourself from browsing through thousands of emails upon your return).
4. Plan Your Communication
Agree on specific timing of catching up with your close ones. If they are not around and you are waiting to hear from them, agree that you can be reached for instance, twice a day between 9 and 10 in the morning and in the evening.
This way, you’ll make sure that they know you are ok and you are still social, without being distracted by other things. The same is valid for any work-related commitments – if you are still planning to work, tell your bosses/clients that you can be reached during a certain time interval only.
5. Segment Incoming Information
If you still need to be in touch, you can create a temporary email filter, so that you only get emails into your inbox from people you are expecting to hear from. Or you can set up an sms notification, so that when an important email from your boss arrives which you need to respond instantly, you get a text message on your phone.
Have a Merry low-tech Christmas and make the most exciting plans for 2016!
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Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina is a keynote speaker, author of Homo Distractus, professional coach and a pioneer of the Consciously Digital™ concept.
Having spent over 10 years and numerous hours in front of the screen promoting the benefits of digital for top media and advertising brands and witnessing hundreds of overstressed colleagues, Anastasia concluded she needed to change her lifestyle if she wanted to remain healthy.
She gave up her smartphone and now trains people on mindful use of digital technologies and claims she has never felt so productive and happy.
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