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How you can break free from the vicious cycle of phone use

In last week’s article "The Vicious Cycle of Phone Addiction" we looked into why the vicious cycle of phone use is keeping you from activities you want to do, even though you are highly motivated. In this article, we want to investigate strategies on how to break it. After reading this article, you can already start having a healthier relationship with your phone today!

The vicious cycle is activated by a trigger, which can be external or internal in nature. This trigger influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, which also influence each other, ultimately creating a vicious cycle. To break down the vicious cycle of phone use, we have to fight what provokes it: We have to fight the trigger preceding it.

Let me give you a little recap on how the trigger might start a vicious cycle. Imagine sitting in your student house living room and having an interesting talk about your summer plans with your housemates. Slowly the conversation topic switches and people start complaining about deadlines at university and all the exams coming up. This external trigger creates a thought within you: “I have two exams tomorrow and haven’t started studying for them at all”. This makes you feel the emotion of fear. To escape this unpleasant feeling, you grab your phone out of your pocket and start to scroll, not hearing what your housemates are talking about anymore. You end up mindlessly scrolling for another two hours, which only worsens your fear, since you wasted more time that you could have spent studying.

When looking into ways to break down triggers or to minimize the effects they have on us and our phone use, we need to differentiate between external and internal triggers. For both types of triggers, I will give you three strategies that you can start applying today.

Let us start with internal triggers, ergo triggers that are created within you (a thought):

The first idea is to look for the emotion preceding the distraction. You never mindlessly scroll for no reason at all. Most likely there is an emotion preceding this time-consuming behavior. You can think of one of the five basic emotions (fear, happiness, disgust, sadness and anger), or you can think of any other emotion, which we call secondary emotions. A secondary emotion that often serves as an internal trigger is boredom.

 A second idea is to write the internal trigger down. This gives you more insight on what you do and why you do it. You first need to understand your own behavior in order to change it.

The last idea is to be extra cautious during liminal moments. These are moments, in which you precede from one action to the next. For example, you might use your phone between having lunch and doing some university work.

So taking this together, we can limit the power internal triggers have on us by looking at the emotion preceding the trigger, writing it down and to be cautious in liminal moments.

When it comes to external triggers, there are also three steps that can be helpful in fighting them to not have such a big influence on us and how we use our time.

Step one is to take the phone with you less often. Of course, these days you need your phone for a lot of everyday activities. You might have your credit card connected to your phone, or you need to take your phone with you because it has your train ticket on it, but maybe you also just want to be connected to the friend you are meeting later in case something unexpected happens. But do you really need to take your phone when going to the supermarket, when you walk the dog or going on a hike with friends you haven't seen in a while?

Step two is to change the settings in your phone. There are a lot of things you can change within your settings, to make your phone less distracting. You can set it on mute, turn the black and white scale on or you can put the most distracting apps into one folder far away from your homescreen. Try it out and you will see an improvement in your phone use already today!

The last step is to be less dependent on your phone. You do not need to have your credit card on an app on your phone. Have you ever considered using an actual alarm clock instead of starting every day with the ringing of your phone? Or maybe write a friend living in another country a sweet letter instead of sending long voice messages, nobody has the patience to listen to. So, we can fight external triggers by taking the phone with you less often, by changing the settings in your phone and by being less dependent on it.

I hope in this article I was able to show you ways to be less trapped by internal and external triggers. Coming out of the vicious cycle of phone use is by no means easy or quickly made. It is, however, a life-changing and a decision worth making. If you already start fighting against triggers today, you will soon already find yourself using the excuse of not having time less often.

Authored by Luisa Greif for Zario



Photo by Sebastian Voortman:

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