If you want to break your addiction to your phone — and by extension, to anything — it helps to focus on “The Reach.” That’s the act of reaching for your phone (or other temptation) wherever it happens to be — in your pocket, or on the sofa beside you, or on the table in front of you, or as an idea somewhere in your mind.

Any time you find yourself doing The Reach, you can reverse the process, you can do The Unreach — you can put your phone back where it was.

This could happen in many different ways. You could think of your phone and forget it. You could start pulling your phone out of your pocket and just stop. Or you could finish pulling it out but then put it back immediately. You could pull it out, look at the screen, and then put the phone back. You could pull it out, look at the screen, unlock the screen, open an app, and then immediately close the app and put the phone back.

Typically, the Unreach would come with disappointment. You were going to get some stimulation, something interesting to look at, something exciting to engage with. You had to give it up. You lost out on something you wanted.

You might try to stroke your ego a bit — you were good, you were virtuous to resist the temptation. But this doesn’t make up for the disappointment. Overall, you feel a bit worse after the Unreach.

To master the Unreach, you need to flip your view of the outcome. You need to find a way to feel great after the Unreach. To feel like you just got a really good deal through the Unreach.

Indeed, you just got a few minutes of your life back — maybe ten minutes, maybe half an hour. If the Reach had been completed, how long would you have been lost in your phone? How much distressing material would you have consumed? How much mental energy would you have wasted? A few minutes is probably an underestimate. You saved all that.

Some eco-friendly products declare that by purchasing them, you planted the equivalent of 100 trees or saved the equivalent of 25 cars from driving on highways for a year. When you do the Unreach it’s like you saved 30 stressful thoughts, 12 minutes of ignoring the world around you, and 6 units of bad-habit reinforcement. You added meaningful, quality time back into your life just through the physical action of putting that phone back where it was.

The key is to take a moment to savor that, to really appreciate what you’ve gained. Not just to feel the disappointment but to feel the good fortune.

Imagine if a police officer approached you and said you were going to be detained for several minutes. This would be a “micropenalty” for some unspecified past behavior, and sorry, your due process rights had no bearing on micropenalties. You would be shown stress-inducing material for several minutes and you’d come away feeling frazzled and worn out. But during the administration of this micro-penalty, there would be a “Release me” button available for you to push at any time. If you chose to push the button, the micro-penalty would be cancelled and you’d be free to go.

If this really were to happen, the detainment would probably seem outrageous and unjust to you, and the “Release me” button would seem too good to be true. You might consider it outlandishly improbable that escape could be so easy.

But if you really did suffer a moment of detainment and really did press the “Release me” button and really did get released, you’d probably feel pretty good about that button. You’d probably tell the story about it, “And get this! There was button and all I had to do was push it and I was out. The whole thing was over, just like that.” What a good deal! What a boon!

That’s how you want to feel about the Unreach: What a good deal, what a boon!

Every time you do the Unreach, you’re getting out of a draining and arguably unjust detainment, and you’re getting out easy. What a good deal, what a boon!

Don’t focus on the disappointment of losing a chance to see your latest text messages, emails, social media updates, and app activity. Don’t focus on the letdown. Focus on freedom that you gained so easily, just by practicing a simple Unreach.

If you failed to do the Unreach, and your device is already out and you’ve been scrolling through notifications, news stories, search results for a minute, or many minutes, or an hour, or a couple of hours, it’s still not too late. Don’t worry about all the scrolling you did. Don’t think about the time you spent. Put the device away right now and think of all the time you just saved. Think of all the scrolling you just avoided – hundreds and hundreds of headlines, posts, alerts, or other bits of information that you won’t be burdened with.

It’s like this for other temptations as well.

When you’re tempted to “Reach” for a worry, you can practice the “Unreach.”

When you’re tempted to “Reach” for anger, you can practice the Unreach.

When you’re tempted to Reach for a third bag of chips or a third beer, you can practice the Unreach.

By mastering the Unreach as applied to one thing, like a phone, you can develop a technique that helps with anything you’d rather do less of. ■

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