As well as your mobile phone, why not take a bottle of vodka up to bed?

I just saw a Tesco TV advert where the key message was, “your phone is more than just your phone, it’s kind of your life”. I couldn’t agree less. My view is that mobile phones are the devil. Shame on you Tesco!

When you idly check your phone without purpose whilst with friends, it sends just one message to the people you’re with. The prospect of what might be on here, is more interesting than the time I’m spending with you right now. It’s just rude. In fact, it’s bordering on rude when people choose for their phone to occupy a spot at the table or bar rather than staying in their bag or pocket (allowances made for new parents and similar). It’s no better than getting out a book and reading a few pages but somehow it’s more socially acceptable.

If you know the people you’re with less well, the case regularly at TableCrowd, the message it sends is that you’re bored or not engaged. When you do finally put your phone down, you should know that it’s harder for the people you’re with to then engage with you, after you have delivered this silent message to them through your choice of actions.

Checking your phone when you’re with people kills conversation. You get lost for those seconds or minutes in your device and the moment moves on without you, leaving behind a negative message about how you value the people you’re with and their time.

Extend this to listening to a speaker at an event and tapping away on WhatsApp. The speaker is doing her thing after hours of preparation, wearing her heart on her sleeve – and instead of faces and eyes, she’s presented with tops of heads. Maybe you’re taking notes, maybe your bored, maybe you think the speaker should be more engaging, maybe you wish it was Friday already or maybe you should mind your manners.

I secretly love a TableCrowd dining room that has no phone reception and bad Wi-Fi.

 

It’s not me, it’s the dopamine

The anticipation of what might be waiting behind those shiny icons on our phone releases dopamine, which makes us feel good. And the anticipation is usually the best part. The reality is that the waiting message or Facebook comment is rarely that exciting – causing a dopamine plunge rather than a hit. But strangely we live on in hope that next time what we find will meet our expectations, which keeps us coming back. It’s an infinite dopamine loop – an addiction – and it drives us to check our phones a lot. Every 15 minutes so the stats say, although I think that’s an under estimation.

In case you didn’t know, dopamine is also the chemical that drives alcohol and drug addiction. As the dopamine levels in your brain increase, you are being tricked into thinking the action – having another drink, taking cocaine, [checking your phone] – is making you feel great.

We are now almost constantly engaged with technology. The outcomes? The research says it affects our mental wellbeing, our ability to concentrate and our social skills. We joke about goldfish, but now it’s us, you have just 1.7 seconds to get someone’s attention on a webpage. Shout out to all the hardworking web designers and advertisers; they have their work cut out. And we’re worse socially than ever. Have you ever found yourself hoping that the self-serve supermarket checkout will free up before the real person, to avoid the need for interaction?

 

Doing nothing is good and we’re really bad at it

Most of us are really bad at doing nothing. We fill every second with an activity. And phone checking is an on-tap time filler. If you’re on a bus, in a cab or sitting at home, what’s up with doing nothing at all for that period, rather than desperately flitting between icons on your phone on the hunt for something interesting that probably isn’t there?

Concurrently, there’s a surge in use of apps like Headspace, heightened awareness around mindfulness and a general acceptance that including meditation in your daily routine is great for wellness. But why not try to achieve this to some extent in our daily lives, rather than as a separate activity? It’s smart for the non-exercise lover to incorporate exercise naturally in their day (taking the stairs, walking to work or similar) rather than unrealistically planning to be sweating in the gym three times a week. Applying the same logic to your mind, you could try putting your phone down more often to look after it’s wellbeing. When walking between meetings or taking your journey home, leave it in your bag. It’s that simple. Give your brain a rest and a chance to be with its own thoughts [meditation for beginners] – and notice the people, places and activities around you [mindfulness 1.0].

Be one of the minority that doesn’t go everywhere with their phone tightly grasped in their hand, glancing at it every few moments, seemingly fearful of even 30 seconds away from it. A side benefit of course, is that it’s one less meandering phone zombie pedestrian for me to avoid when I’m cycling about town!

 

Forced separation

I visited Cuba last year where there’s no mobile data – and for days or weeks at a time absolutely no phone reception either. To be connected required finding the sole place in town that was supplied Wi-Fi by the monopoly Government provider – usually a park or a hotel – and then searching for the kiosk that sold the access cards. Of course, the two would rarely be near each other and the kiosk opening hours would be limited and irregular (not that I didn’t enjoy doing business with a black-market Wi-Fi dealer). In short, getting online was very tricky. Once you were online, the experience was restricted, not all websites were available and if you used an internet café, staples like Gmail were not allowed (Cuba and the US are not great pals).

