Why Do I Check My Phone so Much?

In light of today’s article from the Wall Street Journal, Cellphone-Cancer Link Found in Government Study, I’ve come to question why exactly I spend so much time on my phone.

I don’t even have it that bad. I read a different article from The Washington Post a few days ago titled, 13, right now — This is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing, which put into perspective what I thought was my constant use of a phone. (Turns out I’m actually not that bad).

It seems like people are always looking at a screen. When they drive, when they go to bed,  when they are with their friends — sometimes I really don’t get it. But, I’m a part of it. This phone-mania has led me to question why I participate.

Half of the time I don’t have a notification to check but I still swipe right to unlock my iPhone. Why?

Because being on your phone is like playing the scratch-off lottery. Every time I check Instagram I’m playing the odds. “Who could have posted a new picture?” I might ask myself.

How social really is my social folder?
How social really is my social folder?

Swipe right. Unlock the phone. Open my aptly named “Social” folder. Tap Instagram. Pull down to refresh. Swipe down 3 times. Close the app. Lock the phone.

I do that at least 50 damn times a day. It’s the same process as buying a scratch-off lottery ticket.

Go to the store. Buy a ticket. Go back to the car. Take a picture and post to your Snapchat Story. Grab a quarter. Scratch the first section. Scratch a few more. Crumple the ticket. Throw away the trash.

I’m telling you, its the same exact thing. So what is the psychology behind my behavior? If I don’t care about the photos why do I check? Is it addiction? Is it obsession? Is it to avoid interacting with people around me?

Man, writing that down really makes it sound like I have a problem. But if everyone is doing it then I guess it can’t be so bad?

Addiction

I just did it again. I’m sitting here writing this article and I just picked up my phone and went to Instagram. This is incredibly painful to write.

What would happen if you tallied up the number of times you checked your phone in a single day? How high do you think the count would get? 100? 200? 500 unlocks?

I’ve been keeping track during this past hour and I’m already at 27. This is humbling.

So, am I addicted? Do I check my phone to get pleasure or satisfaction?

If the answer to that question was yes, that would qualify as addition. But for now, in this very moment I don’t think that’s the case, at least I hope not.

But reading the textbook definition of addiction is making me start to question my initial reaction.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

I can’t sit here and type this without admitting that as I read the first line I said, “oh shit” in my head. Can I “consistently abstain” from checking my phone? Give me a second, let me tweet that to my followers to ask.

So maybe I’m addicted — but everyone else is too. At least I’m not obsessed, right?

Obsession

I’ve managed to not open my phone for about 20 minutes now. I think it is because I am making a conscious effort not to. I put it on silent and that’s helping. This is difficult.

What alarms me the most about how I interact with my cell-phone is how numbing it is. When I unlock my iPhone I generally have no objective, I’m just unlocking it to unlock it.

I’ve never kept track of how many times a day I unlock my phone and then simply close it. (I’m honestly afraid to even try). But I’ve read a few articles that try and make sense of this nonsensical behavior. They tend to point back to obsession.

The main driver in these articles is FOMO (fear of missing out). I don’t think that’s why I open the Facebook app — I truly, genuinely don’t. But for many people, the anxiety and fear of missing something cool or important can drive their obsession to check their phone.

I’m not afraid of missing out on something from Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook — at least I don’t consciously think I am. Yet I still check constantly.

To be entirely honest, I’m afraid to look up the definition of obsession. I’m nervous that I’ll realize that I actually am obsessed. Here it goes anyway…

An obsession is the inability of a person to stop thinking about a particular topic or feeling a certain emotion without a high amount of anxiety. When obsessed, an individual continues the obsession in order to avoid the consequent anxiety.

I was right to be scared, but I don’t think I’m obsessed. I’m not checking my phone to quell anxiety, I’m simply checking it to check it. Maybe I am obsessed and I just don’t realize it.

It’s tough to argue that you aren’t obsessed when you justify your behavior with, “I’m simply checking it to check it”. Oh man.

Shielding

Section three of this article and I only took a 10 minute phone break before coming back to my desk. That’s good!! I checked Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Seriously, LinkedIn. What the hell am I doing??

I don’t need to look up a “definition” of shielding to know that I do it. I use my phone as an excuse to not interact with others way to often.

But this is where things get really scary yet unbelievably interesting.

I find it really odd that I behave in this way, that I shield myself from others. I am an outgoing, gregarious person. I’m not shy, I’m not that socially awkward, and I get along well with most people. Yet time and time again I find myself consumed with my phone’s screen, especially when surrounded by strangers.

Being inline at the grocery store comes to mind immediately. I can’t think of a moment when I am not on my phone while waiting for a cashier. Think of all the missed opportunities to meet interesting people. I shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, there are some really weird people there! Instead of interacting with those that surround me I’m on my phone.

Why do I do that? Why do I consciously avoid interacting with the people who are near me?

