Column, Funologist

Willpower part 3: Phone down day

By Sandra Dee Owens


I love foreign detective stories. Staying up each night later than planned, I used to binge-watch oodles of episodes. Cuddling up with my cell phone in bed was my favorite part of the day. Before a series even ended, I hunted for a new one with enough seasons to ensure a substantial run of bingy nights.

But I noticed this habit had some negative health effects. Watching an itsy bitsy screen late at night was straining my aging eyes. I also headed to bed earlier and no longer watched an occasional movie with my husband. 

Addictions are isolating.

But the most health-distressing thing I noticed was the nightly disruption of my sleep. Falling asleep easily enough, the intense, audio and visuals had so overstimulated my brain, that I woke during the night, unable to get back to sleep. Still, I hated to give up this routine. 

Behavior patterns are squillions of times stronger than the desire to change them.

A person can get addicted to anything. I define my personal addictions as anything that has more control over me, than I have over it. Things that sink their talons in my flesh. Mine in no particular order have been; Pop Tarts – chocolate – martinis – potato chips – scrolling – bingy crime shows – Chapstick – chewing ice. Some of them I have successfully removed from my flesh, and some are a work in progress—WIP. 

I really hate when something gets its talons in me. I feel unfree, enslaved, and unsettled.

 Love affair 

In my early 50s, I had a 5-year love affair with dirty vodka martinis. During that time I noticed a similar sleep pattern disturbance. I would enjoy a cocktail or two in the evening, then, at bedtime, fall asleep easily. Waking at some Godforsaken hour of the night, I would be unable to fall back to sleep. Realizing the martinis were more trouble than they were worth (in many ways), I let go of them.

 I have learned that the best way for me to become free of any behavior that is not serving me well, is to add something in that is better than the thing I want to be free of. Telling myself I should, or have to, stop doing something that I enjoy—has never ever, not once, worked for me. Longer than a minute anyway.

Add in 

Instead of telling myself I had to stop binge-watching the nightly crime shows I loved but suffered ill effects from, I set an intention for something healthier to add in its place. 

Driving my scooter on the backroads to a nearby village for errands and provisions, on a whim, I pulled into the town’s charming library that I passed for decades but never visited.

 Walking up the old wooden steps, I faced a set of exquisite, antique, oak doors that met in an arch, high above my head. I grasped the antique porcelain knob and with an easy twist, let myself and the cool spring breeze in.

 Behind a  matching, antique, oak counter stood a young librarian that met my entrance with an electric smile, happy, welcoming energy. I sensed once again that doing something on a whim was in fact following my wild voice, which always has my best interest at heart. 

I confessed to having never been in the library and Kate delightedly gave me a tour. 

The building was charming beyond the beyond, and  Kate showed me where the detective/crime books were. Familiar with some authors, there were many I was not, as I had stopped reading in favor of watching.

 To my delight, many detective story authors are prolific. My answer to binge-watching detective shows—is binge-reading detective stories.

 Selecting Louise Penny, a top Canadian crime novelist who lives near the Vermont border and whose detective stories take place in a fictitious town just north of the U.S.-Vermont border, resonated with me. I am a dual citizen with family in the estern townships and her stories are full of memorable dialogue, geography, and culture I treasure.

 Selecting three volumes, I had just enough room in my scooter storage space. I couldn’t wait to go to bed with them.

 Nitey nite 

That night, I left my cell phone on the kitchen counter and took a Louise Penny book to bed instead. I was so excited to read this detective story, that I did not even miss the binge-watching behavior I had grown addicted to. 

I did not miss my phone.

 Now at night, I read until I grow sleepy and the words swim on the page. I generally don’t want to stop yet and reread the same sentence 10 times without grasping it, then drop the book on my face.  That’s when it’s time to go to bed.

 I shut off the light much earlier than when binge-watching shows on a tiny screen.

 Phone-Down Day

 With a fun and refreshing reading practice in place, I enjoyed the backroad scooter rides to the library to hunt for more. Branching out, I found myself borrowing wonderful, old books on Vermont history before it became a state, and  was referred to as  the wilderness. The deep desire to be free from unhealthy anything, is the drumbeat I hear in the stories of my freedom loving, early Vermonters. They never gave up—and they never gave in.

 This new, healthier practice had me thinking about other areas of my life that my cell phone was having a negative impact on. 

My days

 Every day, I picked up my cell phone a hundred times, did a wee bit of business—then scrolled. My cell phone had ceased being a tool and was a non-stop, entertainment device.

 A pocket television. 

So I mindfully stopped thinking of my cell phone as a phone (I do make occasional calls), and saw it clearly for what it was. A pocket computer connecting me all day, every day to everyone and everything in the world. Amazing. Too amazing. I lack the self-discipline for that much connection. It’s too stimulating. And distracting.

 I realized with a gulp that what I was spending most of my daytime hours doing, was watching other people’s business.  Instead of my own.

 How could I expect to suck the juice out of every day, if I spent it watching memes, video clips of what others were doing? So, I sent my phone to work in my husband’s lunch box. As my husband backed down the driveway on my first phone down day, I felt a deep sense of ease, peace, and best of all—relief. It was gone.

 The whole day was mine. I found myself doing so many more things that I often thought of but chose to scroll instead. From then on, I started doing phone down days regularly and I am much more productive. With my desktop, I have all the business and social connections I need to get work accomplished.

 I’ve also noticed that my days feel a bit slower, there is more ease, more time. There is a deeply satisfying sense of minding my own business, which is surprisingly more fun than watching everybody else’s. I am doing my own life. Write. Read. Work out. Run. Make custom engagement/wedding rings. Scooter. Ski. Snow. Swim. Adventure. Nap. Share.

 It feels so damn good to be free.

 For more about Sandra visit  

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