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I recently decided to take 5 days off social media and my phone to spend some time with my two toddlers whilst Rosie was away with her friend. This is the longest time I've ever spent alone with them since becoming a parent. I usually like to take photos and share stories with them but I wanted to immerse myself in their world without distraction. During this time, I think for the first time ever, I was truly confronted with the reality of the addiction to my phone.
I am addicted to distraction. It's not just Instagram, social media and work; it's WhatsApp, news apps, sports results, mindless scrolling, reels and Twitter timelines. It's relentless. I get sucked into to this infinite loop where I'm constantly picking up my phone and refreshing the newsfeeds on all my channels without thinking. I spend hours every day doing this and I find it so difficult to snap out of. It's something I've known about myself for a while but not really talked about so I wanted to share my honest thoughts and feelings on it. You don't need kids or millions of followers to relate to this blog and you may be able to relate to some things more than others. All I hope is that my experience and honesty can help you if you do struggle, like me, to stay focused and feel present.
Every day, within seconds of waking up, I pick up this device and I continue to check it throughout the day. I am unable to stay focused on a single task without getting distracted by my phone. This can happen when I'm playing with the kids, watching a cartoon on the sofa with them, cooking a recipe, exercising, meditating or when I'm on a work Zoom call. I might be listening to a podcast or even having a conversation on the phone with someone. My brain is constantly seeking some other form of distraction and stimulation and 100% of the time it's coming from me picking up my phone. I am addicted to it.
Not only is my phone the source of distraction for my brain, it's also the source of almost every negative emotion I feel in a day. From anger, frustration and impatience around the kids, to intolerance, stress, insecurities and anxiety. They usually all stem from looking at my phone.
I've realised that I see the world through the lens of social media content. With a constant urge to record, curate and share everything. This is partly because I love my kids and am so proud of them but it's also because I know that people love seeing them on my social media. This affects my ability to feel truly present in the moment and appreciate what's right in front of me. I have this impulse and obsession to respond instantly to the constant DM's I get, to emails and WhatsApps from everyone at all hours of the day or night. In my mind nothing can wait and I feel like I'm constantly in a rush and unable to ever get to the bottom of my inbox. Even after a day of replying, it never feels like I've done enough because I can't reply to them all.
I'm very lucky that because I can work remotely or from home, I get to be around as a dad and husband, but I'm never fully present for long periods. It's usually 20 mins here, or 30 mins there. I'm normally rushing to get something done so I can get back to whatever I was doing before. I justify the use of my phone for work but in reality I'm probably only helping my community 30% of the time. 70% of the time I’m just eternally scrolling and consuming mindless content to distract myself. I end up getting triggered and annoying myself, all because I'm trying to avoid doing something else. I want to work on this and learn to enjoy moments more, not rush to get back to the phone.
More than ever, I have a completely new level of respect and appreciation for Rosie too. Parenting isn't just a job, it's a state of mind. It's absolutely exhausting and it takes so much emotional and physical energy to parent with patience, to engage with the kids, to immerse yourself in their world and to diffuse their arguments all day long. I spent 5 days alone with my kids and during this time I didn't take photos, create any stories or race back to my phone every 10 minutes. On day one it was really hard to adjust to but it got easier as the time passed. I just focussed on them and although they were the most stressful days of my time as parent so far, they were also the most wonderful.
The more time I spent with the kids, the more I understood their changing moods, tantrums and continuous arguments. I was able to react differently and stay calmer. I find this infinitely more difficult when I'm distracted by my phone and I usually end up shouting more, which makes me feel guilty. When I do shout or react to stressful situations though, I'm learning to not be hard on myself. I apologise to the kids and move on, accepting that I won't always respond perfectly. My screen time was down 85% and it made me realise just how hard my kids have to work to get my full attention sometimes. I felt sad at the thought of how many moments I must have missed because of my phone usage.
My kids do not measure my success by how much work I do in a day or what I achieve in life. A successful day in their eyes is just giving them love and attention; playing games, talking to them, letting them have ideas and praising them for learning something new. I'm aware these are the things I need to prioritise more so I'm going to make some changes to detach from my phone and have better boundaries with it. This is essential for my mental health and the important relationships around me.
This is physical and emotional addiction that I think we are all experiencing to an extent, but it's something we have to get a hold on. It's about learning to detach from the phone, to set boundaries and win back some hours in the day. If you feel like you can relate to and admit to some of these behaviours yourself then that's the first step. Acknowledging that the phone is causing a negative effect on your life means you are aware and conscious. All we can do now is try to make some small changes to limit our use, to reduce our daily average screen time and pick ups.
One thing I know for sure is that technology isn't going away. I know I can't live without a smartphone, so I need to learn to find a balance with it. Devices are always going to be there pulling us back in but can we use them less? Can we take fewer photos? Talk more? Make more eye contact? Enjoy a moment without filming and sharing it on social media? I believe we can and I believe we will be a lot happier for it too.
Good luck and take it one day at a time.