Are you minding your mind or is your mobile messing with it?

If you have to check your mobile every few minutes, even if no-one is ringing you, then you have a problem, and that is that probably Facebook or some other social media is running your life.

I know that because a while back a friend stayed for the day.  My mobile rang once (yes, nobody loves me), while hers beeped every five minutes, not with a genuine phone call, but with some notification from Facebook.  Of course she had to check her mobile after each beep.

I found it quite irritating, and I am sure it reduced her IQ by quite a few points by distracting her from whatever she was trying to concentrate on – our conversation or just life in general.

We have a few “spare” minutes. so we scroll around to see what Prince Harry is up to, or check the news to see which narcissistic world leader is trying to inch ahead in the media stakes, or chase up some other spurious information, all of which leaves us feeling unsatisfied and with a lot of time wasted.

More importantly our minds have been hijacked from any purposeful intentions, plans or thoughts  we may have chosen instead of reacting to that mobile

A small research study has shown that having a five day break from Facebook reduced the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.  But the participants in the study didn’t feel less stressed, presumably because a large chunk of their lives was missing.

We are now at a point that if we can’t access our mobiles, and particularly Facebook, our minds don’t quite know what to do with all the spare time we have, so we feel cut off  from our friends and uneasy, and that seems stressful.

It would have been interesting to see if researchers had deprived their participants of their mobiles for a longer period, whether their cortisol levels would have risen with any ‘separation anxiety” from Facebook.

The cost of handing over your mind

Research has shown that even though people may feel “connected” when on Facebook, it seemed as though Facebook interaction was actually stressful, because they could see what other people were doing and posting, and compared themselves unfavourably.  That would account for the higher blood cortisol levels in the avid Facebook users. They were exposed to constant stress!

However, we need to remember that people only put their “best selfies” forward on Facebook leading us to the “comparison trap” which can be quite stressful.

This is not to say that Facebook does not have some good aspects, but if it has taken over your mind and your life – then there is a big cost.  The same could be said of email checking and the reading of other social media.  A considerable percentage of our life is now spent on our electronic gadgetry.

We have to ask ourselves is that what we want?

More research on the cost

Excessive email (or mobile) checking apparently leads the brain to be constantly switching between trying to focus on whatever task it needs to be doing, and then switching off to a sort of daydreaming state.

Swinging between these two states causes us to be a bit ditsy and unable to fully concentrate on either state.  Sound familiar?  A bit like multitasking, which has gone out of favour recently.  So it’s like any addiction, if we are concentrating on our “fix” we don’t get much real work done.

What are the payoffs?

When our mobile “pings” or we get mail, it’s tempting to check our gadgets because it means someone is paying us some attention, and we like that, it’s exciting and sometimes flattering.  And surprise, surprise!   It’s all about dopamine.

Research again

Some research has revealed that the dopamine circuitry in the brain apparently senses how much pleasure we may get from something, and the dopamine drops drastically when reality is less pleasurable than we thought it was going to be.

So we might anticipate something really great from our Facebook pings, or something really exciting from our email, but when it is not so great, we keep on trying to get that “kick”, and then we become hooked in the “infinite dopamine loop”.   Our mobile or our email takes over our mind which keeps searching for more pleasure.

What to do?

There are many methods listed on the Internet, but none mentions “willpower”, a force which seems to be lacking of late but recommended.

You could turn your email and mobile off – a radical notion I know, but this guarantees no interruptions.  Put it on “Do not disturb”.

You could also have a specified time to answer/check emails, even if at work – and keep to this.

Change the sort of person you are.  What!?  Researchers tell us that instead of thinking or saying that we “can’t” do something we should be saying that we “don’t” do it.  Instead of thinking we can’t do without our mobiles for an hour or more we are more likely to be successful in breaking our mobile habit if we think or say we “don’t” check our phones. 

It says something about the sort of person we are. We are the sort of person who has made a decision that we don’t need to check our phone all the time.  We have more power if we handle it this way, whereas “can’t” seems like something external is exerting an influence over us.  A subtle difference which if applied, apparently works really well.

You can think “I don’t have to always be up to date with everything”.  And you don’t!

Don’t use your phone in bed

Either to read Facebook or to talk to someone else when both of you should be sleeping.

Put it away

Put your phone where you can’t easily get at it. New Guinea or somewhere.   Unless you live there.

Do something different

This strategy works for a whole pile of reasons.  Doing something different breaks up the habit pattern and focuses your mind on something else.

Be prepared ahead of time to kick the habit.

Think ahead and be aware of when you are likely to slide back into your old habit.  Be prepared with a strategy in mind to avoid this.  For example, when you may be waiting in a queue or waiting for something or someone, resist the temptation to get out the mobile and check it. You may think it doesn’t matter if you are waiting somewhere, but the mobile is still dictating your mind and your behaviour.  Take control of your mind, and don’t let the mobile boss you around.

If you are on a train and find travel boring, think ahead about what else you could do.  One idea  could be to take a book to read.  A really strange idea I know, but it would be amazing to find out just how much you could learn in one train trip by using that time productively.

You could listen to a podcast, or some music, or a soothing meditation, or an educational CD, all without checking your phone.  Very soon you will see just how much time you waste checking your mobile.

We have all been treated to loud phone calls made by others on a train where they discuss all the banal aspects of their lives just to while away the time because their minds have been hijacked by this “necessity”.

Most important of all don’t use your mobile in the car.  I saw a woman yesterday sailing past my house while mindlessly chatting on her phone.  If a child or pedestrian had moved out onto the narrow winding road she could have hit them.  Just imagine having a maiming or death on your conscience all because of a stupid mobile phone call.

If you are ready to strangle a friend or relative who prefers to constantly check and text, instead of talking to you, I have the best idea for a Christmas or birthday gift.  It’s a gadget produced by UNILAD (no I do not get a commission) called DistractaGone.  This is a sort of “safe” where you and even your friends can lock up their phones.  A timer is set and the “safe won’t open until the timer goes off.   I’m not sure whether Valium comes with the device.

If you don’t want to be that drastic there are Apps called Lock Me Out or Off-time that put a block and timing device on your phone.   I don’t get a commission from these either!

If desperate a bucket of water would do the trick.

Of course it’s pretty scary to have to contemplate having an actual non-interrupted conversation with someone.  It might even get deep and meaningful and you won’t be able to text them about how scared you are…

Best of luck

Kathleen Crawford

Some of this information for this article came from a website aptly named:

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