If you’re ready to break up with your phone, this episode is for you!
Want to Break Up with Your Phone? Here’s How
In this conversation with award-winning science journalist, Catherine Price, you’ll get a practical and hands-on plan to break up and then make up with your phone.
Catherine breaks down the science of what’s really going on in our brains when it comes to phones, addictions, and habits. Then, we’ll talk about a plan and a mindset that will enable you to take a break and take control of your life.
Okay, be honest.
Is your phone the first thing you reach for in the morning and the last thing you touch before bed?
In this episode, we’re going to give you a practical and hands-on plan to break up and then make up with your phone.
The goal isn’t to get rid of your phone, it’s to create a long-term relationship that feels good.
You’re going to discover how phones and apps are designed to be addictive, and how the time we spend on them damages our ability to focus, think deeply, and form new memories.
And then we’ll talk about a plan for your settings, apps, and environment, and mindset that will enable you to take a break and take control of your life.
If you’re ready to break up with your phone, this episode is for you!
We are talking with award-winning journalist, Catherine Price, a science journalist, author, and speaker.
She helps individuals and organizations establish best practices to support their creativity, productivity, and mental health.
I invited Catherine on the show so she could break down the science of what’s really going on in our brains when it comes to phones, and addictions, and habits because I believe knowledge is power.
This is not about guilting you or shaming you or saying something is wrong with you if you’re looking at your phone all the time.
It’s about helping you understand why it’s happening so you can shift your mindset and create new habits.
Be sure to stay tuned until the end of this episode so you can (finally!) hear about my huge announcement!
I’m so excited for this episode and I invite you to take action, even if it’s just one thing, and then share it with me on social media (tag me @realfoodwholelife).
I know it might be counter to the message to jump on social media and share how you’re not being on social media, but I think when you share what’s working, it will inspire other people to listen to this episode and to take some action.
It’s not about getting rid of the phone or ditching social media, it’s just about finding healthy habits and mindset that helps us do it in a way that feels good.
On what led Catherine to Write How to Break Up With Your Phone:
A few things led Catherine to write How to Break Up With Your Phone.
One, she’s a science journalist by training so she likes to try to understand things from a deep level and then write about them.
And then another thing is that she has a background in mindfulness; she’s done training in Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and written a bunch about it.
So she tries to be pretty aware of what she’s doing and how it’s making her feel.
The thing that really catalyzed this, though, is that she had this moment when she realized her new baby was looking up at her as she was looking down at her phone, and once she actually noticed that, it made her feel sick to her stomach.
She really didn’t want her daughter to think what she was seeing was a human relationship and it was also not the way she wanted to experience motherhood or her own life
In other words, she didn’t want to just be staring down at her phone while life passed her by.
All those things together led her to want to write a book that would both look into the science of what our phones are doing to us but also provide concrete solutions and ideally solutions that came at the problem from a non-judgemental way, that gave people the ability to adapt the plan based on their own needs and wants.
Robyn hears from listeners about wanting to change, but feeling guilty every time they do, which isn’t what we’re looking for either.
Catherine comes at it from a perspective of not doubling down, when you start to feel bad because you’re feeling bad.
“I understand I’m feeling bad, I’m irritated at myself because I’m not sticking to what I said I wanted to do, but there’s no point in dwelling on that, that’s already happened. The question is what am I going to do now?”
On the process on getting into the science:
When Catherine started this whole process, there wasn’t a lot out there directly about phones, there was a lot more about the internet and how it could be changing us and our brains.
She started by reading everything she could that seemed applicable.
She searched for “smartphone addictions” in PubMed, she looked into books on habit change and technology, casting a wide net, reading everything she could and calling upon all these interviews she had done in the past around topics like positive psychology and habit change.
Catherine’s book is broken into two parts: the first half is looking at the science about what we know about how our phones are affecting us and how they’re designed to get us hooked, and the second half is a plan for what to do about it.
What Catherine was finding in all of her reading was that many of these books were interesting, but they didn’t tell you what you do, so you’d end up feeling depressed and anxious.
She also wanted to test her hypotheses and plan on other people, so she recruited a bunch of friends and strangers to go through different versions of the breakup so she could see what was working and what people were struggling with.
What really surprised Catherine was how deeply our phones are really affecting us.
Part of us knows that there’s something serious going on, but we don’t give it as much weight as we should.
The more she’s learned, the more she’s realized that this is a really big deal, and phones really are affecting us in more ways than many of us imagine.
