I've known it for a while. The truth was never far away—blinking bright, directly in front of my face: I'm addicted to my phone.
I've always been reluctant to embrace technology. I never had a pager (could I have dated myself any more in five words?), got my first cell phone years later than my friends, and was apprehensive about emerging social media platforms. But despite my rather slow start, it's safe to say that I now am on my phone a lot. Just the other night after I'd gotten home from work, I was on the floor making Play Doh ravioli with Sloan, while simultaneously checking my email. Sloan looked up and in a sad, disapproving tone said, "Mommy no. Put your phone down!" And it hit me: It was starting to affect my relationship with my daughter.
It's not to say that I'm going to be able to devote every moment of my life to showering her with attention. In fact, G and I both agree that encouraging her independence (and even letting her feel bored from time to time) is important. But not when I'm in the middle of playing with her. I found my focus slipping away from what really mattered and had made my email a priority over spending time with Sloan.
Later that night, G and I were talking about what had happened earlier. I was, of course, being extra hard on myself and feeling anxious about the changes I knew I had to make. And that hesitation was not rooted in the fact that I love checking my email—but rather the process of checking it. I'd maniacally switch between Instagram, Facebook, texts, Twitter, and then back again, and it was happening far too frequently. If I'm being completely honest—and I'm ashamed to admit this—I was draining my phone battery most days by early afternoon. I wish it was because I have an old phone that's slightly wonky, but I don't. I was simply on it all the time.
But it wasn't just about Sloan noticing my technology dependence—there was another major issue I hadn't fully realized until that night: it wasn't making me feel good. Several times a day, I'd scroll through my Instagram feed mindlessly (which, to me, is different than following accounts I truly love and whose content I enjoy) only to realize I'd drained a lot of time and it hadn't contributed positively to my life at all. In fact, more often than not, I found myself feeling mediocre and disappointed in myself in having wasted so much time. But it was almost like that compulsion had become so ingrained in everything I did that I was nervous to break that pattern.
It was almost as though I didn't remember what it was like to not check my phone constantly. A commercial break, waiting for my coffee order—they were all opportunities to whip it out of my purse. Recently I'd come home from work early because I wasn't feeling great. After a failed attempt at a nap, I decided to curl up on the couch to read a book I'd recently begun. But that's not what I did. Before I began actually reading, I decided to quickly (ha) go through my phone, jumping from platform to platform. By the time I was done, G was coming through the front door with Sloan in tow. That ideal opportunity—cuddled up on a rainy afternoon with a great book—had slipped away. And I felt heated and helpless. That was the night I made a change.
It started small. Instead of bringing my phone into the bedroom with me at night, I left it plugged in in the kitchen. Since I keep it on Do Not Disturb while I sleep anyway, what would I be missing? Though even still, it was like I was without a limb and I must have reached for it half a dozen times that night. But I was rewarded in the morning. Instead of rolling over and grabbing it first thing (despite how many rules G and I have about being on our phones, we rarely stuck to them), I just rested, looking at the light streaming in the window. Since G and Sloan weren't up yet, I also allowed myself to read my book, which felt wonderfully indulgent. It was almost like I'd stumbled upon this extra chunk of time, all for myself, to do something that made me actually happy. And in reality, it was probably only 20 minutes, but it felt akin to waking up and finding school had been cancelled as a kid.
Of course all of this is slightly complicated by my job, which sort of requires me to share and do so frequently (which, to make matters more complicated, I genuinely enjoy doing!). I'm treading lightly—giving myself breaks where I can—since it's hard for me not to be so available all the time. When I can, I leave my phone far out of reach (preferably in the other room) because I find that if it's close by, I'm still conditioned to reach for it. For those other times when I'm creating content or interacting with followers, I try to create more concrete boundaries so it's not happening all day, every day. It's a work in progress, but acknowledging my dependency was the first step and with even a few small tweaks, I find I'm more content, present, and less hard on myself.
P.S. Here are some tips I found really useful for taking control of my phone and my time.