By Chris Stefanick
Chris Stefanick is a speaker, author, and television host. His life’s mission, and that of his nonprofit organization, Real Life Catholic, is to help people find and live the lives they were made for in Jesus Christ and his Church. He is the author of Living Joy: 9 Rules to Help You Rediscover and Live Joy Every Day.
The average American teen spends over seven hours of screen time per day, not including schoolwork. The average adult consumes five times more information (most of it quick, passing news, not enriching and inspiring information) than their counterpart did fifty years ago. And most of our screen time consists of just seconds on one thing before jumping to another. For hours each day. I’m pleading on behalf of your brain right now: Please give me a break. I’m tired.
Your mental focus is like a muscle. The human brain burns over three hundred calories per day. That’s 20 percent of your body’s energy. And the more you think, the more it burns. And like any organ, your brain can get tired. Give it a break from the bombardment of stimuli and noise.
Ironically, one of the reasons we scroll on our phones is because it’s the lowest-hanging fruit for our information-seeking brains to latch on to. The problem is, when we don’t stop, our brains never get a break.
You shouldn’t overwork your muscles. If they don’t ever get a break between workouts, you won’t get stronger. Your muscle will break down. Your brain is the same way. Your ability to focus breaks down when you become accustomed to scrolling through images, glancing at pages for hours each day.
The impact of screen time on our ability to think is most visible in children. One study of 4,500 kids showed that children raised with less screen time and more sleep and exercise had higher cognitive abilities. They not only knew more; they could also think more clearly. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the study had a hard time finding kids who spent less than two hours a day “plugged in” to their devices. Only 5 percent met that criterion.
Take a break.
I want to challenge you to rest your mind from screens for one day each week. Make it Sunday. If that sounds too daunting, then just have everyone put their phones in a basket until sundown on Sunday. Tell the friends who are used to instant replies from you not to expect it during that time.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes to break the “phone addiction” in your family. (Google “phone addiction” and you’ll find a growing number of psychological studies about this reality and its impact.) And you’ll be amazed at how your mind and your mood change as a result.
In addition to a longer break each Sunday, do it daily! I recently did a poll to my Twitter followers asking if time on Twitter makes them more joyful or less. 86 percent said less. And yet, there they were, on Twitter, to answer my poll! I’m not sure why we spend so much time focusing on things that make us unhappy, engaging in conversations that drag us down, or on media that makes us miserable. But I am sure that we need to get intentional about limiting our time on those things.
Commit to cutting down social media to an hour a day, and like any addict, find a friend to keep you accountable. Share your daily screen time reports with him or her.
Pick times, like dinner, when phones are put down and silenced. And put your work aside each day after a certain hour. When you stop your work each day, draw a clear line between work time and rest time. I put my phone down, spread my arms out like I crossed a finish line, and say out loud (even if no one is listening), “Work. Done.” And I mean it. I don’t let the noise of distraction last the entire day.
Finally, if you can’t seem to get on top of your phone addiction and put it down, here’s another life hack that might help: There’s something called “downtime” on most phones. You can set your downtimes to where you won’t be allowed to check apps you select during certain times of the day. Parent yourself! Put some limits on your own screen time.
Living Joy: 9 Rules to Help You Rediscover and Live Joy Every Day equips you with the wisdom you need to experience joy to the fullest. With evidence, experience, and common sense, Chris Stefanick presents nine rules that will empower you to overcome the obstacles that are keeping you from unspeakable joy.