Decreasing Device Dependence

Trainers aren’t perfect, either. Even working in a gym, we struggle in our own way. I have a long way to go in physical fitness, with goals that will hopefully keep me busy and improving for decades to come, but more urgently there are two bigger issues that I struggle with daily:

  1. Screen time
  2. Getting enough sleep

Let’s save the second one for a future post. For now, I’m focusing on my screen time.

Why?

I’m not even going to cite the studies about the effects of screen time on the human brain. I’m not going to share articles about people crashing their cars because they were scrolling Instagram. And I’m certainly not going to share memes mocking social gatherings where everyone is on their cell phone.

You know why I’m not going to do that? Because nobody cares. It’s like drinking alcohol, or watching TV, or eating fast food.

Even knowing the facts and making fun of each other’s phone addictions, most of us still indulge. An informal survey of EVERY DAMN CAR at EVERY STOPLIGHT EVER is all you need to see to understand. Standing in line also means bending your head forward to absorb the stream of empty-calorie digital stimulation. Culturally, we have accepted it.

There are laws all over the place to prevent people from texting while driving. Shops proclaim that they will not serve people who are actively on their phones while ordering. And my favorite is when a coffee shop or other third place refuses to offer Wi-Fi and instead posts signage reminding people to talk to each other.

Clever, but mostly impotent. I don’t think this is a wave we can stop, culturally. There’s just too much easy information, entertainment, and vague possibility of sexual stimulation to entirely prevent on a mass scale.

We’ve got a whole lot of unhappy, restless people out there. That’s how it’s been for a long time. Now they’ve all got a little device in their hands that can give them a little boost, just the slightest distraction from real life. And they can click it any time they want. That’s hard to beat.

The Individual Connection

…but, you can make a difference for your own life. With this or any other goal, you can be the one that breaks from the marching cattle. Want to eat better? Practice. Want to exercise more? Practice. Want to learn the flute? Get one, pick it up, and PRACTICE.

This is central to the Agatsu NC way. There is almost nothing that can’t be improved by just practicing it. You don’t get better at something by trying it once and being instantly good at it. You have to try and fail, repeatedly. You have to struggle. You have to be willing to suck at whatever you’re trying and keep coming back for more.

I don’t think talent is innate — I think it’s an eventual outcome of stubbornness. It’s a willingness to put yourself out there. Sure, there are some genetic and social advantages conveyed to the best of the best, but even they still had to put in some good hard work and PRACTICE. The cattle-minded person is always going to dismiss those advantaged people out of hand — but it’s not really about the other person, then. It’s about their own unwillingness to step up to the plate.

Me and My Phone

I don’t intend to sound judgmental. I don’t think doing these things makes anyone a bad/lesser person. I’m rambling so much here primarily to remind myself that these are things that I need to keep in mind in this particular journey on which I am embarking. I intend to master my desire to check my phone.

I got into coaching only around seven years ago or so. But from the moment I switched into this career it’s been a whirlwind. In my first year I was coaching boot camp classes of up to 30 people, managing a new gym, acquiring continuing ed credits constantly at weekend certifications, hardly sleeping, drinking too much, and generally encountering a lifestyle that I was woefully unprepared for. I made a ton of mistakes, both professional and personal, and allowed myself little time for joy or self-reflection.

In fact, almost all of my interests started to revolve around the desire to shut my brain up. And here was this little device in my hand with quick access to Facebook, Reddit, Spotify, and more that I could just click on and tune myself out. It was such a quick and easy way to ignore all my problems. And since I needed it for work email access as well as scheduling, I had an excuse to always keep it handy.

But even as I made improvements to my career, my diet (especially cutting down alcohol), and the people with which I surrounded myself — my phone checkiness remained pretty steady. It had cemented as a habit.

Setting a Baseline

There was no single moment that made me realize I need to fix this. Just a creeping awareness that all those people I saw texting in their cars, or with their heads bent when sitting across from their partner, parent, or friend on a nice day — they were me. I was doing it, too. I was saying it was something I needed to change in the same way as when a smoker says, “I should quit smoking” right as they’re taking a drag. Again.

As with any goal, I had to find a baseline first. My phone already came with an app called Digital Well-Being. This measures the basics of my daily usage. Here was my baseline of a Monday-Friday

Day 1

For the first day, I allowed myself to check as often as I wanted to. No limitations. If I wanted to pick up my phone, I did. This was the outcome.

Day 2

On the second day, the shame set in. I wasn’t restricting my usage at all, other than holding that feeling of shame up to the light a little.

Day 3

This was my first day of conscious change, making an effort to only pick up my phone when I had something productive that needed doing.

Days 4 and 5

Practice. I don’t like the idea of shame being a primary driver in any goal. Doing so gives it a dark pall. I would rather focus on what a practice gives me that is positive rather than merely preventing the negative.

On both of these days I was beginning to form goals for this little experiment. While I do think that reducing my tech exposure has inherent, general benefits, my coaching background has made me understand that real change comes from forging a personal connection with the desired habit change.

Goals

Here are my goals around device usage:

  1. Reduce daily device time to two hours or less.
  2. Read books instead of of my phone. Especially in the bathroom and before bed. (Both times that I tend to get sucked in to the phone too much.) I even have specific books in mind: The Elements of Style, Intellectual’s Devotional, and Stuff White People Like.
  3. Put down on paper the primary functions for which I should be using my phone. Those are:
    1. Calendar/scheduling clients
    2. Checking the weather
    3. Email
    4. Reading on my Kindle
    5. Taking notes
    6. Keeping tabs on the kids
    7. Texting my sweetheart

Basically, other than the Kindle, I want to remove my phone as a source of leisure. 

What I Hope to Get Back

I want more time to read, write, and exercise. These are things I complain about not getting enough of. When I’m not keeping my phone usage in check, I truly don’t have time — because the rest is filled with work, training, and family time. So, I’m going to siphon time away from the phone.

I want to reconnect with music by focusing on albums and not playlists.

I do not want to start or end my day with my phone anymore. It’s just not that important. And it’s a source of stress more than anything else.

Here Goes Nothin’

I actually think this is much harder than working out several times a week. Because the phone is right there, all the time. “They” have made it exceedingly easy to just reach for the mindless nightmare rectangle at any time.

[CRACKS KNUCKLES] And I want to beat it. Want to give it a try with me?

Resources

Honestly, there are so many resources available for this kind of thing it’s not even funny. Because it really is that big of a problem. What I think is most helpful is just getting an idea of what kinds of apps are out there and experimenting until you find a method that’s right for you.

I came across this article as I was writing the above post. It provides some great additional starting ideas.