“Whether technology's effect is good or bad depends on the user. It's important that we shouldn't be slaves to technology; it should help us”. The Dalai Lama (once again) hits the nail on the head - it's not technology, smartphones, digital anything that's the problem, it's how we use it.
The key first step for anyone considering a digital detox is to be honest and address the impact of spending too much time on our digital devices. As per any 'addiction' we're unlikely to succeed in conquering our vice without having the adequate motivation i.e. we need to see a potential pay-off or benefit for going to the effort of breaking a 'comfortable' pattern. For instance, it might be useful to consider what we are not doing when we're spending too much time on our phone - are we neglecting a creative pursuit, our relationships?
it's good to have a regular break of routine no matter what that involves - it could be taking a new route to work, taking a different position in your exercise class etc. It wakes up the brain! Similarly, with our digital devices, if we use them frequently all day, every day then it's healthy simply not to do that once in a while.
For instance, once a week (usually works better at the weekend as many of us need to be on email during the working week) you could chose to only check emails/messages once per day. I’d argue that doing this helps to instill good habits better than going totally cold turkey as it trains us to be disciplined i.e. to limit our use to one slot in that day and then to step away from it. Unfortunately, a practice of total digital cold turkey on one day can trigger 'gorging' the next in order to balance the feeling of prior deprivation.
Some tips to help you have a digital detox:
1. Be honest: assess what the behaviour you’re detoxing yourself from is ‘costing’ you and it is affecting your life. What would your life be like if you could control your use of digital devices?
2. Motivation: focus on what you'll get from giving up – really this is contingent on the first point. To change behaviour, we need to be motivated and for this we have to see a clear potential benefit.
3. Appoint a mentor: someone you trust and really supports you in your endeavour. Check in with them on a weekly basis or more often if you’re struggling. Having to report to someone we respect and who wants the best for us can really help focus our efforts as it makes us accountable.
4. Take note: remind yourself how your life is improving. Sometimes we take the positive aspects of a change in behaviour for granted and it can quickly become the norm. I notice this a lot in my client work. It’s important to recognise our achievements as it reaffirms our positive behaviour, making lapsing back to the old way of being less appealing.
Do bear in mind that breaking habitual patterns of behaviour can be difficult to do alone. There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, it takes humility and maturity to take that step. A course of psychotherapy could be worth considering to help support you while you attempt to break your habit, whether that be digital addiction, smoking or whatever it is that’s unhelpful in your life.