As part of my own personal journey to generate greater wellness in my life, I have decided to make some adjustments to my iPhone, including the utilization of the “Downtime” feature.
The smartphone has become an ingrained part of our daily lives. For the most part, it has been extremely useful and helpful. However, the now almost effortless exposure to people, social media, and the world at large has begun to create some unhealthy side effects.
Multiple studies show that we spend an average of at least 3 hours (and climbing each year) on our smartphones a day. That is in addition to the time spent looking at the screens of tablets, computers, and televisions. According to the U.S. edition of the 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey from Deloitte, Americans check their phones an average of 52 times per day.
On paper, this looks bad. It is practically an addiction! Yet we all think that we have our own smartphone usage under control.
Recently, I encountered some events that sharply increased the stress in my life. What I realized after a few days was that I became practically glued to my iPhone. Every few minutes I would check to see if anyone had left me messages, would scroll frantically but aimlessly through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I would even start watching random videos on YouTube that I wouldn’t normally just because it was something to do.
After a day or two of this almost manic behavior, I actually caught myself fidgeting with my phone. It then dawned on me that I might have some obsessive tendencies that this device, and all of its apps, was enabling. I began to think on my typical smartphone usage over the past year or so and realized that I had become reliant on this small device to ignore, escape, or process varying degrees of stressful situations. Whether it be being alone in the elevator at work with someone, a lull in a dinner conversation, or as a “quick” break from whatever task you are doing or needs doing, the go to is always checking your smartphone.
I can be a bit of a control freak and so really did not like the idea that my iPhone had such control over my behavior. I have also become increasingly interested in mindfulness and general wellness for the mind, body, and spirit. Adding all of this together, I knew I had to make some changes ASAP to how I interact with my smartphone.
Step 1: App Layout
The first thing I did was reorganize the layout of my apps. Previously, I had four home pages, each with its own theme of apps. I recognized that part of the addiction was the swiping through pages looking for those little notification bubbles or just looking to see which apps might peak your fancy for a moment or two.
With the new layout, I only have one page and all my apps are visible at once. I noticed immediately how much swiping was cut out as I was no longer browsing around my own phone. I also couldn’t help but become aware of how much I actually wanted to swipe now that I couldn’t do it.
Taking the time to go through this process will also help you delete some apps you don’t use anymore or maybe weren’t even aware you had downloaded.
Step 2: Downtime
This is the biggest change you can make in your relationship with the iPhone. Android devices have similar notification blocking features, downloadable apps, as well as the Digital Wellbeing feature, but because I own an iPhone, that is where my focus will be.
The first thing you need to do is select which apps will still run normally during Downtime. I limited my selection to practical apps like Calendar, Calculator, Camera etc. I also wanted to make sure I had access to my emails, Chrome, health related apps, and audio and entertainment (Spotify, YouTube, etc). Make your decisions based off of what you realistically use in a given day that is actually important or doesn’t take much time on your phone.
Apps I would definitely recommend not allowing include all social media and messaging apps. The logic there is that if someone has an important message for you, they will already have your email or phone number to call or text. Anything else can wait.
Next, set your time. Unfortunately, you can only set Downtime for one session at a time. I like doing a 9am-5pm block, followed by a 5:30pm-10:30pm block. Your choice should reflect your work hours, or time spent on passion projects and loved ones.
After a few days of doing this, I have observed a shift in my own perception of the importance of feeling the need to be connected 24/7.
I came to realize how ingrained smartphone checking had become in my life. I really was/am addicted! The first day or two, especially, I noticed I would go to check a social media app only to remember I had set Downtime. You can, of course, ignore this feature and enter the app anyways, but with a little bit of will power, you can get yourself to respect the space you have created.
We get so used to the dopamine hit of receiving all these notifications, that we dull ourselves to it. After a few days of having to wait until 5pm to see all my notifications, I noticed how excited I was and that I was looking forward to it. It is almost like a mini-Christmas where the end of Downtime is Christmas morning and all the notifications from friends (even strangers) are the presents under the tree.
There is disappointment, however. Now that you get all your notifications from the day lumped together, you actually begin to see how many of them bear no real importance to you at all. I believe there’s a big benefit to this as we begin to realize that not every message, like, comment, or follow has much significance for you. I started scrolling less because I just didn’t care as much what all of the people I follow have to say. This may seem harsh, but why do I care that a random Instagram model is sponsoring some energy drink I will never buy?
A major pillar of mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing is mindfulness. In case you are unaware, this is essentially the conscious act of focusing on the present. This is extremely useful when trying to deal with any form of stress or distress. In today’s interconnected and high speed world, stresses are in abundance. I believe that smartphones, while definitely holding amazing powers that benefit us on so many levels, only add to the cacophony of a busy and seemingly negative-leaning environment that surrounds most of us.
By removing yourself from addictive and time consuming behaviors, you allow yourself to experience your immediate surroundings in a more meaningful and mindful way.
Whether you settle down with your favorite show or book, savor every bite of your meal, work on that side hustle, or focus on quality time with the people who mean the most to you, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more free time you have to enjoy and interact with the real living world.
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