What? To leave my smartphone upstairs from morning till at least mid-afternoon for 5 days in a row.
Why? I’ve been feeling like the phone is a distraction from being in the moment with my kids. That it keeps part of me outside the room, focused on other things. I’ve written a bit more about that here. It’s a gentle digital detox, the idea being to see whether limiting my phone time frees up some mind space for me, and helps me to feel the importance of what’s going on in front of me. Lofty questions eh?
Results: Having the phone upstairs made me use it less. I felt more free and calmer around my kids when I broke that habit of automatically reaching for the phone in my downtime. It helped me to appreciate the apps that I enjoy using, and identify which are noise. I’m not getting rid of the smartphone any time soon. There are actually many aspects of it that I enjoy, but I will be leaving it upstairs more often, and using it with more awareness.
This was prompted by a blog post from David Cain over at Raptitude (a blog I love and which you should definitely read). He wrote recently about self-control and the idea of a ‘velvet rope’ approach (those velvet ropes being the ones that protect fine art in a museum):
“More and more, when it comes to getting away from unhealthy habits, I’m using a velvet rope approach instead of a more forceful, “barbed wire” approach. I place some sort of gentle, symbolic barrier between myself and the thing I want to stop doing, and often it’s enough to break the momentum of an unfolding poor choice.”
The barbed wire approach would be to throw out the iPhone altogether. But the ‘velvet ropes’ in this case is simply making it that bit more difficult to reach for the phone by leaving it upstairs.
Saturday morning. I look out the window and the ground is covered in snow.. or frozen hail.. a white covering of some sort. I realise I want to check the weather on my phone but why? I ALREADY KNOW WHAT THE WEATHER IS DOING.
I go downstairs WITHOUT the phone (I know it shouldn’t feel like a big deal, but there it is.. sigh.. who have I become?).
I want to take a photo of the snow but use my regular camera instead. I think of sharing it on my family WhatsApp group, but on reflection realise it’s not that impressive a snowfall anyway, and most of them are probably not even up yet anyway at 8 am on a Saturday.
I notice certain phone-related impulses. Like why do I need to have my phone in my hand when going to the bathroom?
I often listen to the radio on my phone, not having an old-style radio. Instead I listen to a news programme on my computer instead. It’s a more conscious decision to listen, and a turn it off again after half an hour when it begins to feel like background noise.
I allow myself to check the phone every hour or so, but limit it to checking calls and messages? I am not so in demand that I have missed any vital calls or messages, but I return the couple of calls that I have.
I go for a walk with baby and toddler. Instead of viewing the snow (now slush) covered river walk in terms of cute-photos-of-kids-for-dad-who-is-away, it’s refreshing to just walk. Toddler wants to take a picture of a wooden crocodile head someone has attached to a log in the river. My compulsion to photograph all sights of interest has rubbed off already on him.
On coming home I use the phone downstairs to read a recipe while preparing dinner for later, and I record a mini yoga video.. (It’s this thing that I do sometimes). I recognise and resist the urge to immediately post it to Instagram.
Overall it feels calmer, quieter to not have the phone around.
I’d fallen into the bad habit of having my phone beside me while I’m eating breakfast with my toddler. Without it, I find breakfast a more mindful experience, I really notice what I’m eating, the tastes and textures, and I can respond to him without feeling pulled away from anything except my own reverie.
The phone stays upstairs from getting up time until midday when it’s time to pick husband up from the train station.
Around lunchtime, I walk with baby in the carrier down the abandoned railway tracks. I take my phone in case I fall into a ditch or something and I take a few photos along the way. I’m aware that even as I take the photo, I’m thinking about sharing it to a social media platform. But I keep walking.
When I arrive home after the walk, I put baby down on his playmat, think about putting on the kettle for a cup of tea, and notice an automatic reaching in my mind for the phone. Instead I lie down beside baby and listen to his farting and grunting as he struggles on his belly, arms and legs lifting away from the ground as he tries to fly.
I write my morning pages (not actually in the morning…hats off to any mum of a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old who can find 20 minutes first thing in the morning for quiet writing). I think I would have been less inclined to do this if it weren’t for the gentle psychological barrier between me and my phone.
Most of the morning my phone is on or about my person. I’m out teaching a mum and baby yoga class and I use it to play music during class. Aside from that I’m not really paying attention to it. On the way back from yoga I pull it at a spot beside the sea for a few minutes while baby is sleeping, to look out at the sea, the hills, the sky. I take a photo and think about sharing it here on this blog.
I have some calls to make and callbacks to receive so phone is downstairs most of the day. I think of picking up the phone while taking a break over a cup of tea (while toddler takes the first daytime nap in a while!), but immediately ask myself what I want to check- realise that I don’t really want to be scrolling through the noise of Facebook – and so don’t bother with it.
I realise that the automatic reaching for the phone in a moment of downtime is less noticeable. I’m still using the phone for calls, messages to family, and the odd photo of the kids, but spending less and less time on social media platforms. Spending more time on this blog though, but in the evenings after kids are in bed, and it feels more satisfying anyway than scrolling through Instagram.
After a night being woken every couple of hours by baby, and then by toddler from 4am to 6am, I really wasn’t sticking to the experiment today. Instead toddler and I spent most of the day disagreeing.
I think he should put clothes on. He thinks he should eat raisins and dig up roads.
I think he should use the potty before we go out. He thinks he should wear a nappy on his head and watch endless episodes of Peppa Pig..
you get the picture.
Most of the morning I was out, getting much-needed social contact through one of the local parent and toddler groups. Coming back, I needed to make a few calls and return some messages so the phone ended up downstairs, but on the shelf in the hall instead of on me, or on the kitchen counter. Sitting down to dinner and with toddler content munching away, baby bouncing in his chair, I felt the urge to pick up the phone, but not to do anything specific. Once again it felt like this automatic response in a moment of downtime. Recognising that was what it was, I didn’t bother and munched away along with toddler, grinning at baby between bites.
What did I learn?
- Without a doubt having the phone upstairs made me it easier to, if not quite break, then at least to be very aware of, this automatic reaching for my phone in any moment of downtime. It made me question what I was reaching for, and allowed me to choose to get the phone to do things that needed doing- instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or checking emails multiple times in the hour. Mindful smartphone usage, if you will.
- It made me enjoy the time with my kids more when I didn’t feel like they were pulling me away from my phone (yup, I had that feeling before), and it made me enjoy the times I chose to take a few minutes to WhatsApp my family and friends, to have a look at my Instagram feed or to check the news headlines.
- It made me realise what apps on my phone are actually important to me. I love to take photos of kids for sending to friends and family. I enjoy making my little yoga videos for Instagram and connecting in particular with other mums of kids similar ages. Facebook is less important to me, I realised, and I think I’ll take the app off my phone and check in with it on my computer in future, in the evening most likely. I do like listening to the radio in mornings and have been using my phone for that, but maybe what I actually need is an actual radio. Oldschool.