Change your phone habits, change your feelings

Using your smartphone with greater awareness could result in improvements to your social connections, physical posture, emotions, and your self-confidence.

The Smartphone Safety Blanket

As you approach the new year, give some thought to the device you are likely reading this on right now, your smartphone.

Over the holidays, most of us will hopefully be spending extra time with family and friends.  But how many of us will be stuck in the habit of using or checking our smartphone “just in case”?

The phone can feel like your lifeline. What if you get a text, an email, or even a phone call? What if you need to look up how long to roast the turkey? What if a friend posts an important social media update?

I was out with someone recently who needed to return home to pick up the phone while admitting it wasn’t really necessary because it felt “naked” to be without it. It can feel that way for a lot of us.

Hidden Side Effects

While the smartphone has a lot of great benefits, it also has some negative social, physical and emotional side effects.

Social. Though smartphones can connect us with those who are not there, they can disconnect us from those that are. A Pew Research poll found that 86% of Americans believed that cell phone use during social gatherings either sometimes or often hurt the gathering. And 88% felt it was unacceptable to use a phone during a family dinner. Most of us would probably agree, but sometimes the phone can cause us to have blinders on to those around us.

Physical. Think about how you hold your head and shoulders when you are on your phone. The gaze is down, along with the head. The neck has to work hard to hold the 10-12 pound head at a forward angle. The shoulders and upper back slouch forward. Over time, the upper spine can move into an habitual slump, the kind we used to only see in our grandparents’ generation but now coined the “iHunch.”

Emotional. The slumped posture has negative emotional effects too. Not only does it often reflect a sad or negative emotion, but it also has the power to create such emotion.

In a recent New York Times OpEd, Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy pointed to a study of people who were asked to sit either slouched or upright and answer mock interview questions. The study showed that those who slouched not only had lower mood and self-esteem than those who sat upright, but also gave more negative answers.

Cuddy’s own research found that using our phones also makes us more submissive. In further evidence of the body-mind connection, she found that the smaller the device, the greater the body contracts, and the greater the negative effects on confidence.

And if you find yourself retreating to the phone to avoid someone or something, you could also be hurting your self-confidence. In order to build our emotional strength and resilience, we need to practice tolerating discomfort. Otherwise, just as our physical muscles weaken when we don’t exercise, our emotional resilience can weaken and with it, our belief in our own strength.

4 Ways to Change the Habit

I know how hard it can be to break a habit, especially when that habit feels like security. But I know in my coaching – and neuroscience backs this up – that with awareness and commitment, habits can change.

So the next time you get the urge to check the phone, bring some added awareness to the situation:

  1. Ask yourself whether you really need the phone in that moment. You can even challenge yourself when it sings to you to wait 5 minutes before checking it.
  2. Think about your surroundings. Will being on the phone upset someone or detract from an in-person social connection?
  3. Be mindful of your posture when you are on the phone. Stand tall, lift the head and roll the shoulders back. You can even do some gentle twists and backbends afterwards to help alleviate the effects on the upper spine.
  4. Take note of when you are wanting to use the phone to avoid some discomfort. Challenge yourself to face it a bit longer without the safety blanket. As you build that muscle, you’ll strengthen your resilience and your confidence.

Over to You

How do you feel about your phone these days? How are you affected when people are on their phones? Do you feel or see the “iHunch”? Lift your head, roll your shoulders back, and comment or share the post using one of the icons below.

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“See you” in 2016, standing tall!

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