Habits life

Thoughts on Deep Questions Ep on Confronting Your Phone

February 21, 2024

I really enjoyed this week’s Deep Questions episode because it was timely for me and really made me think. As usual, I didn’t find myself nodding in agreement with everything Cal said, but that made it all the more useful — I could think about his ideas and what applies to me and what doesn’t. I recommend it!

(I like podcasts/books/articles where I don’t agree with everything!! More interesting that way!)

ANYWAY. The topic was Confronting Your Phone and that was timely for me, because every so often I just lose the ability to self-regulate my phone use, and this past week was one of those times. Luckily I am not on traditional social media but my current “black hole” phone destination is Reddit and yes, I dove into it deeply and I am not particularly proud of how many minutes I spent there. Let’s just say I must have been wearing full scuba gear.

That is a lot of minutes . . .

Is it the worst thing ever? No, it is not. Do I think all time spent on phones is bad? Absolutely not!! As a counter-example, I’ve spent lots of time texting/FaceTiming and watching JetPens videos and have zero regret about those hours. But excessive escapist-type scrolling always leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because when I do it I find I am:

  • distracted (which = bad parenting, by the way. I cannot be patient and listen to my kids WHILE scrolling)
  • regretful about the fact that I could have done better and more enjoyable/restorative things with my time
  • annoyed about the actual content I am scrolling, because even reddit sometimes invokes a gross sense of comparison angst for me

I feel about 10x better about life when I don’t scroll anything ever. But every one in a while I just get tired or stressed and fall off the wagon. Usually I can get back on in a few days, so at least that’s good!

Now, back to Deep Questions. Cal suggests that rather than white knuckling away from phone use that we focus on making sure we do 6 things instead of phone use, and this will allow us to live lives that are full and deep enough that we won’t be trapped for hours in a scrolling loop.

Here are the 6:

1- Read. Read regularly, and really get into reading, including higher level primary source things. For me, I would say this is a check, though my choices may lean a bit (or a bunch?) less academic than Cal’s on the non-fiction side; for novels, I do read a mix — some picks are really light but I also can get into some literary fiction so I think that counts.

2- High quality video media. Fail. I don’t think I can say I am doing all that well here; I do love going to the movies occasionally but I honestly just don’t spend a lot of time watching things. I would like to do more of this though, so perhaps this is a nice reminder that watching a good movie or show would be a viable alternative to scrolling when tired. NOTE: When I am home with my kids, getting immersed in video media sometimes feels more difficult than scrolling because I am very likely to be interrupted, but then again this has definitely been less of an issue as they get older and on say, a Sunday afternoon, they might be engaged in their own games/shows for a good stretch of time.

3- Exercise-based hobby. Check. I think I get extra credit on this one with my current level of intensity and enjoyment around my running hobby.

4- Skill-based hobby. Fail. Ummm . . . unless making pretty lists in planners is a skill? I cannot think of a skill based hobby I am really all that interested in. Cooking? Meh. Piano? I feel like it would be great if I wanted to play piano (I played for years and can play fairly well by ear; mostly I just play mediocre renditions of requested Disney and pop songs for the kids) — but I don’t really feel pulled to do that, in my heart. This blog used to fulfill this category . . . and I still really do enjoy writing, so maybe that still counts? Can your skill-based hobby also be part of your job? Or, could your exercise-based hobby be elevated to skill-based hobby status if you become really into the performance aspect of it? Not sure.

5- Regular community engagement. Check! I really do make an effort to do this in multiple life spheres – weekly work lunches, our local book club, run club dinners, group runs, and even BLP Live — I love getting together in various groups and have found ways to do so regularly (many of which I organized myself).

6- Seek out adventures. Check, though maybe not A+ level. I think we do this enough, from concerts to local events to travel. But I could certainly do more. This can be tough though when you are in a low-energy phase.

I feel like my ‘report card’ on is pretty positive overall . . . yet I still want to take a nosedive into internet trash every once in a while. I guess one could argue that the fact that I don’t do that ALL the time means that I’m in a pretty good place and it’s working for me, but I would still like to feel the way I feel about instagram (I have literally zero desire to open it and sigh when friends send me insta links) about the rest of my phone use or mindless scrolling in general.

I liked his framework! I really do; I think it is a nice concrete answer to the idea of crowding out excessive screen use that I’ve talked about before. However, I’m just not entirely sure it is going to be enough for everyone — I guess I think that some of us (me) who are just naturally drawn to certain forms of media still might have to white knuckle it a bit. These buckets of meaning absolutely help and are part of the answer, but might only get us so far.

I also think I would add a 7th item, which is reflective practice — either meditation, religious practice, quiet sitting, journaling, etc. I feel like these things do wonders for our awareness and managing of emotions, so I think it would be a great #7.

Thoughts welcome!!!


  • Reply Coree February 21, 2024 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you! My weakness is mumsnet, a terrible UK parenting forum. I finally blocked it on all my devices because it was such a sick fascination with these truly terrible people (I’m sure there are normals amongst them, but not on the active threads).

    I was thinking about my rebuttal to this episode in the shower last night (apparently deep thoughts with suds). I liked the idea of crowding out phone usage – if I’m reading a really good book or having coffee and setting the world to rights with a friend, I don’t look at my phone at all. But his suggestions felt really unrealistic for lots of people, and felt very tech-bro self-optimisation oriented. And very little mention of community service or engagwement? I think it’s weird that he has LOTS of kids and seems like an engaged parent but doesn’t acknowledge that in his suggestions. Maybe playing to that audience? Like he’s speaking to an audience that might get home from their tech job, and be able to scroll for 4 hours, but lots of us are scrolling in those awkward pockets of time where you can’t recline in your “study” and read heavy text but when we’re waiting for a kid’s activity to release or likely to be interrupted. I feel more immersed in leisure when I’m reading, socialising, exercising, volunteering (particularly manual labour), working in the garden etc.

