Need to reduce your reliance on gadgets? Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The LightHouse Arabia (www.lighthousearabia.com) has drawn up this week-long plan exclusively for us to help you minimise the use of electronics…
1. Monitor your stats. Check how much time you are spending on your most popular phone apps by going to your settings and checking the battery life, which breaks down the share of battery usage by app. Make a written note of what you have used in the past 24 hours then check back once a day to note down how it has changed. You’ll be able to compare your before and after stats at the end of the seven-day detox.
2. Log your checks. Make a note of how often you tend to check your phone and other electronic devices throughout the day, with the aim of reducing this significantly as the week goes on. You can download apps like Checky to help you keep a record of this.
3. Write your diary. At the end of each day, complete a written diary entry noting whether you successfully completed each daily task, plus how you felt about tackling the challenge. Add in any thoughts about what you found most difficult, or what was surprisingly easy, and the positive effects it had on you and those around you.
Day 1: Engage with people, not gadgets
The task: Keep your phone in another room while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The challenge: Leave your phone in the car when going out with friends. Do this the next five times you go out.
Dr Saliha says: During mealtimes especially, you should be engaging with your food and making conversation with those around you, not checking emails. Ditching your phone will give you the quality time you crave with friends and family.
Day 2: Keep your downtime time empty
The task: Do not use your mobile phone while you are waiting around, whether you’re in line at the grocery store, stopped at the traffic lights, cooking dinner, or the kids are busy playing, for instance. Instead, look around and observe your surroundings.
The challenge: During empty moments, resist the urge to reach for your phone every two seconds. Challenge yourself to see how few times you can check your phone throughout the day. Do a mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes, three times a day (in the morning, midway throughout the day and before you sleep). You can prep for this in advance by researching a simple meditation exercise to use or downloading a podcast or app that you can listen to without the need to interact with your device.
Dr Saliha says: When you have time out to simply be, with no distractions, don’t try to fill it up by frantically checking your devices. Having regular moments of downtime is essential for mental and emotional wellbeing and for keeping stress at bay.
Day 3: Switch off overnight
The task: Turn off all your electronics and Wi-Fi overnight – aim for 8pm to 8am.
The challenge: Carry this on for the rest of the week and push yourself to see how early you can switch off each night. Use the time to reignite a favourite pastime, play a board game, or settle down and read a book.
Dr Saliha says: Ideally, evenings should be a time to relax and unwind from any stresses from the day but if you’re still checking your electronics this simply won’t happen. While it’s OK to catch up on your favourite television series occasionally, try to focus on avoiding screens altogether and aim for more calming activities that don’t need plugging in.
Day 4: Focus on quality communication
The task: Don’t use WhatsApp, email, or text message to communicate with friends and family (although you can still use it for work). If you need to communicate with your nearest and dearest, call them or write them a note.
The challenge: Carry on for the rest of the week but make sure you call a loved one every day to check in and say “hello”.
Dr Saliha says: We’re so used to instant messaging that it’s easy to bombard those closest to you with a stream of consciousness. Help yourself – and them – cut down on information overload by scaling back to what’s most important. If you call them once a day, for instance, you’ll focus on offering them just the highlights instead of every little detail of your life.
Day 5: Crackdown on social media
The task: Do not engage in social media for the day.
The challenge: Carry this on for the entire week and delete all social media applications from your phone – that includes WhatsApp. In addition, put a self-imposed ban on taking pictures during two social events. Instead let yourself be absorbed in the moment through all your senses in the moment so you can take mental images.
Dr Saliha says: Many of us are guilty of living our lives through social media but this often means we’re missing out on richer experiences. Not everything we do needs to be shared – keep some of it just for yourself and it’ll feel more special.
Day 6: Break the click-happy email habit
The task: Only check your emails on your laptop or computer (not through your phone) three times a day – morning, afternoon and before leaving work. Leave an out-of-office response after the work day is over.
The challenge: Don’t check your emails at any other times for the rest of the week, including over the weekend. Make sure your out-of-office is switched on from 6pm on Thursday to 8am on Sunday, letting people know you will not be checking your emails on the weekend.
Dr Saliha says: It’s so important to take a break from emails during leisure time. While it may not be realistic all the time – if you have a big project on at work, for instance – reclaiming your free time is essential for your wellbeing and, in turn, you may find you’re more productive when you are at work.
Day 7: Rediscover the power of pen and paper
The task: Call three people and tell them you love them and why.
The challenge: Write five cards or letters to people you love expressing gratitude and either hand-deliver them or send them.
Dr Saliha says: By the end of the week you should have broken most of your electronic habits, freeing up more spare time to focus on the things that really matter. Writing down your thoughts and feelings and sharing them with friends and family can be cathartic and helps you focus the mind on what’s important without a million distractions.
On one day during your digital detox, try to factor in three consecutive hours of silence, which includes no reading, no writing, no speaking, no TV and no typing – no sleeping either!