Because Your Phone Shouldn't Be The Boss Of You

I’m a former cognitive neuroscientist who is married to a licensed mental health counselor. So let’s just say that I think about human behavior a lot, whether that involves puzzling over relationships, behavior change, or why humans do what they do (this election has provided plenty of fodder in the latter department).

Behavior change can be hard. It can take a long time to get from point A to point B. It can be hard to change one’s perspective. It can take forever to work through a conflict. In fact, I’m in the middle of a conflict with a friend right now and in the grand scheme of things we’ve only been dealing with this conflict for about a month, but man, it feels like FOREVER. And I have a sibling with whom I’ve been embroiled in the same conflict for YEARS. Quite frankly, I see no reconciliation coming so it might very well be forever.

So yes, change can take time and be painful. Which is why I’ve been blown away by the #ItCanWait distracted driving challenge I just finished. I shared about starting the challenge a few weeks ago. It’s easy to get started -- simply take the pledge (it literally takes just one click) and then don’t use your phone in the car for the next 21 days.

Because I’m a data nerd (note former career as a cognitive neuroscientist) and in order to keep myself accountable, at the beginning of the challenge I started a log of my daily driving (drive to get Violet from school, drive kids to soccer, drive to business meeting, drive to grocery store, drive to meet Mom...these were highly repetitive themes) and included a “DONE!” after each day. It was like my own little gold star system. Ha.

The first few days I felt like I had to explicitly resist the urge to glance at my phone at stoplights. The next few days I kept tracking but the urge to check my phone was dissipating. But then after 6 days, I stopped writing things down. I didn’t make an explicit choice to stop logging. I later realized that logging my driving habits simply wasn’t top of mind anymore because by that point I stopped thinking about touching my phone in the car. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I didn’t text and drive but I would sometimes check my phone at stoplights (mostly due to boredom) or hold the phone when I had navigation enabled so I could follow the map. Neither behavior was really necessary but they had become habit. And after the first week of the challenge, the urge to check my phone was GONE. This is one of the best (and easiest!) things I’ve done to improve my behavior in recent memory.

Will you please take the pledge/challenge and join me to make the roads safer for everyone? Here are my top three tips to stay motivated and keep you from going back to old habits after you finish the challenge.

1. Use an app

If you need external help to silence inbound alerts, try the AT&T DriveMode App, which is available via Apple and Google Play. The app activates when speed reaches 15 MPH and deactivates when speed drops below 15 MPH for 2-3 minutes.

2. Stow your phone

One of the easiest things to do is simply stow your phone. Toss it in your bag in the back seat or in your trunk if need be.

3. Tell your kids you are doing it

Communicating about a pledge is a powerful thing, and I was very public on social media that I was doing this. But what ended up being the best motivator was telling my kids that I was doing the challenge -- especially Laurel, since we had just had a conversation about the challenging nature of defensive driving. When she said, “That’s awesome, Mom! You can do it!” I knew there was pretty much no choice but to just do it.

Smartphones have brought amazing convenience to our lives and mine is critical for work -- whether it's conference calls, video shoots, photography, email triage, or keeping track of my calendar -- but in the car, it's no longer the boss of me. And I'm so grateful for that!

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with AT&T. All thoughts and storytelling about distracted driving (unless credited to the It Can Wait program) are, of course, my own.