Are We Hardwiring Ourselves to Need Our Phones?

So one of my favorite things about the personal training sphere, is that I’m able to reach out and have some seriously good chats with clients, both during and after their sessions. Sometimes, these sessions act as a therapeutic release, sometimes it’s just to simply have a sounding board. I don’t remember what started this specific topic (maybe our mutual connection to our phones), but it was definitely one that I immediately went back into my car and jotted down some notes in order to write this blog.

So, what was it that we were talking about? It was the pure and simple fact that we are hardwired to reach for our phones. And not just that, but that we have wired ourselves to feel stress/anxiety/disappointment/frustration around using them.

What am I talking about?

Hardwired to our phones

Pavlov and his phones

I think that we can all agree that we’ve heard of Ivan Pavlov and his study on dog conditioning. You know the story. I ring a bell; the dog gets a treat. The dog learns that a bell ring means that he gets a treat and his mouth salivates. Soon, the dog is no longer salivating at the biscuit/treat, but at the sound of the bell. After this learned behavior, just ringing the bell could cause the salivation, with or without food present.

Let’s take this and apply it to human behavior. Your phone rings! You have a notification! People must like you! Now, how often do you find yourself checking your phone? Did you hear a ring? Do you sometimes just check to see if maybe you missed the ring because you were busy? Did you hear a phantom ring?

What we have done in regards to our phones, is conditioned ourselves to feel from the ring (or lack thereof) of our phones.

Let me put it another way. Here’s an example where I’ve conditioned myself. I send a text. I immediately sit and stare (and wait) at my phone, expecting a prompt answer. When I don’t get an immediate answer (and you can insert your own time frame here for “immediate”), I start a list of worst case scenarios.

Did he/she not like my text?

Is he/she mad at me?

Did I say something wrong?

Are they ignoring me?

Did I forget an important date?

Did I forget something?

Why aren’t they responding?

Something must be wrong!

Have you done this? This exact response is a result of conditioning. We are so well-connected in today’s world that a text means an immediate answer. My brain, when devoid of an immediate response, is searching through all of the likely reasons why I’m not getting a response. It’s trying to give me the response that my phone is not. Talk about stress-inducing!

It goes beyond that. As my client and I were discussing, I’ve also conditioned myself to certain ring tones. Each app on your phone, alert tone, or unique caller sound triggers a different feeling in you. Think, for example, when you’re out in public and you hear a generic iPhone ringtone. Maybe that’s the sound you use for your morning alarm. Do you jump and startle, reaching for your phone to see if you’re late for something? (Did you forget something? Did you have something scheduled? There goes your brain…) When you hear a specific ringtone, maybe for a boss or a best friend, do you immediately get a smile on your face? Or does your heart sink a little? All of these are learned behaviors! We’ve tricked ourselves into these little mini cortisol spikes!

I sat there in a bit of amazement, because, to be honest, I thought I had been quite clever. Different ringtones for different people meant that I could/should answer right away and certain sounds I could ignore. But, what I did, instead, was cause myself undue stress/anxiety!

How do we need our phones less?

Put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’

The quickest way to decondition ourselves from expecting a sound? Take that sound away. One of the handy settings on your iPhone allows for you to set ‘Do Not Disturb,’ which curbs all incoming texts, notifications, and sounds. This means that your phone remains dark all the time. The only way to see a notification? Check your phone (except some exceptions for emergencies, etc).

When you aren’t constantly expecting noisy apps or alerts to come through, you’ll find that you unnecessarily check your phone less.

Turn off as many push notifications as possible

Not ready to go cold turkey? Then consider going into your settings (Settings > Notifications) to turn off all Push Notifications. Do you really need email alerts popping up on your phone? A coupon app letting you know the latest sales? Each like on Instagram? Many of these notifications are useless, but you find yourself immediately reaching for your phone to check or clear these pesky alerts.

Make the bedroom a no-phone zone

I won’t lie. This one is hard for me (my phone is my alarm, after all). But I’m truly working on it! Make the bedroom a hard stop. Don’t mindlessly play on your phone moments before going to bed. In fact, studies have shown that the blue light from cell phones actually impacts our circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep. If you must, consider using some blue light glasses before bed.

Ask for help from Siri or Alexa

Voice activated speakers, such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, are great ways to use the connectivity and power of your phone without immediately reaching for your cell phone. By turning to these assistants, we're less likely to check our phones mindlessly.

What are some great ways that you use to stay off your phone? Leave them below!

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Are We Hardwiring Ourselves to Need Our Phones?

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