Kick Your Phone Habit With This Smoking-Cessation Technique

Kick Your Phone Habit With This Smoking-Cessation Technique
Photo: andrey_l, Shutterstock

At this point, you’ve probably read of the detrimental impact doomscrolling habits can have on your mental health (if you couldn’t already tell by the fact that doing it makes you feel terrible). Maybe you’ve even cut back a little. But then last week happened. And even if you’re now more in the territory of “cautious-optimism-scrolling,” the latest twists in the news cycle have probably put your phones firmly back into your hands.

Now that the U.S. election has been decided(-ish), though, you may find you are once again in need of help managing your phone addition — which might be even stronger than before. If you’re looking to change things, you may want to consider trying to kick your phone using a technique designed to help people manage another major addiction: smoking. Here’s what to do.

The methodology

When Australian writer McKinley Valentine realised that she was constantly checking her phone and that the constant stream of garbage commentary it exposed her to was bringing down her mood, she decided to do something about it. In an article about her experience written for Better Humans, she describes how she got started:

I tried turning notifications off on every app. I just got anxious and opened the apps more often.

I tried deleting the apps that caused problems — social media, news, messages — from my phone. I ended up just accessing them in the browser.

I tried using apps like Stay Focused to block my access. I’d just disable them.

I tried just not checking my phone — the cold turkey method — and folks, it didn’t go great. All it did was add a layer of guilt to my bad habit and sour mood.

I thought: I have to get smarter about this. Who knows about addiction? What addiction has been studied in-depth, for decades, with an absolutely massive group of experiment subjects, to establish the best-practice methods? Cigarettes!

Valentine then tried several research-backed smoking cessation techniques before landing on one that worked better than the others: Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Quit Smoking, found in his 2011 book of the same name.

The Alan Carr method

Not only did Valentine’s brother have success quitting smoking using Alan Carr’s Easy Way (ACE), the method also has withstood scrutiny in studies — including one published in 2020 in the journal Addiction, which found that it’s as effective as traditional smoking cessation techniques.These are the steps:

Remind yourself of what smoking/phone use does to you

Carr begins with a rundown of all the negative outcomes of smoking (Valentine recreated this by reading a bunch of internet articles on the subject). Yes, it’s mostly stuff we already know, but the point is to reinforce the idea that there is a huge disconnect between what we want and what we actually enjoy.

Here’s how Valentine explains it:

Carr recommends working to really notice and internalize that disconnect. He tells smokers to pay attention to their next cigarette. It’s like mindfulness but for noticing the unpleasantness. How does it taste? Not, “how did you imagine it would taste when you were craving it,” but how does it actually taste? Does it smell nice? Do your hands smell nice? How do you feel — do you actually feel more relaxed, or do you feel worse?

She then tried this mindfulness strategy by spending a few minutes on Twitter, and noticed that she definitely felt worse afterward. “The more I really paid attention to the reality of how much I ‘liked’ checking my phone, the easier it became to resist the impulse. It just became…obvious,” she writes.

Set a date

Next on the anti-smoking (or in this case, phone) agenda: setting a date to quit and actively looking forward to it. Per Valentine:

Don’t think, “Oh god, I have to quit. That’s gonna suck.” Tell yourself, “I can’t wait till I quit! I’m gonna be so much less stressed, I’ll have more free time, I’ll be a more attentive friend…” See quitting as a glorious opportunity, something to anticipate, not a burden.

From here, Valentine continued with the rest of Carr’s methods, which can be found on his website. She does caution that the site really pushes his seminars and other things you have to pay for, but you can get everything you need from the book (which is available for purchase in the usual spots).

The results

Of all the smoking cession techniques she attempted (you can read about those in her article), Valentine had the most success with Carr’s, which, she says, didn’t just help her resist the urge to check her phone — it removed them:

In the end, it wasn’t so much like choosing the obviously better option — I mean, I’ve known for years that there are better options than getting tense and wired every time I have a “break.” It was more like the decision was made for me at a layer deeper than my usual verbal thinking brain. It just settled there and became reality.

And while she didn’t undergo a miraculous, life-changing experience exactly, Valentine does say that the difference in her mood has been noticeable, and the flow of her days has improved without all the constant phone-checking. If you’ve found yourself in a similar place post-election, you may want to give Carr’s method a shot.

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