Posted in: Happiness

Freedom From Your Phone: The Art of Disconnecting

kids on smart phoneFor the past 18 months I have been travelling the world while operating my business. During this time, I started a blog where I share inspiration and advice on the location-independent lifestyle. One of the questions I’m often asked is “How much is your phone plan?”

Today my answer is $0.

For years, I’ve experimented with disconnecting; trying to minimize the amount of time I spend on my phone so I can be present with the world around me.

On an intuitive level I’ve always felt there was a downside to being too connected. Life is just better when you’re fully present and “with” those you are actually with. Phones make it a lot harder for us to do this.

When I’m handcuffed to my phone I feel weak, reactive and distracted. When I leave it at home I allow myself to feel strong, present, proactive and focused.

I’ve taken a pretty strong stand on cell phone use in my social life and sometimes this creates some awkward moments. If I’m out with friends I’ll insist everyone turns their phone off at dinner. Back in my days as a bachelor, if a  girl took her phone out while we were seated somewhere on our first date, there wouldn’t be a second one.

Unfortunately phone addiction is rampant and those of us insisting on a better way of life are in the minority, joined mostly by seniors and the occasional homeless man… although most of those guys are hooked up with prepaid phones now.

Here are some disgusting statistics around smart phone addiction a TIME magazine survey found:

Mileyonacellphone– 84% of people admit they cannot go a single day without their phones.

– The new teddy bear? 50% of Americans sleep with their phone next to them. 80% of people 18-24 are guilty of this.

– 33% of people said being without their phone for even a short period makes them feel anxious.

– 15% of people said they’d rather give up sex for a weekend than go without their iPhone…REALLY!?

Clearly cell phones are not having a positive impact on most people’s sex lives. Ok, sure they’re great for setting up a late-night rendezvous… but that rendezvous usually involves two people sitting silently checking their Facebook. What happened to a good old-fashioned tap on the window?

I have no doubt that our cell phones create a physical addiction. For the past year I have been living in Europe, 9 hours ahead of most of my friends and clients. So if it’s noon in Europe, it’s 6:00 a.m. back home in Canada, which means no one is sending me whatsapp, emails, sms or Facebook messages. Despite this, for my first 6 months here I often found myself unconsciously interrupting my work day and reaching into my bag to check my phone every 20 minutes.

There is a heap of data around psychological and health issues related to cell phone use which I’m sure wouldn’t surprise anyone, so I’m not going to bore you with the stats today. If you’d like to read more, two articles worth checking out are “iPhone and Android are killing us” and “Addicted to Your Smartphone? Here’s What to Do“.

My problem with cell phones is that we’re always “connected”… and despite what the phone companies say, this isn’t a good thing. Our brains aren’t wired for constant stimulation.

The consistent barrage of messages puts us in a reactive head space, which reduces our intelligence, creativity and focus. It also tells our unconscious that we, and whatever we’re doing, isn’t nearly as important as whomever, or whatever, wants our attention via our phone.

Equally bad, the ability to send whatever we want, whenever we want, erodes our self-discipline, sense of planning, and patience.

You don’t need me to tell you this though. You already know the terrible feeling of connection addiction: the feeling in the pit of your stomach, the anxiety, the lack of focus.

Getting Off The Juice

I’ve heard quitting “the phone” cold turkey can be too extreme for most. Reported symptoms include having real conversations, focusing for periods greater than 20 seconds and, worst of all, feeling an actual connection with those around you.

Now I’m not going to ask anything too extreme of you today, I wouldn’t want you to suffer from any of these side effects.

Instead, I’d like to share 7 tips for disconnecting and enjoying life.

1) Every Sunday, turn your phone off and leave it at home.

2) If you’re going out for dinner with someone important to you, show them that they are important by leaving your phone at home.

3) Buy a separate music device for $50 and remove the excuse of “I need my phone for my music” from your list.

4) Ignore the initial impulse to check your phone in the mornings and the cravings will be less all day. The more you check the more you want to.

5) Learn to make plans and then trust yourself and others to follow through. (I heard a rumor that people were able to carry on business, date, and spend time with their friends before the advent of cellphones.)

6) Treat yourself to a “stupid” phone. If you think you absolutely must be connected in the case of an emergency, buy a $50 “stupid” phone with a pay as you go plan for $10 a month. Give this number to close friends and family with the instructions that it is only for emergencies or last-minute scheduling changes. This one works best if you’re not a heart surgeon or member of your local SWAT team.

7) Travel! Yes, it’s now possible to stay connected from most everywhere on Earth, but there is something about being in another time zone that makes disconnecting at least a little easier.

How far can you take this?

Right now I’m living in Spain and about a month ago my mobile data stopped working. I was only a week into my monthly limit and figured it was some kind of mistake on the carrier’s end. Deterred by the inevitable irritation of arguing in Spanish, I decided to just let it ride.

Over a month later and I’m still letting it ride. Did any of my businesses collapse, my friends disappear, or my clients fire me?

Nope. Actually, my productivity is through the roof, my relationships are better than ever, and it just feels good!

Ready to disconnect, find freedom from your phone, and get back to living? Share this article to Facebook and add the tag “Just read this. Turning my phone off for one hour. It’s a baby step.”

Then leave your phone at home this Sunday. You’ll be happy you did.

About the Author


Dan Johnston has just one burning desire: To be the grandpa with the most stories in the Old Folks’ home. And by “Old Folks’ Home” he means a 3-story penthouse in Manhattan.

Dan educates, inspires and trains people to create a location independent lifestyle.  For those who really want the most from their lives he offers group training and private coaching in the areas of entrepreneurship, marketing, life balance and of course, location independence. Visit his website or follow Dan on Twitter

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  • Hey Dan, two months ago my WhatsApp ren out. I would have to pay to keep goin with it.
    I didn´t, which was a smart idea. A week ago my contract finished and I did not start a new one. I gave up my Samsung S 3 for one of those really old indestructible Nokia phones. And its just the bless to be able to live your live without hearing every 5 seconds the sound of WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Thanks for the article and great work in inspiring people.

    • Hey Moravac,

      Awesome to hear you’ve adopted the disconnected lifestyle. Funny enough, shortly after writing the first draft of this article I was out for a run in Barcelona and got caught in a massive rainstorm. My ipod nano has survived dozens of such “rain runs” so I thought nothing of keeping my HTC One X on. Needless to say I’m now joining you in the basic phone club…although it does still run Android and have whatsapp. What can I say, I love the voice note/message feature too much to give up.


      • Hahaha, Awesome! You live in Barcelona. I live in Alicante ;)

  • One thing I have found really good recently is downgrading to a basic phone that can only do texts, phone calls and an alarm.

    The extra battery life is great (up to 9 days on one charge) and I am not distracted by constantly checking Facebook and other sites because you physically cannot.

So, what do you think?