It’s the first thing you do when you wake up. It’s the last thing you do before bed. And it’s the default activity you fill your time with all throughout the day whenever you’re bored, procrastinating, or just want a little hit of something that makes you feel good. It’s what you do when you don’t even know how you feel but it’s been a little while since you’ve done it, so it’s probably time to do it again.
Yep, I’m talking about checking your phone. I used to have a serious problem with it.
And I know I’m not alone in that.
Why we feel compelled to check our devices constantly
A Newsweek article called Is the Internet Making Us Crazy? What the New Research Says cites a survey in which “… most respondents, with the exception of those over the age of 50, check text messages, email, or their social network ‘all the time’ or ‘every 15 minutes.’”
Over and over, all day long, we’ll scroll through nine boring or depressing posts in order to get that 10th one that gives us the laugh, recognition, excitement, or enjoyable interaction we crave. Sounds a lot like a gambling addiction, doesn’t it? Playing the slots and losing over and over again, yet holding out for that rare moment when there’s a payoff.
The article goes on to explain that we’re not so much choosing to use our devices constantly, but we’re feeling compelled to, or “dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be a social or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell….Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist.”
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Are you stuck in habits that you hate?
Connectivity addiction is something that is normal in our culture yet clearly not healthy.
But you don’t need me to tell you that, and you don’t need stats and research studies, because you already know it’s a problem from watching your own life or the lives of people around you.
You already know how crappy it feels to check Facebook first thing in the morning out of habit, then look up at the clock and realize a ridiculous amount of time has passed and you’re now feeling angry about the political posts you saw, depressed by the news of a tragedy happening to a friend, annoyed by the pettiness and redundancy of half your feed, and frustrated at yourself for getting sucked into an internet black hole when you clicked on an article to read, and then another, and then another.
What if you’d just gotten out of bed and started your day by mentally and physically preparing? What if you’d laid there and read a book or eBook for a few minutes instead–something that is uplifting, energizing, and gets you ready to start the day?
How the constant “checking” destroys our focus and creates overwhelm
The thing is, we’re not just wasting time. We’re not just putting ourselves in a bad mood by repeating habits that we actually don’t feel very good about. We’re also killing our ability to concentrate and be productive.
I started noticing how bad I felt when I checked social media and my email all day long. I justified my internet usage as a way to take a break. But taking a break from working on the computer by doing something else on the computer is not a true break. I’d spend a half an hour reading and writing on social media and then wonder why I still didn’t have the energy I needed to do more reading or writing for my work.
I also started noticing how the constant device checking left my brain with no mental bandwidth to problem solve. Like most people, my best ideas come when my mind has the ability to wander a bit. You know how you can wrack your brain for hours trying to solve a problem, and the moment you stop thinking about it get behind the wheel of a car or go for a walk or jump into the shower, the solution just comes into focus?
That’s because you finally stopped stimulating your brain for a few minutes and you had time to daydream. We are losing the ability to be still and let the answers surface from that quiet place within us because we’re checking our phones in every spare moment. We’re constantly bombarding our minds with more input instead of allowing ourselves time to process what we already have.
The key to change is turning habits into mindfulness
So if we know these habits aren’t working for us, why do we keep doing them?
Because of very fact that they’re habits. We do them automatically, without even realizing it.
So change therefore, hinges upon our ability to pay attention, to notice what we’re doing and be conscious of our choices. It’s a matter of reaching for the device and thinking, “Wait, do you reallywant to see what’s on Facebook right now, or are you just killing time during TV commercials? Could you talk to your husband, pet the cat, make a cup of tea, or just sit here and relax for a moment instead? Wouldn’t that feel better?”
And because it would, you do that instead. And each time you make that choice, it becomes more and more automatic until the connectivity addiction is broken.
How I broke my connectivity addiction
I finally broke my connectivity addiction after running myself into the ground last summer. I went to two conferences back to back and the travel, speaking, and social interactions just about killed me. I spent the better part of seven days tweeting, Instragraming, Facebooking, texting, Voxxing, and emailing pretty much nonstop…and that’s when I wasn’t presenting or having lengthy face to face conversations with hundreds of people. It was kinda like eating half a chocolate cake, where just the thought of sugar makes you sick to your stomach for awhile afterwards. I had no desire to use social media at all for several days after I arrived home, and actually left the house to run errands without bringing my phone with me for the first time I could remember.
After three days of digital detox, I felt so, so much better, and I wanted to maintain the clarity of mind and calmness for as long as possible…maybe even permanently. The problem was that I couldn’t go cold turkey forever: I had to use social media for professional purposes, and didn’t want to give it up completely for personal purposes. Still determined that my phone would no longer control me, I put boundaries in place for myself and watched to see what happened.
It honestly shocked how simple it was to rewire my brain so that I no longer craved those constant interactions online. It wasn’t easy, per se–I had to keep reminding myself how awful I felt when I checked my phone constantly so I wouldn’t default to my old ways. But it was simple.
