Warning: This Post Could Be Hazardous to Your Paralysis


Photo Credit: Tanasan (Bigstock)

I’ve been trying to wean myself off my iPhone. Again.

Nothing drastic this time. Just a slow detox. Turning off my mail app. Deleting games. Deleting news apps. Deleting social media apps. Turning off text notifications. Turning off all notifications. I just don’t have the willpower to resist the dopamine rush that a smart phone gives you every time you use it, so I’ve neutered the thing. I’ve made it as unpleasurable as possible.

And it must be working.

Because a couple of days ago, I found myself standing at the gas pump—waiting, waiting, waiting—and I realized I wasn’t holding my phone. I hadn’t even thought to dismount it from the dashboard. So, I hadn’t mindlessly filled myself with data while I filled my tank with gas. I hadn’t compulsively checked messages or news, and I’d gone a few minutes without the craving for entertainment.

And yet.

It wasn’t pleasant.

Instead of swiping, I found myself thinking. For instance, I thought about someone important who was waiting for a reply from me about something important, and I felt my anxiety about being honest in that reply. Then, I thought about another complicated situation I’d gotten myself into, and how difficult it was going to be to face it with integrity. And so on and so on. In other words, I thought all the thoughts I’d been avoiding thinking.

We prefer our digital life because real life isn’t nearly as easy to swipe away.

When we’re on our phones, if we don’t like something we see, we can change the settings or close the app or mute the friend or block the caller, or just wait a few seconds for the algorithm to realize we don’t like it and never show it to us again. But in real life, problems don’t go away. They wait for us. So, while they wait, we scroll.

A tech detox can be dangerous, because it plunges us back into the complexities of real life.

And yet.

As I stood there—present to the problems I’d been avoiding—I became aware of something else: I already knew how I wanted to respond to each of the problems. I wasn’t avoiding them because the solutions were hard to identify; I was avoiding them because the solutions would be hard to enact. I’d risk rejection, embarrassment, failure, and disappointment. I’d have to trust that I’m loveable even if I’m unloved. That, I think, is living courageously, and it can only be done in real life.

We don’t sit on the fence of life, staring at our phones, because we don’t know which direction to head; we sit on the fence, swiping away at our digital world, because we already know the direction we want to go in the real world, and that direction is often hard.

Like I said, the whole thing wasn’t exactly pleasant. Or, rather, it wasn’t pleasant at first.

And yet.

I have some very, very good news to report from the gas pump.

Once we quit turning away from our problems by turning on our devices—and once we quit ruminating about how to get around our problems rather than resolving to go through them—our minds can empty as quickly as a gas tank can fill. Standing at the pump, I suddenly found myself present—for just a moment or two—and I was reminded of something else:

Grace is always waiting for us, but it only waits on the other side of our pain and discomfort.

I was present, and I smelled the aroma of gas all around me, and suddenly I was twelve years-old again, filling up an old lawnmower in an old garage on a summer afternoon, cicadas humming in the trees outside, a month of summer vacation still ahead of me, a month that felt like a year.

Grace collects your most peaceful moments and folds them into this one.

I was present and I locked eyes with the woman next to me and she made a joke about forgetting to close her gas cap. I made a joke back. We laughed. Being human is weird. But we share in the weirdness.

Grace connects the best parts of you to the best parts in everyone else.

I was present and I felt a breeze on my skin and I realized that, for the first time in a week, the oppressive humidity had evaporated. It felt like the air was washing me clean.

Grace welcomes you home, reminding you that while you walked the fearful path, there was beauty underfoot all along.

But beware.

Beauty has a way of messing with your life. Growing your faith. Stretching your hope. Expanding your love. Stoking your courage. Leading you down scary and joyful and treacherous and blessed paths you never would have walked if you hadn’t become aware that Something good and wise and graceful is ultimately holding all things together, redeeming all things, making all things whole.

Like I said, beware: a tech detox is dangerous.

It could be hazardous to your paralysis.

It could change everything.

One small, courageous, analog step at a time.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

33 thoughts on “Warning: This Post Could Be Hazardous to Your Paralysis

  1. Excellent perspective Kelly. Electronic detox is good for the body and the soul. I’ve gone on a few Facebook detoxes and have had significant withdrawal but realized how much more I experience in real life – although admittedly much harder. My iPhone has helped with my social awkwardness while eating at a restaurant alone but all in all I think it has negatively affected my relationships in coupling. When your (or your partner’s) first thought is to grab your cell phone and check notifications before you even say good morning or kiss your bedmate it’s a sad state of reality. As a parent with grown children and no land line it’s hard to consider turning the darned thing off. But who is in charge here? Time to take back life!