Most surprising, is that the time we spend on our phones is literally changing our brains.
We’re spending an average of four hours a day on them, and if you do anything for four hours a day, you’re going to get pretty good at it.
On phone design and addiction:
Our phones are designed to actually get us to stay on them.
And in general, willpower is never a good way to change your habits, because you only have so much.
You really want to figure out a way for the new habit to be something you want to adopt.
A lot of apps, particularly social media apps, the news, email, dating games, etc. are all making money off of advertising.
Basically, any time an app is free, you should have warning bells going off in your mind.
If an app is free, and it’s profitable, then we can’t possibly be the customers for that app.
So we’re actually the product, and advertisers are the customers and our attention is what is being sold.
The more time we spend on an app, the more time it has to gather data on us, which it uses to show us targeted ads.
The way we get hooked is apps manipulate our brains’ biochemistry by getting us to release a chemical called dopamine.
Dopamine is our brains’ way of recording when something is worth doing again.
It helps us do things like remember to eat and reproduce, but it’s very easy to create a product that will hijack out dopamine systems by triggering the release of dopamine.
The dopamine triggers on your phones are very similar to slot machines, something that we know to be very addictive.
For example, your phone has bright colors, sounds, things that happen in response to something you do, novelty, anticipation (our brains actually release twice as much dopamine in anticipation for a reward than we do when we get the reward), and unpredictability.
Unpredictability is a big one because we’re more likely to keep doing something compulsively if we only sometimes get a positive reward.
We’re training ourselves to associate checking our phone with getting a reward, creating a dopamine loop.
Our apps and phones are also designed to trigger anxiety if we step away from them.
We tend to call that FOMO (the fear of missing out), but it’s actually a real thing where we’re so conditioned to think that checking our phone again and again is important to do and when we can’t, we get anxious and start to release stress hormones, including cortisol.
“These devices are designed and engineered to get us to stay on them for the maximum amount of time”.
When you know how things are working, you have the power to make choices for you, which is the whole point of this conversation.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an awareness thing.
The way data is collected about us can create ads tailored for us, but it can also lead to social media and news apps only showing information they believe to pertain to us, narrowing what we’re exposed to and choosing what our worldview will become.
On the breakup and habit change:
First up, breaking up with your phone does not mean dumping your phone.
The goal is to create a personalized relationship with your phone that feels good to you.
The first thing you have to do is change how you think about the problem.
The breakup starts with a technology triage to figure out where you are now and where you want to go.
The 4-week breakup:
1 | Figure out how much time you’re spending on your phone right now.
Catherine recommends trying Moment.
2 | Define what a healthy relationship would look like.
Keep the useful stuff, and decide what stuff makes you feel bad.
The goal is to change how you use those apps that make you feel bad.
This is when you might try to leave your phone out of the bedroom, but you need to have an alternative activity, like reading.
This habit loop is very well established, and if you have a replacement there, ready for your automatic reach, you don’t have to rely on willpower.
Treat it like an ongoing experiment with yourself, and if you slip-up it’s fine.
3 | Change your brain with attention building exercises.
Our phone in impacting our ability to concentrate, and it takes time and practice to get that back.
4 | Trial separation: take a full 24-hour break from your phone.
This just gives you some perspective about what it’s like to be without your phone.
For many people, it starts off anxious, but by the second day they feel like time has slowed down and a strange sense of calm, which seems to be pretty universal.
5 | Solidify these habits that you’ve experimented with.
Identify what worked for you, what you want to keep, what didn’t work for you.
This is your life, your relationship.
This is a chance to reflect and create tools to support these habits moving forward.
This 30-day break up is a huge accomplishment, but it’s really an ongoing challenge because you’re trying to sustain a healthy relationship with a device that’s designed to not have a healthy relationship.
You need to be forgiving of yourself and recognize that if you’re aiming for perfection you’re guaranteed to fail.
Gentle is the new perfect.
Every Friday, Catherine does a “tech check” to assess where she has slipped, where she is right now, and how she can reset.
She likes having her phone in black and white and she liked having Safari off of her phone, but sometimes she’ll have to put those things back in order to check email, and she may forget to undo it.
So she likes to use Friday mornings to reset, to get back to her baseline of where she wants it to be, and look at the days ahead to get a proactive sense of what she would like to do or accomplish.
