We all do it. Whether we’re standing in line, pretending to pay attention on a Zoom meeting, or simply wanting to escape the garbage fire that is 2020, we pick up our phones and find something “better” to do. For most people I imagine this involves scrolling through some form of social media or news. For others it’s dating apps or games. I suffer from this too to varying degrees and, like most people, would like to do less of it.
The problem with bad habits is that you can’t just stop doing them. It’s best if you find something to replace them with, preferably something more productive. For me, that has become language learning.
For years I have been telling myself that I’m going to become fluent in Spanish. But every year I get to July and realize that I haven’t even begun. At the beginning of this year I started using Duolingo for 10-15 minutes per day. After many months I’ve made great progress but realized that I was spending 2-3x that amount of time on Reddit. Rather than ban myself outright or set a strict limit, I’ve been retraining my time wasting muscle memory. Duolingo is now one of the few app icons on my home screen while Reddit is now resigned to my app library. I’ve also added a Screen Time widget to my second app page so that it’s easier to see how much time I’m spending on different apps. So far this has been working out pretty well.
Don’t get me wrong, learning a language is definitely not as mindless as scrolling through an endless feed but the gamification of Duolingo makes it enjoyable and challenging. These little supercomputers that we carry around all day are truly extraordinary. I’m trying to use mine a bit more intentionally instead of using it to just waste time.