How to break up with your phone, Double Arrow Metabolism edition, days 20-23

Well. That did not go well. My Saturday was fine. I raced in the first race of the Rage Against the Chainring series, and finished 16/55 in the "B" race, about as good a result as I could have hoped for:

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I spent precious little time on my phone Saturday, but I can't prove it since I deleted Moment over the weekend. I just couldn't handle the notifications, and I couldn't justify having the app without having it remind me to stay off my phone. So it's gonzo. 

Sunday, though, was tough. I started strong and left my phone in an inconspicuous place, and I did well staying away from it through the morning and early afternoon. I did fun things with real people, per Catherine's instructions. I didn't even get any Rubicon consults. Come evening, though, the seeding for the NCAA men's basketball tournament came down the tracks like a locomotive. And I just. Couldn't. Stop. Myself. from looking to see where my beloved Kansas State Wildcats ended up. I didn't even consciously cheat. I just walked by my phone and casually picked it up and tuned into the NCAA website:

Answer: on a collision course with a first-weekend exit. 

Answer: on a collision course with a first-weekend exit. 

And once I'd peeked to see where the 'Cats were, I couldn't resist looking to see where the rest of the Big XII ended up, and then where Wichita State was seeded, and then a bunch of posts on The Ringer and ESPN about how easy the Xavier/UNC bracket was. I killed an hour, easy. On a day I was supposed to be phone-free. Sigh. 

But yesterday (Monday) was a new day. It was the first day of My New Relationship with my phone. Catherine told me to answer a series of questions she calls "See/Think/Feel/Wonder."

What did I observe (see) about myself and my behavior and emotions during my twenty-four-hour trial separation?

When I actually managed to keep away from my phone, say before and after the hours of 4-6 pm CST, I felt great. I did meaningful work around the house, I asked my kids questions, and I did the laundry in silence (sans podcast). I was a better person than I am with my phone distracting me. 

What do these observations make me think about? When I reflect back on my experience, what thoughts come into my mind?

I feel like, even after three weeks of conscious effort and months or years of half-assed behavior modification before that, I still have work to do. 

Now that i've made it through the Trial Separation, how do i feel about my phone itself, as well as my relationship with it?

I still feel like my phone is very, very valuable for specific tasks, like my to-do list, my calendar, and podcasts. And being a phone, of course, And texting, to a smaller extent. But the rest of my phone is an elaborately designed distraction device. It is definitely expendable for large swaths of the day. 

Now that I've completed the Trial Separation and begun to deeply observe my relationship with my phone, what do I wonder? What questions do I have? What do I want to know more about? What would I like to investigate further or look into more?

I wonder if I could really go back to having just a home phone and a paper planner, or if I could at least revert to a flip phone. I know it would cause me to carry a paper planner around, which would be a drag, but I already carry a notebook and pen most places, so it wouldn't be a big deal. I'd miss being able to coordinate my calendar with my wife. I'd miss getting my kids' school calendars automatically through Google on my phone. I'd like to investigate more how I could handle those issues through my work computer. 

What was the hardest part?

Finding the results of NCAA tournament bracket seeding in a house with no cable subscription, obviously. 

What was the best part?

I had several Beyblade battles with my son without the threat of phone interruptions. 

What surprised me?

I was surprised that I fell back into phone use so easily. It really disappointed me that I was so weak.

What did I learn from the experience that I can use once my official breakup is over?

If I really want to stay away from the device, it needs to be in a different room. It's that bad.

Day 23, Tuesday, today, was to Phast. Catherine said to pick a time today to take at least a half-hour break when my phone would be either unavailable or turned off. This was easy. I knew I had a couple high-level tasks to complete this morning before going to lunch and then going to KUSM-Wichita to teach at one pm. So I silenced my phone at 10 am and stuck it in my briefcase. I used a desktop computer to order Chipotle for carry-out. Then I sat down and ground out a couple hours' work on the use of the Diabetes Prevention Program for osteoarthritic pain. It felt great to work without interruption or distraction from my phone and to have something to show for the morning. 

How to break up with your phone, Double Arrow Metabolism edition: Day three

Today's imperative is to Start Paying Attention. We're still in the Technology Triage, which seems to be a set of steps toward mindfulness about phone use. I've been instructed by Catherine to take notice of:

  • Situations in which I nearly always find myself using my phone.

Honestly, the most consistent place I use my phone is the bathroom. People used to take the newspaper in there. Now we take our devices. I don't have to tell you that, on reflection, this is a disturbing habit. We have studies of the general uncleanliness of white coats and stethoscopes. I have little doubt that my phone is an equally dangerous fomite. At least the literature says so. Because here's the deal: I'm a religious hand-washer. But I never, ever wash my phone. I may take the cover off once in a while to wipe off visible dirt, but even that procedure is purely cosmetic. I'm not going for any kind of deep clean. And I damn sure don't do it after the bathroom on any consistent basis. And the phone touches my face!

