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Phone Vs. Family—How to Win The Battle for Presence

Friend or Enemy?

“How can I be present with my family when my phone is dinging in the background?”

I bet most of us can second this question I received from a recent workshop attendee. It’s that urgent feeling of needing to know who’s texted or whether someone’s emailed back yet or how many people have commented on our latest post.

We can’t turn our phones off, because “what if someone needs us?” but we also can’t get these urges out of our heads until we feed our curiosity what it wants. Kind of like sugar cravings. And when checking our phones is as easy as popping a chocolate square, why wait?

The Problems

From an efficiency perspective, we shouldn’t.

“Urgent” Problem + Easy Solution = Problem Solved

But from a relationship viewpoint, the equation grows complex.

“Urgent” Problem + Easy Solution – Presence – Reverence + Hurt = A New, Bigger Problem

Because we’re subtracting presence from the situation by attending to our phones instead of our loved ones, we’re also subtracting reverence.

“Presence is a sign of reverence for the people and circumstances before us, an acknowledgement that this moment holds purpose.”1

So we end up hurting the most important people in our lives by making them feel like they matter less than our phones.

Without that easy solution, though, the problem remains. So how do we solve it without creating a new one?

The Big Questions

As I pondered the answer, ideas in the “Do This” and “Don’t Do This” categories popped into my head. But the life coach in me raised her hand above the crowd to speak. Here’s what she said:

“Remember that one time in coaching academy2 when someone gave concrete advice to our practice client—‘why don’t you just try this’? Remember how it was a big no-no because it stopped the client’s process of digging deep for a personal solution or a discovery of the actual root problem?”

Ah, yes, I remembered. Which is why, before we talk possible solutions, you’ll find below some “big picture” prompts to first encourage your own deep digging:

    • Do you really want to change your phone habits or just feel like you should?

o   Change is difficult even when we really want it; adding indifference ups the difficulty level.

    • Why do you want this change to happen?

o   This “mother ship” of intention strengthens our perseverance; think about who you’re doing this for, how that person will feel because of it, and what’ll be better about life.

    • When you feel the urge to check your phone, are you figuratively walking toward it or away from something or someone else?

o   An old boss cautioned me about this when I was considering transferring from a job I hated to an unrelated department within the company. So what about you, are you using your phone to get away from your kids, your thoughts, your life?

    • What does hearing that ding or checking your phone mean to you?

o   Freedom, Connection, Knowledge, Validation, Obligation?

o   Is this really about the phone or a deeper need?

o   Can you fulfill that need in a way more reverent to yourself and others?

The Solutions

We should now know or at least have an unfolding understanding of two things:

    1. Whether and why we truly want to change our relationship with our phone.
    2. The root problem, whether it’s the phone or something deeper.

Next comes the solution phase, which becomes infinitely easier to plan and execute once we’ve done the tough inner work. Below are some examples, sorted by root problem, but I encourage you to come up with personalized solutions—they’ll stick more if they mean more to you:

    • It’s about The Phone:

o   Go to a different room when using the phone—treat phone time like it’s time with a real person.

o   Keep a sticky note to capture all those things you want to do on the phone—do it in one chunk.

o   Tell your loved ones they’re more important than the phone and that you’re making an effort to show them this is true—create accountability.

    • It’s about Freedom/Escape:

o   Set daily “freedom” time—give yourself permission to do whatever makes you happy in this block of time.

o   Use this time to invest in yourself—activities that will build your mind, body, or spirit—so the desire to escape from your life lessens.

o   “Be Present. Be Grateful.”TM

    • It’s about Connection:

o   Plan a meal or post-kids-bedtime date with someone you haven’t connected with lately.

o   Use the phone for talking or video-chatting with a friend vs. texting/messaging/commenting.

    • It’s about Knowledge:

o   Use non-electronic info sources—books, newspapers, magazines, NPR—and prevent the email and app temptation of the phone.

    • It’s about Validation:

o   Instead of depending on people’s responses to you, look within to prove your worth—for more guidance, this previous blog post “Outsourcing Confidence? There’s a Better Supplier.” can help.

    • It’s about Obligation:

o   Set response-time expectations with friends and family.

o   Set a few daily times to check the phone—if it’s an emergency, people will call you.

o   Keep a sticky note to capture all those things you need to do on the phone—do it in one chunk.

Just know that sometimes the dinging will win; it happens. So when it does, let your loved ones know they’re important to you and that they deserve your full attention. But that until you check this one thing, your mind will be far away from them.

Then finish your screen time, set the phone down, release your hand from its case, and settle into presence and the beauty of the moment.


How are you going to win the battle for presence? Comment below!


1 We Bold Souls mantra card

2 Thanks to Raleigh Coaching Academy for building in me the coaching foundation I pulled from to write this article!

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