3 Ways to Quit Surfing, Scrolling, and Clicking without Giving Up Your Phone

Young man is scrolling on his adroid phone

Your Digital Device Manipulates Your Behavior

You might be aware that interactive apps and digital devices are loaded with bells and flashes, surprises and novelty that trigger delight in your brain… They’re deliberately engineered to do so.

Your Smartphone triggers the brain’s dopamine reward center, the mechanism that is responsible for addictions.

The attention you give your phone is a conditioned response just like-
when the lab animal presses a bar for food.

True story. Blame persuasive design.

The trouble you have putting your phone down is NOT your fault.

It reflects nothing at all about your character, will power, or anything about you.

It is a manipulation with impacts on your life.

Related: Hooked on Your Smartphone? Why … and How to Fix It.

Let’s play… “Do you know this feeling?”.
We are looking at how your phone habit affects you, day to day.

Do you know this feeling? :

  1. When you check your social media feed, you often feel like your life is crap. Everyone else is having more fun than you are. They’re better looking too.
    Comparison thinking feels like low grade depression.
  2. You are surprised at the amount of time that passed while you were on your phone. You were lost in “The Phone Zone”, … a mindless, detached mental state. Absent not Present.
  3. You want to check your phone for notifications, even though you just did… That feeling is Compulsion.
  4. You feel agitated or stressed if you lose internet access (or your phone), for any reason. That’s a conditioned hook manipulating you.
  5. You and yours, (friends, family, or love interest) spend more time on screens than speaking to each other face to face…
    Sometimes even in the same room. Perhaps even texting each other, in the same room. (Hey, it happens…). That’s Absence … You’re not Present.
  6. You are spending more time on your phone than you once were… and enjoying it less. A Sign of an addictive habit.
  7. Someone has complained about the time you spend on screens. That’s another sign of an addictive habit.
  8. Your phone is the first thing you touch in the morning, and the last thing you see at night.

Doesn’t that sound like an addictive habit to you?

Take the Measure of your Phone Habit

If you have two “yes” answers, you have a habit.

If you have a phone, and have none of these, … please email me your secret!

If you said “yes” three times or more, your quality of life is poorer because of your phone habit.

Please consider what you may have given up by giving away so much time to your phone.

Happiness would follow from other experiences, such as:
  • Deeper relationships with people in your immediate circle.
  • Greater life satisfaction from participating in meaningful activity aligned with your values.
  • Personal Growth that comes from paying attention. Feeling Gratitude fits here.
  • More time for fun and interpersonal connection.
  • A great adventure or romance.

These are all benefits that flow naturally from paying attention to how you live, and what you care about.

Time on screens is mostly mindless, empty. … You know, … the Phone Zone can be a wasteland.

Life has vitality when you
are fully engaged with it.

I call it Juice.

Related: 5 Positive Psychology Habits and 1 Skill to Curb Screen Addiction

I believe that mindless use of digital media acts like a spider sucking the juice from people’s lives.

FIX #1: Learn to Use Your Phone on Purpose

Your smartphone is addictive by design.

It is the primary tool of the Attention Economy for internet marketing.

Your conditioned response is automatic.
What you do in the Phone Zone, when time passes and you don’t notice, is automatic.
You pick up your phone automatically when waiting, or bored. Your eyes are drawn to your screen.

It is a kind of disconnect where real people can’t get your attention.

Advertisers pay a lot for your eyeballs. When big tech knows where you have browsed, they can sell the raw data to advertisers. You buy more. Your behavior is being manipulated.

But if you pay attention to how you spend your attention, you can break free of the Phone Zone

Practice using your phone deliberately with a purpose in mind. Then put the thing down.

Pay Attention to your Attention: Use your Phone on Purpose

Get Experimental

These ideas work for me and others. I think you will have to experiment with them in your own situation to find the way they work best for you.

It will be more fun if you are open and curious about how screens might play a more rewarding role in your daily life.

Think about how devices might enhance the life you lead. Boost how much you engage with what you care about.

Broadly, this is when you use technology for discovery, connection, and creation, a “something” you can share with others.

Look at How You Use Your Phone Now

When you use a device intentionally, you bring conscious awareness to the mindless ways you use your phone. You’ll begin to notice how you are using your device… What function the phone plays… maybe escape or distraction from discomfort.

Do you use your phone for diversion or escape? Be Aware.
There is no juice in that.

Digital entertainment feels great but seldom builds anything worthwhile or lasting.

There isn’t anything wrong with using your phone for fun or relaxation, even escape… as long as you put a timer on it.

Use your Phone for the Purpose of Growth, Creation, or Connection

When you use your phone for a purpose aligned with what matters to you, the result is not empty or mindless.

For example, If you use your phone to engage more deeply with people whom you love, it is a purposeful, value based, committed action.

There is Juice in that choice. You want more of that.

How to Use your Smartphone Deliberately, … for a Purpose Only.

1. Learn How to Practice Being Present, Here and Now

Using your phone On Purpose begins with mindfulness… contacting the present moment. The skill gets easier as you practice bringing your attention back to this moment, when your mind gets distracted.

One reported effect of persuasive design is ever increasing distractibility, as the conditioned response trains the brain. You might recognize this in yourself if you notice the urge to constantly click the next thing while browsing…

Practicing present moment awareness about your phone use, works directly to counteract negative impacts of internet overuse.

2. Notice and Track How and When You Use your Phone on Purpose… and
… when you Notice Yourself Trip into The Phone Zone

You will be more successful with this challenge if you:

  • make a record of each time you use your phone with a purpose, and
  • track each time you  get lost in The Phone Zone, and for roughly how long.

at least for a while, until new habits are established. It is about becoming fully aware of an automatic behavior.

