Working at Habyts you might think that I have a pretty good grasp on technology and the power it has over us… oh the irony!
Recently, I read some eye opening research, specifically pointing to the fact that merely leaving a phone out on the table during a conversation can drastically reduce the quality of the conversation taking place.
This research provided the opportunity for me to address my own relationship with technology – specifically apps and notifications.
After some uncomfortable introspection, I realised that I was absolutely addicted.
My addiction revolved around compulsively checking WhatsApp for messages, engaging in pointless conversation at all times of the day… If I read back the conversations, although I probably enjoyed some of the banter; it’s 90% meaningless chat. I also found myself obsessively scrolling through Instagram at any given moment, sometimes not even aware how the phone got into my hand, checking for new notifications or just ‘dead scrolling’.
The addiction wasn’t restricted to my phone – I’d put that down and find that while working on my PC or Macbook I was exhibiting the same compulsive WhatsApp behaviour, and Instagram, however for some reason Facebook, Reddit & Strava were also thrown into the distracting mix of news feeds & notifications.
WhatsApp had a hold over me, whether I was waiting for the ‘ping’ from certain people, or the ‘ping ping’ of some new group chat banter, I found that my brain had become accustomed to releasing dopamine as I became aware of the notification. This actually became quite severe, as hearing the ‘ping’ would sometimes cause a noticeable spike in heart rate at the anticipation of the incoming notification.
I have a fulfilling life, I have a good social life, I have many hobbies and a great job, I consider myself to be quite content with life in general, so how did I end up so hooked on these dopamine inducing notifications and apps?
Research shows that these apps are designed to be addictive. Facebook researchers have measured the dopamine response from users when they receive a notification, and have mastered the way to induce this dopamine response. It’s no wonder then that someone with a fulfilled life could still fall prey to this notification/dopamine cycle, always checking for the next interaction and dopamine hit.
This cycle infiltrates your life in subtle ways but becomes a habit which is not easy to stop. I would wake up, check my phone, check my phone again after I’d taken a shower, plug in my phone when I got in the car, listen to podcasts/YouTube on the way, check the notifications when I arrived at my destination, need the toilet when I got to my destination and take my phone with me because god forbid I’d be bored for those couple of toilet minutes… I’d take my phone with me while I went for a walk and find myself itching to check the wretched thing while I’m walking through beautiful woodland. How are you meant to have a constructive thought process when you have a total data-leak from your brain because of this focus zapping device in your pocket at all times?!
So after realising this, I decided to make an active change. No longer would notifications and technology dictate to me how I live my life.
I started by turning off all audible notifications (except phone calls, I consider phone calls urgent enough to be distracted by, since most people text these days, I don’t get too many phone calls). I removed WhatsApp from the dock on my computer so I couldn’t see the little red notification circle enticing me in to check who’d been talking to me.
I said to myself, I’ll allow myself to check the phone every two hours, if I really want to. This goes some way to patching up the data leak from my brain to technology since the part of my brain dedicated to questioning why a text hasn’t come through yet, or listening out for the WhatsApp ‘ping’, is now redundant. I will eventually catch up with WhatsApp, nine times out of ten I’ve missed nothing of importance and the time where I’ve been able to focus, I’ve been SO much more productive.
I’ve begun practicing detaching myself from my phone too, instead of going for a walk with the phone in my pocket, I’m leaving it inside and walking off into the world: naked, metaphorically speaking anyway. I usually like to wear clothes in public, haha!
Going for a walk with a phone in my pocket changes my natural thought process. Consider thinking about something… how frequently do you think about something and then realise you could use Google to look something up, or check an email you meant to check a while ago, or reply to incoming messages? The potential for distraction is massive. Just having your phone with you means you’re susceptible to disrupting natural thought processes without realising what you’re doing.
We need these natural thought processes, I firmly believe they help us to organise our thoughts, rationalise worries and process our lives…! If we’re constantly distracted, we’re never able to have these moments and as a result I think we walk around with cluttered, cloudy minds, never really truly living in the present, and never fulfilling our potential.
A lot of these addictive behaviours can stem from a fear of boredom, almost being fearful to spend too much time alone with our thoughts… Well, if we’ve entered that territory, that fear will never be solved by avoiding time alone, or avoiding boredom.
Creativity can be inspired from boredom, and although a great tool for productivity if used with caution; technology can be destructive.
P.s – a picture paints a thousand words – check out this illuminating gallery!