The Shocking Realization That Made Me Take A Hard Look At My Own Phone Habits

by Lisa Wyckoff
A mother and two children sitting on chairs and holding their phones at an airport
Jakob Helbig/Getty

“What you pay attention to is what your life becomes.”

I recently read this quote, and it really resonated with me. It made me think deeply about myself and my thoughts. What did I pay attention to in my life? My kids? Certainly! My husband? Of course! Myself? You bet! I was feeling pretty good about myself. I gave myself a little pat on the back. If your life becomes what you focus on, then I was doing pretty darn good! High Five!

Then, my daughter said something to me that pulled me out of my thoughts. I am not sure what she said, but I gave it some half-hearted attention along with a half-hearted response. Later, she said something else to me and I gave her another response that seemed appropriate to her question. Immediately she was upset with me. What did I do?! She continued to tell me that whatever I just said to her totally contradicted what I previously said to her. You know, the half-hearted answer I gave her while I was mentally high fiving myself for how much attention I pay to my family.

I looked at her and realized exactly what I was paying attention to. I realized I was praising myself for a quote that I found while scrolling through my Facebook feed. The same Facebook feed that I spent the last half hour scrolling through. At least I think it was a half hour, maybe it was an hour, who knows? Time flies while mindlessly scrolling through friend’s kid’s pictures, food pictures, pet pictures, inspirational quotes, recipes, political arguments, whatever.

Holy shit! What did I really pay attention to in my life? I looked at the “screen time” tracker I set up on my phone. The same tracker that I have to hit “ignore limit” when it informs me (daily) that I went over my self imposed time limit. Over the past seven days, my average screen time was 2 hours and 27 minutes per day. On average, I pick up my phone 90 times per day, 629 times per week. For 2 ½ hours every single day, I focus on my phone. Between the time that I get home from work and my kids go to bed is only about 4 ½ to 5 hours. I spend about half the time my family is together on my phone.

What you pay attention to is what your life becomes.

I decided to take it a step further. I looked at my daughter’s phone. I wanted to cry — over 5 hours per day on her phone. She receives over 2,000 notifications on her phone per day. This broke my heart. I don’t blame her. She’s a teenager. As she has told me hundreds of times, her life is on social media. It sounds awful to say that out loud (or put it in writing), but it is the truth of this generation. Whether they are online or not, they are still being pulled in. If I take her phone away, she still has people “talking to her” or “talking about her” on social media. If I make her delete certain apps (Snap Chat), then she is pulled out of 95% of her “social” connections. Agree or disagree, that doesn’t feel like the right answer. It doesn’t solve the problem.

Her screen time numbers made me question myself as a mom. If I weren’t on my phone so much, modeling this behavior, would she be on hers as much? Something has to change. I know what has to change, but I’m not sure how. How do you just quit something that is such a big part of your life? I know, I know. This isn’t Brokeback Mountain here. It’s a phone. But still, what you pay attention to is what your life becomes.

Funny how sometimes when something is weighing heavy on you, the answer finds a way of showing up. I came across an article by Kevin Roose in the New York Times where he talks about his phone addiction and how he “Unbroke My Brain.” The article addresses some simple ways to ditch the phone addiction.

1. Become aware of your phone habits.

When and why are you going on the phone? Pay attention to the different times and places that you seem to pull out your phone most often. What are you avoiding or what are you trying to fulfill?

2. Ask yourself three questions every time you pick up your phone.

Before you pick up the phone as yourself: “What for? Why now? What else?” Roose changed his screen saver to these three questions, to ensure he was not just mindlessly picking up his phone. In a nutshell, only use your phone for a specific purpose and know the reason behind the purpose.

3. Do not charge your phone in your bedroom.

If you need an alarm, buy an alarm. Studies have shown that people who do not charge their phones in their bedrooms are significantly happier than people who do.

4. Give it the Marie Kondo treatment and only keep the apps that spark joy.

This might be a hard one because I am sure we can all justify why social media brings us joy, especially for teens. But, maybe just cut down on the amount of social media apps. This might be a good negotiation tool to get your teens to buy-in.

5. Find activities to replace the phone habit.

Is there a new hobby you’ve wanted to pick up? Can’t find time to exercise? Well, here you go!

6. Trial separation.

Roose suggestions a 24-hour time period with no electronics. This is a hard one for me because technology does bring me joy. It kind of reminds me of booze. I know its not good for me, but it makes me happy. Everything in moderation, right? My suggestion to this one is to put the phone away and only have designated times (maybe four) that you are allowed to check it. Set a timer and make sure to check it for a set amount of time. Again, I think this is another way to possibly get teens to buy into the detox.

7. All of these suggestions seem doable.

At least I feel like they are a starting point. Technology is part of our lives, and it is not going away. We have to find a way to incorporate it into our lives without having it control our lives. These suggestions are a place to start.

I am going to present this idea to the rest of my family and hope everyone is as excited about our technology detox as I am. Although this conversation will have to wait until later; my husband is in the middle of a Game of Thrones marathon right now.

What you pay attention to is what your life becomes. High Five!