It just seems impossible when you think about it. It’s hard to imagine even one day, or just half a day without your phone, right? Above all, you might say, you need it for work. And that’ll be completely right. Family and friends should be able to reach you, too. That’s true.
Yet it’s interesting to examine how much you’re using your phone based on the internet, and how much — based on the cellular network. Studies show, that one in four smartphone owners does not make phone calls weekly. If you can say right away, that your internet-based use predominates, read further.
So, you can still use email, iMessage, Facetime and other applications you need to communicate easily with coworkers, friends and family, while your phone is switched off. You can use your computer.
What’s the point of going one week without your smartphone then, you might ask. The point is, you use your computer to communicate digitally only when you are at your desk and when you have Wi-Fi. That already limits your screen time enough to make a difference.
Above all, the point is that you get much smarter than your smartphone — by becoming self-aware, achieving clarity of thought and intention, and gaining self-control.
Going a day or a week without your smartphone doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be on vacation, have no family, be unemployed or go on a Buddhist retreat. When I switched off my phone for a week, I had fixed appointments and work meetings, as well as scheduled calls and so on… life continued like before.
In fact, this is how every single day went:
Day 1 Sunday
I’m being a bit anxious about it. I’m thinking of all the people I should warn that my phone is off and give other opportunities to reach me.
Deciding not to tell anybody.
Day 2 Monday
Worrying when I notice I haven’t been at my computer for too long (an hour?!) and having the urge to check if someone has tried to reach me.
I made calls and sent messages over the internet, wrote emails, and no one noticed anything.
Day 3 Tuesday
It still feels kind of like I’m doing something forbidden or dangerous. Trying to switch off these feelings and use my rational mind to estimate if there is a real risk or danger in any situation at all.
Day 4 Wednesday
Took my phone with me (on airplane mode) on a late night meeting yesterday — just in case it gets too dark and dangerous. Results of this action:
1. taking my phone with me today, too, and
2. checking it although there is no cellular network or internet on and therefore nothing to check…
Note to self: The power of habit triumphs. Four days are not enough to even just slightly modify a habit like this.
Also note: Turned out I didn’t really need it both times I took it with me “just in case”.
Day 5 Thursday
Phone stays locked in the drawer due to the realizations described above.
Day 6 Friday
Despite a lot of meetings at different places on this day, my phone bravely stayed at home. Turned out I could get from A to B, from B to C, and even from C to D without google maps navigating me throughout my journey.
The only bad thing that happened was I had to wait for someone who was 20 minutes late for our meeting, without being notified. Super bad.
Day 7 Saturday
A lot of reflections on my behavioral changes during the working week — the basis for this story.
Day 8 Sunday
Working and writing this article. Phone still sleeping in the drawer. Craving to go without it forever and live happily ever after.
So I’ve just gone one week without my iPhone. There were a lot of good reasons for me to do that.
First of all, I felt restricted by this conception that you cannot go a single day without your phone. When I think about that, it just makes me angry. This is a tool supposed to make your life better, right? Being dependent on it doesn’t make your life better. Feeling you need to be reachable 24/7 doesn’t either.
Second of all, I installed the Moment app a few weeks ago and started tracking my screen time. When you get data from tracking something, that is the moment you actually face the truth. Your subjective perception of how much you use your phone is very likely not the exact truth.
A great percentage of the time you spend on your phone might not be the best use of that time for you. You might have developed some habits of just checking email, or instagram, or facebook, or just texting someone something on whatsapp, just googling this or that, just answering some messages etc. Or not checking things proactively, but just reacting to all incoming signals. It is really interesting to investigate how much time the unconscious use of your phone is costing you per day/week/month/year. That’s what Moment does. And it made me decide I want to invest this large amount of time I spend on my phone weekly in something important that I couldn’t find time for until now.
Third of all, I had to admit to myself, that I am not picking up my phone with a clear intention every time. I had to face the fact that I feel an urge to check my phone way too often. (I have all notifications off) And that this urge is fragmenting my attention, eating my time, and harming my willpower. All undesirable outcomes for me.
So I wanted to gain more conscious control over my phone usage and become more self-aware in that regard. After all, self-awareness is what distinguishes us from animals, right?
The truth is that smartphones are making us think less, which is the opposite of smart.
And you probably know that. But there can be a huge gap between knowing something and doing something about it — speaking from experience.
So let’s move from the reasons for doing a no-phone-week to the outcomes of doing a no-phone-week.
It all started with tracking my screen time, but what I realized after my phone-free-week is this: the self-awareness I lose on my phone is even more important than the time I lose on my phone. Not just regarding phone usage, but in general. Developing the habit of checking my phone all the time is developing one more obstacle on the road to self-awareness.
If we feel flustered, overwhelmed, burned out, stuck, edgy, not in control or indifferent, we can only change that if we first become aware of how we are feeling and why. And that’s different from automatically checking facebook, whatsapp, instagram when we feel bad so we can get rid of the bad feeling for a moment. (Which is mainly what these apps are designed to “help” you with.)
Becoming aware of how we feel in every situation is absolutely crucial for a self-determined and fulfilling life. How can you find out if this is the right job/place/person/whatever for you, if you never take a moment to connect with yourself, instead of your friends on facebook?
Stay connected with yourself, not to the internet. Fear missing out on your own thoughts and feelings, not on others’ instagram stories.
“To dance with life means to listen inside of you — that’s where the music is. Listen to what gives you joy and meaning.” That’s what Kristina Palten, an ultra marathon runner, pledged for in her Ted Talk on “How to dance with life” at TEDxBerlin a few weeks ago.
I experienced a sense of enjoyment and meaning connecting with myself and listening to what I think and feel in all those minutes when I was not looking at my phone. In the underground, on the bike, while cooking, eating, walking, reading. There is great power in single tasking and just being fully present in the moment. Meditation with Headspace made me realize that. (This is self-initiated, unpaid advertising for something I really appreciate.)
I no longer thought I had to listen to an audiobook while I exercise or to a podcast while I’m commuting and answering emails. I focused on the exercise and did it right. I was comfortable with silence. Just like it can be magical to sit quietly with someone and feel OK, that same way I felt comfortable with myself.
Furthermore, I could clearly see how I was overthinking everything and striving for perfection in too many aspects of life. I was also able to recognize where that came from and how it actually made me feel to force myself to dig deeper and make sure I found the best solution in every little situation.
That’s not it. I could also change that. I cut off the non-essential thinking and checking, neglected some details and stuck with the substance. I dared to follow my intuition and act in the right moment. I stopped questioning all my choices and went for the Pareto principle.
You can’t trust the phone manufacturers or the government to ensure your safety when it comes to cell phones, so you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.
Turn off notifications. Remove social media from the front screen of your phone and the first part of your day. Choose Moment, Headspace, and Medium over facebook, instagram, whatsapp. Don’t sleep with your phone. Switch it off on Sundays and spend quality time with yourself and your loved ones. Wake up your willpower instinct. Tap into thrive mode.