Unplug Your Life: Phone Detox

You’re starting to sweat. Your eyes dart around the room. Your breathing is quick and shallow.

What’s going to happen to me? How can I do this?

Your fingers fidget in your pockets, grasping for something that’s just not there.

How much longer can I make it?

How much longer . . . without your cell phone?

You left it in your kitchen when you left for work. In the car when you went to dinner. Downstairs when you went to bed. It doesn’t matter where. The point is, if being without your phone leaves you feeling like Gollum without his ring, you might have a problem.

The Problem

The results are in: cell phone addiction is real, and it’s widespread. The average American adult spends nearly three hours every day in front of their smartphone. Three hours. That’s more time than eating, drinking, or exercising. Over the course of a life, that’s about seven and a half years spent on your phone.

You’ll discover something amazing: the present moment.

And just so we don’t get lost in the numbers, consider the experience of one mom who was concerned about the effect that using her cell phone was having on her life. She decided to count the number of times her young sons looked to her for affirmation or attention in just one thirty-minute period of play. She counted at least twenty-eight times. Twenty-eight moments of affirmation and attention she would have missed if she had been on her phone.

Maybe you’re not addicted to your phone. Maybe you just have some really bad habits when it comes to using your phone. Does this sound like you?

  • Checking your phone during conversations with family or friends.
  • Sleeping with your phone by your bed and checking it multiple times a night.
  • Allowing your phone to negatively impact your work and productivity.

Whether you are addicted to your phone or feel like you have just fallen into some bad habits that you want to change, don’t worry. There is help. You can kick your phone addiction, stay off your phone, and change your cell phone habits.

The Solution

Below is a twelve-step phone detox designed to help you stay off your phone. It’s built on the principle of continuous improvement, which teaches us that one small step is always more successful and effective than any one giant leap. Here is what you need to know.

  • Each step in the detox is designed to be simple and achievable. We’ve put them in a specific order, but it is okay if you need to adjust the order a little bit to fit your comfort level. Like stretching your body, the next step should always be uncomfortable, but not painful.
  • Progress slowly and intentionally, and don’t move on to the next step until you feel you have mastered the previous step. There is no need to rush. Master the step you are on before you move forward.
  • Figure out what your personal goal is. Are you addicted to your phone, or do you just want to kick some bad habits? As you read through the steps, look for the behavior that is negatively influencing your life, and make sure you progress to that step. So, if you find yourself constantly distracted during meals because you are checking your phone, make sure you progress to a level that will help that problem. Remember, this is your phone detox, so feel free to customize it to your needs.

You’ll never know what new adventure you could find when your life isn’t being dictated by the small computer in your pocket.

If you take these steps and rely on continuous improvement, your cell phone habits will change. Let the fun begin!

1. Don’t sleep with your phone next to your bed.

It seems so innocent doesn’t it? And besides, you need your phone for your alarm, right?

But checking texts and alerts, turning to social media when you are restless, and checking your phone first thing in the morning are surefire signs of an unhealthy habit. It’s also proven to disrupt your sleep pattern and negatively impact your rest. It’s like the gateway drug to deeper issues. So get yourself a good old fashioned alarm clock, and leave the phone downstairs.

If you really feel like you need your phone in case of an emergency call or for your alarm, then at least leave it across the room. You’ll eliminate the temptation to check it during the night, and you will get up faster in the morning if you have to cross the room to turn off your alarm!

2. Don’t take your phone into the bathroom with you.

Have you ever stopped to think about how many of the likes you’ve gotten on Instagram or Facebook were given by someone who was on the toilet? Gross.

It’s a short separation, but you’re training yourself to survive without the phone bit by bit. Leave your phone in the next room while you’re using the facilities. It might even make your phone a little less like a germ incubator.

3. Turn off all phone notifications of any kind.

Notifications on your phone serve the same purpose as the bells in a casino. The bells and whistles make you think you’re a winner. And it’s a big part of why phone addiction exists.

When the notifications are on, you check more often, and pretty soon you’re checking your phone even when there is no notification at all. Cut this off at the pass by turning the notifications off.

4. Use your phone to help you stop using your phone.

This might sound a little counterintuitive, but hear me out. There are a number of cell phone apps out there designed to help you use your phone less.

They can block any app on your phone, but you should focus on the biggest time wasters: social media apps and email. Check out AppDetox, Breakfree, Moment, or Offtime in your app store. These free or low cost apps will help you block access to unwanted distractions. And then you’ll discover something amazing: the present moment.

5. Delete social media apps from your phone.

Whoa. We just got real. You’ve turned off the notifications. You’ve blocked social media during important parts of the day. Now it’s time to cut the cord.

Keep social media to your computer, and let your phone just be a phone. You might have an emotional connection to your social media, and I get that. But if you are ever really going to be free from your phone, you have to free yourself from the apps that pull you in again and again and again.

6. Leave your phone in another room.

Most of the steps so far have helped you use your phone less. We’ve been slowly eliminating the apps and notifications that turn our attention.

Now it’s time to start actually separating from the phone. Leave your phone in your car when you walk into the restaurant. Leave it in your office when you go to a meeting. It will still be accessible if you really need it, but now the beast is finally out of sight.

7. Leave your phone at home for a few hours.

Leave your phone at home when you go out with friends on Friday night. Leave it at home when you go golfing with your buddy on Saturday morning. Leave it at home when you go to church on Sunday.

The smartphone is a want. It’s not a need. You can live without it.

Now is the first real test of separation. You won’t be able to just run into the next room and grab it. It will be gone, and you will be free.

8. Turn off cellular data and Wi-Fi for one day.

For one day, don’t have a smartphone.

You’ll still receive calls and texts, but be prepared to make arrangements for something like GPS and music—like printing off directions ahead of time, or downloading music to your phone instead of streaming.

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9. Leave your phone in airplane mode for one day.

It’s with you if you really need it. It’s there, but it’s essentially off. No calls, no texts, no apps, nothing.

It’s best to do this step during a workday. And again, you’ll have to do some pre-planning. Make sure colleagues or family have your work number. Make sure plans are clear with friends ahead of time. Print off directions, or grab a CD. You’ll have the phone in case of an emergency, but the goal is to use it as nothing more than a paperweight.

10. Leave your phone turned off for one weekend.

One weekend. No phone.

Just you and the real world. Let your family and friends know ahead of time. Fill your newfound time with activities you were leaving out before. Maybe try getting an actual camera (I know, it’s kind of amazing that they still exist!), and go exploring in your city without the GPS. You’ll never know what new adventure you could find when your life isn’t being dictated by the small computer in your pocket.

11. Leave your phone at home every day for one week.

The phone has left the building. One work week, no phone.

After step nine, this step should be easy to achieve. You should know all the preparations you need to make, but now you are doing it for a week instead of a day.

12. Ditch the smartphone.

Complete and total phone detox.

You aren’t using apps or social media. You don’t take your phone to work anymore. You don’t use it on the weekends. You aren’t sleeping with it or taking it into the bathroom. It’s hard to believe, but you are actually alive and well without your phone. So get rid of it. Switch to a dumb phone, and let the phone just be a phone. Texting and calls. You really don’t need more than that.


The smartphone is a want. It’s not a need. You can live without it. People have for thousands of years before us. And now you can, too. And the next time you accidentally leave your phone at home, you won’t turn into that frantic person muttering my precious under their breath.

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