★★★★★ (3220)
FREE download
Reduce screen time
4 min
Read Time.

The vicious cycle of phone addiction, or why it is so hard to put your phone down

Let me start off by asking you a simple question: What did you do today?

Maybe you spent time attending a hobby, productive work time or you just woke up and reading this article is your way to start your day.

Maybe, however, your answer will be something in the lines of “hmmm I don’t really know” or “I forgot about it”. If you really think of how you spent your last hours, did you let time pass by being on the phone and you forgot about what you did because you were not fully present in the moment?

Maybe you have some books on your shelf you cannot wait to read but still they’ve been collecting dust since weeks. Maybe there is this one project you wanted to start already for a long time, but you keep on forgetting about it. If this is the case, this article might bring some insights to you.

It might seem odd that you don’t accomplish these activities, because you clearly have enough motivation. It it then a matter of time? As actress Mia Maestro wisely said: ”If something is important to you, you will make time for it”. Of course, things like work, family or friends might be more important to you than this one activity you keep on postponing. However, does work, family and friends really take all the time of the day away from you?

Coming to the example of books waiting in the shelves in the beginning of the article, the not having time excuse is not really credible. Reading for an hour a day is already a great activity and not very time consuming. An average novel would take someone with an average reading speed five hours to read. So, if you read for one hour a day, you could easily read a book in a week! How much time do you spend on your phone daily? The average person spends five to six hours on their phones per day. So, the good news is: You don’t need to give up phone use completely to start a new activity, you only need to limit it!

But why is that so difficult? An answer to this question might lie in what psychologists call the vicious cycle of phone use. You might be imprisoned by your own inner discomforts and fears which lead you to continuously check your phone. And again, I have some good news for you: You can break this vicious cycle!

To break the cycle, you first need to understand how this vicious cycle works.

The vicious cycle is activated by a trigger. A trigger can be external or internal. An external trigger is anything that is happening in the outside world and grabs your attention. It might be a sudden loud noise in the room next to you, someone calling your name or simply seeing a rainbow. In phone use terms, an external trigger are things like an incoming phone call, a notification or the flashing of the display.

An internal trigger, on the other hand, is anything that is happening within you, so a thought. This might be thinking about your friend, what you are going to cook tonight or thinking about what you did last year. In phone use terms, an internal trigger might be wanting to text your crush, thinking that you need to see how many steps you walked today or feeling the need to check your emails.

Now that we looked at what triggers are, it is important to know what they do. This is because they actually have a very important role: They activate the vicious cycle of phone use. The vicious cycle consists of three things that the trigger can influence: Thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These three also influence each other.

Here is a little demonstration:

External trigger: You sit in the living room with your friends and talk about summer plans. Suddenly, your housemate Dominik is complaining about all the university work he has to do before summer.

This trigger leads to the thought of “I also have still a lot of university work to do but so little time”, this in turn will lead to the emotion of fear. You fear that you will fail your courses, because of the little time you have. Failing the courses would mean you have to study all summer and you have to cancel your summer plans. This will lead you to take your phone out of your pocket and to start mindless scrolling. You still scroll when your housemates are already gone again, and you realize that you only wasted more time. A vicious cycle is born.

Understanding how this vicious cycle works is the first step in fighting it.

Strategies on how it can be broken will follow in another article.

Maybe you already have an idea, how you can break the cycle?

And maybe next time you are asked what you did during the day, you will have an answer you are proud of.Trying to break the cycle is by no means easy but you will see quickly how worth it is and, as a side effect, the books in your shelfs will thank you :)

Authored by Luisa Greif for Zario


Thumbnail by Paola Galimberti:

Photo by Donald Wu:

Ready to take control of your screen time?

Prioritize your digital wellbeing with Zario, the app designed to help you reduce screen time and foster a healthier relationship with technology.

Download Zario Now