When you hear the ding of a message on your phone, do you immediately get up to answer it?

Do you take your phone with you to the grocery, the neighbor’s house, the bathroom?

When you’re in a room full of people (in line at the DMV, doctor’s waiting rooms, any large gathering), is every neck tilted down staring into the glow of a screen?

A recent survey by Asurion showed that Americans are checking their smartphones 96 times per day on average. That equates to almost once every 10 minutes when you’re awake.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’ve become dangerously dependent on our devices. Studies have shown we’re now putting our phones on the same level of need as food and water. Let that sink in for a second. These mini-computers that didn’t exist 20 years ago are now a critical need like those that literally give us life.

Houston, I think we have a problem.

If you’re someone who knows you’re spending too much time connected, or you find yourself cringing when you see the weekly screen time report pop up, have you considered taking a break?

What might happen if we take a step back and let our minds wander instead of succumbing to constant distraction?

We might realize we don’t need these devices as much as we think, after all.

What are the Benefits of Unplugging From Technology?

Existing in a state of constant connection can cause us to miss out on the simple joys of day-to-day life.

I’ve seen people squander precious moments with family because they literally can’t help but check the latest on Instagram. Or others who are so overburdened by the weight of social media comparison that they can’t see the greatness of their own real life.

When you take a break from tech, you might find:

  • Lower stress – The need to be “on” all the time and answer your device 24/7 can significantly increase stress levels. Breaking away and powering down for a bit, while potentially more stressful at first, over time, can help to lower your stress response considerably.
  • Increased focus Studies have shown that even having a cell phone sitting on the table during a meal with a companion can funnel cognitive capacity away from the conversation at hand. If it’s causing damage to a simple conversation, imagine the disservice having your phone on your desk all day is doing for your work. Simply moving the phone outside your line of sight is enough to lessen the negative impacts.
  • Less jealousy and comparison – One of the most tragic elements of social media is that we are in a constant state of comparison. We used to speculate about life at the Jones’, but now we have a direct line into their lavish, albeit unnecessary, lifestyle. By taking time to be alone, you can focus more on the beautiful things you already have and less on those you want.

How Do You Disconnect?

We take our devices with us everywhere. If it’s not in your hand, it’s in your lap, on the table while you eat, or using Bluetooth to connect to your AirPods or car stereo. So I recognize that it’s easier said than done to pull back from our devices completely.

As with any other habit change, my recommendation is to start with a small, manageable step. Then, you can build on it as you get comfortable.

The reality is that most of us can spare 30 minutes to an hour of device-free time each day to be alone with our thoughts.  Go to your calendar right now and schedule a 30-minute meeting with yourself. Make that your device-free time.

Here are a few ideas for how to spend it.

  • Go for a walk.  This is one of the best things I do for my mental health.  A walk sans phone allows thinking freely and letting your mind run wild.  Use this time to daydream or take a chance to think through the work problem that’s been bothering you. Especially if you’re logic-focused all day, letting your mind wander can be critical to making breakthroughs on problems.
  • Go to the grocery store.  Many of us keep our grocery lists on apps, but once every few weeks, put your list on good old-fashioned pen and paper and head out to the store without your device.  Take the time to look at what you’re buying instead of burying your head in messages and worrying about everything else you need to do. You might realize a thing or two about the ingredients in your favorite purchase as a result. The other week I realized that most pickles have yellow food coloring! What?!
  • Read a book.  I could go on endlessly about the benefits of reading.  Not only can reading a fiction book increase your empathy towards others but learning something new is incredibly valuable for your brain. Heck, you might even be able to use this time to read one book a week!
  • Get to know your friends and family – It’s amazing how many people think proximity to another human translates to quality time. Look around the next time you’re out to eat and notice how many tables have one or all patrons independently looking at their devices and not speaking. How about starting a genuine conversation with a family member instead? Ask your mom about her childhood and her parents or grandparents you may not have gotten to know. Ask a sibling about their career aspirations. Go deep and long-form into conversations. I guarantee it will leave you feeling so much more fulfilled than asking how someone is and then proceeding to scroll through Instagram next to them for an hour.
  • Pick up a hobby or side hustle – I’m all about the hustle, but one of the commonly cited challenges is lack of time. Disconnecting from your device can provide much more time than you initially thought you had available. You can dive into a creative endeavor or make a little extra cash.

Once you’re into the habit of going 30 minutes or an hour a day without your phone, you might be ready for a bit more. Digital detox retreats are popping up all over the country where you can go to unwind completely and get back into your own head and out of your screens. But it’s just as easy to plan a multi-day detox at home.

Choose a weekend when you don’t have much going on. Power down your devices on Friday afternoon, agreeing not to turn them back on until Sunday. But be advised if you’re planning a multi-day device detox, you might need to notify family, friends, or work of alternate ways to get in touch. This is especially true if you’re a caregiver to a family member or your job requires high availability.

An Unplugging Challenge to You

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of why it’s essential to disconnect, I am issuing you a challenge.

For four of the next seven days, I challenge you to walk for 20 minutes without your phone.

Take your dog, neighbor, best friend, or mom; it doesn’t matter, but go out and walk device-free. The benefits are immense. And I think you might realize that your phone will be just where you left it when you return, and more often than not, the online world hasn’t burned down without you.

Once you do it, tell me how it felt in the comments!

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