Recently I figured out I was checking my smartphone way too much. Sometimes very compulsive every 5 minutes. I was checking Facebook updates, Whatsapp or news sites. It was happening very automatic, not because I really wanted to. I was even doing it while cooking diner or worse during conversations. Not really living in the moment like I love to do. How does it work and how to get rid of this annoying habit?
What is happening in my brain to make me compulsory check my phone for updates? The first thing I did to investigate is to carefully notice what happens in my brain . Mindfulness. What directly stood out was the involvement of my hippocampus. Every time I was walking passed my smartphone on the table my brain was telling me to pick up my phone, I felt arousal in the hippocampus part of the temporal brain. You can easily verify this yourself, as the hippocampus is roughly situated between your eyebrows and ears on both sides.
The hippocampus is known for short-time memory and the arousal mostly happens in an environment where the smartphone is available. Likely the hippocampus is told already by the amygdala that a smartphone is visible and there are the right conditions for some pleasure. Because yes if you read about addiction of any kind of substance or habit. The automatic brain response works simply like that for smartphones as well.
The hippocampus remembers the memories of you checking the score of your favorite sports team. Or that you just received a lovely mail from your partner or the cute cats video that was shared on Facebook or the sexy picture shared on Instagram, etc. When this happens the neurotransmitter dopamine is released from your Nucleus Accumbens. This gives you the feeling of pleasure and happiness. This memory of happiness is stored in the hippocampus and the conditions causing it in the amygdala. So that every time you are in the right environment you will feel the compulsory craving to check your smartphone.
Since the smartphone is for most people in short reach this craving will happen constantly and cause a very restless state. Even if reaching to the smartphone doesn’t give you a lot of pleasure, because you have no new messages and nothing exciting has happened in the world in the past ten minutes, still the compulsory habit will stay. It keeps looking for short-time pleasure effect. This is likely to have negative effects on stress and attention spam. Although there is no scientific proof to back this. So far it only has been proven that smartphone use before bedtime has a negative effect on insomnia. duh…
How to stop smartphone addicton?
So how to get rid of this addiction? Of course the most straightforward thing would be to throw my Lumia smartphone in the bin and get my old beloved Nokia 3210 back. Unfortunately I need my smartphone for work. So that doesn’t work.
What does help is to have smartphone free periods for one hour or from 7 pm until 9 pm. To stops using social media on a smartphone or stop browsing on a smartphone. Remember most days it is enough to only check once a day the News. Even better than smartphone-less periods is to have circumstance where you don’t use your smartphone like in a meeting, with the kids or especially in a restaurant!
If you have your smartphone around, what you still can try to is to at least be aware of the craving that you need to grab your phone. You can train yourself to be aware of the moment the craving comes. As mentioned before, you can feel the activity in the hippocampus. So if you are aware of this, you can think before you reach out, do I really need to check? This is like mindfulness, you live in the moment and are aware of what is really going on in your body. The part of the brain that keeps you in the here is the pre-frontal cortex. So you need to stay in the moment and even if the arousal in the hippocampus comes, you just feel it like a breeze and let it go.
Another thing you can do is to re-program and link a negative feeling towards seeing a smartphone. This is pretty simple, just link a bad story to checking the smartphone and it will already reduce the urge. This is a NLP technique and very effective.