UACES Facebook Mindful Media
skip to main content

Title Card Mindful Media

Mindful Media

by Brittney Schrick, PhD - May 11, 2023

It will come as no surprise that smart phones are causing problems for people. We spend too much time on them. They interfere with our ability to remember things. They shorten our attention spans. They make us less aware of our surroundings. They make us less likely to talk to the people around us.

We know all of this, and yet we keep on clicking and swiping. Why?

  1. Smart phones are designed to be addictive. They are engineered to persuade us to use them more and more. They respond to us, and they show us what they know we will come back to see more of. They learn our behaviors and remind us to do things when it’s past the time we normally do them. In other words, they nag us to pick them up.
  2. Smart phones use our brain chemistry to make us use them more. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that, among other things, makes us feel good. When we get new information or colorful images from our phones, our brains release the chemical and we get a little mood reward. After a while, we start to crave more rewards and we feel anxious when we don’t get them.

Author Catherine Price summarized the research around this topic in her book How to Break Up with Your Phone. She says, “Our lives are what we pay attention to,” so we should be more mindful when using our smart phones. This takes practice and requires us to short-circuit our own mind-LESS behaviors.

For example, do you ever catch yourself picking up your smart phone and then asking yourself, “Why did I even pick this up?” The real answer is that your brain (and the phone) has trained you to pick it up when you need a little boost of dopamine (remember our happy brain chemical?). The problem with that is that our moods really don’t get boosted. We usually find something that makes us anxious or annoyed or we waste time doing something like playing a game or scrolling social media when we could probably feel better doing something else entirely.

So what should we do?!

Instead, ask yourself three questions: What for? Why now? And What else?

“What for?” Why did I pick my phone up? Why did I open this app? Why am I staring at this screen? If your answer is some form of “I don’t know,” then put the phone down.

“Why now?” Why am I choosing this moment to pick up my phone? Am I bored? Did I just get a notification? Did I just see the phone sitting there and pick it up? Unless you have a clear answer about why you picked it up such as you are looking something up or checking an email, put the phone down and find something else to do.

“What else?” What else could I be doing if I wasn’t on my phone? What else would I be paying attention to if I didn’t have my eyes on my phone? What interactions am I missing because I’m looking at my phone? What activity might make me feel good right now?

The odds are good that you are missing out on important things when you have your attention on your phone.

  • Connection with people who are important to you.
  • Interactions with your pets.
  • Exploring nature.
  • Paying attention to your surroundings for your own safety.
  • Getting better quality sleep.
  • Paying attention to the food you put in your body.

There is so much we miss when we aren’t fully present in the moment. Smart phones are a great tool when used sparingly, but they can cause real problems for us when we become addicted to the brief boost we get when we turn them on.

Tone Down Your Smartphone

Consider some ways that you can minimize your smartphone use. This doesn’t mean you have to stop using it completely, but it’s a good bet that you could cut down on your phone time.

Out of sight, out of mind:

  • Try putting your phone on a charger as soon as you get home. If it is your main phone or line of communication, turn the ringer on so you can hear it in another room. Just like old times!
  • Leave your phone in the car when you go into a restaurant unless you absolutely need it. You can return calls or texts later. Be in the moment with your dinner partners.
  • Put your phone in a drawer or bag while you are at work.
  • Make a rule for kids and teens that phones need to be put away at a certain time and not used at meals.

Set a reminder on your lock screen:

  • Take a picture or make a digital image that says, “Our lives are what we pay attention to.”
  • Take a picture of your child holding a sign that says, “Play with me!” or “Let’s talk!”

There are a few wallpaper options you can save or screenshot at the bottom of this post. 

Be honest with yourself about your phone use:

  • Use a time-tracking app to let you know how much time you actually use your phone.
  • Set time limits for yourself on apps you know you use a lot like games or social media.
  • Pay attention to when you tend to use your phone the most and consider what you are missing.
  • Pay attention to how you feel when you put your phone down or resist picking it up. 

Our lives are what we pay attention to. Make sure you’re paying attention to the things that are truly most important.

For further reading, look for Catherine Price's book, How to Break Up with Your Phone