I’ll admit it… Yes, I have an addiction. I’m addicted to my phone!

Do you often check you phone throughout the day checking for new likes, emails, text messages? Do you start you day by scrolling through Instagram and the same at bed time? Maybe you are having a similar problem. It is a nasty habit that needs to be broken!

I’ll explain why we are addicted and how to break and create healthy phone habits.

The first and best thing is to understand how addictions work and specifically why phone notifications can be so pleasurable to our brain.


In psychology, there are different types of reinforcement scheduling that trigger response behaviors. These schedules are the set of rules or protocol that one follows in order to receive a reward or reinforcement. Think of as if you were training a puppy to learn to sit. You want the puppy to learn that every time you use the command “sit”, that the puppy will sit on its hind legs and you will reward him. Over time the dog will learn that to command “sit”, followed by his response (sitting, the set rule), will lead to him receiving reinforcement (the doggie treat).

Cue + Response Behavior = Reward

In our case, when we hear the phone ping, we check our phones looking to receive a new notification, whether it be a text from a loved one or a new Instagram like. We love getting new notifications because they are pleasurable to our brain. Our brain gets a surge of dopamine elevation (pleasure chemical). Like drug use, overtime, our body becomes tolerant to the chemical affects and to insure the original high, the body seeks a greater amount of that drug to overcome its desensitization. With phone addiction, we have learned that notifications are pleasurable and we keep checking and scrolling in order for the brain to receive that pleasurable reward. This is why it can be hard to put the phone down.

Notification Alert + Phone Checking = Pleasure from dopamine hit

Now that we understand the why phone checking is so pleasurable, I’ll cover why it’s reinforcement schedule is so addicting.

There are four types of Intermittent Schedules of Reinforcement.

  • Fixed Ratio (FR) Schedule
    • Receiving reinforcement after a  fixed or set number of correct responses.
      • ex. getting a point for every correct answer on Jeopardy
  • Fixed Interval (FI) Schedule
    • Receiving availability to reinforcement after a fixed amount of time.
      • ex.Watching your favorite TV show every Monday
  • Variable Ratio (VR) Schedule
    • Receiving a reinforcement after an unpredicted amount of responses.
      • ex. slot machines
  • Variable Interval (VI) Schedule
    • Receiving a reinforcement after an unpredicted amount of time.
      • ex. Email

As we all know, gambling can become a nasty addiction. For instance slot machines; you are betting to win or lose based on an unpredicted amount of attempts. This is run on a Variable Ratio Schedule, the most addicting and hardest to extinguish reinforcement schedule.  Phone additions run on the same variable ratio reinforcement schedule.

Like pulling the slot handle to win big, periodically checking new notifications is you acting on a Variable Ratio Schedule. There is no predictable amount of times that you would need to check or scroll through your phone, until you received a new notification/reward. Scrolling app feeds like Instagram and Facebook are set up the same way. It uses an unpredicted amount of scrolls you through do through the feed until you find that hilarious dance video or juicy photo of your old college buddies engagement.


Now that you understand the psychology behind phone addiction, you probably want to know how to quit checking if that “hotline bling”. It’s not going to be a like turning a light switch. Breaking addictions takes time as you re-build healthy habits.

The key to extinguishing the behavior is by getting rid of the reinforcement. In this case, the reinforcement are the notifications that satisfy our brain. It is important that we are consistent as we relearn healthy habits.

Here’s what you need to do to quit checking your phone:

1. Know and Predict Your Weak Spots

When are you checking your phone the most? Is it when you wake up? While at work? During your commute? When you are feeling emotional or bored? Be self aware of your weak spots and plan accordingly. The following will help you adjust during those periods.

2. No Phones In Bed

Just for healthy sleep hygiene, you should not bring any electronics into bed, including laptops. Your bed should only be used for sleeping and sex. When you are doing other things in bed, like scrolling through Instagram, you are conditioning your brain to be wired in bed. The sole purpose to laying in bed is to sleep. Use an Old Fashioned Alarm Clock. If you can’t control yourself from checking your phone while being by your bedside, charge your in another room. You have no choice but to get out of bed if you REALLY want to check it.

3. Out of Site, Out of Mind

Spend more time with friends or doing a social activity. The point here is to be in a situation where you are not able to look at your phone. While I’m with friends or family, I am not checking my phone because I am focused on spending quality time with this person. Doing so makes you look as if you don’t value your time spent together. The same goes for social activities. If you were to take a cooking class or yoga class, you are not going to be looking at your phone. The benefits are two-fold by distracting yourself and taking the time to socially do something just for you.

4. Keep a Record

Jerry Seinfeld made and reached goals by marking an “X” on his calendar for everyday that he wrote a new joke. The idea was to never break the chain. — XXXXXX — Do the same for your phone goals. If you sleep with your phone and your new goal is to keep your phone out of the bedroom and only check it after starting your day, mark an X on your calendar. According to the book “The One Thing” by Gary Keller, it takes 66 days to build a new habit. Follow this link here to download a 66 day calendar to mark your habits.

5. Use an App

Try this “Break Free” app. It counts the amount of times you unlock your screen, time usage, and app usage. It allows you to change the settings so you can control when you get notifications, from which apps, and so forth. It pretty much is a scheduled airplane mode. This allows your brain to relax, knowing not to expect notifications during certain periods of your day.

Hope some of these tips are useful. Leave a comment below on some of the tricks you use to break your phone usage habits!

Are you addicted to your phone? beat phone addiction today!
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