Managing a Relationship with your PHONE

4 minutes

Looking to manage your relationship with your cell phone? Spending too much time mindlessly scrolling and wanting to shift your focus? Feeling overwhelmed with messages, notifications, and feel the need to respond to everyone, all the time? If you answered yes to any of these, keep reading!  

Using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles to manage phone usage can be an effective way to modify this behavior and experience improvements in other aspects of your life. ABA is a systematic approach that focuses on understanding and changing behavior through the application of behavioral principles. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply ABA to decrease phone usage:

Identify the Target Behavior: Start by clearly defining the behavior you want to change. For example, it may be  excessive phone usage/scrolling. Be specific about what constitutes excessive usage, such as hours spent on the phone per day.

  • Set Clear Goals: Establish measurable goals. For example, you might aim to reduce phone usage from 4 hours a day to 2 hours a day within a month.
  • Collect Data: To track progress, gather data on your current phone usage. Use apps or built-in phone features that monitor screen time and app usage. This data will serve as a baseline for comparison.
  • Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): Determine why you engage in excessive phone usage. Is it due to boredom, stress, social pressure, or another reason? A bad habit? Identifying the underlying factors can help tailor interventions effectively.
  • Implement Positive Reinforcement: Identify rewards or incentives that will motivate you to reduce phone usage. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool for behavior change. For example, you might reward yourself with a favorite treat or activity after successfully reducing phone time for a day or week. Also, take note of other activities in your life you would like to increase. Want to do more reading? Become more active? More time spent with family?
  • Develop a Behavior Change Plan: Create a plan that outlines specific strategies to reduce phone usage. Here are some ABA-based strategies:
    • Functional Replacement Behaviors: Replace phone usage with alternative, more productive activities. For instance, if you tend to use your phone when bored, try engaging in a different activity like reading, drawing, or going for a walk.
    • Prompting and Cueing: Use visual or auditory cues to remind yourself to limit phone usage. Set alarms, notifications, or messages to remind you to put the phone down.
    • Antecedent and Environmental Manipulations:  Modify the environment to reduce triggers for phone use. For instance, if notifications are a major trigger, I encourage you to turn off non-essential notifications or use “Do Not Disturb” mode during specific times. Change where you place your phone throughout the day. Meaning, putting your phone in plain sight on your desk may not help with productivity. 
    • Self-Monitoring: Keep a journal or use a habit-tracking app to record your phone usage throughout the day. This self-awareness can be a powerful motivator for change.
    • Social Support: Enlist the help of friends or family to hold you accountable and provide support. Share your log with them. Chances are they are interested in changing this behavior also so ask them to join! 
  • Consistency is Key: Be consistent in implementing your behavior change plan. Changing behavior takes time and effort, so stick to your plan even when faced with setbacks.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Continuously monitor your phone usage and compare it to your baseline data. This will help you gauge progress and make adjustments to your plan if necessary.
  • Generalization: Work on applying the reduced phone usage behavior in different settings and situations. Generalization ensures that the behavior change is not limited to specific circumstances. Think of home versus a restaurant, for example.
  • Maintenance and Avoiding Setbacks Regularly review the effectiveness of the strategies being used. If progress is slower than expected or if there are setbacks, consider adjusting the approach. It might be necessary to modify the reinforcers, tweak the schedule, or try new strategies. What things in your life keep you motivated to manage this relationship with your phone? Write them down. Post them somewhere, like the refrigerator.
  • Seek Professional Help if Needed: If your excessive phone usage is significantly impacting your life and you’re struggling to make changes on your own, consider seeking the help of a professional behavior analyst or therapist who specializes in ABA.

Remember that decreasing phone usage is a gradual process, and setbacks are normal. Be patient with yourself and stay committed to your goals. By applying ABA principles and consistently working on behavior modification, you can successfully reduce phone usage and achieve a healthier balance in your life.

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