How I Won the War Against My Smartphone

You and your smartphone, you're inseparable. It's in your hands when you're walking, on your desk when you're working, and on the breakfast table with your coffee. It comes uninvited to the restaurant when you're dining out, and even into the bathroom, where no one would dare venture with you.

It's more than a love story; it's an addiction. The proof? When you realize you forgot to put it in your pocket when you go out to buy groceries, you feel naked. And while you can survive without your partner or your family for a day, a week or a month, it's impossible to do the same with (or rather without) your smartphone.

It's because it gives you so much comfort. Because it allows you to be connected everywhere, all the time, you're constantly checking your mailbox, your Twitter or Facebook account. You do it so often, in fact, that most of the time you do it for nothing. Or, maybe worse, your social life or your job cause the opposite effect. You're wanted all the time. Your desire is fueled by necessity and nothing can stop you now.

I was the same. Each new notification was a source of pleasure, a little piece of candy, which reminded me I really existed. But it's a brief exercise, its effects will be fleeting and immediately you have to do it again. The worst part of this whole business is we know very well that eight times out of ten, checking our mailbox, our Twitter or Facebook account serves no purpose. Deep in our hearts, we're even certain it's a waste of time. But we do it anyway.

In a word, we're hooked. Oh, nothing serious, nothing comparable in terms of financial and personal cost to being addicted to cocaine, but a problem nonetheless. How can we get rid of it?

The most dramatic solution would be to set ourselves on fire in a pagan ceremony. Another calls for obtaining a "dumbphone" like the old Ericsson or Nokia 3310 (remember?) lying around in a drawer, a choice that has the merit of giving you the aura of a dealer. Third solution, opt for therapy.

Psychoanalysis, to return to the roots of this need, or behavioral to unlearn these actions... We must admit that to arrive at this juncture, we've really had to reach the peak of connectivity. So if like me you're a normal human being and you recognized yourself in this portrait, I may have a solution.

Neither Buddhist nor guru

I don't know if it's THE solution, but it has the merit of combining several advantages. It doesn't require much time, it costs nothing (or almost), and its benefits go far beyond regaining our control over our smartphone. It's called meditation.

I am, however, neither a Buddhist nor a guru. This is important to specify because a few months ago, I thought this practice necessarily had to relate to one or the other. Like a growing number of French people, I learned this wasn't true and that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater by equating meditation with the risk of falling into the clutches of a sect (which does not diminish the danger that sects represent).

Yes, meditation can be secular. It was proved to me a few days ago when I went as a journalist to the Sainte Anne hospital. In this mental institution, so-called "mindfulness" meditation is used to prevent depression relapses. This is also the case in many American institutions, where it has been taught for over 30 years, also in an entirely secular framework.

Despite a growing number of studies that demonstrate its benefits, some skeptics still refuse to consider its effects. They see it as competition to more traditional forms of therapy along the lines of psychoanalysis, which is like saying chemistry competes with physics. Psychoanalysis and mindfulness meditation are actually two very different things.

So how has mindfulness meditation helped me to manage the painful relationship I had with my phone, notably, and with the new technologies in general? First, a word about the technique.

A matter of minutes

In its narrow and utilitarian version, mindfulness meditation consists of practicing different activities aimed at bringing us fully into the present moment.

Breathing, awareness of our body, recognition of emotions and feelings the better to let them go, the idea is not to create a vacuum, but truly to be present, and therefore active, while making no effort, a balancing act many books explain much better than I can.

After two months of practice -- 10 minutes a day, then 15 and now 20, all thanks... to my smartphone (yes, there's an app for that, and even more). I realized that mindfulness meditation may be a technique, but mostly it's an ability, the ability to disconnect (notably from my smartphone) to reconnect with my body and my immediate surroundings.

It is therefore not to be absent, but to learn to be fully present.

The solution to your problem of connectivity is therefore perhaps not a matter of hours, but of a few minutes a day. I admit, finding 10 minutes in which to devote myself to meditation was a challenge at first. But after a few weeks of mindfulness, it became a lot easier.

Yet I don't feel I've made a major effort, and in fact I'm still not really making a major effort. And although this statement seems strange to me and surprises me, it does not seem incongruous to say that I'm more in control of myself. I like to think this is one of the effects of neuroplasticity, something I would not presume to say if science had not demonstrated it. Because if there's one idea that needs to be shot down, it's that we are immutable, we can't change. This is false.

Regain control

Our brain is plastic, and you are experiencing this whenever you learn a new skill or you notice that your tennis game has improved.

