by Dr. Monroe Mann, PhD, Esq, MBA, LLM, ME, EMT
Founder & Executive Director, Break Diving, Inc.
Want to know the one secret to getting more done this week than you have in any other week this past year? Want to know the one time management tip that also has the amazing side effect of improving your self-esteem, increasing your confidence, reducing your feelings of depression, and making you feel AWESOME about yourself and your future?!
It’s simple: PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AND FOCUS ON “FLOW”.
I will explain below precisely what flow is, but it starts first with this bottom line fact: Your future depends on whether you have the ability to change the entire relationship that you have with your phone.
Because truth be told, most of us have become, to some extent or another, a phone/device addict and… we don’t even realize it. AND IT IS DESTROYING OUR LIVES.
You see, the other day, I was on the couch, playing one of those silly games on my phone WHILE WATCHING TV. I suddenly realized that the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that, while lying in bed, instead of reading a book (like I used to do), I was playing games and watching tv shows.
I also started realizing that I took the phone with me every time I went to the bathroom, and instead of reading a magazine, like I used to do years ago, I was playing a game, or checking WeChat (the Chinese version of Facebook/WhatsApp)… while on the toilet.
Worst of all, I started to realize something else: whenever I was bored, I would pick up my phone. And just start scrolling through apps, and then, just like that, I’d be wasting time on my phone again.
Most poignantly was the startling realization that I didn’t go anywhere without my phone. And my gosh, before I went to Iraq with the Army ten years ago, I used to go everywhere with a book. And now, a decade later, beautiful books have been replaced by A PHONE?
It’s interesting: everyone who knows me knows that I am someone who loves to get things done, and yet, for some reason, in the last ten years, in my eyes, I seem to have slowed down year after year. On top of that, in the last ten years, I have also been feeling far more depressed throughout the days than I usually felt before going to Iraq. (Read more: Overcoming The Devil of Depression, Discouragement, & Doubt.)
All along, I have been attributing this to PTSD caused from my time in Iraq. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely have PTSD, and it definitely affects me. To this day, I hate fireworks and I get scared when someone slams a door or breaks a glass because I think I’m back in Iraq. But should that have caused my depression to so dramatically increase? I’ve been thinking about that a lot these last ten years, and it’s one of the reasons I pursued my PhD in psychology–to figure out what was causing my decrease in productivity and what was causing my increase in depressive rumination. Was it Iraq? My age? Learned helplessness? What?!
During my PhD studies, I did discover part of the reason for my decline in productivity and my increase in depressive thoughts: Facebook and most social media. As a result, I have since deleted Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. with great improvements in my mood since 2016 when I said goodbye. But it wasn’t enough, clearly, because I was still feeling the pangs of depression deep within my brain. How did I discover that it may have been my phone?
Well, a few weeks ago, I read that Apple was developing a new feature for the next version of iOS that would track how much you use each app. I thought that was a great idea and I was looking forward to its arrival, because I intuitively knew that I was probably using my phone too much. Well, the other day, while on the couch, wasting 20 minutes playing some stupid game that wasn’t improving my life, or my knowledge, or my intellect, or my well being in any way, I decided I had to do something about this horrible addiction of mine: I went on the app store and searched and searched and searched and… FOUND SOMETHING. An app called “Moments” that is free, but worth the extra few dollars for the full version. It’s an app that tracks a whole bunch of things: how many times you pick up your phone each day, how many hours a day you use the phone, how many minutes you spend using each app, etc. There’s even a 14-day coaching program that will help teach you how to use your phone only for the essentials, and not for idle time wasting.
BEFORE & AFTER
Do I enjoy watching Frasier on Amazon Prime? Yes, I do, haha. But do I need to watch an episode every night in bed for 30 minutes? No. I can watch one episode a week while sitting in a chair during the day, and save my bed for 30 minutes of nighttime reading–something I miss SO MUCH.
