I don’t have a drug habit. I like a beer or two, but I’m not an alcoholic. I have the occasional punt, but I don’t have an issue with gambling. Pepsi-Max, surfing, chocolate, golf and football all feed my addiction. I’m addicted to the promise of something good happening and the chemical that controls that promise, is dopamine. It’s our “drive to thrive” hormone.
As a caveman, dopamine kept us focused on what was needed for survival. Dopamine helped us hunt, gather and concentrate on the things we required. Dopamine is essential for health and well-being. A lack of dopamine has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, ADHD and depression. We need dopamine, the problem is we like it too much, and that’s where our addictions start. Some is good; more isn’t necessarily better.
What is my (and probably your) biggest source of dopamine? In the last few years, it’s definitely my phone. I hate to admit it, but I am constantly wasting time staring at that little screen looking for the promise of something good. Every bing, ring and buzz is a reminder that there is something (possibly) wonderful waiting for us to look at. Usually, the bing is just a business email or a txt from a friend. Other times, they may just show mildly amusing video of a cat or someone’s dinner that they felt the urge to photograph (why, people, why do this, just eat it). No matter what the reason, important or not, our brains release dopamine to tell us to take notice, something good is coming… maybe.
Smartphones are Dopamine-dispensers. Phones are great, they connect you with love ones, they have endless amounts of entertaining content, and they help us know what’s going on in the world. They promise the chance of something really good; the only problem is that they often don’t deliver on the really good promise.
We have heard a lot recently, about people being addicted to their mobile phones. This is all because of dopamine. Food, sex, booze and drugs all stimulate dopamine but so can stamp collecting, porn and crochet. Anything that you get joy from utilises dopamine. But phones have become the most convenient way to dispense this essential neurotransmitter. With smartphones in our hand, it becomes less necessary to look for other drives to thrive.
In times of stress, when we feel uncomfortable, we look for something that will make us feel better. Dopamine may not be a feel-good chemical, but it tells us something good is coming and to take notice.
So, what do we do to try and decrease our dependence on our phones? Here are my top 5 ways to detox from your phone:
1. Never, I repeat, NEVER sleep with the phone in your bedroom. Leave it to charge in the kitchen. 68% of workers check their work email before 8 am, and half of them do it while in bed.
2. Turn off notifications. The bing, ring and buzz are our dopamine triggers, turn off the notifications on email and social media. You can then get into the habit of checking it at your leisure or at specific times that suit you.
3. Leave it at home. If going out with friends, leave it at home. Pulling your phone out while dining with friends is telling them that “my phone is more important than you”. If you need it to get an Uber, turn it off when you get there.
4. Put it in the back seat of the car. Using your phone while driving is a factor in 25% of all car accidents. That’s more than drink driving, and we wouldn’t do that.
5. Don’t touch it after 6 pm.We all need to sharpen the saw and relax after a big day. Spending all evening updating your social media is not the best way to recharge your batteries.
In the book, stress Teflon, we talk a lot about mind awareness and understanding “what am I thinking? Why am I thinking it?” and “is it helping?”. Perhaps we could do the same with our phone usage. Why am I reaching for it all the time? Is it to feel important? Is it because I’m not stimulated with what I’m doing? Or is it because I want to feel connected with the people in my tribe?
It’s a strange irony that phones connect people yet we so often see groups of friends sitting together in a cafe, all on the phones.
I have a mission for you:
Be the type of person who makes people forget to check their phone.
Be present, be engaged, be fully involved with the people you are with. When you do this, you don’t need to chase the possibility of something good happening. Something good will already be happening.
P.S. I checked my phone 27 times while writing this article. I need help, and I’m not alone.