“How are the plans coming along for my birthday?” my wife asked with the anticipation of a five-year-old.
“Great,” I replied.
“That’s all you have to say. You’re not going to give me any more than that?”
“No. Don’t worry, sweetheart, I have it all under control.”
With that comment, she gave me the I know you’re hiding something, but you don’t want to tell me to look.
I flashed a sly smile, kissed her, and returned to the safety of my office. As I closed the door, I checked my phone to see if anyone had responded to the group text. Nothing, not even the three dots indicating someone was typing. Ugh! I thought to myself.
Why hasn’t anyone responded? I mean, it had been a whole ten minutes, and I didn’t have a response. This had to be some kind of record for our friends.
Typically I need to place group texts on “hide alerts” to keep my sanity during the workday. It’s not uncommon to not check my phone for a short while only to return to see the number 38 or even 61 emanating the red notification bubble next to the text message app.
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Yet, here I was, having sent a group text about my wife’s birthday celebration less than a week away (yes, I had waited to the last minute, but that’s not the point of this story,) and I didn’t have a response from anyone. This was disconcerting, to say the least. Everyone loves my wife. She’s the life of the party, any party, and no one wanted to come?
Were they all too busy at work to respond? Did I piss everyone off at the last party? Were they planning a surprise? Had aliens abducted them all? Was this all part of a larger government conspiracy? Before I let my imagination run wild, I took a moment to consider what was happening to me. I’m very level-headed and don’t rattle easy, so why was this causing me such angst? I sat down to ponder the question-
Why am I so annoyed about not receiving a response to my text?
I sat still for a few minutes in thought and fought the urge to pick up my phone. After about five minutes of silence, the urge became so great that I turned my phone to “Do not disturb” and put it in my desk drawer. I vowed not to touch it until I had a rational answer to the question. This is not going to be easy, I told myself. Still, I was committed to figuring it out.
The longer I sat in silence, the more the urge to look at my phone diminished. After about fifteen minutes of stillness, I had my answer.
It was the phone.
The device that organized my day kept me connected to the world and provided instant information when needed had become my greatest enemy. It was my personal drug dealer, and It had me hooked. Whenever I needed a hit of the “feels good” brain chemical dopamine, all I had to do was pick up my phone. My hits didn’t come from a bottle, blunt, or pill. The ones I was receiving were far more direct. They came in digital format like email alerts, text message chimes, and social media notifications. Any one of these would go straight from my eyes and ears to the reward center of my brain, where they were instantly processed, leaving me craving more.
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“Technology is a dopamine stimulator… anything that causes dopamine to rise has, as its endpoint, addiction.” Robert Lustig, M.D., Author- The Hacking of the American Mind: The science behind the corporate takeover of our bodies and brains.
Each ding was the equivalent of a shot of morphine that made me feel special. The better I felt, the more I craved. It was a vicious cycle that any addict could understand. Any addict would also tell you that the addiction cycle is tough to break. A big step is always acknowledging the problem. Lucky for me, I was aware of the problem and had taken my first step towards recovery.
By realizing the phone was both the problem and the answer, I was able to work towards a viable solution.
Here are the 4 tips I used to stop getting annoyed about not receiving a response.
- Turn off all non-essential notifications. For me, this meant turning off everything except for calls and specific text messages. Yours may be slightly different but remember, just because it makes you feel good doesn’t make it essential. Be honest with yourself.
- Limit screen time each hour. Before my intervention, I would pick up my phone about twenty times per hour. This led to a lot of wasted time in my day. One minute would turn into ten or fifteen. After my revelation, I decided to give myself five mutes per hour only. Your number may be way less or substantially higher, so limit accordingly. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate, then tally up the number on an average day for yourself and then cut the number by at least 80%.
- Don’t touch your phone for the first hour of the day. I’ll be honest; this is the most difficult one. Start by ditching the alarm on your phone for a $10 alarm clock. Next, go through your morning routine without the need for your phone. If it’s a part of your morning routine, such as listening to music, then limit yourself to only your “essential” apps. This is what I did. My essential apps are gratitude, journal, notes, and the bible. All of these are part of my regular mornings. I am also able to use each one briefly without getting sucked in. Just remember, be honest. When you get sucked in you, give away your day, and it will be challenging to reign it back in.
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- Keep your phone out of your bedroom. This is akin to the last tip, and it equally important. Having your phone on your nightstand is the equivalent of keeping a bottle of your favorite alcohol there. It’s just far too tempting to take a hit. Move your charger to the kitchen or living room and place your phone on silent when leaving there every evening. For best results, don’t look at your phone for the last one to two hours before bed. This allows your brain to settle down from all the day’s stimulation, which will lead to a better night’s sleep.
Any one of these tips will start you on the road to recovery. They worked for me and can work for you too. Right about now, you may be saying to yourself; I’m not that bad. Or I don’t have a problem. Trust me. If you’re reading this, then the title caught your attention for one reason or another. That tells me you have a question or at least can do better.
You also may be wondering what happened with my wife’s birthday party. After my revelation, I pulled my phone out of the drawer. There were over 40 messages in the group text including responses, funny memes, and planning ideas. Everyone was super excited about the party. Guess I got all worked up for nothing. Worked up or not, I made some changes that have improved my life substantially.
Try them out for a week. You’ll be glad you did.