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The Cell Phone Detox Experiment

Last year I decided to try an experiment – to detox from my cell phone. It had been on my mind for a long time and it was clear to me that I was completely unconscious of my phone usage. I would sometimes find myself checking my email on my phone while writing an email on my computer. Or grab my phone every 2 minutes, wondering why there were no updates on Instagram. I also found myself lying in bed in the morning, waiting for something to happen that would compel me to get up and I would just check my phone in circles as I tried to decide to get up.

But one day I had enough. I was feeling low, unfocused and out of touch with myself and what I wanted to get done in my day-to-day life. So, I decided to experiment for 33 days and set up the following rules:

  • No cell phone checking in the morning until I was ready to start my day. I could check for messages and calls, but no email, social media or other apps. This sometimes meant going for a walk first in the morning and taking a shower before checking my phone.
  • Leaving my phone in another room – with ringer on so I could still be reached
  • Allowing myself to check my phone on the top of the hour only.
  • No cell phone checking as the last thing before I went to bed.

Here is what I found:

  • The first days were hard, but only because my cell phone habits were so ingrained that I would unconsciously check my phone all the time. This meant I had to focus to keep my commitment, and keep my phone away from where I was sitting to change my habits.
  • It took a surprisingly short time to experience differences. I started to feel more calm overall, and treasuring my morning walks on a whole new level. I started to feel a sense of belonging in my neighborhood, even if I didn’t meet anyone in the early morning. Before I walked to avoid feeling a certain way, and now I felt like I was getting filled up.
  • I also started to read again. I had time for this now. It was astonishing to me how much time I had in my day when I freed up my right hand and my eyeballs.
  • But perhaps the most significant change I experienced was that I started to feel empowered and inspired again in a way that I hadn’t felt since before cell phones. I started to have new ideas more often, and I experienced a greater sense of faith and trust in my life. I was more present with people around me, not just because the phone wasn’t there, but because my impulse to check my phone, and the corresponding “I wonder if there is a new message/post/email” thought pattern no longer dominated my mind.

When my 33 days were over, I maintained my new habits for quite a while, but at some point, some old habits started to creep back in, such as, “I’ll just check Instagram this morning. It’s Sunday – what is the harm?” Well, the “harm” was that it only took once to go into a slippery slope and find myself back at my old normal. To me this has meant re-starting my 33-day experiment several times – and that is OK. My awareness of imbalance comes faster now, and one part of my experiment seems to have become a permanent installment: I don’t check my phone when I wake up, aside from hitting the snooze button.

If you are considering doing a detox like this, here are some suggestions that may help you:

  • Come up with a plan that works for you – take a moment and see what ideas come forward for you. Is it to get a regular alarm clock and keeping the cell phone out of the bedroom? Or, keeping your phone on silent? You will know what works for you.
  • Course-correct: if you find yourself “slipping up” several days in a row, consider modifying your plan. Often when we don’t seem to be able to follow through it is not because we are bad or lack discipline. It’s because we have chosen the wrong parameters.
  • Consider a week plan and a weekend plan, or something different. I did 33 days in a row, but you may choose another length of time. A week? 10 days? A year?
  • Make it a game and have fun with it!
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