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Ditch your phone for family time

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Street wall art of a pair of young people walking while looking at their mobile phone screens. (Libreshot photo)

Dear Ella,

Last month, I received more than 1,000 photo proofs of my son’s bar mitzvah. In most of the candid photos where I appear, I’m looking down at my phone. I kept getting texts from my office about an important deal we were trying to close.  With the exception of dancing the hora in the beginning, I’m in none of the dance floor photos. The deal fell through and I will never get that moment back again.

Then, last Sunday, I had lunch with my cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. I love her dearly and she hasn’t been well. I thought we had a very nice lunch together, but that evening I received an email from her giving me an ultimatum. If we are ever to get together again, it would have to be without my cellphone. She said that our conversation was interrupted constantly by me taking calls and answering messages.

I hadn’t noticed, but obviously it’s time for me to admit I have a problem. I’m overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start.

Disconnect

 

Dear Disconnect,

The first step in any addiction is admitting you have a problem. Whether it’s a device, computer, cellphone, TV, Internet or gaming station, it’s hard to stop doing something that has been such a huge part of your routine.

It goes far beyond a habit. It has to do with connection, power, gratification. You have identified how this addiction has interfered with important life events and personal connections with people. I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll find this addiction has interfered with much more than that, including the example you’re setting for your kids, who watch and learn from your actions.

According to Statistics Canada, over 90 per cent of Canadians use some form of the Internet every single day. Only after age 65 does that daily usage begin to decrease. Even Apple’s new operating system comes with a built-in screen time feature where you can track and set how much time you spend on your devices, and Android phones have an app that does the same thing.

Put rules in place and stick to them. Since you use your phone for work, that makes work time use legitimate. However, you must set boundaries for yourself and stick to them if this is going to work.

When you go for lunch with a friend, leave the phone in the car. The world will not come to an end if you are offline for a couple of hours.

At night, leave your phone on the kitchen table, either turned off or on silent mode, far away from your bedroom. Turn off push notifications. Use that screen time feature or app to limit usage. Like other addictions, the fix for this behavioural dependency is behavioural modification. Not unlike needing a cigarette after a meal, checking your phone has become inseparable in your mind with specific associations. You know that ding or swoosh your phone makes when an email or text comes in? That sound triggers the reward centre in your brain and entices you to check that email or text instantly, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing.

Taking this one step further, look around and see how many still feel it’s OK to check that email while stopped at a red light. It’s not OK. Put your phone on do not disturb mode when you’re driving and you instantly remove that temptation.

You also have to let your work know that you do not have access to technology between certain hours. Be specific about when they can expect you to be connected and you will be less panicked.

Congratulations! You have decided to prioritize your life. With the new year just ahead, and business slowing down for the holidays, this is a great time to start.

Take back control. Prove to yourself and the people you love that your priorities are intact and non-negotiable.