Monday, January 5, 2015

Resolutions: Disconnecting to Reconnect

by Gabi Pinto-Coelho

Resolutions have never been my thing. While I might ponder on some informal goals at the beginning of each year, I have never taken the time to reflect on and write down what I want to accomplish in the coming year. To me, the idea of making resolutions on New Year’s never made much sense - anyone can make a goal at any point during the year. However, this morning I decided to mix it up. I started a new tradition with my significant other and we sat down to reflect on 2014, highlighting areas that we were proud of and also opportunities for growth in 2015.

What started off as a seemingly silly tradition turned into a very valuable exercise. We began by discussing things we were proud of from 2014, then moved to brainstorming areas for improvement, both individually and as a couple. Much to my surprise, my fiancee said, “For both of us, I think we can do better with our phones.” I couldn’t agree more. On more occasions than I care to admit, the first thing we both do in the morning is check our phones - email, social media, you name it. And it got me thinking - I think the vast majority of us can do better with our phones.

A few weeks ago we went out to brunch, and I insisted that I put both of our phones in my purse so we wouldn’t even be tempted to look. Five minutes into our meal I see another couple nearby. The woman was staring down at her phone, scrolling through Facebook, while her husband was talking to her. You’ll notice that I say talking to her, not with her - she may have been sitting across the table but she might as well have been sitting across the restaurant.

And it’s not just a perception. More and more research is illustrating the negative effects of our cell phones. Science has proven that our phones decrease our cognitive performance, diminish our ability to connect with others, and deteriorates our memories. One study demonstrated that even the presence of cell phones reduces our cognitive functioning on tasks, regardless of whether we use them or they go off. Another study asked participants who had never met to sit and discuss an interesting personal event. The group that had a cell phone in sight described their partner as less trustworthy and less understanding than those with a notebook in sight. As for memory, research has proven that constant connectivity interferes with memory formation. To convert short to long-term memory, the brain needs periods of rest. When we are constantly checking email, text messages, and social media, our brain is not resting as much and therefore has fewer opportunities to form memories. The disruptions caused by that text message alert or facebook notification exponentially increase our likelihood of making mistakes. When we are frequently faced with decisions, even small ones about responding now or later to that email, we start to fatigue mentally. It makes it hard for us to distinguish between what is important and what just feels urgent. Information overload.

Although our phones allow us to remain connected to friends and family near and far, respond to emails wherever we are, and much more, it is clear that this kind of connectivity comes at a price. What we use to help us control our lives has started to control us. While I enjoy using my smart phone just as much as the next person, I was eager to make a resolution about using my phone. Together, my fiancee and I agreed not to use our phones when eating, having conversations, and in the bedroom. The latter is especially important for good sleep hygiene, since the light from our devices can interfere with our ability to get into REM sleep. I think we could expand that rule to other situations but I think this is a good start.


This year, I challenge you to disconnect from your phone so you can reconnect with whatever you are doing and whoever you are with, from moment to moment. Start by instituting a no cell phone rule in just one context, and gradually institute the rule in more and more situations. While it could be challenging at first, you just might be pleasantly surprised with what it does for your mind, your memory, your relationships, and your well being.

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