I began participating in the 14-day coaching program and was pleasantly surprised to discover not only that everything I surmised was correct, but I also realized that there were additional things I was doing that were contributing greatly to a) my time wasting and b) my depression. Here is a partial list of things I was doing DAILY that I no longer do:
1. BEFORE: I would go to sleep watching TV shows on my phone.
NOW: I read thirty minutes before going to sleep, and my brain appreciates it so much more.
2. BEFORE: I would charge my phone in my bed, and use the phone alarm to wake me up, and often to depressing notifications and messages (or no notifications and messages–which was even worse). I would inevitably look at the phone, and then start wasting time reading the news and whatnot for an hour.
NOW: I charge my phone in the other room, and use an old school alarm to wake up. I also try not to look at the phone for the first hour after I wake up, thus allowing me to be a part of the real world before going into the digital and impersonal world of the phone.
3. BEFORE: I would use my phone up until the very moment I closed my eyes.
NOW: I put my phone on silent and in the other room an hour before I plan to go to sleep.
4. BEFORE: I would constantly be picking up my phone throughout the day, aimlessly looking at it, trying to find the motivation to do something else, but getting drawn into the simpleton thinking of playing a game or browsing the internet.
NOW: I have erased almost all of the games I used to play, and now limit myself to a few minutes a day of playing one of the games, and NEVER first thing in the morning, or last thing at night.
5. BEFORE: The phone would go with me everywhere: in the bathroom, to the movies, to the supermarket, etc.
NOW: Unless I’m going somewhere where I need the GPS for directions, or somewhere overnight, or for an extended period of time, I leave it at home. Or at least, in the car. I didn’t realize what a slave I had gradually become to this phone until I was able to un-tether myself from it!
6. BEFORE: “Everything” became a priority, because I would keep my phone by my side. Despite having a to-do list of tasks in my phone, because the phone would constantly buzz with notifications, I’d get side-tracked and start texting someone back, playing a game, or searching the net. Before I knew it, I wasn’t actually doing what I was supposed to be doing.
NOW: I look at my to-do items on my phone once, write down the 10 – 15 tasks I am going to focus on for the day, and then PUT THE PHONE ACROSS THE ROOM IN SILENT MODE FOR HOURS! And the results… are amazing!
Truly, MONROE MANN IS BACK. I am finally getting things done on the level and scale I used to many many years ago. And I feel so much better emotionally too! And things are really starting to FLOW again baby!
Before I left for Iraq in 2004, I used a normal clam shell phone. I rarely used it for texting or anything like that; the only game was ‘snake’ which very quickly got boring so I never played it.
Well, while in Iraq, I read about something called the T-Mobile Sidekick–probably the coolest smartphone ever haha! If I survived the war, I was going to get a T-Mobile Sidekick. And I did survive, and I did come home, and the first thing I did was get a Sidekick2. I later upgraded to the Sidekick3. And then a Blackberry. And then an iPhone.
I didn’t recognize over the years how much I had become addicted to using the phone for stupid things, and how often I’d get distracted as a result of some stupid notification that would cause me to lose focus and get sucked into the world of time wasting. And each year, I’d spend more and more time on my phone in a state of stupidity, barely using my brain, and less and less time focusing on tasks that put me in a state of psychological flow.
For those who don’t know, “flow” is the psychological term for the state you find yourself when you are totally engrossed in something that truly uses your brain and creativity to such an extent that the rest of the world just disappears. For example, when you engrossed as a player in a sports competition. When you are coding a new app. When you are reading an amazing book. When you are at a job you love or with someone you love and the day just flies by. Well, guess what I realized just a few days ago:
Mindless and excessive phone use is an inhibitor of positive flow.
And now, I am going as far as I can in the reverse direction.
The more I used my phone, the more time I’d spend on mindless NO FLOW activities that contributed to depression: reading Apple news, reading Fox News, reading CNN news, playing stupid games (with terrible incessant ads that frustrate you even more), surfing the internet, clicking from site to site to site, and the list goes on. None of these activities are flow activities. None of them fully engross you, so none of them will allow your brain to go into full blown ‘flow’ state. And there is no better ‘depression buster’ than to be in a state of flow. It has the same psychological effect as a mind-altering drug in terms of making you feel fantastic. Nothing pushes troubles away better and more safely than flow.
