How to Be More Mindful (and Smart!) with Your Smartphone

Focus on cake and tea at restaurant table, cropped view of several friends with smartphones on tableHave you ever reached for your phone to look up something that feels urgent, only to quickly become distracted by three new texts and notifications from multiple apps? You may never get back to that original question you were planning on punching into Google. It may be the first of many times in one day that the little distraction device in your pocket interrupts your flow and challenges your original intention. Life is a balancing act of family, dating, career, finances, and self-care, and concentration isn’t always our strong suit.

You might be having a wonderful time at a friend’s birthday party but sneak away to check your email and find out your application to a new job was rejected. Suddenly, the party doesn’t feel so engaging, and your head fills with anxious thoughts about the future. Sound familiar? Technology provides us with assistance in so many areas, but our smartphones can be a drain on concentration, especially when they feel like an extra appendage: A recent IDC Research report found that 79% of nearly 8,000 smartphone owners ages 18 to 44 keep their phones on their person or near them for all but two of their waking hours every day. It can be hard to resist temptation, but constantly checking our phones can put a strain on our joy in the present moment.

Assessing your reasons for reaching for your phone before the mindless scrolling sets in is a simple little mindfulness trick that may cut down on tech time and allow you to live more freely in the here-and-now. Try checking in with the five “WH” questions each time you reach for your phone; think of it as a filter for intentional living.

Who?

“Am I with the people who I want to be focusing my attention on right now, or am I checking my phone to communicate with others who aren’t here?”

Checking in with the “who” can be a great screening tool for our relationships. If we’re always scrolling our gadgets when we are with certain friends or a new fling, this may indicate a lack of emotional connection or fulfilment in the relationship.

What?

“What, exactly, am I opening my phone for right now?”

Assessing overall intention may help with mindless scrolling—checking every app without really knowing what we’re looking for. Checking in with “what” also cuts down on our ability to become distracted. If we open our phones with a specific question that needs answering, it’s less likely the notifications and texts will sway us away from our initial intention.

Where?

Think of your relationship with technology like any other relationship—it should take work, and you should be open to evolving within that relationship.

“Am I fulfilled by my surroundings at the present moment?”

By checking in on the “where,” we are better able to cue into our settings and see if we are truly content with where we are. If you notice yourself scrolling every time you’re at a specific event or location, this may be an indicator you’d rather be elsewhere, which can help you tune into the bigger picture—perhaps the desire for a new profession, new hobby, or change of scenery in the day-to-day.

When?

“Does this phone task need to happen now, or can it wait a few hours until I become more available? Is there really an immediate urgency to checking my email at this moment?”

Part of our smartphones’ allure is they are in our pockets and able to be utilized at any moment. But be mindful of how this can remove you from the actual present moment—the one you are living in right now, with the setting you’re in and people who are physically at your side.

Why?

“Am I escaping a feeling or a setting I’m uncomfortable with? Is scrolling my phone helping me ‘disappear?’ ”

We may be reaching for our gadgets due to feeling emotionally strained, bored, or socially anxious. This reduces our ability to cope with these feelings on our own, so it’s important to be mindful of the “why” in every scroll.

Bottom line? Think of your relationship with technology like any other relationship—it should take work, and you should be open to evolving within that relationship. Adding intention to your scrolling can strengthen your bond with the here-and-now, helping you evolve into a more mindful person and a truly smart phone user.

Reference:

IDC Research Report, Sponsored by Facebook. (2013, March). Always Connected: How Smartphones and Social Keep Us Engaged. Retrieved from http://www.nu.nl/files/IDC-Facebook%20Always%20Connected%20(1).pdf

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, NCC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Molly

    Molly

    February 2nd, 2017 at 9:14 AM

    It can be such a hard habit to break! My kids are the worst, not so much when we are at home eating dinner but if we are out at a restaurant it is as if they think that they are going to lose touch with the entire world if they don’t have their phones out. I would love to say something to them but to be honest I know that I do the same thing at times too so what can I say?
    I am clearly not being a very good example to them, so maybe if we all try to nip it in the bud together we will be a little more successful and tolerant of the withdrawals lol

  • Lindsey Pratt

    Lindsey Pratt

    February 3rd, 2017 at 9:33 AM

    Hey Molly – I completely agree with you. Although it can be very evident with younger generations, we are all guilty of retreating to our phones during social times that used to feel more connected! I think you’re on the right track with being up front with them and acknowledging the tech use as a family, and it might be fun to scheme up some helpful tricks or little games to see who can go without checking their phone for the longest as a collaborative activity!

  • Michael

    Michael

    February 3rd, 2017 at 10:33 AM

    My wife instituted a no cell phone for an hour rule after we are all together at night. It just gives us a time to eat and interact and talk as a family without having to worry about that distraction. You really forget how to talk to other people in person the more time that we spend on our phones.

  • Lindsey Pratt

    Lindsey Pratt

    February 8th, 2017 at 4:43 AM

    That’s a great rule, and if there’s a good place to start, it’s certainly family dinners!

  • mason

    mason

    February 6th, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    I have literally been on dates before where the girl can’t take the time to look away from her phone to even get to know me. I hope that she never wondered why I wouldn’t ask her out again, but how am I supposed to know if I like her and would want to pursue something if she can’t look up from texting and stuff?

    I am past the point of having to share every event of my life online but it is obvious to me that there are more people NOT like me than those who are. I am just trying to find someone who really doesn’t care all that much about that other stuff and would rather spend time getting to know me without the technology distraction.

  • Lindsey Pratt

    Lindsey Pratt

    February 8th, 2017 at 4:47 AM

    Hey Mason, I totally agree. Technology interferes heavily with meeting new people – I often think of all the time we spend on our phones while waiting in lines, on the bus, or in a coffee shop rather than striking up conversations with strangers who could be potential friends or partners. I’m hoping the trend swings back now that the awareness that we are a tech-addicted society is setting in, and some of the comfort will be restored in just “being” rather than checking, scrolling, and texting…and especially with romantic partners!

  • Parker

    Parker

    February 7th, 2017 at 4:54 PM

    Isn’t it so insane how even just a few years ago we would have never been able to relate to this and now practically every single person who I know can?

  • Lindsey Pratt

    Lindsey Pratt

    February 8th, 2017 at 4:51 AM

    Hey Parker, I think of this, too. Our relationship to technology has changed so rapidly. It’s evident when I look at photos or watch movies that are even just from a few years ago like you said – people seem to genuinely be enjoying each other and the moment rather than looking down at their phones. I feel hope when I’m able to meet the eyes of even just a few people on the train or attend one dinner where no one reaches for their phone, so I think the change starts small and boils down to personal choices every hour of the day – to look or not to look down at our screens rather than connecting with others! I’m certainly guilty of it, so I try to be aware of how those personal choices present themselves daily and pull away from my tech addiction whenever I can!

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