Back in the good old days, it was my thing to carry a book around in my purse, especially after my boys were born. With their arrival, gone were the days of spending my evenings after work immersed in the latest Oprah’s Book Club selection or of losing an entire weekend to the novel I couldn’t put down. So I had to sneak my reading into whatever brief moments of quiet I could find as I went about my day. I loved a good road trip because it meant logging some solid hours getting lost in a story. I didn’t mind time spent in waiting rooms because it meant another chapter or two down.
But for the past few years I’ve noticed I don’t read books anymore. I still have an intellectual orgasm every time I walk into a Iibrary or book store and I still compulsively buy books. I just don’t read them. As a result, my desk and nightstand are buried deep under piles of lonely, mostly untouched books (save for my Bible, which I am still reading diligently each morning as part of the year-long Route 66 challenge).
I decided to address the problem earlier this year while drafting my list of New Years’ resolutions with the addition of a commitment to read six books in 2014. By historical standards, it was a modest goal, as I probably had a six book a month habit back in the day.
I’m proud to say I already knocked five books off the list, but all five came while visiting my parents in Florida for a week this past February. It was a week of no commitments and no distractions, coupled with full-time distraction from grandma and grandpa for my kids. So I spent the seven days on a lounge chair on the pool deck devouring the stack of novels and memoirs that made the trip with me. It was heavenly, and when we returned home I was convinced I had awaken my inner reader once again.
Five months later, I hate to admit, I’m still stuck at that five book threshold, and I think I’ve pinpointed the culprit.
While for years I’ve blamed my lack of reading books on having kids, the truth is my habit really tanked when I got my iPhone in late 2010. I stopped packing a book in my bag because that extra 15 minutes in the waiting room could now be filled responding to emails or catching up on the latest news.or perusing Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest.
And so began my iPhone addiction. Because soon, it wasn’t just for filling that extra 15 minutes it the waiting room. It was for filling every vacant two or five or 15 minutes that sprouted up during the course of my day. Jumping in the elevator? Just enough time to check if any new emails came in since I last checked (probably while I was sitting on the toilet five minutes earlier). Standing in line at the grocery store? Perfect chance to see who’s up to what on Facebook. Twenty minutes before school pickup? Surely not enough time to write or fold laundry, but plenty of time to read Page Six.
Before I knew it, I wasn’t just spending those off extra minutes on my phone. It was the first thing I reached for upon waking each morning, and it was the last thing I looked at before going to bed at night. The free hours I had to cross something big off my list were consistently getting whittled away on my phone, and eventually even the not free hours when I had other priorities, like paying attention to my kids, were being consumed as well. I justified it by saying I wasn’t wasting much of my time on social media, I wasn’t posting minute by minute updates of my day or lurking on the Facebook pages of old flames or former friends. I was reading the thought-provoking articles and essays people shared, and the time spent on Pinterest was valuable meal planning and home organization time. Above all else, the majority of those big chunks of time were spent reading the news, keeping myself informed, which I reasoned was important to maintain relevancy now that I was no longer a career mom. The New York Times, the New York Post, the Detroit Free Press, CNN, ABC News, Huffington Post, were always at my fingertips. But who was I kidding? It wasn’t really about keeping myself informed.
As I’ve floundered my way around the transition from working mom to stay at home mom, I’ve found myself lost quite a few times. I know how to spend my days with my boys in terms of what needs to get done, Who needs to be picked up or dropped off where. What needs to be cooked for dinner or washed in time for school or the next day’s game. Who needs help with homework or has a boo boo that needs to be kissed. Where I get lost is in how to spend the extra time, the time outside the boys and their needs. Three years ago there was a great need for me to be the center of their universe, the sun around which their Earth rotated, and such time didn’t exist. But today, my role has become more that of a guiding star, especially with my youngest in school full days. So there is time. Time to do something beyond just getting through the day, time to fulfill needs and pursue dreams, and I’m not really sure how I should be spending that time. Because my dreams are far away from where I’ve been. The road map I used to get where I am today is not the road map that will get me to where I want to go.
So I keep grabbing my phone, waiting for the interweb to tell me what to do next, to give me a direction, or at the very least to give me a way to pass the free time in the interim. How silly. Because the answer isn’t going to be found in all of the noise, in all the glistening eye candy that ensures I never have to pay attention to any one thing for too long. The answer to what I want to do and what inspires me and makes me feel alive isn’t going to be found in the stories of others. The answer is going to be found by living in and engaging with my own story. My husband. My children. My God. Myself. It’s going to be found by showing up and being present, truly present, in the moments I am given.
To that end, I am committing myself to a new habit. A habit of putting down my phone. For 30 days I am committing to detaching from my phone. What exactly does that mean? I’ve been fleshing it out the past few days, and here are the ground rules I established:
- The phone can primarily be used for communication purposes (phone calls and text messages), except as noted below.
- The phone can be used to check the weather, for navigation purposes, or to conduct banking transactions.
- The phone can be used to stream music.
- The phone can be used to take photos.
- The phone can be used as an alarm.
- No phone in the bathroom (Seriously, this is a big one. I can’t even sit on the toilet anymore without the distraction).
- No phone on the nightstand.
- No phone while a vehicular passenger (unless it is being used for navigation).
- No checking email on the phone. (It’s a slippery slope, so I’ve turned to scheduled email checking times on my computer.)
- No phone at meal times, even if I am eating alone.
I’m not going to lie. The first 24 hours almost killed me (OK, that’s probably a little dramatic, but it was TOUGH). My phone was blowing up (no pun intended) with news alerts about the Malaysian Airlines tragedy, and the Israeli ground action in Gaza. In the first few hours I had 23 unchecked Facebook notifications and 83 unopened emails (don’t worry only two of them actually required a response from me). There were little red numbered bubbles all over my screen, taunting me, trying to convince me the little tidbits they held were more important that anything else I could possibly be doing in that moment, trying to convince me they were more important than me. I reflexively reached for that little flashing rectangle more times than I could count throughout the day. I eventually smartened up and left it in the other room, out of eyesight, but ringer loud enough to notify me if a call or text came in. It helped, and I held strong.
If I continue to hold strong, I’m hoping I will end up with more time to read and write, more time to listen to the silly jokes my boys like to tell, more time to wrap my arms around my husband and really hear about his day, more time to snuggle in close during family movie night, and most of all, more time to listen to my heart and the Spirit of God that resides within.
If you’d like to join me in my 30-day #breakthephonehabit challenge, please leave a comment below, along with any additional guidelines to which you want to hold yourself accountable. We can follow up and cheer one another on!