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He was always on his phone. Then he made this incredible change you can try too.

10 simple steps to break bad habits and take back control.

I had fallen into a dangerous loop. I knew I was doing it too much.

It was easy to justify checking my phone constantly — especially since I work on a newsletter that collects valuable ideas from around the web. I was constantly browsing and searching, all day, every day.

So I did something about it.


I didn’t take a "digital detox" and completely abandon social media for a brief period of time because that feels more like a temporary treatment than an actual solution. I might have felt better for a couple days, but once I returned from my detox, I assume everything else would have gone back to "normal" — and normal wasn’t working for me.

I set out to change my phone habits and create a simple set of rules to limit the negative (and amplify the positive) impacts of when and how I use my phone.

What I came up with was this set of 10 guidelines to ensure I used my phone with more intention. They made a huge difference in how often I check my phone, what I get out of it, and how I feel about it.

1. I stopped checking my phone in my car.

I never really checked my phone while driving — it's dangerous (and you should definitely stop that whether you try out these rules or not), but with this rule I also outlawed checking it at stoplights, in heavy traffic, or any time I was in my car.

I discovered how often I was checking my phone in the car previously, how unnecessary it was, and how it actually made things like sitting in traffic more frustrating than they otherwise might be.

2. I stopped checking my phone during TV commercials.

I hate commercials as much as the next guy, and sometimes social media seems like it was invented to fill up those two-minute interruptions — no wonder I checked my phone at every TV timeout.

But when I picked up my phone during a commercial, I rarely put it back down when the show came back on. It captured my attention and drew it away from what I actually wanted to watch.

To help me stick with this rule, I implemented another one…

3. I kept my phone across the room when I wasn’t using it.

Turns out the only thing stronger than the allure of social networks is the allure of not getting up off the couch.

The further my phone is from me, the less likely I am to randomly check it.

4. I turned off all notifications.

If we enable them, we are asking our phones to interrupt us. This interruptions can be unnecessary and poisonous. Now, there are no dings when somebody likes my Facebook post or sends me an email.

5. I chose an end point for each random surfing session.

I believe in the value of "getting lost on the internet" and continue to do so. But now, when I pick up my phone to do some random surfing, I set an end point for the journey before I start. For example, when I decide to browse Twitter, I also consciously decide to do so for just 20 minutes.

It protects my time and ensures a little surfing doesn’t turn into a time suck, but it also creates a space for me to explore and discover new things.

6. I stopped checking my phone while in line.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s definitely not an intentional use of your phone.

By following this rule, I send a message to myself that I’m in control of my attention as opposed to ceding it to my phone any time I’ve got a moment to spare.

7. I created a framework for my day with buffers at the beginning and end of it.

If the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before going to sleep is to check my phone, what kind of message does that send to my brain about the role of my phone in my life?

One of the simplest things I did to switch up my phone habits was to create a buffer zone — in the morning and at night — when I don’t use my phone.

I don’t pick up my phone until I’ve finished breakfast (which typically means I’ve been up for at least 30 minutes) and stop using my phone at least an hour before going to sleep.

8. I put my phone away after I post something on social media.

After I post an article or a tweet or a Facebook status, I’m going to be tempted to check and see whether people like and share it over the next hour or two.

To counteract this pull, I made it a rule to log off after posting something and not check my phone for a while. It’s a conscious effort to avoid getting drawn into my phone in an unnecessary usage pattern.

Likes, shares, or interactions will still be there when I check back in, and I don’t need to follow the action in real time.

9. I stopped repeating the cycle.

By the time I went through checking a couple of email addresses, my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Medium accounts, enough time went by that I felt the urge to go back to the beginning of the cycle and check them all again to see what was new since I last checked.

Obviously, that’s not a great habit.

I created this rule, which means I go through the cycle and check each platform once per phone-use session, and when I’m done, I’m done.

10. I recognized it’s a work in progress.

One of the reasons I don’t like the concept of a full digital detox is because it’s an all-or-nothing scenario ,  and I don’t believe that’s how we ultimately create positive, lasting change.

My effort to be more intentional with my phone hasn’t been perfect, but it has helped me start to make lasting changes in my habits.

Like all things, it’s a work in progress. That’s OK. The point is to head in the right direction and learn along the way  —  and that’s exactly what these rules helped me to do. I hope they help you as well.

This article originally appeared in the "For the Interested" newsletter, a weekly collection of ideas to help you learn, do, and become better. It is reprinted here with permission.

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Two brothers Irish stepdancing to Beyoncé's country hit 'Texas Hold 'Em' is pure delight

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The Gardiner Brothers stepping in time to Beyoncé's "Texas Hold 'Em."

In early February 2024, Beyoncé rocked the music world by releasing a surprise new album of country tunes. The album, Renaissance: Act II, includes a song called "Texas Hold 'Em," which shot up the country charts—with a few bumps along the way—and landed Queen Bey at the No.1 spot.

As the first Black female artist to have a song hit No. 1 on Billboard's country music charts, Beyoncé once again proved her popularity, versatility and ability to break barriers without missing a beat. In one fell swoop, she got people who had zero interest in country music to give it a second look, forced country music fans to broaden their own ideas about what country music looks like and prompted conversations about bending and blending musical genres and styles.

