Week Nine: Identifying Alternate Activities

Photo courtesy of @alesnesetril via unsplash

Even with rules and tools, you will still likely face some challenges doing the digital detox/declutter we’re kicking off a week from today.

That’s because your daily tech habits are more complex than you may realize. Those habits…

  • Have been programmed into your neural pathways after months or years of repetition, (i.e. your brain is comfy with the status quo.)
  • May be giving you a deep sense of safety and security — both figuratively and literally — that will feel disconcerting to mess with.
  • May be helping you fill a void in your life or avoid painful truths or tasks you’d rather not face.
  • May be feeding an active addiction, (for example, more than 75% of users consider themselves addicted to their phones.)
  • Are being actively manipulated by teams of people in Silicon Valley whose job it is to make sure you don’t stop using the tools they’ve created.

So no, willpower alone likely won’t be enough get you through 30 days. You’re going to need more ammunition in your arsenal.

Stopping yourself in the moment

Despite your rules and tools, (which addressed the cues and cravings that drive the tech habits you‘re trying to reign in) there will be times during the upcoming 30 day detox when you’ll instinctively reach for the very technology you’ve decided to limit.

When that happens, it’s important to immediately interrupt this response and do something, anything, else.

For example, instead of automatically reaching for your phone, checking a social feed, or turning on the TV, you could…

  • Take a series of deep breaths
  • Do five jumping jacks
  • Drink a glass of water

It doesn’t really matter what you do, (although ideally it’d be nice if it were something positive and/or good for you) only that the activity is something you could do right this very second instead of clicking that button.

The activities you choose should be short enough that you won’t get bogged down with the logistics of completing the task, but long enough that they actually interrupt your behavior. For example, simply thinking a mantra like, “Don’t use my phone,” would be too easy for your brain to override or ignore.

This tactic is simply a stop-gap measure to get you to recognize your deeply programmed stimulus+response cycle, break you out of auto-pilot behavior, and change the association in your brain from “get cue > use technology” to “get cue > “do new activity.”

Redirecting your attention

Interrupting your habits in the moment will be half the battle, though. (A person can only do so many jumping jacks in a day!)

Once you’ve stopped the auto-pilot response, you’ll still be faced with an open window of time that you’re no longer able to fill with your go-to technology.

That’s why it would be helpful to create a second list of things that take a little bit longer to do — things that have a teeny reward associated with their completion.

Sure, it’d be cool if this list included items related to the goals you established at the beginning of this course, but chances are you’re not in a place to do that deeper work yet. (Let’s be honest, you were likely drawn to the allure of tech interruptions because you wanted a break from your life, not because you wanted to work on improving it all the time.)

This second list should consist of short and easy projects you’d like to do, but rarely get around to doing because of technological distractions. Like…

  • Finally sewing that button that fell off your shirt last year.
  • Brainstorming summer vacation spots.
  • Doing 10 minutes of gentle yoga stretches.
  • Doing some easy arts/crafts/projects like a coloring a coloring book or cooking a new dish.
  • Cleaning something… anything.

Make sure these projects are simple enough that you’ll actually complete them. Doing so will reward you with good feelings that will motivate you to tackle other small tasks, and will also replicate some of the good feelings that your technology use formerly provided for you. (We’re essentially setting up a new feedback loop.)

This week’s exercise

Using the information provided above, spend some time this week creating your two lists:

  • A list of alternate things to do in the moment. Whenever you find yourself automatically reaching for your phone/iPad/computer, what can you do to quickly interrupt this behavior? If you need help making a list, review the rules you made last week. Are any of the habits you identified activities you do on auto-pilot? For example, do you always visit a specific app when you’re between meetings at work? If so, is there something else quick and easy you can do instead, like read a daily quote or say hi to a co-worker?
  • A list of quick/easy projects to do in open windows of time that tech used to fill. If you successfully stopped yourself in the moment from using the tech you’re limiting, how can you now redirect your attention and fill the window of time that opens up? Keep this list simple and tactical for now. These are just activities to keep you occupied while you gain your footing during the first two weeks of this 30 day detox, (which is often the hardest part to manage.)

I would recommend drafting both of these lists on a post-it note (or multiple notes) and sticking them in places where they’ll be easy to see during your detox next week, (for example on/near the technology you regularly use, such as your iPad, computer, TV etc.)

Between last week’s rules and tools and these two sets of lists you should be ready to start your detox a week from today. Next week we’ll also be shifting gears to focus more on finding balance in the free time that’s going to open up in your life. I look forward to seeing you then.

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Digital Wellness Coach and Consultant | Author | Speaker| More info at jenkane.com