    I think the fundamental principle – use the good activities to crowd out the “bad” is sound, but it felt aspirational and setting people up to fail? Like you can’t optimise every aspect of your life, and if the choice is between a “fluffy” novel or doom-scrolling twitter, the fluffy novel might not be “high quality leisure” but it’s probably better for you.

    Sorry, I wrote a novel, I apparently had lots of feelings.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger February 21, 2024 at 12:27 pm

      I like your novel! And he probably does have a large number of tech bro listeners, so not wrong to address them. Agree it’s a nice idea to talk about how to avoid when you are in those awkward pockets of parenting time when you’re on but not ON- it can be really tough to know how to use that time. I have started bringing books with me to kid pick ups and appointments though!!

    • Reply Grateful Kae February 21, 2024 at 1:37 pm

      YES on the “awkward pockets of time” thing. This is so me. I basically never just sit down and scroll on social media for an hour straight, but use it OFTEN in way too many random snippets of time. I think social media has been able to monopolize that time for me because it’s just so easy. You can literally look at it for 15 seconds and feel like you used it as intended (you certainly saw a few things in those 15 seconds, even if just a few random updates or photos or a reel or whatever).

      Whereas if I try to replace those little snippets with higher quality activities (reading, travel planning, what have you), it just feels harder, or like there is more friction, because I can’t as easily do just a minute or two of those things. So I will check social media or email instead. If I opened the kindle app, it would take me a second to find my spot on the page, get back into the story, etc… and reading 5 sentences might not feel satisfying. Same with doing something else productive yet enjoyable like, travel planning. Can’t really get into much in a short time. So that’s why social media/ other random scrolling options are so enticing. They scratch the itch of wanting to do “something”, I think. At least I think that’s partly why the scrolling stuff is hard for me to totally break!

      • Reply Kari February 21, 2024 at 9:44 pm

        I’ve honestly been trying to just do *nothing* during those awkward pockets of time lately! I think about what I would’ve done pre-phone in those scenarios – and while I did (and do) often carry a book, I also used to just … sit there. I do find some value in moments of quiet nothingness here and there!

        • Reply Sophie February 22, 2024 at 2:38 pm

          That’s a great point!

  • Reply Sophie February 21, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    I generally like the principle of this, and having a variety of categories of activities to crowd out scrolling is a good idea. However, I do think that the specific categories might differ between people? I do feel that Cal often mentions categories/examples that have worked for him. He loves movies so high quality video media makes sense as an example, yet it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (they might prefer music which wasn’t listed unless I missed it?). I really like your 7th category of a reflective practice, and Cal mentions this (well, he says spiritual/philosophical practice) as an essential element of a deep life, so I think he’d agree. In my mind, your running hobby counts as a skill too, due to its intensity and thought that goes in.
    For those pockets of time, I’ve found nyt games a good alternative to scrolling- Wordle, Connections, Mini Crossword etc. or reading blogs. But also I think if one day every few weeks there’s a tired scrolling fest, it’s not a big deal! As long as it’s not an everyday habit.

  • Reply Jessica February 21, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    My problem is “researching” that can last way longer than I meant for it to. I was reading today about skincare for my 14yr old son who has started to get acne and I also spent quite a bit of time planning our winter break trip. It added up to quite a bit of scrolling. Some of it I can justify, but also it was a lot.

  • Reply Megs February 22, 2024 at 6:32 am

    I found this episode a little confronting. I failed on a few sections of the report card, with the exception of reading (and even that’s a newly reinvigorated hobby) and community volunteer work. I seem to be in that period of perpetual struggle between work and kid and house, never seeming to do quite enough to fully succeed in any of those areas. Any time dedicated to a hobby feels wickedly self-indulgent.

  • Reply ehartung7 February 22, 2024 at 7:59 am

    I love reading your posts like this. I will say your discipline around phone use and scrolling has inspired me to be more mindful. I feel the same way that you do about instagram. I left it years ago and have no desire to go back. I read a lot of books on my phone. I too find those pockets of time to be just odd. Although now I think about it some duolingo might be good in those moments.

  • Reply Kathy Johnson February 22, 2024 at 9:35 am

    I think the idea of being mindful (rather than mindless) around phone or internet usage is really important. My SM drug of choice is Instagram, and I’ve been struggling a little with spending too much time mindlessly scrolling. I’ve curated my feed to mostly be positive influences–things that bring me joy, personal friends, people I admire, etc.–but I still find myself emotionally overstimulated sometimes by the content. I have a set time of day for visiting IG, but that means I’ve ingrained the habit of visiting it every day, and since my IG time is after dinner, I seriously think it may be affecting my sleep quality!

    I LOVE the idea of crowding out scrolling with more truly satisfying activities. I *try to do that, but sometimes I’m just too tired to do anything more taxing…which means I should probably just take a nap or go to bed, ha.

    You might enjoy reading about David from Raptitude’s experiment with his smartphone: https://www.raptitude.com/raptitude-experiment-no-35-renouncing-feed-scrolling/.

  • Reply Jen February 23, 2024 at 8:37 am

    I was interested to hear you’re still feeling like you’re in a low energy phase… me too. How long have you felt this way? Do you think it’s just of year?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger February 23, 2024 at 10:05 am

      I don’t think I would say low energy anymore though I def was lower energy in early Feb- just more difficulty with sticking to certain things that felt easier a month ago.

      Maybe post January backlash? Some stressful stuff at home? Hard to know.

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