Do you remember when the only thing that you could use a phone for was to make and receive calls?   That seems so boring now that we have smart phones that can do a multiplicity of tasks.  Among other things, a smart phone can also serve as a computer, camera, texting machine, postal service, word processor, dictionary, calendar, record player, library, radio, TV, streaming device, to do list, alarm clock, stopwatch, and mail order catalogue, among other things.  In fact, there have been days when I’ve spent considerable time using my smart phone without making or receiving one phone call.

The smart phone is indeed a remarkable device.  It allows us to do such a variety of tasks while not needing a separate device for each.  Paradoxically, however, your smart phone can also dumb you down if you aren’t using it smartly.

In the days before smart phones, every task that the device can now perform used to require mindfulness (even though we didn’t call it that at the time).  If you were using a conventional phone, you had to physically go to the phone and pretty much concentrate on the call.  It was a lot harder to simultaneously write a letter or make dinner reservations while you were talking to a friend or business associate or client on the phone.  If you were caring for a child or cooking dinner, you pretty much had to give that task your full attention.  There was no sound to alert you that you just got an email or that a contact just reacted to your social media post – because those things didn’t exist.

The greatness of the smart phone does require a disciplined approach to it’s use, or it can serve primarily as a distraction machine.  I have a few recommendations that work for me, and I would greatly appreciate your ideas because my safeguards aren’t always foolproof. 

  1.  Unless you are expecting an important call or when you have scheduled a reminder of an event that you can’t afford to forget, keep the phone silenced as much as possible – so that you will be less tempted to interrupt what you are doing and look at it when a sound goes off.
  2. Build specific times into your schedule to look at emails, return emails, wind down by watching funny videos, or devote to any of the tasks for which you utilize the phone.
  3. Be willing to interfere with rigid discipline regarding use of the phone when it actually makes you more productive – e.g., when stopping to look up the meaning of a word while you are reading or if something you are doing triggers the importance of adding an item to your “to do” list.
  4. The only functions that a smart phone should have in your bedroom should be as an alarm clock and – are you ready for this – as a phone, so that you can be reached in cases of emergency.  If you are used to reading in bed before going to sleep, read an actual book.  Every bit of research on the subject suggests that spending time viewing any type of screen (including TV unless it is some type of calming program) interferes with effective sleep – as the tasks that you are doing or viewing stimulates your brain at a time that you want to be winding down, and the blue light from a phone screen can also impact upon circadian rhythm and sleep-related hormonal levels. 

The smart phone is an incredibly powerful and convenient device.  I wouldn’t want to be without mine.  If we establish a disciplined approach to smart phone use, we can maximize its benefit while minimizing distractions – thus enabling us to become just as smart as our smart phones.





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Ron Kaiser, Ph.D. Psychologist, Educator, Author, Podcaster

Ron Kaiser, Ph.D., is a positive health psychologist, coach, author, podcaster, educator, consultant, and speaker. He has been in practice for more than five decades, including 25 years as Director of Psychology at the world-famous Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University. As an innovative thought leader in the field, he has developed the concepts of THE MENTAL HEALTH GYM, GOAL-ACHIEVING PSYCHOTHERAPY (GAP), THE TYPE P PERSONALITY, and REJUVENAGING®.

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