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I think I avoid real social interaction to instead concentrate on digital social interaction. Ugh, that was tough to write.

Why don’t I look up from my screen, crack a joke and potentially meet someone who can follow me on Instagram? I mean, grocery store lines are perfect opportunities to increase the number of likes you get on your photos, all you have to do is look up from your phone!

But really, I do this. And I see the people around me doing it too. Why are we so adverse to interacting in real life?

At this point, I think I shield because I’m so used to doing it. I concsiouly aim to portray myself as, “busy” or “important” by being on my phone. But in reality, I’m just like everyone else, sucked into my virtual world of Twitter streams and gym memes. It’s unhealthy.

What to Do

I think writing this was a good idea. I feel like typing out my thoughts has helped me better understand why I spend so much time on my phone. I almost feel healthier because of it.

I know there are countless articles online that recommend ways to ween yourself off of your cell-phone. I’ll take a look at those as my next step. In the meantime, I’ve got to go. I haven’t checked my phone in about 20 minutes — it’s time to see if anyone posted a new photo on Instagram.

How Important Is Sleep? (And Why You Should Get Better at It)

How many hours of sleep did you get last night? 6 hours? 7? Maybe 8?

Falling asleep is supposed to be easy. You lie down, your body temperature falls, and melatonin passes through your bloodstream. Before you know it you’re heart rate slows and you drift off to sleep.

That is the ideal, yet for many falling asleep is a tricky task.

Sleeping hasn’t always been so difficult. Have you ever taken a moment to think about how your great-great-great grandparents got their rest? Roger Ekirch, historian, and author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past found that our ancestors previously slept in four hour intervals, commonly waking up once during the night before going to sleep for a second time.

How then has sleeping — a fundamental “skill” all humans share — changed so much? And why has it become increasingly difficult? First, it helps to understand why we even do it in the first place.

Do We Need Sleep?

No one is definitively sure why animals sleep. But, research across the board has shown that your body is very busy while you rest.

The most compelling example of your body at work has to do with your brain. While you get your shut eye your brain rids itself of harmful toxins.

While asleep, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain increases dramatically. Why? To remove waste proteins that build up around brain cells during waking hours, a study of mice found.

Professor of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester, and author of the study published in ScienceMaiken Nedergaard says this process is, “like a dishwasher”.

Results from the study offer one of the best explanations for why animals need sleep. If the findings hold true for human beings they may help explain the connection between sleep disorders and brain diseases.

Regardless of what research literature you read you will find one common thread, sleep is overwhelmingly important.

Why Is Sleep so Difficult?

Many people proclaim that they would get more sleep if they could. College students pride themselves on “all-nighters” at the library and frequently confess to writing papers while they would rather be sleeping.

What then makes falling asleep infuriatingly challenging at times? Understanding sleep hygiene is a good place to start.

Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol all negatively impact sleep. The closer you get to bedtime, the further these things should be from you.

Exercise and regular mealtimes during the day will aid in your quest for a good nights rest. Eating too much or too late can make sleep elusive, while the opposite (eating too little) also has the effect.

Going to bed at different times every night will make sleep all the more difficult. Reducing variability in your nightly routine can help your body fall asleep easier. Rosalind Picard, the director of the Affective Computing Research Group at M.I.T.’s Media Lab and the co-director of the Advancing Wellbeing Initiative, found that sleep variability was one of the most important factors in determining how well someone slept. It is better to go to bed at a consistent time than to try to pull an all-nighter tonight and “catch up” tomorrow.

Yet, the most important aspect of sleep hygiene is exposure to light. The phone or computer screen you are reading this article from is emitting “blue light”. Blue light reaches deeper into your eye and is emitted on the short-wave spectrum. Blue light confuses your body. Don’t take my word for it, take Harvard’s.

Increasingly we are surrounded by these short-wave lights and that makes falling asleep incredibly difficult. Exposure to any light suppresses melatonin, but blue is especially damaging. When we spend time with a blue light emitting device we are essentially postponing our bodies signals to help us fall asleep.

How Much Do I Need?

Thomas Wehr, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study in the 1990’s about circadian rhythm.

The experiment called for a group of people to be immersed in darkness for 14 hours everyday for a month. It took weeks for the participants sleep schedules to regulate, but by week 4 they had settled into a very distinct pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.

Does that sound familiar? At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past exposed that our ancestors slept in this exact same pattern.

sleep-recommendationsThe National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep everyday. Among the general public the idea persists that we must sleep for eight consecutive hours, yet research and history suggests otherwise.

Most people have adapted well to the 8 hour sleep cycle. For some though, waking up in the middle of the night is a reality. The human body has a natural preference for segmented sleep and that can be a difficult pill to swallow.

Exposure to artificial blue lights and a preference to segmented sleep are at the root of sleep maintenance insomnia. Falling asleep can be difficult, but for many staying asleep is even more challenging.

Yet, the goal is still the same — most people need 8 hours of sleep.