You might use tick marks and x’s in the notes app, or mark a calendar on your phone. Or perhaps even a paper and pen deal, fixed to your phone with an elastic band.

Your Aim?  Every day… :

  1. Do a few values-grounded tasks on your phone, on purpose, and
  2. Spend a little less time lost in The Phone Zone.
  3. Keep track of your progress.

It is a step by step process.

3. Make a List of Ways you Can Use Your Phone for Value-grounded Purposes.

You might:

  • have a heart to heart with a distant loved one,
  • make an online scrapbook to savor good times past,
  • co-view something with a child and talk about it, or
  • begin a Gratitude Journal… or (gasp), turn off the phone so you can interact with a person in the flesh.

Just examples… What creative activity, meaningful to you, can you use your phone to do?

When you cultivate greater engagement, creativity and curiosity in your daily routine, the benefits spill into other life domains. These activities are more rewarding than social media or game apps.

They build lasting good upon good.  This is a huge source of juice. WHOOT!

Related: 5 Positive Psychology Habits and 1 Skill to Curb Screen Addiction

FIX #2: Create Phone-Free Times and Zones to Support Intentional Use

One way to help yourself use your phone on purpose, is to organize your space and routine so that your environment supports your intention. You’ll find more detailed suggestions in 4 Purposeful Steps to UnHook from your Smartphone.

1. Create a routine that works for you, in a space that helps.

Consider the following:

  • meals and bedrooms screen free
  • regularly schedule:
    • face to face contact,
    • participation in a group or community,
    • activity aligned with your values,
    • exposure to nature,
    • physical activity, and
    • sleep,

to balance the time that you spend online.

2. “Break/the/Twitch”

Have you heard of the influencer, Tony Ongaro? His blog is Break/the/Twitch.

Ongaro says he mindlessly spent $ 12k online before recognizing that his behavior was being manipulated. “The Twitch”, as he calls it, is the urge to buy an item to “fix” a feeling of inadequacy … that was manufactured by online advertising in the first place.

Break/the/Twitch is about an eco-conscious, intentionally minimalist lifestyle that is Ongaro’s answer to  materialistic consumerism. He leads an engaged following of people who share his values.

“Intentional Friction”

Tony Ongaro’s contribution to our discussion is his idea that you need a barrier between you and your mindless, automatic, conditioned response to a cue on your digital device. He wants people to build “intentional friction” into their media habit to give themselves a chance to stop and think.

So… if you have a problem checking your email or social media, Ongaro would suggest you delete internet access from your device. Then you would have to install the app every time you want to check notifications. Having to go to the trouble would give you a moment to make a deliberate choice.

It is one man’s solution to Use Your Phone On Purpose.

I admire Tony Ongaro’s heart, and his work.

FIX #3:  Make Your Values the #1 Purpose and Priority of Your Phone Habit

 When your phone use aligns with what matters to you, life has juice!

1. Be Present and Aware

Consciously keep your values at the center of how you use your phone. That’s the Bulls-eye you are shooting toward.

Every time you notice you have been pulled away from your values by persuasive design- (into the mindless Phone Zone), bring yourself back to the Present Moment and :

  • turn away from meaningless distraction … on purpose,
  • deliberately turn toward some activity that is aligned with the person you want to be.
    • in person connection with someone.
    • gratitude, or savoring something good in your life.
    • accomplishing a goal.
  • use your phone to do something creative, or thoughtful, … on purpose, or
  • turn off the phone to engage life in the real world.

These actions are what build lives that are full, rich and meaningful… Juicy!

2. Notice and Track How you are Doing
  • Count the times you use your phone on purpose. Aim to have a few more each day.
  • Count the times you get pulled into the Phone Zone. Aim to have fewer as days go by.

You need only take it step by step… a little progress every day. Keep coming back to your intention.

3. Use Your Phone On Purpose… for Values-grounded Purposes

Live by your values. Pay attention to what matters… it’s the key to what gives life juice.

4. Put Your Intention into Action

Just thinking about doing something, the mere intention, does not count as an action grounded in you values.  To break the grasp of an addictive habit, you need to move your body toward your intention and your values.

Turning off your phone counts as a values-grounded action.

Your values-based actions can be little steps if that is what you can manage. It’s all you need to succeed.

The Takeaway:

You can break free of mindless internet overuse, by making conscious, values grounded, choices. These lead to an experience of life that is rich and rewarding… full of the sweetness of life that I call Juice!

If you are mindful and aware of your values, you won’t have to give up your phone, just change your habit, a step at a time.

Keep Coming Back whenever You get Hooked by your Phone

Don’t get me wrong… the addictive pull of digital devices is strong. You will get pulled in a lot. But … If you come back to present moment awareness, and your intention to have a juicy life,  you will build a rewarding life.

Unlike digital media dopamine payoffs, the rewards that come from purposeful, committed action build lasting strength on strength.

I sincerely hope you’ll experiment with these ideas in your own life. Please let us know how it works for you. I really want to know. Comment below or email me at mspeg@peggyonpurpose.com. Sign up to receive helpful hints and new information from time to time.

When we have a core group, you’ll be invited to join the Peggy “On Purpose” support group. We will help each other find the juice in our lives, and live intentionally.

You CAN break your phone habit …
… just by paying closer attention to it!




About the Author

Peggy McLauchlan is a counsellor, ACT therapist, and personal development coach in Ontario, Canada. She has a special interest in positive psychology practices applied to problems with modern digital technology, like smartphone addiction and problematic internet use.