a guide to behaviorally-sound resolutions goals

Family Before Phone – Behaviorally-Sound New Years Resolutions


I’ve read a lot of posts and seen a lot of videos and other things encouraging people to get off their phones and live in the “real world.” I even know people who talk about divorcing their smartphone altogether, going back to a dumb phone, or even no mobile phone at all. I think that’s admirable: to want to put people and family above technology.

Here’s my personal problem with it: I DON’T WANT TO GO BACKWARD! I don’t want to go back to carrying those large bricks we call scriptures, around in a case with a handle. I don’t want to have to be at my computer to listen to a podcast; or look up driving directions and print them off, before driving somewhere; or have to stop and ask for directions; or wonder what a word means, then forget about looking it up, when I’m on my computer next; or have to buy and carry a separate MP3 player so I can listen to my music when I run, or drive; or have to try to remember to pack the book I’m reading around with me everywhere I go, or carry around a camera, in case my kids do something cute and I want a photo or video; or take hand-written notes again. In short: I don’t want to carry a backpack everywhere I go, to hold all the stuff that my smart phone does for me in a pocket-sized device.

But, I also don’t want to take away time and valuable interaction with my family, nor do I want to set a bad example for my kids.

Family Before Phone

So here’s the reality of it: I’m not one of those people who’s on his phone when out with friends or in other social situations. I might check it briefly on occasion, or look something up as needed, but generally I’m present and engaged… except with my wife and children. At home, every day, that’s when I tend to get distracted reading an interesting article somebody shared on Google+, or following up my latest post, that’s receiving lots of comments. It’s the same for Jill, my wife. Only for her it’s more Instagram and Facebook. We get caught up in “social” media, and don’t interact with each other and our kids the way we should (sometimes).

Fortunately the solution is pretty simple: behaviorally-sound solutions to help you stop using your phone for things that aren’t that important. And that’s one of my key New Year’s resolutions: put “family before phone.”


Now, how do I do that? That’s the real question. Too often people’s resolutions are a generalized concept, like putting “family before phone” or “divorce your smartphone.” A short phrase like that can be very helpful to conceptualize and remember the goal. However, if you don’t set those behaviorally-sound practices into place, your resolutions are going to last all-of a few days.

“Behaviorally-sound” means putting things in place and in-motion that will help you accomplish your goals, in-spite of your worst self. For example, lots of people resolve to “save money.” If they leave it at that, they’ve already failed. But many go further and say, “I’ll just take 10% of each paycheck and put it in my savings account,” guess what happens? They do it once, or twice. Then there’s that emergency expense, or that new smartphone they really wanted. Instead of putting the savings aside, the money goes elsewhere. Next, the amount they’d previously saved follows it. Soon the savings account is back to $0, and they give up entirely. This is not behaviorally-sound, because you simply won’t do it.

Behaviorally-sound is setting up an automatic transfer of $1/day or $25/week from your checking to your savings account. And, if you know that seeing your savings account balance will create a temptation to spend it, behaviorally sound also means having that savings account at a different bank, or having your bank block it from your online banking and the mobile app. Without being able to see it—and with just a slow trickle—you don’t notice it’s gone, and you’re not tempted to spend it. This is behaviorally-sound.

A Behaviorally-Sound Smartphone

What are “behaviorally-sound” practices for getting off your phone? Well, here’s what I’m going to do: I took the Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (I never used it much anyway), and Twitter apps off of my phone. I also turned off all notifications in my Google+ app, and removed it from my home screen, putting the LDS Scriptures app icon in the place where the G+ icon used to be. I would have removed the app entirely, but really like the “auto-backup” for photos feature, as well as some other integrations it has on my Android phone.

So now I can get to G+, but it takes some extra effort and helps me pause and think if my wife or kids are around and if I should be interacting with them instead. By removing the other apps entirely, it’s no longer a temptation. In the short week since I’ve implemented this, I already spend a lot less time on my phone. And when I do, it’s doing something productive, like work, or reading a book, or listening to an instructive podcast. For me, this is behaviorally sound.

Email and other things aren’t too much of a problem for me. But if they are for you, that’s the next step: change your notifications so that you don’t get email notifications on your phone. Or if you need to receive them, use a tool like Inbox Pause to make sure you only receive messages at certain times of the day, and not during time with your family.

A Behaviorally-Sound Computer

Or, if you’ll just go to the computer and spend time there, use a browser extension like StayFocusd, to limit the amount of time you spend on Facebook.com or other sites. Or if the computer in general is a problem, here’s an even better idea: setup your computer on the top of a dresser or other cabinet so that it’s a standing workstation. If you’re not used to standing a lot, your feet will limit your computer time for you.

Buttressing Behaviors with Reminders, Rewards, & Punishments

You can do the same with pro-active goals. For example, if you know that you react to notifications on your phone, setup reminders or other notifications to help you accomplish pro-active goals. One example is getting a daily email to remind you to write in your journal.

Another way is to setup rewards and penalties for accomplishing or failing your goals. One example might be giving your spouse $200 and saying “you put this cash somewhere. If I loose 10lbs in the next 3 months and reach my goal, you have to give it back and I can spend it on whatever I want. If I don’t loose 10lbs in that time, you get to keep it and spend it on whatever you want.” That’s actually a bad idea, because it incentivises them to work against you, so they can get the money. But you get the idea. The key is making sure a 3rd party manages and judges these for you. If you say you’re going to reward yourself, you’ll probably cave and give yourself the reward early. We all do, and it defeats the purpose.

StickK Can Help

A great option for this is StickK.com. I don’t like it’s interface very much, but it’s still a great tool. You set a goal and then the “stakes” for accomplishing or failing it. For example, you can set it so that $50 will be donated to a charity you like, if you achieve your goal; and the same $50 will be donated to a political group that promotes a cause you oppose, if you don’t achieve your goal. Now that’s motivation! I’d do a lot to avoid donating money to some causes I’m very against. But you can also make it more personal as well: simply donate $50 to a friend, if you don’t accomplish your goal. If you’d really like to keep that $50, that can be motivation enough.

Finally, you choose a referee. This is someone who will check your progress and verify that you’re doing what you say you’re doing. For example, maybe you say you will record everything you eat each day. If you put it in a Google Drive Spreadsheet and share it with your referee, they can quickly look at it each week, when StickK asks them to verify your progress. As long as you report you are accomplishing (or have completed) your goal, and your referee verifies it, then you receive any reward setup. If not, then whatever punishment you’ve set will kick in.

The New Year’s Spirit All Year Round

In the LDS Church (and most Christian churches I assume), we talk and pray a lot about keeping the Christmas spirit with us all year round. It’s a great concept: trying to be as giving, serving, and conscious of other people’s hardships all year, as we are at Christmas time. The same thing should probably apply to New Years. Set new goals every month. Make the 1st of every month like New Year’s Day by setting new goals. If you did your goals the previous month, they should be habit by now. If you failed at them, take the opportunity to re-set them, perhaps with some modifications to make them more realistic.

Re-committing to goals and resolutions will help you make actual progress, rather than waiting 11 months for another new year, to give it another shot.

  1. Incentivizes? Haha. That’s my new word of the week. I like the idea of setting things up automatically, like recurring transfers and emails. I might actually be able to outsmart the lazier side of me by setting that up! Later, obviously. After I take a nap. But still!

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