    PS I feel it necessary to remind everyone that using a cell phone while pumping gas is extremely dangerous! Glad you stopped! Be safe ❤️

    • Thanks again for the reminder, Tami! And I love your reflection here. It honors the complexity of our modern situation and doesn’t cast technology as all good or all bad. At the same time, you make a good point; when we’re inclined to attend first to our digital people rather than our analog people, it’s concerning. Thanks again for this!

  2. Reading your book has become part of my morning ritual (of course after I check email and facebook 🙂 I am sharing your lessons with my daughters (11 and 14), I started telling them the story about filling your heart with good things and before I could get to the part about the lid, my 11 year old piped up with the ending (they taught her that in school). Thank you for sharing these messages, this one, will also be the topic of discussion with my girls!!!!

  3. I unplugged from many things a year ago… and my life is filled and full…with real contacts, real human difficult sometimes really uneasy human contacts…. and I have no regrets, not missed a bit of it. You get times back, you get to be bored, you get to just not do anything (which is a daily challenge for me : forcing myself not to do anything for 5 minutes). I has forced me to choose what is more important and handle the projects that was hanging around….

  4. Fantastic read Kelly, and, good for you. Thanks for sharing this timely piece. We are considering a phone for our oldest (almost 13) and I cannot help but think we are almost handing her Pandora’s box. So much out there that is trying it’s darndest to get it’s hooks into young people. With all the research now showing, what you point out about the dopamine rush from smart phone notifications, it is almost like putting an addictive drug into our kids hands, hoping they will be the one’s to “not” get hooked on it. What a battle, and how true about avoiding enacting the hard choices. Well written friend, and thank you.

    • Think no further. Don’t do it. It is a Pandoras box. Hold off for as long as possible. Not only mentally is this dangerous territory but for young people still developing physiologically it’s dangerous. The EMF’s transmitted via cell and technology, not to mention grids and towers, are being studied at MD Anderson in Texas and how they are (not If) affecting our health and wiping out our society with disease induced low immune systems. Get the book: UNPLUGGED or EMF Freedom. It’s a hard decision and the alternative for your kids should be limited usage with YOUR phone. Just one persons thought on it all. PS…there are now organizations such as “Super Kids” in California that are camps for kids addicted to social media.. so this is soon becoming a crisis. Personal testimony from a mama (me) of my own daughter being addicted and has suffered greatly.

      • Jodi, I looked for the Unplugged book, but can’t find it, can you share more info or a link?

        Kelly, thank you for this article. It’s spot on.

        • Thanks for this dialogue everyone. Kevin, FWIW, we gave our son a smart phone when he turned 13 and we wish we’d waited another year, or at least developed a technology contract before doing so. Monitoring his use is a constant effort and requires a lot of time and diligence. We’re all working together more cooperatively on it now, but we could have put it off for another year. A flip phone would’ve done the trick. Also, Bill Gates doesn’t let his kids have a smart phone before the age of 14.

          • Thanks Kelly. I can relate to your story. My wife and I are at odds with this and other things. I am a tech guy, and where things are going scares me. I agree with Jodi above, a Pandoras box. Keep spreading the word.

            BTW Kelly, there is an article on a blog from a dad in the UK who is dealing with his daughter now after her phone opened the door for her to be groomed by a predator. A nightmare. Might U humbly ask you to consider putting together an article about tech, kids, and the downside?

            Thanks again,

  5. I have not watched the news other than a blip at a retail shop or hotel breakfast area for most of my adult life. I haven’t participated in a major political debate at work, online, or anywhere else for more than 2 minutes without steering the conversation to something of more philosophical interest and meaning. I always rely on my core beliefs to guide my opinion an I’ve noticed that either conversations die out or change to an exploration of what is most important to each person in the conversation (usually not the topic De-jour in the media). I’ve rarely been bombarded by someone’s loud opinion, offended by someone’s lack of knowledge, or had a need to be articulate about anything fad worthy. It’s been great. I do try to know what is popular on YouTube enough to keep my children safe and informed and I research the origins of some fads/popular media if they seem to be causing a social stir so as to be forewarned enough to know what to avoid in conversation.
    Some people who find this out (never knowing it about me unless I tell them) balk at me for not keeping up with the world and missing out on something. Claiming I’ve done a professional disservice to myself etc. I always smile and reflect on how I fee like family is the most important thing that everyone should focus on and how most economic, social, and geopolitical issues can be solved with better family values. I also usually point out what I’m grateful for in my life and the freedoms I’m glad to enjoy in this nation. Because honestly, what can we do? Aside from unifying with a singular voice that demands a singular change to whatever scenario is bothering a few of us at once, we can only live our lives and try to lead by example. Specifically, the example to our own family who in turn affects others around them with their example. It’s a long game. We know there are no short terms solutions, so why not just play the long game the right way and make family the priority every time? Who would be wrong in doing that? How much bad would happen if “everyone” was focused on that? I cannot change the world, but I can change my behavior and decrease the stress in my life. Maybe my calm demeanor will calm a coworker or slow the pace of some agitated conversationalist.