While 20 minutes of exercise per day enables you to get in shape, 20 minutes of meditation allows me to better control my connected life. When I wake up in the morning, I don't hurl myself on my iPhone -- which also serves as my alarm clock -- to check my emails, as I was doing systematically. I've also put a stop to this unnecessary consultation of my inbox between home and the entrance to the nearest subway station.

As for the emails I used to receive and needed to answer but didn't because it was too much, I now find the time to answer them with pleasure. Because if there's one area in which I've improved, it's how to manage multitasking.

Skipping from mailbox to Facebook, from Facebook to this article I'm trying to write, from this article to a phone call... All this is exhausting. I'd find myself clicking without knowing why I had clicked or what I had clicked on. Sometimes, coming home in the evening, I couldn't recall what had happened during the day.

Multitasking had imposed its flow on me, it was decidiing for me, erasing my memory, but also the feeling of being alive that I sought in new stimulation. With mindfulness, that's over.

Not that I've stopped keeping five tabs open simultaneously on my computer; they're still there, wide open right now as I write, but let's say, here too again, without any effort, without the need for repress anything, I stay in control. Sometimes when I'm about to switch from one task to another, I take a few seconds to breathe, I stop and I don't do it. It feels like wisdom, in the best sense of the word.

Telling the difference between urgent and important

This is all well and good, but how do you actually get there? In my case it was pretty simple. Just practice, take the time to get into the meditative state. The good news? It's a virtuous circle. The practice of meditation nourishes the need to meditate.

Most often, I meditate in the morning, before leaving my home to plunge into the subway. In retrospect, it seems unlikely I'd be able to get up twenty minutes earlier to sit on a chair, feeling groggy, and meditate. For a long time I didn't go to bed early; today it's a breeze.

Why? Probably because I know getting up 20 minutes earlier to spend time with myself tomorrow is more important than watching another episode of my favorite show tonight, but it's not only that. If it's a breeze, it's also because I'm better able to make a decision that will bring me no satisfaction in the short term, but more satisfaction in the medium and long term.

Another example of this virtuous circle, when I don't have time to meditate at home, I do it in the subway (eyes open, I look perfectly normal, except for one thing, I'm sitting up straight). As a result, when I come up from underground, the last thing I want to do is check my emails. Most often, I leave my phone in airplane mode and I reconnect when I get to the office.

It's not all smooth sailing. Sometimes my smartphone takes over again. Other times, I can't meditate because I simply lack the time, strength or ability, or all three. But now those instances are exceptions because I've learned to distinguish between what the psychiatrist Christophe André calls "the urgent and the important."

Yes, meditation allows us to see more clearly. It also helps improve the quality of our attention to others, colleagues, friends, family, with whom I maintain better relationships. And the reason is simple. I think of them during my short meditation sessions; I take a more benevolent attitude towards them. It's the other major benefit of this victory against my smartphone.

Balance sheet

Do I use the internet less? No, I use it better. Above all, I no longer suffer from using it.

Can it work for everyone? Theoretically, yes, nothing should stop you, but it would be foolish to assert this with so much certainty. A number of scientific studies are nonetheless able to support my argument.

Should everyone do it? No, you should do it only if you like the idea. Though it worked for me, I don't think everyone needs to meditate.

Three things before concluding:

First, I notice that I'm also less angry and less frustrated. Which doesn't mean I don't feel bad at times, or that I'm no longer subject to longing or joy. Fortunately, I still am. "Meditation is not an antidote to life," as Florent Dulong, clinical nurse specialist at Sainte-Anne, explained to me when I was doing my reporting, and that's just fine.

Furthermore, meditation certainly has more to offer than just help for disconnecting, reducing stress or improving relationships with others. If this account seems to reflect a narrow view of the practice, it may be a necessary evil in order to give meditation the consideration it deserves. Feel free to share your opinion or your experience in the comments.

Finally, if you too find yourself spending too much time checking your email, or doing it when you might as well be doing something else, if it's affecting your social life, or if you would like things to be different, yes, really, I suggest you meditate on it. You have so much more to gain than just a few minutes of quiet.

With our lives inescapably intertwined with technology, with children and adults spending ever more time in front of screens, it's important that we look at how being constantly plugged-in impacts our lives. That's why The Huffington Post launched Screen Sense last year, a section devoted to promoting mindfulness when it comes to how and when we use our technological devices.

This week we're taking our message global by having our international editions join the Screen Sense conversation. The goal is to start a worldwide conversation about the science behind screens as well as help each other navigate the complicated and ever-changing world of technology -- to look at how it affects our children, our marriages, our friendships, our futures.

The above article is from HuffPost France.

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