The Behavioural Chain Analysis of a phone zombie

chain

I’ve worked for nearly a decade helping women change unhelpful behaviours and either discover, or recover, the life they want to lead. One of the technique I use is called a behavioural chain analysis: you analyse an unhelpful (or self-defeating) behaviour, looking at what made you vulnerable, what prompted the behaviour, what are the links in the chain and what are the consequences. You then move on to looking at what you could do differently, what skilful solutions can you identify, prevention strategies and how you might repair any consequences, correct the harm caused and then over-correct it (make things just a little bit better than they were before).

This weeks post is a follow-up on my phone zombie tendencies and I’ve decided to complete a Behavioural Chain Analysis, partly to see what it uncovers…


What is the problem behaviour I am analysing?

I have been mindlessly and habitually using my phone internet and would like to eradicate this behaviour. It is getting in the way of how I want to live. I do not want to completely stop using my mobile internet, I simply want to be mindful about when, where and why I’m using it. Particular problematic times when I consider it to be unhelpful, mindless and habitual are:

  1. While walking to work.
  2. While waiting for someone/something.
  3. While feeding my daughter.
  4. Before I go to sleep.

Describe the prompting event that started the whole chain of behaviour.

It has been a gradual, slippery slope of phone internet use which has become habitual. However this week I have noticed that there are two particular triggers that increase my likelihood of using it mindlessly.

The first trigger is urgency. I hadn’t previously considered the link between urge and urgency but there is certainly a sense of “I need to do this now”. Making a note of what I wanted to use the internet for helped me identify what was important enough to wait until my allocated time in the evening, what was actually urgent (looking up an address) and what was neither urgent nor important (these ultimately remained on my urges list). I only kept the list for three days as after this point my urges were non-existent. It goes to show that while the first step to behavioural change is becoming aware of how much you use a behaviour, the second is riding the wave of urges.

The second trigger is overwhelming emotions. This only happened once during the week. Emotions are an important part of life, yet at times we are all guilty of using unhelpful strategies to avoid or escape from them when they feel “too much” (for example food, alcohol, cigarettes, other substances or psychological strategies). The occasion this happened, I was both aware of what I was doing AND wilfully continuing to do the behaviour. I was using my mobile internet both mindlessly and in bed. I was using it as a way to shut off from both my thoughts and feelings. This trigger is likely to be at play in my use (and probably other people’s use) of mobile phones while waiting. Who likes to be the odd one out, not on a phone?

Describe in general what things made me vulnerable (both in myself and in the environment).

I have a phone with internet capabilities which I have used for several years (environmental vulnerability). I have a, albeit misguided, sense of being able to fit things into less time, i.e. multi-tasking rather than engaging one-mindfully (personal vulnerability). I can value doing more than being (personal vulnerability). There is a cultural drive towards being ‘connected’, particularly via social media (environmental vulnerability). The transition to a new home internet provider did not go smoothly (environmental vulnerability).

Describe the links in the chain of events (these may be actions, body sensations, thoughts, events, or emotions & may include both helpful and unhelpful behaviours)

Although this is a general behavioural analysis rather than one focusing on a specific instance, there are certain common links I am aware formed part of many instances of the behaviour.

  • “I’ll just” (check/look up/find out/buy) thinking.
  • “I can’t deal with this ” (overwhelming feelings).
  • Sense of urgency.
  • Dealing with de-owning (particularly on Ebay and local parenting group).

What are the consequences of this behaviour?

Short term consequences

  • Wasted time (resulting in more stress as I have lots of things still to do).
  • Tired as I don’t go to sleep as early.
  • Fewer quality connections with actual people in my life.
  • I miss the world around me.
  • Less thinking space.
  • Fewer restorative experiences.
  • Superficial virtual relationships.

Long term consequences

  • Damage to relationships through neglect.
  • Exhaustion (physical and mental).
  • Ill-considered decisions.
  • Not living the life I want.

Describe in detail different, more skilful solutions to the problem.

Identifying a list at the start of what I could do instead was helpful, particularly as I had identified things I could do in both specific circumstances (e.g. read my book in bed as I can’t navigate away from it) and in general (e.g. using mindfulness). I didn’t do any yoga but my informal mindfulness practice has increased exponentially, particularly on my way to work. By being mindful of my walk to work, I have been mindful of:

  • The wake of a duck paddling across the river.
  • The army of purple thistles lining the path.
  • lots of bees buzzing around a plant with yellow flowers.
  • 2 types of thistle.
  • The hill at the end of my walk to work.
  • The warmth of the sun on my skin.
  • Plants scratching past my leg.
  • My daughter signing bird for the first time.
  • A dandelion seed blowing past my cheek.
  • Canine doo-doo.
  • Altocumulus and cirrus clouds
  • A discussion between my wife and daughter at bath time about Signor ‘Green Boy’ (a duck!) jumping out of the bath which one party found hilarious.

It is definitely easier to give up a behaviour when you have an idea of what to replace it with. I have also cleared more things of my to do list, including replacing the fridge which has been driving me bonkers for over three months and booking a dental appointment. I have even managed a couple of formal mindfulness practices which I feel very proud of.