3 basic habits enabled me to make (and maintain) the change:
I reconfigured notification settings to fit with my connectivity goals
I created morning & bedtime routines that were more enjoyable than checking my phone
I gave my mind space to wander during moments of boredom or procrastination instead of reaching automatically for my phone
I created these habits by paying attention to when I was tempted to check my phone or go online, and noticing how I felt when I did or didn’t indulge.
You don’t decide your future. You decide your habits & habits decide your future. -Steve Mehr Click To Tweet
The transformation process was surprisingly quick: I trained myself to check my phone when I truly wanted to check it: not out of boredom or avoidance or obsession, but because I had a purpose. I used social media mostly in the evenings on my iPad or laptop when I was relaxed and comfortable, and not in a rush. No more squinting at a tiny screen and tapping away at a tiny little keyboard to communicate on the fly. Within about two weeks, I no longer felt compelled to look at my phone all day long.
I have to continue to be mindful of these habits every day, because it’s super easy to fall back into old patterns, especially when it’s socially acceptable.
In fact, I take this challenge again every May with other teachers to combat those bad habits which have a way of creeping back up.
What do you WANT connectivity to look like in your life?
We don’t want to give up our devices altogether; we want to be in control of our phones instead of letting our phones control us.
We want to stop draining our focus and energy on mindless social media consumption and constant refreshing of our email accounts.
We want to stop checking our phones out of habit, and to get online when we really want to and can truly enjoy it.
We want to use our phones as a tool to communicate, rather than as a taskmaster that controls our time.
If you agree with these statements, #IntentionalConnectivity might be just the support you need to turn a vision into a reality.
How the Intentional Connectivity Challenge works
It takes 21 days to create a habit. So, I’m inviting you to join me in a (totally free) 21-day intentional connectivity challenge for teachers.
Each week, we’ll practice ONE new habit (see above.)
It will take less than two minutes per week to participate: just read the message I send via email and implement the idea. The habit I share will not add anything to your plate or be “one more thing” you have to do, but will actually eliminate a time-waster and immediately free up your time and increase your mental focus.
The goal isn’t to give up social media or stop using email. The goal is to be intentional about our connectivity: to get on our devices because we want to, not because we feel compelled to.
It’s very simple to be successful with this: spend 2 minutes reading your challenge for the week ahead and trying out that single new habit. By the end of the 3rd week, you’ll have developed 3 simple habits that put YOU in control of your phone (instead of vice versa.)
Why do this together with other teachers?
I want you to make a commitment to try this out by signing up for the challenge and letting me check in with you via email each week for 21 days. You don’t have to write any reminders to yourself or revisit this blog post: the challenge will show up in right in your inbox and explain exactly what to do.
You’ll be able to reply to my email to ask a question or share your progress. You’ll also be able to see the progress of other teachers and get their support.
Let’s not kid ourselves: this isn’t as simple as saying, “Well, I’ll turn my phone off in the evenings and just not look.” If it were that easy, we would have all done it a long time ago. Throughout the 21 days, I want you to have support so you know you’re not alone in this. I want us to take this challenge together and hold one another accountable.
You can use the hashtag #IntentionalConnectivity (on whatever form of social media you prefer) to find other teachers who are participating, and check out their results for encouragement. If you want to invite your friends to join, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and hashtag it #IntentionalConnectivity.
It’s a bit ironic that we’re using our devices to connect around this challenge, but remember, the goal isn’t to give up email and social media altogether: it’s to be intentional about when we use and why. In this case, we’re using social media to spread the word so more teachers can participate and start creating change in their lives, and we’re using it to share our results and encourage one another.
In just a few short weeks, you’re going to notice a HUGE improvement in your ability to focus, work productively, sleep at night, and be fully present with the people you love.
What makes this so important for teachers, in particular?
My life’s work is supporting, motivating, and encouraging teachers. And intentional connectivity is something that I am really passionate about helping teachers achieve because the re-training and habit forming process is so simple and will produce such powerful results in your life. I know this because I’ve lived it.
Almost every teacher I talk with feels like it’s impossible to turn off his or her brain at night and rest. Teachers feel like there’s always too much to do, too many things to remember, and not enough time for any of it. Being more intentional about your connectivity habits is the easiest, fastest, most powerful way I can think of to change that.
Let’s do this intentional connectivity challenge together so that your summer is filled with purpose and presence, peace and productivity. Let’s stop using our devices to waste time on unintentional breaks and procrastination, and stop allowing them to keep us from fully enjoying and experiencing our lives. We don’t have to settle for a lifetime of feeling controlled by our devices. We can make connectivity into something better, something more intentional, and we can do it together.
Sign up for the challenge here, or use the form beneath this post.
If you have a friend you’d like to join you in the challenge, use the share buttons on the left side of this page, or tag them on social media in your own #intentionalconnectivity post.