Natural Sleep Aids

  • Exercise. There are too many benefits of exercise to possibly list them all here. A 2010 study found that one bout of moderate exercise helped insomnia patients fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
  • Temperature. Setting your thermostat a few degrees lower can drastically benefit your sleep. Recent research suggests that sleep may be more regulated by temperature than by light.
  • Sound. Quiet is key to a good nights rest, yet there may be something even better. Brain.fm offers AI-generated music to improve focus, relaxation & sleep. A recent research paper highlights how soothing sounds can aid your quest in a good nights rest.

How to Go to Sleep

  • Power down. 60 minutes before you want to fall asleep you need to stop looking at any blue-light screens. If you are determined to work later into the evening you should use a screen color adapter. Take a look at f.lux.
  • Have a regular sleep schedule. Your circadian rhythm is one big, natural schedule that your body follows. Find your routine and stick with it.

Final Thoughts

Sleep is key to optimal performance — everyone knows that. Yet, we still manage to find ways to trick ourselves into thinking, “one less hour of sleep is one more hour of productivity”. It isn’t.

Sleep is too important to be disregarded. Do your body a favor and get a little more shuteye, you owe it to yourself.

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The Power of Habits: Forming a Morning Routine

Doing the same thing every day is boring. Getting in a “morning routine” exacerbates this boredom, but with good reason.

What makes routines so powerful? Why are habits so important for success? Do you really need to do the same thing everyday to achieve more?

Think about all the stress associated with deciding what to eat for breakfast. If you could avoid that, would you have a more productive day?

Habits

Routines are formed around habits. Habits are specific decisions that you make, which over time become automatic — you no longer decide to do something, it just happens.

Habits are triggered by “cues”, which form “routines” that ultimately deliver a reward.

With that in mind, think about how powerful a concise morning routine can be. One habit in your routine may be to eat the same oatmeal at 6:30am each morning. Your cue for that habit could be the fact that it is 6:30am. You automatically know it is time to eat because the clock says so, that is your cue.

A slight side note… Cues are interesting and important. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” explains in-depth how to determine what cues trigger your habits. Compelling stuff.

Routines are constructed of habits which are formed by cues. Ultimately, your routine produces some sort of reward.

In our breakfast example your reward could be the fact that you are sticking to your diet, or rather that you do not have to stress about what you are going to eat every morning.

My morning routine

Beyond breakfast, my morning routine has multiple components. I follow this routine for one main reason… to not think. By doing the same thing every morning I avoid stress and accomplish many little tasks before my day really starts. As a result I save my mental capacity for later in the day, when surprises and stress are more frequent.

This is a typical Monday – Friday morning for me.

  • Wake up at 4:15am
  • Eat a similar high protein breakfast at 4:20am
  • Bathroom break…
  • Leave for the gym at 4:50am
  • Arrive at the gym by 5:05am
  • Do my weight or aerobic training (I even have a routine for this)
  • Leave the gym at 6:15am
  • Listen to Mike and Mike until 6:30am
  • Shower and shave completed by 6:50am
  • Respond to emails and browse Hacker News until 7:10am
  • Eat a small snack, read the newspaper and leave for work by 7:30am

In the first three hours of my day I have already completed a ton of small tasks. I eat, I exercise, I read, and I relax.

By the time I leave for work at 7:30am I have accomplished more than I ever did in a whole day a few years ago. This is an amazing feeling.

The scary component of this is that it just happens. All of these habits that make up this routine simply just “occur”. I don’t question it, I embrace it.

What is the reward I get from this? Some people would argue that my routine is more punishment than privilege. I would strongly suggest it is the latter.

Aside from the mental reward I get from being productive in the morning, I get the luxury of not having to stress, not having to worry, and not having to be rushed. I leave my house everyday for work with a positive mindset.

It is on the days where my routine is interrupted that I find myself flustered, unable to concentrate and less productive.

Forming a routine

Routines can occur organically. You probably already have a few that just seem to “happen”. But, thanks to the research of people like Charles Duhigg there are a few techniques you can employ to help form your own strategic routines.

Duhigg, and other professionals suggest planning specific, measurable, reward-able, and track-able (SMART) habits. A relatively recent Washington Post article does a good job outlining how this process works.

In addition to planning SMART habits you can make your routine public information. Sharing with other people your plans reinforces the chance that you stick to them. With goal setting this is a common practice, the same can apply to routines.

James Clear also did a fantastic job outlining the time it takes to form a new habit. I would suggest reading his article to further understand why it takes up to two months for habits to become automatic.

There are plenty of other resources on line that dive deeper into habit-forming. A 2012 Chicago Tribune article helped me understand that my morning routine (albeit strange) is actually a “blessing”. And, a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology (this study is referenced in the James Clear article) helped me better understand how long it takes for routines to become automatic.

Routines are boring, but their benefits far outweigh the taste of eating the same thing for breakfast five days a week.

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