A Simple Tool to Beat Smartphone Addiction

Greg McKeown is a leadership expert, champion the lifestyle of essentialism, and New York Times Bestselling Author. I had the privilege of speaking to Greg last year. We discussed many topics including living in the moment, self-observation, and the hidden dangers of success.

We then moved onto smartphone use, and how many people today walk around in a trance-like state, glued to their phones. I’ve seen people walk into lampposts, bump into each other, and even cross the road, all whilst gazing at their phones.

As our conversation progressed, unbeknownst to ourselves, we had painted a picture straight out of Doctor Who — people walking around like zombies staring at their phones.

What struck me most, however, I was guilty of the very same thing. It’s fast becoming an epidemic.

Disturbing facts

The core issue of smartphone use is the highly addictive nature of social media, with some users displaying behaviours similar to substance abuse.

As a former heroin addict, and current PhD student studying addiction and online research, I dug deeper and was astonished by what I found.

The number of mobile phone users worldwide is 5.1 billion, with 3.2 billion regularly using social media. With the current world population standing at 7.7 billion, these figures are alarming.

Other disturbing facts include:

60% of U.S. college students consider themselves to have a smartphone addiction.

35% of people think about their phones upon waking, whilst only 10% think of their significant other.

71% of people sleep with (or next to) their smartphones.

44% of 18–24 year old’s have fallen asleep with their phone in their hand.

Nearly 40% of people NEVER disconnect from their mobile devices.

These are shocking statistics, yet smartphone addiction is fast becoming the ‘norm’, rather than the problem. As I reflected on these issues, the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti never seemed more relevant:

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Aha moment

This brings me back to my Skype call with Greg, which had a profound impact on me. I can’t remember the exact details, but during our conversation, I became fully aware of my problematic phone use — it was a true aha moment.

My own smartphone use is not straightforward. I don’t aimlessly browse social media. I only use it for work, so I thought I was immune from its seductive pull. But I was wrong, I was consumed — maybe even more so as it determined my career, or so I thought.

A core message from Greg’s book Essentialism involves eliminating non-essential things from your life. I thought of myself as an essentialist, but I wasn’t, not with my phone anyway. It was a major distraction, and the seeds of smartphone addiction were firmly planted. I was unfocused, distracted, and my lack of awareness on the issue was troubling.

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change” — Sheryl Sandberg

How to beat smartphone addiction

With this realization, Greg reminded me about the “90-per cent rule” — a tool from his book — and how it can be used to reduce smartphone use. The 90-per cent rule provides a clear metric for deciding between “a yes, and a no.” You assign a numerical value to a decision, and anything less than 90 (even an 89) is a “no.”

When used in the service of problematic smartphone use, all apps get deleted, and in terms of value, they have to score over 90 to reclaim their spot. This might seem extreme, but as Greg says in his book: “we need to see the difference between things that are good and things that are exceptionally good… it’s an important distinction in a world exploding with options.”

I deleted every app off my phone, and over the next 2 days, I rated them on the value that they offered. Music and learning apps were no-brainers and made it straight back in. So did WhatsApp, scoring over 90 due to its necessity and ability to connect. Instagram, where I like to post quotes, also made the cut. Nothing else made the grade, with some scoring surprisingly low.

It’s been over a year since my smartphone cleansing, and the absence of social media has made an astonishing difference to my life. My focus, productivity, and decisiveness have drastically improved.

All you need to know

The reality of smartphone use is shocking, with 60% of students admitting to addiction, and 71% sleeping with their phones.

To implement change, we need to be ruthless in a world exploding with options. I strongly recommend the 90-per cent rule. It’s not easy, but in the words of Jerzy Gregorek, “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

I will be a slave to my phone no more — it’s on my terms now. Thanks, Greg.

What would you do if you had a second chance at life?

As a chronic heroin addict turned doctor, I designed a program to help people to transform their lives. For FREE access to one of the most powerful tools from this programme – which includes an online course on morning routines – CLICK HERE.



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