Man, I really need to spend less time staring at my phone.
Have you ever said that to yourself? True confession: I have. Even as someone who thinks about being on screens too much, I’m … on my screens too much.
So what do we do? What does it take to make real changes in this area of our lives? For me, the temptation is to go all-or-nothing, cold turkey in an attempt to reset my habits. Maybe you’re wired that way too. But a surprising new study indicates that a more effective way to cut screen time over the long haul may be a lot less dramatic—and more effective.
Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany divided 619 study participants into three groups. The first group was asked to abstain completely from their phones for a full week—the cold-turkey approach. The other group was tasked with reducing their phone usage by one hour a day, but otherwise interacting with their device the way they normally would. The third group made no adjustments at all limiting smartphone use. Researchers then checked in with participants a month, and then four months, later.
Who do you think used their phones less after this study? Obviously, I’ve telegraphed the findings of the study already: The group that cut usage by an hour a day over a week still used their phones, on average, 38 fewer minutes per day four months later.
Lead researcher Dr. Julia Brailovskaia summarized the study’s findings: “We found that both completely giving up the smartphone and reducing its daily use by one hour had positive effects on the lifestyle and well-being of the participants. In the group who reduced use, these effects even lasted longer and were thus more stable than in the abstinence group.”
The study also identified qualitative benefits in the lives of those who reduced phone usage for an hour a day, including reductions in anxiety, depression and nicotine use, as well as getting more exercise and having an improved sense of life satisfaction.
Sometimes, the screentime struggle can seem like an unwinnable war—for both me and my family. But studies like this one are important. They show us that even modest changes can make a significant difference in terms of how much we interact with our devices and in our overall sense of life satisfaction.