Reduce smartphone use

Reduce Smartphone Use with Mindfulness

By now we are almost always online. At the laptop, Smartphone or tablet we are bombarded with messages and notifications, no matter if there are new elections in Australia, if the deadline for our project at work has been postponed or if we are supposed to bring bananas from shopping. All in all, we are quite well informed and net worked, we meet in social networks and use the internet daily to find our way around in our daily lives, be it in the form of digital navigation, ticket purchases or research on the-go. This has obvious advantages – but if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. It can indeed become toxic. Here’s some prractical advice on how to reduce Smartphone Use with Mindfulness.

According to the ARD/ZDF online study, the proportion of Internet users in Germany will rise to over 90 percent for the first time in 2018; three quarters of the population will go online every day. [1] The fact that we are constantly available and can reach others gives us endless possibilities that go beyond social networking in the media. At the same time, we pay a certain price for this.

Studies have found that our psychological well-being decreases when we spend a lot of time in front of screens. In particular, life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness decrease when we are constantly in front of the screen compared to people who are increasingly engaged in off-screen activities. [6]

Undirected Smartphone Use

When we use our Smartphone, we not only use the many useful functions. Some of you may have noticed that relatively often we pull out our phone, unlock it, swipe through the apps, then lock and plug it in again. Or that we actually only want to check the time, unlock the phone and then lose ourselves in other activities instead. Only when we have put the phone away do we notice that we still don’t know what time it is.

These are only two examples of “undirected Smartphone use” where we use our phone without a concrete goal. Regular, undirected Smartphone use promotes a lack of concentration and inattention in everyday life, even in media-independent situations. Targeted media use, on the other hand, has no negative effect on our attention and concentration. [5]

Man and idleness

The fact that we use our Smartphone so often without a goal is also due to our general aversion to doing nothing. A number of studies have shown that when students are asked to spend 6-15 minutes alone in a room and devote only their thoughts, they report that they have difficulty concentrating. They perceive being alone as an unpleasant experience. If the subjects were offered to administer electric shocks to them while waiting, this offer was taken up at least once by 2/3 of the male and 1/3 of the female subjects. 8] We therefore prefer to engage in painful activities rather than doing nothing. All the better, of course, if our Smartphone offers us a way out of doing nothing, which also releases happiness hormones and is easy to reach.

Happiness hormones, oh, I see. Now, what does that have to do with the brain?

With regard to current neuroscientific research, changes in the brain can be detected through frequent internet use (especially in the case of internet addiction). It changes the dopamine system in the brain and responds to Internet use like a drug. [2] Changes are also evident in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with action planning, situational appropriate action control and the regulation of emotional processes, among other things. Here the control that the prefrontal cortex has over the rest of the brain is reduced by excessive Internet use. Particularly affected here is the ability to keep an eye on long-term goals, even when faced with distractions. [4]

In addition to these measurable changes in the brain, our cognitive performance is already reduced by the mere fact that a Smartphone is on the table. It has been shown that the available capacity of the working memory and fluid intelligence (i.e. the part of our intelligence associated with problem solving, learning and pattern recognition) decreases under the presence of the Smartphone, even if test persons are not actively using the device at that time. [7]

But what do these results mean for the attentive media user? Can I even be mindful and use a Smartphone? Or do I have to log out of all channels to find serenity? The answer is: no! I don’t have to give up all technology to be able to go through life concentrated and relaxed. Nevertheless, we should take a closer look at how mindfulness can be used to make the use of social media as healthy and sustainable as possible.

Mindfulness is a state of non-judgmental attention in the present moment. [3] But our attention cannot be on the moment if we are constantly on the mobile phone. We are dealing with contents and people who are most likely not relevant to our experience at that very moment. Nevertheless we want to stay in contact with our friends and acquaintances and be informed about what is happening in the world.

However, it is not impossible to be attentive without value while using a Smartphone. Even simple exercises such as perceiving the shape of the Smartphone or laptop can help. How many buttons does the device have? How do the surfaces, edges and corners feel?

Well then out with it: how do I use my Smartphone carefully?

From a mindfulness perspective, the pure use of a Smartphone is not critical, only critical is the unconscious use of the device. If we really want to take a closer look at how dependent we are on our devices and what effects a life without a screen would have, then a healthy middle way through “digital detox”, i.e. digital detox, can be found. Similar to a diet, digital media of all kinds (e.g. Smartphone, laptops, Internet, TV) are partially or completely avoided for a certain period of time. This can be 15 minutes a day or a whole day every now and then, but also several weeks. How often and how long this somewhat different detoxification treatment is integrated into your life is relatively flexible and can be adapted to your individual needs.

Another bright spot: Nowadays there are many apps and also settings for Smartphone that record the time a device, a certain app or a website is used. This makes it transparent to the user how much time is spent per day and how. This creates some “aha” effects, which in turn can create awareness for one’s own behavior patterns and then help to use digital media more attentively.

Exciting, isn’t it? Would you like to try a digital detox? Or did you immediately feel like integrating mindfulness through meditation into your life? Mindfulife offers weekly mindfulness courses (and even private lessons) – come and visit us there!


 [1] Frees, B., & Koch, W., (2018) ARD/ZDF-Onlinestudie 2018: Zuwachs bei medialer Internetnutzung und Kommunikation

[2] Hou, H., Jia, S., Hu, S., Fan, R., Sun, W., Sun, T., & Zhang, H. (2012). Reduced striatal dopamine transporters in people with internet addiction disorder. BioMed Research International, 2012.

[3] Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living. New York, NY: Delta Publishing.

[4] Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2015). Brains online: structural and functional correlates of habitual Internet use. Addiction biology, 20(2), 415-422.

[5] Marty-Dugas, J., Ralph, B. C., Oakman, J. M., & Smilek, D. (2018). The relation between smartphone use and everyday inattention. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 5(1), 46.

[6] Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Decreases in psychological well-being among American adolescents after 2012 and links to screen time during the rise of smartphone technology.

[7] Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: the mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2(2), 140-154.

[8] Wilson, T. D., Reinhard, D. A., Westgate, E. C., Gilbert, D. T., Ellerbeck, N., Hahn, C., & Shaked, A. (2014). Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind. Science, 345(6192), 75-77.


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