Americans check their phones 144 times a day: How you can break bad digital habits

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Smartphones, first introduced in 1992, have become an integral part of our everyday lives — from communicating with loved ones to managing our finances.

The frequent use of them and other tech devices can be draining and distracting and still, it is difficult for us to cut down. Americans check their phones 144 times a day on average, according to a 2023 survey by Reviews.org.

Constantly looking at your smartphone can negatively impact the depth of your conversations, Anastasia Dedyukhina, a digital wellbeing expert, tells CNBC Make It. This is true even if it’s just on a table nearby during a chat with a friend or colleague, according to a 2014 study.

“If I had my smartphone next to me, it would attract my attention, consciously or unconsciously,” Dedyukhina says.

“I would also keep thinking about it because for our minds, a smartphone and the sound of a smartphone is a highly attractive stimuli. So when I hear my phone ringing and make a notification, for my mind, it’s the same as if you were calling me by my name.”

Frequently switching between tasks can have consequences on your health, according to Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, who wrote a book about attention span and how to refocus when distracted. Shifting what you’re focusing on often can increase levels of stress, require more mental effort to complete tasks and cause feelings of frustration and time pressure, Mark told Fast Company in 2008.

Here are some tips for practicing digital mindfulness from Dedyukhina who ditched her smartphone for a year and half.

4 tips for digital mindfulness in a tech-driven world

“Rather than trying to limit the bad habit, I would very much encourage you to have more good habits,” Dedyukhina says.

These are a few healthy habits that she recommends adding to your routine:

  • Spend more time outdoors
  • Move your body often
  • Schedule time to hang out with your friends and family. It’s even better if you plan an activity to do together

Subconsciously you may wonder if you’re missing something

Perhaps one of the best ways you can be more mindful about your relationship with technology is by “removing gadgets out of your sight completely” during certain times of the day, Dedyukhina notes.

The simple practice of “not having your smartphone next to you when you’re working if you don’t need it” can help you to achieve more and increase your productivity, she says.

In a 2017 study of more than 500 undergraduate students, researchers randomly assigned participants to place their smartphones on their desk, in their pocket/bag or in a separate room as they completed cognitive capacity tests. Each group’s members were told to put their phones on silent to prevent any interrupting sounds during the experiment.

Participants who left their phones in a separate room while answering the questions scored the highest, and those who kept their phones on their desks scored the lowest.

“Remember, it’s a high priority, the phone, so subconsciously your mind is thinking, ‘What if I’m missing something? What if there is something interesting?'” Dedyukhina says.

“So in a way you’re not dedicating 100% of your energy to what you’re doing, whether you’re communicating with somebody, whether you’re learning or whether you’re working.”

In the end, it’s best to ask yourself what’s triggering you to reach for your phone so often in the first place.

“If I take away your smartphone, you’ll probably end up eating sugar or doing something else,” she says. “So the problem is not the smartphone right?”

“Just pause there before you make any action and ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this exactly?’ I won’t suggest that you forbid yourself to do anything. But I would suggest taking a five-second pause.”

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