A recent study estimates Americans now spend nearly five hours a day on their phones. That’s seventy-six days a year – roughly a third of our waking lives – glued to a glowing box. Research also shows that we’re likely to underestimate our phone usage by nearly 50%! Now that’s scary stuff.
At the horse ranch in Mexico, I truly lived in the moment, without any notion of time. Most of the time, I didn’t even know where my phone was, or the battery was dead. In any case, I had no use for it there other than occasionally messaging family and friends to share some cute farm animal pictures. We woke up and went to bed with the sun and the moon, or whenever we felt tired.
As I broke all my habits and spent time in a foreign country performing new tasks, I realized how many of my daily gestures and activities were habitual. We humans spend most of our existence on autopilot with no awareness whatsoever of what the hell we’re doing when we’re doing it. Back in Belgium, I am now hyper aware of each time that hand of mine reaches for the phone to start scrolling… and I stop in my tracks, asking myself whether what I am about to do is going to be of any benefit to me (eg. scroll through my feed or look at instagram pictures, only to wake up 15 minutes later thinking « what was it I actually wanted to do again?”).
See for yourself. Next time you go through your bedtime routine of cleaning your face and brushing your teeth, take a moment to notice how every gesture you perform is automatic. You don’t think about it. Why do you do it the way you do? Because it’s the way you’ve always done it. Once your dentist asks you to change the way you brush your teeth, you’ll experience breaking a well engrained daily habit. And it’s weird!
Back In Belgium, at my parents-in-law’s place, I realize the magnetic power of television. It sucks you right in, making you want to stare at that screen and go braindead for hours at a time. Yes, braindead. I mean honestly, it’s incredibly hard to find interesting and educational programs. Most of them are either stressful scary news, violent criminal series, or shallow stupid programs we somehow still manage to get addicted to.
I now really do my best to limit screen time. If I’ve completed my daily to-do list and feel good about myself I allow myself to zombie out in front of the TV for an hour in the evening. During the day, I answer calls and messages on my phone – other than that, (almost) no more time-consuming scrolling action. As for the computer, I use it to work. Period. The rest of my time I am really now looking to spend outside or behind a book.
Opportunity cost is no joke. Every time you say yes to your screens, you say no to something else. Check out this calculation: today’s unconscious cost of spending 30 minutes a day fooling around on your phone/social media amounts to 182,5 hours / year or 22 full 8-hour workdays during which you haven’t been advancing your personal goals. Instead, you could have toned that butt of yours, learned how to speak a new language, or created that website you’ve been thinking about.
Think about it. Create before you consume.