01/03/2018 16:30 EST | Updated 01/03/2018 16:30 EST

Put Down Your Phone, The Whole World Is Passing You By

There is absolutely nothing more important than the real world right in front of you, and it deserves more than 11 minutes of your undivided attention.

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Everywhere we look today, people are on their phones. It has become the norm in our society that interactions between people consist of very little eye contact and even less uninterrupted conversations. How many times has someone sent a text or checked their phone while in a conversation with you, and how many times have you done the same? We are so distracted by our phones that it is a challenge for of us to just remain present in the moment without worrying about what text, email or "like" we might have received on Facebook.

It is that time of year again when the topic of conversations turn to changes we want to make in the year ahead. We may call them resolutions or we may call them goals, but this time of year we take the time to reflect on what we could do differently that would make our lives better next year. There is one small change we could all make that has the potential to positively affect not just one area of our lives, but many. It could lead you to become a better parent, partner, friend, coworker and an overall more present human being. Yes, one thing, and it is simple — put down your phone.

Most of us are addicted to our phones and don't even realize it. Apple security research indicates that the average person unlocks their phone 80 times a day. Expert data analyst Ben Bajarin believes the actual number could be closer to 130, and he speculates we are checking our phones every 11 minutes and 15 seconds.

What could possibly be more important than the real world that is happening right in front of us?

We feel the need to check what is new since we last looked (but not always to respond), and this compulsive checking often leads to mindless scrolling.

Take a minute and think about this: what could have possibly happened in the last 11 minutes that needs our attention? We need to check our phones, but not that often. What could possibly be more important than the real world that is happening right in front of us? Nothing, yet we are allowing ourselves to be distracted from our kids, from our work and from meaningful relationships in our lives.

We all know better, so why are we doing this? A simple Google search of "addicted to our phones" will tell you the answer. Various articles note the same scientific fact — for every text we receive, "like" on Facebook or retweet on Twitter there is an actual chemical change that happens in our brains and we receive a shot of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that causes a feeling of happiness, and just as certain illicit drugs offer a similar feeling, we become addicted to it. This is why we feel compelled to keep checking, to keep looking, because we are hoping for one more hit of this feel-good drug — all the while the real world passes us by.

I have always prided myself on not always stopping everything in my life to respond to every single message; however, the fact is I do still check my phone way too often. It has become such an unconscious act that will take a lot of effort to change. It won't be easy, and there will be some initial anxiety as we try to disconnect, but the possible rewards of doing so are many.

Start by considering turning off all unnecessary notifications. I keep my phone on silent about 95 per cent of the time simply because the sounds of texts and emails add to my stress level. Studies show hearing notifications and alerts cause a rise in stress levels as people feel a need to check and respond. If worrying that someone could not reach you in an actual emergency is of concern, then leave phone call notifications on. Tell your family and friends that the best way to connect with you in an emergency is to call.

Next, take a look at which apps you are using the most often — many phones will let you check your most-used apps, sorted by how long you use them. Consider removing the apps that create notifications that may lead to mindless scrolling. If you have to manually sign in each time the urge hits, you might think twice about how important it really is.

Whenever possible put your phone out of sight at work and at home. It is easier to not give in to the compulsion to check when it's not right in front of us. Allot certain times of the day where you review and respond to messages. For some people this might necessary to do so once an hour, for others it might be every few. Being more present can help to improve your relationships, reduce your stress levels, increase your productivity and can contribute positively to your overall well-being.

So as we embark on the new year ahead consider disconnecting from your phone more often. There is absolutely nothing more important than the real world right in front of you, and it deserves more than 11 minutes of your undivided attention.

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