Have you ever caught yourself checking your smartphone while you’re behind the wheel — even though you know it’s dangerous? Do text alert chimes routinely make you interrupt conversations with the person sitting in front of you? Tech addiction is not just an idea. It’s here, it’s real and it’s taking over our lives.
I developed a 30-Day Tech Detox after a woman I know and respect — someone I consider wise and aware and thus immune to tech addiction — literally begged me to create a detox program for her and everyone else she knows. She wasn’t using technology only for work, which she needs to do, but craving it all the time. She didn’t know how to stop it from taking over her personal life.
Day 25. Take a half-hour tech-free walk with no destination. Wander like a happy dog.
If you, too, are suffering from the effects of too much connection and not enough connectedness to what matters most, this digital detox program (an abbreviated version of the program outlined in my book The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World) can help.
6 Simple Things to Do Before You Start
- Create a log. Choose one workday or a full workweek, as well as one weekend, to track your use of all tech devices. Determine the No. 1 behavior you want to cut down on or eliminate, which may involve multiple devices.
- Find a partner. Sharing your experience with another person will help make you accountable for your behavior and for sticking with the detox.
- Contemplate. Identify five negative consequences of your technology use and five positive results that will come from cutting down or changing your technology use.
- Support yourself. Write and post statements such as “I want to be in control of my choices around technology” around your home, car and office.
- Move your computer to a less comfortable place in your home.
- Buy a new journal for this detox. At the end of each day, write down something (length is unimportant) about your experience with the process.
Doing the 30-Day Tech Detox
The 30-Day Tech Detox is cumulative — with each new prescription, you will continue to practice the previously prescribed actions. So, for example, on Day 5, you will be practicing five new behaviors, the behavior of Day 5 and those from Days 1, 2, 3 and 4. By Day 30, you will be practicing 30 new behaviors. If a prescription doesn’t apply to that particular day (for example, “Refrain from use during exercising”), switch it with a day when it does. Now, the important part: action!
Day 1. Pay attention to and internally note every time you feel the impulse or hear the thought to check one of your devices or computer. When you notice this, ask yourself, “Am I checking out of habit?” and “Is this checking necessary right now?” If the answer is “Habit” or “Not Necessary,” then repeat to yourself “Stop” and do just that. Simultaneously, designate three times in the day when you are allowed to check your device, whether necessary or not.
Day 2. Refrain from any tech use when socializing or otherwise interacting with people. This includes everyone — shopkeepers, waiters and service people as well as your family and friends.
Day 3. Refrain from holding your device in your hand or keeping it in your pocket when it’s not in use. Store it out of sight elsewhere.
Day 4. Refrain from using any of your devices during the first hour after you wake up in the morning. If your smartphone is also your alarm clock, treat it as such. Turn it completely off as soon as it’s sounded your morning wake-up.
Day 5. Refrain from using tech devices during the last hour before you go to bed.
Day 6. Turn off all alerts and notifications on your device. If your cell phone is your alarm clock, leave only the alarm notification intact.
Day 7. Refrain from using your devices on public transportation or in taxis.
Day 8. Write down four activities or experiences that nourish your spirit. Keep these simple and accessible — not the climbing-to-the-summit-of-Mount-Everest sort. Give yourself one of these experiences today, and get one on the calendar for each week to come. This practice should continue weekly after your detox as well.
Day 9. Refrain from using your devices while waiting in line — any kind of line.
Day 10. Refrain from using technology in the car, except when you need GPS assistance.
Day 11. Refrain from using while waiting for something to begin, such as a movie, a play, a concert or a social interaction.
Day 12. Refrain from using during events — for example, at concerts, the theater or children’s recitals.
Day 13. Make your bathroom a tech-free zone.
Day 14. Refrain from using technology while walking on the street.
Day 15. Make your bedroom a tech-free zone. Remove all devices and computers and refrain from using in the room or area where you sleep.
Day 16. Set aside two continuous three-hour blocks of time in the day when you will be tech-free. This can be scheduled on a weekend day if it is impossible during the workweek.
Day 17. Refrain from using while exercising, unless you are providing yourself with music.
Day 18. Refrain from immediately using the internet to research non-work-related information that you have forgotten or want to know — for example, looking up the name of a television actor or the year a song was released. Wait at least 24 hours before going online to find out the answer, if the answer hasn’t already occurred to you.
Day 19. If there is a website that is particularly addictive for you, sign up for Net Nanny or another service that prevents you from accessing it.
Day 20. Refrain from tech use while cooking and eating.
Day 21. Refrain from using when walking or being in nature.
Day 22. Commit to one tech-free day per month — the third Sunday of the month, for example. Now, enter these dates into your calendar for the rest of the year — and stick to them. Tell those close to you that you will not be available via your devices on that day of the month so that if they need to reach you about an urgent matter, they’ll know why you’re not electronically reachable. If necessary, provide children and others who may need to reach you with an emergency contact person on your “dry” days. Confirm with your backup person that they will be available.
Day 23. Commit to going tech-free on your next vacation, except when a specific matter, perhaps work related, absolutely requires tech access.
Day 24. Refrain from using while interacting with your children. If you don’t have children, refrain from use while with your pets (or plants).
Day 25. Take a half-hour tech-free walk with no destination. Wander like a happy dog.
Day 26. Spend 10 minutes doing nothing — on purpose. Sit still, be quiet, listen to the sounds, feel your breath, experience the sensations in your body.
Day 27. Send a handwritten letter, card or note to someone you know. Express anything that feels important about your detox.
Day 28. Do something in the “real” world that you would ordinarily do online — for example, call a friend instead of emailing or go to the store to buy food or a magazine or a book.
Day 29. Write down three things you are grateful for or happy about that are not tech-based.
Day 30. Make this moment matter, right now. Three times today, stop what you are doing and fully be where you are, sense your direct experience, allow things to be exactly as they are. Feel your own presence.
Off Your Screen and Into Your Body
As you decrease your use of technology, it will be helpful and important to add activities to your day that involve the body. Detoxing will free up a lot of energy that used to be directed toward your screens; this energy will need a place to land and be channeled. Moving your body is most useful for this purpose. It will help you anchor yourself in the physical and give your attention a new place to reside.
In honor of your aspirations and actions, why not get up right now and give your recovery a shot of vitality? Move, dance, shake, rattle, roll, walk, stretch, swing, sway — do whatever your body longs to do. Feel and celebrate the freedom you are choosing to create!
Need ideas? Here are a few of the “Sense Pops” I recommend:
- Take three slow, deep breaths. Lengthen the inhalation and relax deeply with the exhalation. Feel the sensation of the breath from the inside out.
- Slowly roll your neck around in a circle in one direction and then back again in the other direction.
- Slowly roll each hand and each foot around in a circle and then back again in the opposite direction. Pay attention to the sensations.
- Place both hands over your heart, one on top of the other. Feel the sensations that arise both in your hands and in your chest.
- Take 10 conscious, mindful steps. Pay close attention to the sensation in each foot as you place it on the ground, shift through from heel to toe, lift it off the ground, and place it down again.
- Hug someone you love (or at least like). Hold the embrace a bit longer than you normally would. Feel the sensations that arise both inside and outside your body.