On how this applies to all of us:
A lot of people in a traditional job may not feel like they have the flexibility to do this, or, if they’re an entrepreneur they feel like they need to be on Instagram because that’s how they promote their business.
But it’s not all or nothing.
You have to figure out where the line in between what you truly have to do and what you’re telling yourself you have to do, and then when you run into work-related “excuses” for what’s actually a deep-seated habit, it’s like looking for a coverup.
For Catherine, this is her email.
She tells herself that checking email is productivity.
Certainly, to a degree she needs to check her email, but the times when she’s not, when she steps away, are far more productive.
We need to think more critically: what is the actual purpose that you need to do this thing?
Does the frequency with which you do that activity actually match up to your requirements?
Maybe you are more limited in what you can do, but in most cases, we haven’t pushed up against that limit yet.
We all could be experimenting with trying to change those habits and see if you can still fulfill those obligations (or even do a better job of fulfilling those obligations by taking a step back and creating some better boundaries).
When you’re on particular apps that trigger these distractions, what are you doing while you’re on that app, and what are you telling yourself?
Ask yourself if that’s really true.
If you’re telling yourself you’re on social media to connect with family, is that what’s actually happening.
What reward are you actually after?
Is that feeling productive, not feeling lonely, not feeling so anxious?
What would potentially would be another, possibly more fulfilling way to achieve that result?
On tips for parents creating healthy relationships with devices?
This isn’t to make any parent feel guilty!
But it’s so important to figure out our own relationship with our phones.
What behaviors are we modeling?
Something Catherine suggests is letting your children get involved with your relationship.
Ask them about the way you use your phone and the way grown-ups use their phones in general, how does it make them feel when they see you on it?
Catherine has a friend who wrote The Art of Screen Time, who compares phones and kids to cars.
Eventually, your kid if going to drive, but you wouldn’t have your keys to your 7-year-old and send them out to the highway.
Tip: one idea for modeling a healthy device relationship is to have a charging station where all of the phones have to “sleep” for the night.
You can check your phone after it “goes to sleep”, but you have to go to it, it can’t come with you.
Make it a fun competition with a family-centered penalty.
On what Catherine is working on right now:
Catherine’s book has been out for a year now and she’s so excited about how much interest there has been.
Secondly, she just started something called Screen/Life Balance.
It’s going to morph into a whole collection of resources and online courses that people can use to work on specific aspects of their screen-life balance.
The book also has a website, at phonebreakup.com with lock screens and resources to support this habit and a phone breakup challenge.
She’s excited to have these online solutions that go beyond the book.
On what it really means to be healthy:
“To be kind to yourself and to have the goal of making sure when you spend your attention on something, it’s because you actually want to be doing so… Remember real life, put down your phone, put away your screens once in a while if not most of the while. And actually try to engage with real things and people that bring you joy”.
On my big announcement:
I’m so excited to finally share this with you!
I am bursting at the seams excited to tell you that I have signed a book deal with Penguin Random House, 10 Speed Press .
We’ve had some amazing 10 Speed Press authors on the show, including Catherine, and they make beautifully designed, information-packed books and I could not be more humbled and honored to have this opportunity.
I want to talk more about the process, how it came to be, what it’s like to write a book, and all the other things with you, and I’d love to do some special podcast episodes along the way and also invite you to be part of the launch team as that becomes a possibility and other really fun things related to this book.
The first place to go if you want to know anything going on with the book, opportunities to be involved with the launch, all of those things are right here, where you can be one of the first people to now what’s happening next.
I can’t spill too many details yet, but it is going to be a cook that goes so beautifully with this podcast, so if you love the podcast you’re going to love the book.
The basic bottom line of what the book is about is: mindset and habits for health and happiness.
I could go on about what this means to me and what I think it means about this movement and this community and how we’re changing the conversation about what it really means to be healthy.
Most of all, I want to thank you for being part of this, because without you there’s no book, no mission, and no message.
Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist, speaker and consultant whose work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O, The Oprah Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Parade, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Self, Medium, Health Magazine, and Outside, among others.
Her latest book, How to Break Up With Your Phone (Ten Speed Press, 2018) is devoted to helping people create healthier relationships with their digital devices. It’s being published in 26 countries and translated into 18 languages and has received attention from major media outlets around the world. Before that, she wrote VITAMANIA: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food (Penguin Press, 2015).
Catherine leads frequent talks and workshops to help people improve their relationships with their devices, and is also the founder of Screen/Life Balance, a movement dedicated to helping people scroll less and live more.
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