Part of my job as a psychotherapist is to examine behavior patterns to determine whether they enhance or disrupt the patient’s everyday functioning. Over the past few years I have been observing a pattern among peers and patients alike that is reaching clinical significance. It seems our use of smart phones is at the tipping point where an adaptive tool is now becoming a maladaptive compulsion.
We have become people who behave like a Pavlovian dogs. We hear the ping or vibration of our phone and we want to check it immediately, regardless of what we are doing. If we checked any other object as much as we checked our phones, we would surely be diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Let me give you a few examples of what this compulsion looks like:
- Those with this compulsion often check their phones within the first five minutes of waking up.
- They review information posted by others via social media to see what they missed while the slept.
- They check their texts or email inbox (which is nothing but a convenient organizing system for other people’s demands) before they check in with themselves about what they want to get out of the day.
- They fill any moment of waiting with their phones, whether with checking or playing a game to numb out.
- They feel super-busy but waste hours a day, accomplishing nothing but reacting to everything that is displayed on the screen.
Does any of that sound familiar?
It is no surprise that feelings of overwhelm and disconnection are quickly becoming the norm.
We feel frazzled but instead of using the moment to take a breath, we fill it with checking. We are driven to distraction more than we are driven by our own dreams. We become spectators of others’ lives without being present to what is right in front of us.
When we give in to digital distractions, we lose the present. And without the present, we have nothing.
- If you’re not present when you are eating your never feel full.
- If you’re not present with your loved ones you miss the opportunity for real connection.
- If you are not present to your surroundings, you miss the opportunity to see beauty in everyday things.
- If you are not present in difficult moments, you cannot learn what they are there to teach you.
So what do we do about this?
To paraphrase Ice Cube, You Better Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself.
Life is not meant to be lived in perpetual stimulation. It is not meant to be an accumulation of hectic days leading up to “someday” when you can finally rest or enjoy. Life is meant to be lived with full engagement right now.
We need to acknowledge that the constant and mindless checking is counter-productive to achieving the feelings of happiness we all want. I’m not saying you need to go on a full digital detox. I am simply suggesting that you need to put some distance between you and your phone for your own well being.