So should I get rid of my phone completely? No.
I have no plans on giving up my phone completely. You see, I need to use it to shoot and edit my YouTube videos BUT THAT IS A FLOW ACTIVITY. I have zero qualms about spending three hours on my phone studying HSK 5 Chinese vocabulary, or listening to a French audio book for an hour BECAUSE THOSE TOO ARE FLOW ACTIVITIES.
But note further that I will not stop using my phone to play games or watch Frasier on occasion, either, because an occasional time waster is sometimes a good way to decompress. And yes, using your phone to respond to texts and emails is a good thing, but… why should I be responding to texts and messages and emails constantly throughout the day? Right? How about once a day, when I’m good and ready, haha?
Unlike the last ten years, I am now critically aware of how much time I have been wasting on my phone and specifically on what apps and activities. And I feel liberated!
Consider this. I have wanted to write a new blog post for Break Diving this entire month (an AWESOME flow activity), and yet, only now, at the end of the month, am I finally getting off my ass and doing so. Why did I wait so long? The answer is clear: I was spending too much time playing games, messaging people, and reading the damn never-ending Apple news feed that I was prohibited from moving towards flow, and I was literally pushing myself towards negativity through mindless phone use.
I was spending time thinking about doing important things while squandering my time on these depressing apps.
In other words:
MY PHONE TOOK ALL MY FLOW ACTIVITIES AWAY FROM ME!
And it’s time for you and me both to bring back the flow that we used to enjoy so much before phones interfered with the natural order of things!
TIME TO MAKE SOME CHANGES
So, if you have an iPhone, get the app “moments”. If you just want to do it on your own, or have android, start by never again sleeping with the phone next to your bed. Next:
- start using an old school alarm
- use the battery feature in settings to start tracking how much you’re using each app each day/week
- create a to-do list on paper and then put your phone far away from you for the next few hours
- leave the phone at home at least once a week when you leave the house, if not more often
- try walking around your house (and neighborhood) without carrying your phone with you
- delete the apps that suck out the most valuable time from your day
- and the list goes on.
START YOUR MORNING FIRST THING WITH FLOW!
Most importantly, when you wake up in the morning, IMMEDIATELY focus on a flow activity. Why? Because you want to start your psychological day off right!
For me, my favorite morning flow activities are reading, or responding to messages in our inspirational Break Diving community, working on Break Diving management tasks, studying a foreign language, doing some coding, or studying the Bible. By choosing one of these tasks as the FIRST THING I do in the morning, already I have discovered that I wake up feeling SO much better about myself, my life, and my future. And the rest of my day is generally far more positive and energetic and full of accomplishment and joy! It’s truly amazing!
Why does this happen? Because instead of waking up to notifications about stupid and depressing things like the news, an email or text that upsets me, or a game that makes me more and more stupid, I wake up to SOMETHING I LOVE TO DO. And that gets me in the right flow state to incorporate more and more flow into the rest of my day. And it’s magnificent!
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
Now, when you start weening yourself off your phone, a few things are going to happen:
a) You are going to realize you don’t need that phone as much as you think you do.
b) You are going to go to bed in the real world, and wake up in the real world, which is going to make you feel much better.
c) You are going to become a more integral part of your community, and a better friend to others, because finally, you are going to notice them and appreciate them.
d) You are going to start filling you day with hugely important tasks because you no longer have the phone there as a failsafe “I’m bored” default.
e) Most importantly, you are going to feel better about yourself, and feel more in control of your life, your world, and your future.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to post this blog post, then study Chinese for 20 minutes, then work on my law practice website, and then go to lunch at Subway, and guess what: I am not going to touch my phone at all until I get back from lunch.
In other words, for the next few hours, I will remain phone free.
And ahhhh, it’s a
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