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We’re all probably familiar with the term “mansplaining,” when a man explains something to a woman in a condescending or patronizing way. Often, this comes in the form of a man explaining a subject to a woman that she already knows on an expert level. The female neuroscientist who was told by a man that she should read a research paper she actually wrote comes to mind.

Recently the next-level mansplaining was caught in the wild. Well, at a golf driving range anyway.

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The word "jumbo" literally comes from an elephant.

The evolution of language is fascinating, and the etymology of specific words can be a fun little trip through human history as well as human creativity.

Many English words are derived from Greek and Latin, but other European languages make up a good chunk of our language as well. The roots of some words can surprise us, and so can the way certain words came to be. And in some cases, what we don't know can be just as surprising as what we do.

Enjoy diving into the history of 15 words we use every day.

1. Dog

Dog is often one of the first words babies learn to say, and it's one of the first kids learn to spell. But don't let its simplicity fool you. This word is truly a mystery.

The word "dog" comes from dogca, a very rarely used Old English word, but how we started using it as our everyday name for canines, no one knows. "Its origin remains one of the great mysteries of English etymology," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Even more interestingly, no one knows the origins of the Spanish word for "dog" ("perro"), nor do they know the origins of the Polish ("pies") or Serbo-Croatian ("pas") words for our canine friends, either. Who knew dogs were so enigmatic?

2. Nightmare

It's obvious where "night" comes from in "nightmare," but what about "mare"? Surely, were not referring to a female horse here.

Horse, no. But female, yes. Female goblin, to be precise. In Old English, mare means "incubus, nightmare, monster; witch, sorcerer." And "nightmare" started being used around 1300 to refer to "an evil female spirit afflicting men (or horses) in their sleep with a feeling of suffocation." Yikes. Thankfully, now it's just any old bad dream.

3. Jumbo

We've all seen animals named for words with certain meanings, but here we have the opposite. The word "jumbo" came from a large elephant who lived at the London Zoo. Zookeeper Anoshan Anathjeysari named him "Jumbe," the Swahili word for "chief." But his status as one of the largest African bush elephants in Europe in the 19th century caused his nickname, Jumbo, to become synonymous with enormousness.

muscular man exercising

Run, little mouse, run.

Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash

4. Muscle

The Latin word musculus means "little mouse." As hilarious as it sounds, they thought the movement of muscles looked like little mice scurrying under the skin, hence the origin. Kinda ick to think about, but also logical, so here we are.

5. Quarantine

Ah, a word with which we are all familiar, thanks to COVID-19. But do we know what it really means?

If you understand roots, you may guess that "quar" might have something to do with the number four, and you'd be right. In Latin, quadraginta means a period of 40 days. Our usage of "quarantine" to mean isolation from others comes from the Venetian policy of ships coming into port from plague-stricken countries in the late 1300s to remain in port for 40 days before letting people off. The usage to mean any period of time in isolation began being used in the 1600s.

6. Mortgage

Most of us grow up not really understanding what a mortgage is until we buy our first house, but even then, most of us don't know what the word literally means. It comes from Old French, mort gaige, literally meaning "death pledge."

HAHAHAHAHA. Death pledge. Mortgage. That's funny.

However, it doesn't mean you're tied to the debt til you die, even if it feels like it. The death part means the deal dies either when you pay it off or when you become unable to pay. Doesn't really change the fact that it feels a bit like you're signing your life away when you buy a house, though.

ball of yarn

What does a ball of yarn have to do with "clue"?

Photo by Philip Estrada on Unsplash

7. Clue

Oddly enough, "clue" comes from a misspelling (or alternate spelling from before standardized spelling was a thing) of the word "clew," meaning a ball of yarn.

The word itself comes from German, but its usage points to the Greek myth in which Ariadne gives Theseus a ball (or clew) of yarn to help him escape the labyrinth. Now we use it to refer to anything that helps us solve a mystery.

8. Nice

The word "nice" is nice and simple, right? It's the most basic word we use for "pleasant," a definitively positive word. But this seemingly simple word has been through quite the trek in its etymology.

From the Latin nescius, meaning "ignorant, unaware," it was used to mean "timid" or"faint-hearted" before the year 1300. A couple hundred years later, it had morphed to "fussy, fastidious" or "dainty, delicate." In another 100 years, it changed to "precise, careful." Tack on another few hundred years and we're at "agreeable, delightful," and from there it was only short jaunt to "kind, thoughtful."

What a nice journey from insult to compliment.

9. Shampoo

I would have bet money that the word "shampoo" was French in origin, but nope. It's Hindi, coming from the term champo, and the original meaning was "to massage, rub and percuss the surface of (the body) to restore tone and vigor." It's only been used to refer specifically to lathering and washing out strands of hair or carpet since the mid 1800s.

10. Torpedo

Literally Latin for a stingray. As in the marine animal. That comes from the root word torpere, which means "be numb," since a ray's sting can numb you. It doesn't become the word for a propelled underwater explosive until the last couple hundred years.

11. Ambidextrous

We know that left-handedness was seen negatively throughout much of human history, but even the word that means "able to use both hands equally" has a right-handed bias baked into it. The medieval Latin ambidexter literally meansliterally means "right-handed on both sides."

Isn't English fun?


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