What did this mean for the experience? It meant that when we sat down for dinner, phones were nowhere to be seen, as there was usually no point even turning them on (it also meant we got lost a lot without maps but that’s a separate story). All conversation was unaided by phones, which did, I’m ashamed to say, feel foreign at the start but in no time at all, it felt much better than the UK norm. More time for our own thoughts and conversation, not those driven by friends (or more often strangers) somewhere else in the world.

This experience kick-started a big shift in my bad phone “habit” – and I haven’t looked back.

 

How you use your phone is just a habit. And bad habits should and can be changed

A few ideas. Try them for a week – or even a day! Baby steps.

> Understand that providers of apps are trying to get you addicted, as your addiction means their success. The colours and designs, the random dopamine “hits’ and the enticing notifications, are no accident. Turn off notifications and remove from your phone’s homepage the apps that always lure you in. Be in control of when you use them, rather than the other way around.

> Put your phone out of both reach and your field of vision. Try this when you’re at home and not working. Out of sight, out of mind? No, I don’t actually believe this, especially to start with. To start with, you’ll find yourself mindlessly reaching out to pick up off the sofa the phone that isn’t there. The fact you have to physically move to get it, means you’ll have to make a conscious choice about whether the thing you wanted to use it for actually warrants that action. It will need to be on silent of course, or the temptation will be vibrating or beeping at you from across the room!

> Don’t take your phone into your bedroom. I know, I know, it’s your alarm clock. Make a £2.99 investment and buy an alarm clock. Don’t fill your mind with other peoples’ worlds just at the time you need to be your most relaxed. Going to bed with just your own thoughts leads more easily to sleep. Set your phone to airplane mode or “do not disturb” way before lights out.

> Do your first and most important job of the day before you turn your phone on. This of course relies on having turned it off the night before – see above point. Tackle this job with a clear mind fresh from sleep, and undistracted by whatever may be waiting on your phone – work or social. When you do turn your phone on and the daily chaos ensues, you will have already done what you deemed most important for the day. Doing this is also likely to reveal that you won’t have missed anything material. Your social life won’t have collapsed, your business will still be operating, and your staff fine – you’ll quickly see that the productively benefits of being incommunicado for short periods well outweigh the risk of not finding out about something for a few hours after it has happened.

> Recreate the relaxed calm of weekend work anytime. When you work at the weekend, you progress through tasks in your own order and without interruption. You are your most productive. You can recreate this on any old Tuesday afternoon, simply by closing your emails and Slack and turning your phone to “do not disturb” for a few hours. Your phone is a tool for you to use effectively in your business and life; you should not be governed by it. Once you have decided your priorities and focus for the day, don’t let those choices be overridden by someone else’s priority list, i.e. what lands in your inbox. If it helps, compare in your mind the hours you’re not with-phone, to hours that you may spend in a meeting. During that meeting, you would feel it was ok for the phone to remain unchecked. There is no real difference.

> If you’re not in a position to respond to or deal with incoming emails, don’t check your inbox. Set your phone inbox so that emails only come in when you refresh, not as they are sent. Scrap that one last check before you go to bed. Fight the urge to take a look when the friend you’re having a drink with pops to the bathroom. The only outcome from doing either, is that your brain has more luggage to carry around until you can properly deal with what you read. Whatever it is, will still be there in the morning.

 

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

For me so far, it’s that someone who decided something was urgent, didn’t get an urgent reply for me. They got over it. If you don’t check your phone for a few hours or over the weekend, most likely nothing will happen.

Try it to see for yourself – and once you overcome the feelings of worry or guilt or separation anxiety, you’ll feel the benefits of the screen break. I’m pretty wild these days – sometimes I even leave the house without it.

You mind needs to be with its own thoughts sometimes – doing nothing is ok. Put your phone down – and certainly don’t take it to bed. Find a real person for that.

 

Before you banish your phone forever, why not book a dinner and join our members for some inspiring & meaningful conversation over food and drink >> Find out more

 

Kate Jackson

TableCrowd Founder

@katejacksonk

 

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