Why do I have you in my hand?

A guide to mindful smartphone use

  1. Become aware of the many moments you turn to your phone throughout the day. Too often, we pick up our devices simply out of habit. We don’t actually need to check our email, or make a phone call, but we reach for our phone unconsciously. As a first step, set the intention to notice each time you pick up your phone, simply know that you’re taking it.
  2. Ask why am I picking you up? If we don’t actually need to check our email, or make a phone call or look something up in particular, why do we turn to our phones so often? Could it be that we are bored, stressed, scared, lonely, restless or overwhelmed? As you bring awareness to the act of picking up your phone, ask yourself “Why am I picking up my phone? What am I looking for? What do I need?”This way, your phone becomes your mindfulness bell, reminding you to check in with yourself and your needs in the moment you intend to turn to the device. There are two situations that are helpful to get clear on:
  • If you realize that you have emotional needs, consider other strategies (e.g. nourishing behaviors you have identified this week) to take care of yourself. 
  • If you do realize that you need to communicate or obtain information, be determined on and intentional about what you are going to do with your phone. Too often, we start to check emails and half an hour down the road haven’t realized how many apps we have opened since that initial intention to check mails. Be clear on what you want to achieve by using the device and put it down as soon as this task is accomplished. Apps that monitor your phone use can be helpful reminders to disconnect when we spend more time on an app than we intended to (e.g. Space, Calm). 
  1. Minimalize and silence. To reduce the temptation of getting lost in virtual reality, you might want to consider decluttering your mobile screen:
  • Deleting all apps you haven’t used in the past six months; organizing the remaining apps in a few folders by topic so that your screen becomes a clean canvas; 
  • Disabling all (or almost all) notifications so that you don’t get disturbed nor tempted to immediately check when something pops up on your screen, thereby regaining power of your agenda to tend to things at your time and terms; 
  • Limiting screen time, to only being able to access apps during a time window that you have deliberately chosen; and
  • Putting your phone in silent mode and disabling vibration. 
  1. Don’t multitask. This one is easy and should be natural but how often do we reach for our phones to “quickly” check something or answerto someone while driving, walking, eating, being in a conversation etc.?Consequences may range from missing a moment of your life to loosing it and endangering others. If you decide you need to communicate or get information, stop whatever it is you’re doing and consciously and intentionally enter the space of virtual reality. Make the old proverb – that has deep meaning for modern times – your mantra: ‘When I walk, I walk, when I sleep, I sleep, when I eat, I eat.’
  2. Check your posture when using your phone. Is your neck straining? Are your shoulders tense or hunched over? It’s probably not a surprise that our posture while we use our devices can cause physical pain. But did you know your hunchback can also impact your state of mind? Amy Cuddy’s research indicates that the hunched-over, head-down postures we adopt when we use our phones make us feel small and powerless. By regularly checking your device-use pose, you may change it for a more upright and expansive posture, your body and mind will feel accordingly. 
  3. Check in with how you feel after using your phone. We often don’t realize the impact our device use has on us. When you put your phone down, take a deep breath and see what is present (thoughts, feelings, body sensations)? Without any judgment, simply notice how using your phone made you feel. You might find that 10 minutes of watching cat videos relaxes you. Or you might discover that 10 minutes on social media makes you restless. Through consciously registering how you feel, over time, this insight will help you to make more skillful choices about your tech use.