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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.

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

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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less