I was having a conversation last week with my daughter about phone usage. She was forcefully advocating for Snapchat while we were on the fence. In the course of the conversation, I discovered that in addition to your phone providing statistics on screen time (both in total and for individual apps) it also recorded the number of times you picked up your phone and which app you were picking it up to use.

(For iPhone users, you can go to settings/screen time/see all activity and then scroll down towards the bottom. For Android users, it can be found in your digital well-being settings.)

Needless to say, I was shocked at the number of times that not only my daughter was picking up her phone but me as well.

The average person picks up their phone over a hundred times a day (which was about where I was).  If you’re a millennial or Gen Z, your average is closer to 150. Out of curiosity, I started asking others to check their phone and some had numbers as high as almost three hundred. This works out to  people checking their phone around 10-20 times an hour. Keep in mind that after checking our phones, we usually use it (the average time Americans spend on their phone each day is around four hours).

Why do I share this?

Like so much of our daily activities, checking our phones is often an unconscious behavior. We reflexively check our phones when we wake up, transition from place to place, while eating, walking, waiting in line, talking to people and yes even in the bathroom.

In general, 90-95 percent of all activity regulated by the brain is unconscious. Our breathing, eating, digesting, and walking are usually occurring without much thought.

On one level it’s good that this is all happening beneath the surface. If we had to consciously choose to breathe each breath, we’d have an issue. For example, we couldn’t ever sleep.

Yet we also know that when we do focus on these unconscious actions they can become more meaningful and pleasurable. Take a long deep breath and you’ll feel what I mean. Or next time you’re about to eat a good meal, pause for a moment to truly savor its presentation and taste.

Back to the phone. After discovering the number of times I was mindlessly checking my phone. I tried a weeklong experiment where I would only do so intentionally.  I moved it off of my bedside table at night. Kept in my backpack, not in my pocket as I went about my day. I did not pull it out to pass the time while waiting in lines or at traffic lights. And most importantly, I didn’t not carry it around my house.

The result statistically was pretty remarkable. The number of times I was picking up my phone trended down as the week wore on; averaging in the 20’s by the end of the week. Beyond the quantity of pick ups, was the quality of my day. By decreasing the number of times I picked up my phone, I was increasing my attentiveness to so many other things.  Instead of constantly looking down, I was keeping my head up.

For those of you who may imagine anxiety of FOMO (fear of missing out), it was surprisingly minimal. I didn’t miss any important emails or messages or forget to pick up a kid or make a deadline. I still used my phone to send a message, look something up, listen to Spotify, do Wordle, or play guitar chords. I just did so with greater intentionality.

In other words, I was just a little more conscious.  A practice that could benefit so many other aspects of our lives.

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