Begging for Your Attention and the Need to Scratch the Itch

I was reading a story on the website Popular Science, and it was a reminder that I purchased the book referred to and had yet to crack it open. Maybe if you are like me, that’s not an unusual problem. But I was intrigued enough to track that book down and give it some time. I was delighted I did! 

The book I am referring to is The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, written by psychologists Larry Rosen and Adam Gazzaley. They reported extensively on this phenomenon of addiction to our smartphones and published some eye-opening information that I wanted to share with our readers. 

Dr. Rosen states that the typical young adult will unlock their phone more than 70 times daily and check it for 3 to 4 minutes before locking it again. They will repeat this same process about 10 minutes later. He says, “They are checking things having to do with communication primarily and are compelled to use these social media sites because all their friends are on them, and it feels like their “social responsibility’ to keep up to date.” 

We need to understand that the companies who create these apps and websites have a vested interest in you using their products. I would call it a “financial interest.” Anyway, they have enough of a “vested interest” to hire behavioral scientists to assist them in designing the best way to get you there and keep you there. Those companies are extraordinarily clever operators. 

So, it’s no easy task to try to disconnect and free yourself because you are in combat against the power of science and money. But there are things you can do to unhook yourself from the tentacles of hi-tech.

Begging for Your Attention and the Need to Scratch the Itch

Refrain Gradually

Trying a full detox all at once is not a good plan. You will make yourself anxious, and the studies prove this. Dr. Rosen said they observed in the lab that people who receive a text and are not allowed to touch their phones show a skin response, indicating an anxiety reaction. And this response happens to both heavy and moderate smartphone users. 

Instead, Dr. Rosen suggests that we use systematic desensitization and gradually expose ourselves to the phone’s influence less and less. Try starting with a fifteen-minute detox where you check in with your phone and then mute the device. Put the phone near you face down so notifications are not visible. Set an alarm for fifteen minutes. The act of putting the phone in your line of sight helps your brain not to get anxious since the device is still in view. I suggest you purchase a cheap kitchen timer and not use your phone’s timer, but that’s your call. 

Now, when the alarm goes off, you can check your phone for one minute. Keep repeating this pattern until you don’t feel the crazy itch to check. In other words, the alarm goes off, but you don’t feel so itchy and can check it later. Once you master 15 minutes, ratchet up to 20 minutes, and so on. Dr. Rosen encourages everyone to work up to only checking in every 30 minutes, and if you can get to only checking every hour, you are reaching ninja status. 

Larry Rosen does, however, recommend a time to avoid your phone altogether, and that is at night. He suggests we put our phones away at least an hour before bedtime. This mandate has been a standard recommendation from most sleep doctors and institutions due to blue light’s ability to shut down melatonin production, which is needed to induce sleep. You can turn down the brightness or use the blue wave blockers provided on smart devices if you must use your phone. However, the best plan is to avoid activating your brain with social responsibility or fear of missing out concerns while training your brain that the bed is for sleep and not for scrolling entertainment. 

Make Your Phone Less Appealing

One possibility to refrain from the phone grabbing your attention is to turn off as many notifications and flashing lights as possible. Interestingly, Dr. Rosen’s research, however, noticed that at least half the time, people who looked at their phones were not prompted by notifications. There are tasks such as trying to see the time that might come into play when reaching for their device. So it would probably be helpful to get a non-smartwatch and keep yourself from getting hooked into a peak elsewhere while you have that phone unlocked.  

How about adding some friction to getting to what you want? Dr. Rosen suggests putting each app in a folder and moving it to the last screen. Now, you have to jump through additional steps to access your apps, which might cut down on impulsive sneaks and peaks. Make yourself work hard to get there, and you may have less energy to make the journey. 

How about deleting the social media apps on your phone and only going to their mobile sites instead? Now, you must type in the URL and deal with a website that is less fancy than the app. And if you block cookies in your phone’s browser, you must log in every time. Barriers are the added friction points that make the journey harsher and less enjoyable. 

Whitson Gordon, the author of the Popular Science article, also suggested looking at lock screen wallpapers designed to convince you to put your phone away when you are opening your phone. Take a look at this design or this one

Remember, we are the masters of our universe and don’t have to be servants to technology. Pull up your bootstraps and spend some time in the real world exploring, experiencing, and having fun. Delight in the world through your eyes and senses and be an active participant instead of an observer through a screen.

Katherine Jahnke

Katherine Jahnke

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach, Owner/Founder

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