Three Steps to Digital Wellbeing

Many of my behavior design clients have a shared aspiration: They want more peace in their lives, more time with family and less time in front of their screens (specifically their phones).

I've been designing behavior interventions to fulfill this aspiration for myself over the last five years. The following steps are based on BJ Fogg's Behavior Model and his methods for troubleshooting behaviors.

Step one: Get clear on your aspiration

First, you need to define which behaviors you deem are unhealthy. In his latest book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport describes a process we must all go through to evaluate the benefits that each technology brings.

Rather than blindly adopt everything that technology has to offer, we have to make a cost-benefit analysis. When habitually using technology he encourages people to ask themselves:

What exactly do I gain, or lose?

For example, I wanted to stop using my smartphone before I went to sleep and upon waking first thing in the morning. I was losing quality sleep and feeling unwell when I woke up scrolling through my twitter feed.

I became clear in myself and resolved to stop these behaviors.

Step two: Remove the prompts

Through the Fogg Behavior Model, we understand that behavior happens when three things come together in the same moment: Motivation, ability and a prompt.

Motivation is the desire or willingness to do the behavior. In this case, my brain was addicted to the dopamine rush of checking my phone.

Ability is how hard or easy it is to do the behavior. My phone is always in my hand, my pocket or somewhere nearby. It's very easy to unlock and begin tapping.

A prompt is the internal or external trigger which causes the behavior to occur.

The internal prompts for checking my phone is a urge in my stomach—often caused by stillness or the first semblance of boredom (any downtime whatsoever).

The external prompts for checking my phone are things like push notifications, app badge icons, text message alerts and phone calls.

Systematically remove prompts

Find your prompts and remove them. Try it. It works.

Internal prompts are the hardest to remove as they require mindfulness and self-awareness. Start with external prompts first.

Turn off all notifications for your addicting apps. Set your phone to automatically enter 'Do not distrub' mode everynight two hours before bed.

Place your phone in a wooden box upon entering your house. Plug your phone into a charger outside the bedroom so you don't see your phone until after you're awake.

Once you've removed your external prompts you can turn to your internal ones. When you feel that urge to check your phone take one deep breath.

Step three: Make it harder to do

Once you've systematically removed the internal and external prompts you now turn your attention to making the behavior harder to do.

Introduce friction all along the path to your desired behavior. Delete the app from your phone. Log out from the account in your browser. Turn off your wifi through a simple plug timer at the same time every night.

The harder you make the behavior to do, the less likely the behavior will occur.

If you think backwards through the sequence of steps you'll find specific points where adding friction will be most effective. If you invest a little energy now and then making this harder to do you'll reap the benefits long-term.

Bonus step: Replace with new behaviors

If you've followed this three step process you might find yourself with some additional space in your life. Often times people find that a psychological weight is lifted as soon as they reduce their device usage.

You'll have a bit more time on your hands. A bit more head space. A bit more peace.

This is a great opportunity to design a replacement behavior. Instead of swiping through your phone before you sleep and once you wake up, what healthy behaviors could you do?

How about meditate for five minutes? (or three breaths)
How about doing a sun salutation? (yoga)
How about practicing four guitar chords?
Or doing one push-up?

If you're excited about the new space you have in your life for healthy habits, give the free five day program at Tiny Habits a try. It takes a couple minutes to sign up, about 25-minutes over the weekend and a few minutes each day.

Let me know how it goes

If you give this process a try and run into any obstacles or have any interesting insights—feel free to get in touch!