Other skills that I could/need to use are:

  • Radical acceptance – I have had to rely on my phone internet to manage my de-owning efforts
  • Forgiving myself – it takes time to change behaviour and I’d like to aim for progress rather than perfection
  • Dialectical thinking – I can both be frustrated by my mindless use of the internet & want to change this AND have discovered this weeks blog I enjoyed while mindlessly using the internet.

Describe a prevention strategies (to reduce your vulnerability).

Mindfulness is a key prevention strategy to help me manage my vulnerabilities. The more I use mindfulness (both informal and formal), the more value I place on being a human being rather than a human doing. My interpretation of minimalism is just this; keep in your life the things that allow you to simply be.

I am used, in many ways, to living a life that is “different”, and resisting the desire to know everything, all the time, as it happens is another example of this. Trusting my intuitive knowledge of what is right for me (it doesn’t have to be right for anyone else) helps me to simply be. Therefore my mobile internet can be used to add value to my life rather than distract from what is important. For example, today it enabled me to arrange a play date that both I and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed!

Describe how you are going to repair, correct and over-correct the harm.

The repairs to relationships, particularly with my wife and daughter, have already begun. When I am with them I am mindfully present, enjoying their company and appreciating the subtle changes that occur daily. Completing this behavioural analysis has been part of the correction of the unhelpful behaviour as it contains reflections on the behavioural changes I have already made (i.e. the new skilful behaviour I am now using).

To over-correct the harm and make things a little better than before I have shared this behavioural analysis in the hope that others will become more mindful of when, where and why they use their phones. I’m also going to extend (or is it shrink?) my boundaries. For a month I’ll not use my phone at all on my walk to work, while feeding my daughter or before sleep.

Reflections on this behavioural analysis.

Given I ask my clients to think about thier unhelpful behaviours in this way, I really should not be surprised that this structured approach can be beneficial to identify what leads us into using a behaviour that interferes with minimalism and the life we want. Many of us have used the mindless pursuit of possessions as an attempt to assuage or completely avoid our feelings, impress others, or pursue a life that does not leave us fulfilled. I feel strongly that the removal of physical clutter achieves nothing if we do not understand our reasons and drives for the original accumulation. If we remove the excess we are left with ourselves and, if unable to tolerate what we find, the cycle begins again.

Mindfulness can lead to acceptance: it is as it is. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. We are as we are.


Items de-cluttered this week – This week has been (unsurprisingly perhaps) all about removing the digital/electronic clutter.

  • I’ve removed all items from my email inbox (again!) and several email folders have been deleted without even looking in them.
  • I’ve removed all files from one computer so I can dispose of the computer. I realise I’ve merely postponed the hard drive declutter but I’m using Marie Kondo’s technique of getting everything in the same place first. Only two computers to go!
  • I’ve unsubscribed from a variety of email newsletters and have set up more rules for my emails coming in.
  • I’m trying to adopt a new approach to only checking my emails at certain times (work in progress!)
  • I’ve tackled the cables box (I’m sure everyone has one!) and removed 2 cable tidies for phone line (we don’t use a landline), a phone line extension (we don’t use a landline), two bases and one portable phone (did I say we don’t use a landline?), Adsl filters x3, 2 Wifi routers,  Adaptor plugs x3 and a 5m TV coax cable and female adaptor (I have no idea what this is!). What I kept were (in addition to the extension leads we currently use – a 3m coiled extension, a 10m coiled extension and 2 other adaptors. I know we use all of these (although not permanently).

A blog I’ve enjoyed – As I’ve been limiting my use of the internet this week (particularly in bed) I’ve not read as many blog posts and become more selective about the ones I have. Hilary Barnett’s article Tidying up, over at  No Sidebar was a useful reminder that minimalism is about what you are keeping rather than what you are removing. While I will continue to include a snippet at the end of each of my blogs about what I have de-cluttered each week (I prefer actual examples over vague hypotheticals) I will also bear in mind the balance of what I choose to keep in my life.

Photo: Chain/Pimthida/CC BY-NC-ND

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6 thoughts on “The Behavioural Chain Analysis of a phone zombie

  1. Pingback: Katie M Anderson | 20 Things to Do Instead Of Picking Up Your Phone

  2. What an incredible post! I love the behavioural chain analysis, it gives so much insight as well as a specific solution. I can feel myself becoming a phone zombie and wish I could change the habit before it becomes too ingrained. I feel myself missing out on so much but I can’t ignore the urge to check facebook one more time (like something will have changed since 5 minutes ago!)

    Thank you, I loved this. It’s made me aware of some of my ‘why’ reasons and also of what I’m missing out on too.

    Sal 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sal. I’m a firm believer that it’s hard to change a behaviour if we don’t understand the function it is serving. I’m finding it much harder being away from home to not be spending ages on my phone internet. I just keep reminding myself that every time I do something different it’s building a new habit. Progress not perfection!

      Liked by 1 person

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