5 Science-Backed Ways to Break Your Phone Addiction

How long do you think the average work email goes unread? Ten minutes? Five minutes? One minute?


Try six seconds.


In reality, 70 percent of office emails are read within six seconds of arriving. Some might say that they’re not addicted to technology — they just enjoy it. But those same people probably say things like, “I wish I had more time to do the things I love.” The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

People average three hours a day on their phones. In the pre-smartphone era that number was just 18 minutes. And what happens when you ask young adults if they’d rather have a broken bone or a broken phone? There was a study conducted that asked people, mainly young adults, to make a decision: If you had to break a bone or break your phone what would you prefer? Forty-six percent of people would prefer to have a broken bone than a broken phone. But even for the 54 percent of people who say they’d prefer to have a broken phone, it wasn’t a snap decision. They agonized over it.

No doubt, Steve Jobs changed the world with the iPad. But what most people don’t know is that he wouldn’t let his children use one. As he told The New York Times in 2010, “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”

We live in an age of anxiety. And phones can soothe that anxiety. But they can also add to that anxiety. Some researchers refer to smartphones as “adult pacifiers.” We get cranky, bored, or distressed and the pacifier soothes us.


Okay, so what do we do about it? Here are a few tips from psychology we can use to get a handle on things…


When you don’t absolutely have to have your phone by your side, put it somewhere you can’t easily reach it.

Across the room is a good option. (France may be a better option but let’s keep it simple for now.) You can basically design the environment that you’re in to maximize your own well-being. There are two main ways to do this: one of them is to ensure that temptation is far away. So if there’s something that you keep doing obsessively, make sure that it’s not in your environment and you’re less likely to do it. This is a much more effective way of preventing yourself from using it than, for instance, keeping it nearby but trying to just suppress the desire to use it.

If you must have your phone close to you, turn off all non-essential notifications.

Turn off the “ding” sound when you get a text message so that instead of your phone saying, “Hey, check me now,” you decide when it’s time to check. You’re removing the control from the phone and you’re bringing it back to yourself.

Take the apps that are most addictive for you, and bury them in a folder on the fourth page.

The cycle: you check email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram… And by the time you’ve done all that, it’s time to check it all again. You may call this your “happy place.” Researchers call it a “ludic loop.” It’s what slot machines are designed to produce. The “ludic loop” is this idea that when you’re engaged in an addictive experience, like playing slot machines, you get into this lulled state of tranquility where you just keep doing the thing over and over again. It just becomes the comfortable state for you. You don’t stop until you’re shaken out of that state by something.

Switch out the bad habit for a good one.

When you sit on the couch, make sure the phone is far away and a book is within reach. So now you’re not just gritting your teeth trying to not check your phone. You’re substituting a good habit for the bad one. When you want to check your phone, you grab a book instead.

Focus on real-life human interactions.

Addiction is really about soothing a psychological ill and that’s true no matter what the addiction is. People who have a strong social support network, who have a very full life, tend not to develop addiction. So the long term solution is not about the phone. It’s about getting closer to that special someone and spending more time with them. And letting that bond soothe the worries you’re running to your phone for.


So if you’re reading this on your phone, text or email that person. Let them know you care. Set a time to see them. And then put the phone away.



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