About a month ago, I broke my cell phone–my beautiful and precious Nexus 4–and it was one of the best things that has happened to me in recent memory.
It took the loss of my favorite piece of technology to realize just how tethered to technology I have become over the years. Not only that, but how being so connected has negatively impacted my life.
Admittedly, I didn’t immediately see this forced tech-detox as a good thing. I spent days wailing and moaning and gnashing my teeth. I was twitchy, and I was anxious. I was moody and frustrated and angry. And I was sad.
Essentially, I was the geeky equivalent of Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.
After I went through my withdrawals, though, I was free, and I felt liberated.
And perhaps most surprisingly, I was also happier.
You see, this past month without a really good phone (I have a functional iPhone 3GS with an almost-burned-out battery) has really opened my eyes to how unhealthy I was being, both mentally and physically. I can see how being so tethered affects our mood, habits, even relationships with friends and family.
And more importantly, it opened my eyes on some pretty painless and relatively simple ways to detox and insert some more happiness into our lives.
Step 1: No Screens An Hour Before Bed
The first step is always the hardest. And this one is a doozy. If you want to detox yourself from tech, the best thing you can do is make that last hour before bed a completely tech-free zone.
No phone, no tablet, no TV, and no video games.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I know. I know.
But that wonderful soft glow of that beloved LCD just might be giving you night terrors. Or at least make you toss and turn and tumble way more often than you should be.
If you give yourself a wind-down period, you’ll find yourself more mindful and aware of the people around you. You’ll have the opportunity to reflect on your day and have a real, honest-to-goodness conversation with the people you care about. It’ll give you time to meditate or just relax. You can read a book–or your Kindle, which is my only concession here since the Paperwhite is such a beautiful machine and doesn’t really count as technology–or exercise or do yoga.
You can do anything you want for an hour…as long as it doesn’t have a screen.
It’s harder than you think. But it’s so very worth it.
Step 2: No Screens While Sleeping
It may sound silly, but I’m serious. You probably use your phone more often while you sleep than you think you do. Even when it’s on vibrate, you that’s enough to wake you up. And when it vibrates and wakes you up, your first impulse is to check it and see what’s going on.
I know. I’ve been there.
Once you check it, though…your sleep is screwed. You aren’t relaxed anymore. You aren’t ready for sleepytime. Your brain has been kickstarted, and you’re going to have a hard time falling back asleep because you can’t stop thinking about that ironically timed Google Alert email for new answers to Why don’t I sleep well?
If you use your phone for an alarm in the morning, put your phone on silent–actually silent, not just vibrate–and turn the thing face down so you can get the first good night’s sleep you’ve had in months.
Step 3: No Screens When You Wake Up
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
Well let me explain. I know you check your phone first thing in the morning because as a tech-addict, I did, too. I turned off my alarm and immediately brought the device into bed with me to check my email (which often included work emails) and my Tweets.
All before I had even sat up.
There’s something wrong with that.
So after some serious re-evaluation, I vowed to let myself relax in the mornings. Sure, I grab the iPad and read my news and such on Flipboard and HuffPo over coffee and oatmeal, but for a good half-hour, I don’t touch anything with a screen. I don’t check email, and I don’t check Twitter. I don’t even look at my phone other than to turn off the alarm.
And I suggest that you don’t, either.
Just those few minutes of stretching and relaxing and actually waking up without worrying about who needs you or what someone is trying to sell you is liberating. You’ll feel more awake and less stressed.
Or at least I do.
Ain’t that enough? Granted, it’s only an hour and a half a day, but those 90 minutes have turned into much more than just tech-detox time. I don’t feel the need to grab my phone and check status updates all the time. I don’t feel the overpowering urge to Tweet every witty thing I say or hear.
Okay, that’s a lie. I still have that urge, but I know how to resist it now. Most of the time.
But seriously, if you take just those 90 minute each day and set your phone aside, you’ll be more present. You can talk to people without glancing around like a meth addict every three seconds. And if your experience is like mine, you’ll begin to leave your phone and your tablet in the other room when you get up to do something, when you run out for a quick errand around town, or go out to dinner with your friends.
All of which will lead to you feeling more connected, not less. You’ll feel closer to people and less distant. You’ll be less twitchy, frazzled, and anxious when you hear dings and beeps because you’ll no longer automatically expect the next crisis you have to put out to hit your inbox.
It’s hard to break away from ever-available technology, and I still totally love my phone, my laptop, my desktop, and my tablet. I love my social media and my blog.
But even with that in mind…I think breaking my phone might have made me a happier person overall.
After all those Trainspotting-esque withdrawals, of course.
So if you’re willing, give a few techless nights and mornings a whirl.
What have you got to lose?