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Hang Up for a Better Connection

Despite the plethora of technologies claiming to improve our lives, people are increasingly fragmented and overwhelmed. Learn how to find happiness by connecting less with technology and more with people. You can start by rethinking your phone use.

We have more technology than ever before, but also more depression, bullying and need for chiropractic care to treat the sore necks and backs we get from staring at a screen — especially that small screen on our smartphone. Amy Blankson, co-founder of GoodThink and a leading expert on the connection between happiness and technology, says technology is rightfully called the greatest disrupter of happiness in human history.

Blankson spoke to YPO members and spouses/partners about the levels of stress induced by being “always on.” One study she quoted indicates the mere presence of a smartphone decreases productivity and weakens the ability to connect with other people.

Despite this drawback, smartphones can be advantageous as well, if you make wise choices. Blankson offers five steps for understanding how to be mindful of your phone use, which can contribute to your happiness and achievement of what matters to you.

Know your statistics

Smartphones’ mobility makes them convenient to use on a regular basis — so convenient, in fact, it may be easy to lose track of how often you reach your phone. Blankson recommends downloading one of the several apps (such as RealizD) that track your phone usage: how often you unlock your phone, how long you are on and how long between instances of checking your phone. The average user unlocks the phone 150 times per day. If each interaction with the phone is just one minute, that adds up to 2.5 hours every day and 38 days (more than a month) per year. As Blankson points out, this is just picking up the phone — not necessarily doing anything productive with it.

Tap into your third prong

Examine your tendencies related to your phone use, then consider how you feel about those habits. Blankson uses the “third prong” analogy because it is, in the United States, the prong on the electrical plug responsible for grounding the current. She recommends giving thought to your guiding principles and beliefs that shape when, where, why and how you interact with all types of technology, including smartphones. This will help you understand what sort of user you want to be.

Set your intentions

Now that you have your usage goal, you can determine how to get there. Setting your usage intentions involves defining what you want your behaviors to be in the future.

To illustrate this, Blankson describes a screensaver a colleague designed for his phone that consists of a red arrow labeled “Away from my goals” and a green arrow labeled “Toward my goals.” Each time he picks up his phone, he considers whether his planned usage supports or undermines his goals. If the latter, he puts the phone down.

Blankson notes that some people find it helpful to write down their goals, such as “Use my phone as a tool, not an escape,” “Check email only three times a day,” “Do not turn on the phone at dinnertime,” or “Look people in the eye rather than at a screen.” In addition to writing them down, a Dominican University study recommends sharing those goals with a friend; 70 percent of the study participants who sent weekly progress updates to a friend reported successful achievement or progress toward a goal, as compared to 35 percent who did not write or share their goals.

Simplify

Like most people, you probably have some functions on your phone you rarely use or need. Simplify your life by getting rid of them. For example, turn off notifications, delete seldom-used apps, shut down social media feeds, or organize your apps so that only the apps you absolutely need or often use are on your first screen while others are on subsequent screens or in folders.

Set up ‘invisible fences’ for yourself

Blankson compares setting usage intentions and boundaries to invisible fence training we use for dogs, in which the pet receives a mild buzz when crossing the line. Ultimately, the fence no longer needs to be activated … The same is true of smartphone use. We can learn our own boundaries as well.

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