  • Note the first time in the morning and the last time in the evening that I typically look at my phone.

I looked at my phone about an hour after waking up this morning to see the weather. Well, that's not completely true. My phone was my alarm clock, so I turned off the alarm, if that counts. And I hit play for an hour while I Zwifted and showered. But I didn't get past the lock screen, which is what Medium counts as opening my device, until about an hour after waking.

  • How my posture changes when using my phone.

Meh. Not much. Like I've said before, I don't get the physical manifestations of phone overuse. It's just like reading a book for me. And I don't text enough to get smartphone thumb

  • My emotional state right before I reach for my phone (for example: bored, curious, anxious, happy, lonely excited, sad, loving, and so on).

Well, it's sure as hell not loving. I don't even know what that means. It's definitely bored. B-O-R-E-D. Escape from boredom is the #1, 2, 3, and 4 reason I reach for my phone. #5 is probably curious. I want to know if say, Tessa Virtue is a made-up name (it's not, by the way), so I reach for the old accessory brain and have at it. But maybe curiosity is just an excuse for reaching for my security blanket. 

  • My emotional state right after I use my phone (do I feel better? Worse? Did my phone satisfy whatever emotional need caused me to reach for it?)

Lately, thanks to Catherine and Medium, my primary feeling is guilt. I know they're watching, and I know I've let them down. If I catch an important email, or if I do a RubiconMD consult, it's relief with some satisfaction mixed in.

  • How and how often my phone grabs my attention (via notifications, texts, and the like)

Almost never. Like I've said, I shut all that off long ago. Any beep or buzz I hear now I assume is an Amber Alert or a tornado warning. 

  • How I feel when I'm not using my phone--as well as how I feel when I realize that I don't have my phone. The point here is to start to become aware of when and how your phone triggers my brain to release dopamine and cortisol--and what I feel like when that happens.

I feel fine, great even, when I'm not using my phone. But I have to admit that realizing I don't have it causes significant stress. My phone is a wedding ring item, and I feel uneasy with it too far away from me. I can't explain why. I don't have a job anymore that relies on prompt return of urgent pages or calls. I wonder: could this be a cause of false positive testing for Cushings? That is, could phone-related stress cause a robust enough cortisol response to bump someone's urine free cortisol level or bedtime salivary cortisol level? The 30-second Pubmed search I just tapped in was unrevealing.

  • Moments--either on or off my phone--when I feel some combination of engaged, energized, joyful, effective, and purposeful. When that happens, notice what I'm doing, who I'm with, and whether my phone is involved. 

Today I gave a webinar on team-based hypertension strategies. My phone was nowhere to be found, obviously. I like public speaking, and I like the topic, but I didn't really feel flow. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever felt flow in the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sense. (yes, I had to Google his name for spelling) I get annoyed that so many self-help books beat the drum of "flow." Because I feel like even the things I'm good at require constant care and feeding. I never enter a state of easy, undistracted "flow." Maybe I just misunderstand the concept. But back to the webinar: I was (virtually) with people who were interested in the topic. The talk had a clear purpose. It felt great. 

  • How and when other people use their phones--and how it makes me feel.

Rage. Rage. When I'm trying to carry on a conversation with someone and he or she pulls a phone out of a pocket, I feel like some sacred space has been violated. Worst of all, I know I've done it to other people in the past. 

  • Lastly, choose several moments in my day when I seem to pick up my phone the most often, and see if I can identify a consistent trigger that makes me repeat the habit.

Pooping. Almost always pooping. 


I don't have to check my phone at work because I sit in front of a computer all day, and the computer has 99% of what my phone would tempt me with. This isn't a good thing. It just is. 

  • Finally, Catherine recommends a "phone meditation" exercise. She tells me to take out my phone and hold it without unlocking it. I'm supposed to note any changes in my breathing, posture, focus, or emotional state. 

I feel nothing. 

  • She says to unlock the phone and open an app I use frequently, then scan myself for changes. 

I open Safari to see the score of the Kansas State-Texas men's basketball game:


I feel relief that the 'Cats (EMAW) aren't sabotaging their NCAA tournament chances against the bottom half of the Big XII. Otherwise, I don't feel much. Scratch that. I feel guilty because I'm racking up time on Moment in the process of completing this exercise. *shakes fist at Catherine*

  • Then, I'm supposed to put a reminder on the phone to tell me I'm doing something with it when I reach for it. Catherine says this can be another wallpaper that says "Why did you pick me up?" (this book is really optimistic about wallpaper), or it can be a physical gadget to feel on the outside.

I choose one of my daughter's hair bands. I'd take a picture of it wrapped around my phone, but my only camera is my phone. So you'll have to see it in your mind's eye.

  • Finally, finally, Catherine tells me to put my phone away and see how I feel. 

Ahh. I'm in the clear with Moment for the night. That feels good.