  6. I love this, “Grace connects the best parts of you to the best parts in everyone else.” I want to give grace so I can see the best in everyone else-a much more fulfilling life than seeing the faults in everyone’s life.

  7. I love this – but I have to disagree with some of it ….. to me, its because of social media/my phone/mylaptop I have connected back with people I would have never connected back with. Its because of social media/myphone/mylaptop, I am involved in more connection I have ever been in my whole life due to being really withdrawn. It really does help those who suffer from connection with certain people due to hard pasts and childhoods. I dont let it control me, but i do find that it has helped me to come out of my shell a lot with my writing, with my connecting with others. I do allow myself downtime from my phone or laptop.. I make sure to watch movies with my husband and we both put the ph9ones and laptops away… I allow myself time at night to just sit and think rather to pull out my phone. Why punish yourself by taking away the things that help you connect with others? as long as it doesn’t replace face to face connection, or as long as it doesn’t take you away from life, I dont see why you would have to delete, take away, or punish yourself for connecting with others on a different level. Your a therapist right? you spend hours and days face to face with people.. I imagine its nice to take downtime from that and just be alone with your thoughts even if that means social media and connecting with others in a different way. Look at all the great things you learn online and read and your blog alone is probably being read on a phone right now, imagine if someone couldn’t read your blog this morning? I think what I am saying is, don’t punish yourself or take away someone that really leads to connection – whether its face to face, phone to phone, laptop to laptop, its connection as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your family life or downtime in between. 🙂

  8. I respond and agree wholeheartedly and recognize my addiction. I suffer from fomo (fear of missing out) and know it’s a kind of disease. Thanks for helping me examine my plight! I’m writing this on my cell phone!! 😲

  9. such a great article and so geniune – from the heart and soul. I really admire that about you and this article. It is so easy to be plastic – have artifical responses to people, places and things. And what I like about your article is that it points out it is not all that hard to be geniune and real. Thank you for your wonderfuls posts – all of them.

    • Lydie, thank you for drawing that out of this post. It is a core theme that is a bit under-stated in the post: we already know how to relate well, but oftentimes, we are afraid to do it.

  10. Probably because I learned long ago that unplugging is necessary for spiritual and mental health, this was the paragraph that jumped out to me with so much wisdom, Kelly:

    “I already knew how I wanted to respond to each of the problems. I wasn’t avoiding them because the solutions were hard to identify; I was avoiding them because the solutions would be hard to enact. I’d risk rejection, embarrassment, failure, and disappointment. I’d have to trust that I’m loveable even if I’m unloved. That, I think, is living courageously, and it can only be done in real life.”

    And trusting that we are loveable even when we are unloved by someone or some really challenging situation is indeed challenging and courageous! Thank you for sharing your insights with all of us!

  11. I am traveling to Greece next week, for the fourth time this year, to work in a refugee camp. My phone does not work there. I am linked to the people at that place face-to-face, listener to listener.

    The refugees almost all have phones, though! Their phones are their lifeline to family and to hopes.


  12. Hmmm, lovely.
    That grace piece sounds like Jesus, that quiet healing voice speaking love into all our weird humanness and connecting us through good, good words like these. 🙂

  13. Right on all counts, Kelly. You’re not alone: as it happens, yesterday I realized my late night screen time has been creeping beyond what’s healthy (instant gratification and slowing down to sleep go together like peanut butter and tomato) so, new rule: I’m putting the toys down an hour before bed. (Exceptions: actual phone use, and meditation timer/app). At present I still have the discipline to be purposeful during the day.

    During grad school I didn’t have internet at home. It was inconvenient but gave me so much.

    Hey look, it’s that time! 😉

  14. It felt like you were a fly on my wall the last month. I’ve been off facebook since the beginning of July, as well as trying to cut down on other avoidant beahviours (sleeping too much, eating too much, watching series). I found it really hard in the beginning, because it meant I had to spend time ‘in the real world’. Instead of eating away my anxiety about the next day, I had to sit with it and find ways to be with it constructively. Instead of engaging in the scripted dramas on screen, I had to engage in real-life feelings with real people. Instead of venting my anger on facebook, I needed to be in real connection with my husband. And it was REALLY VERY HARD. It reminder me of why I slowly started doing all of these behaviours in the first place. Like an addict trying to get away from the emptiness/pain/sorrow/anxiety, but using the incorrect methods. And if you haven’t ‘lived in the real world’ for a long time, whatever avoidant mechanism you’ve used, it can be a new and frightening place. But I’m slowly starting to learn to embrace all of it. Because, in the real world, the happiness, successes, moments of joy and connection are also real. And so worth it.

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