The Menaka of the modern life
Story of how I fixed my smartphone addiction
In the last 1.5 years, I was zoning out a lot. My wife would ask for assistance with something small and somehow, I could never quickly respond to it. Either I would forget or miss out on some details. These incidences were happening quite frequently.
After a couple of altercations, everyone in the family started saying the same things. They kinda staged an intervention. After a bit of family drama, I accepted that there is some truth to this, so I decided to start observing my mental state daily.
So, after a few days, I realized that there were a lot of things on my mind. I was constantly thinking about something. It was about a lot of random things. I started doing meditation to see what's going on in my head.
Slowly, I discovered that a lot of thoughts in my mind were triggered by something I saw/read, or heard on my mobile. It could be a WhatsApp conversation, or an article I read online, or even the plot of the thriller tv series I watched. It was directly connected to me constantly sitting in front of screens. As I start observing more, I came to the conclusion that I was spending a lot of my free time on my mobile phone.
I looked into system metrics. I was spending (3+ hours on weekdays and 6+ hours on weekends) staring at my mobile/tv screen every day. Most of that time was spent on non-work things e.g. social media, news, video streaming platforms, shopping, etc.
This Vishawamitra had fallen prey for the modern-day Menaka.
I think this all started in pandemic times. Being stuck at home all day, having irregular sleep times because of a newborn, shopping for a new house and the covid-19 doom scrolling pushed my mobile usage higher than ever.
So, I decided to fix this. But it wasn't as easy. So applied some habit-breaking concepts.
1. Identify patterns and triggers
First, I started exploring apps that give information about phone usage broken down by apps. I could see that some 8–10 apps - Twitter, Google News, Youtube, Whatsapp, Blind, Prime Video/Netflix, Cricbuzz, Robinhood contributed to 80% of the time on a daily basis.
But I think an important observation was notifications. A random app notification triggers you to open your smartphone. Then you start navigating from one app to another.
Now, I started looking into which ones were really important to me. Blind, Prime Video/Netflix had to go. They add almost little to no value compared to the time I was spending on them. I uninstalled them.
I also decided to not watch any TV series anymore. For this, I even created a habit tracker. We have an innate urge to not break the streak. Cross out each day really felt rewarding and helped me keep pushing it.
Many apps like Whatsapp, email, etc trigger notifications that create an urge to go check the phone right away. Each pending reply takes up mental space. So I applied the Hollywood principle.
Don't call me. I will call you.
I disabled the notifications on my phone almost entirely. I check these apps for updates if I want to, assuming that if something is urgent, people will call anyway.
3. Introduce resistance
Other apps - Google News, Twitter, and youtube were somewhat important for me. So I decided to introduce a little friction while using them.
I read somewhere that, 70% of videos on youtube are watched by clicking recommendations. So I signed out of my youtube account and started using incognito mode. This screwed up my recommendations. Now, I am only watching what I could remember to watch.
I was just addicted to opening Twitter and Google News. I decided to put aggressive time limits on the apps. But it was not that effective. Eventually, I uninstalled them completely and decided to only use them on the desktop. In fact, nowadays I rely only on newspapers for daily news. I only check Google news once in a while to see if something important is happening.
4. Apply and repeat
I started applying these measures. The initial few days were hard. I was going through the withdrawal symptoms 😑.
I felt like I am bored all the time. So I started replacing this addiction with a newer set of apps. I started watching Instagram, TikTok, amazon, etc apps. In some cases, I started using a browser to access the same sites.
So after a week, I went through the above steps again and kept doing this for 3–4 weeks. I replaced my default browser with Firefox incognito. It has double benefits - privacy and constant friction to sign in.
It's been 6 months since I started. I think things have gotten a lot better now. Some of the effects that I have observed are -
1. More presence of mind
This was quite an immediate effect. My zoning out thing has reduced significantly. I generally have very few things on my mind. So I feel light-headed and attentive to the surrounding.
2. More free time
After a few days, you slowly get the feeling of the extra time. Freeing up 2–3 hours every day gives you plenty of time to do other things. I started reading more books, exercising, gardening, and pursuing my side projects.
3. More optimistic
Constantly reading negative news, my worldview had become quite depressing. I had stopped pursuing my side projects. But as I started reading more books, observing my surroundings, life in general just felt more optimistic. My overall bias to action has improved a lot.
4. More creativity
Sometimes, I had nothing interesting to do and find myself bored. But this boredom was just a stage before I find something new and interesting things to do. I have now embraced it as part of life and not something to avoid constantly.
I can now easily spend a day or even stand in a queue without checking my smartphone. I don't feel like I am missing out either. 😀
If you have tried to reduce your screen time or struggling with it, please feel free to share your story.