This (Very) Simple Trick Completely Changed the Way I Use My Phone

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5… 4… 3… 2… 1. A tremulous hand bears down upon a red button as Ludwig Göransson’s “Can You Hear the Music” erupts into a glorious crescendo. It’s the Trinity Test scene in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, and there isn’t a single sound in the theater. Even the critical function of drawing breath has been temporarily suspended. The explosive screech of violin strings is, however, underscored by one unexpected trill: a notification popping up on my phone. I tear my eyes away from the screen and impatiently set my phone face down—just another spam email. But it’s too late: Cillian Murphy’s shaky breathing fills the screen as a cataclysmic fireball consumes the horizon.

The delayed sound of the explosion has yet to arrive, but the urgent ting, ting, ting of more notifications sliding across my screen lures my attention again. Convinced that only a world-ending event could prompt so many notifications, I turn the phone back over—only to find more real estate offers and something about how all of my maybe-acquaintances are waiting for me to join Threads. I set my phone on vibrate in a huff and turn my attention to the screen, but the moment is lost. The thunderous roar of the explosion washes over the audience, and scientists cheer each other in giddy disbelief.

Here’s what happens when you constantly check phone notifications

My compulsive need to immediately check every random notification that pops up on my phone is perhaps not the healthiest, but hey—anyone else with a device that can activate the reward center of their brain with “likes” probably suffers from the same affliction. Yet no euphoric rush can compete with the amount of research stacked against that constant checking. Besides the proven link between smartphone use and stress, reports have shown that it takes an average of 25 minutes for a person to regain their focus after becoming distracted.

Ashutosh Shah, a consultant psychiatrist at the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai, explains, “FOMO can lead to compulsive notification checking and responding, which makes it challenging to continue being productive in day-to-day activities, further fueling anxiety and turning it into a vicious cycle. This impairs attention and interrupts work, school, and other everyday activities, making it difficult to return to and finish the task at hand.”

Tips for curbing those constant notifications

Determined to prevent a repeat of the Oppenheimer incident, I trawled the internet for solutions. Punitive measures ranged from switching to an old-school phone with minimal functionalities to using a greyscale timer every evening that turns your screen black-and-white to make it less appealing to the eye. Not ready to turn my smartphone into an expensive brick just yet, I instead removed notifications from my emails, text messages, and social media—leaving only WhatsApp on, so that my mind wouldn’t cave in on itself imagining all kinds of dire what-if scenarios.

The first thing I noticed when I turned off my notifications was silence—pure, blessed silence. While a younger me would have shuddered at the prospect, I now have evidence that even the most pressing work queries can—and will—wait until I log in the next morning. And on the weekends, without its constant chiming, I often lose track of my phone for hours, focusing instead on the movie, TV show, or book at hand. It’s a freeing experience, one that I regret not trying earlier.

Shah supports my conclusion that turning off notifications can help to temporarily alleviate distractions and anxiety. “However, this needs to be followed up with setting boundaries on your work time, assertive communication, and choosing your social circle with the consideration of whether your time boundaries are respected,” he adds. Getting people to adapt to the new you who isn’t available around the clock might take some time, but at the end of the day, no social cost is more important than protecting your peace.

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