One of the largest changes I’ve made during quarantine relates to my phone. I’ve always been an iPhone guy, and that hasn’t changed, but I’m trying to take advantage of widgets in iOS to help me become a better version of myself. This could mean being more mindful (and/or meditating more), tracking my mood, keeping a journal, and reading more often.
I do all of my fitness tracking via Apple Watch and I have no complaints there. I’ve closed all 3 rings for over 400 consecutive days (this is a straight-up brag, not a humblebrag) so I decided to change my relationship with my phone so that it mirrored how I use my watch.
I don’t waste time on my watch.
I glance at the time.
I record workouts.
I reply to texts or Microsoft Teams messages.
It’s essentially a very utilitarian device, albeit one that looks great and reminds me to breathe every so often. 😉 I was hoping I could transfer this type of experience to my phone.
Prior to the pandemic I might’ve flicked open my phone to check Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram only to realize later that 10 minutes had evaporated and I was angry at some idiot on the internet, or comparing myself to a neighbor, or jealous that a professional influencer was skinnier, more attractive, and more successful than me. It was your textbook hedonic treadmill and I was gladly climbing onto it myself and tiring myself out many times a day. I knew I wanted to change and I thought some technological changes could affect personal change.
I’m using a few new apps to help me along the way and, as I mentioned in the beginning, relying on widgets as my window in to these ecosystems and experiences.
First I setup the widget for an app I’ve been using for some time now, Moodnotes. Moodnotes is great for reminding you to track how you feel, categorize your emotions, and think deeper about how your mood may have been influenced by this state. I’d been relying on alerts to get me in to the app but I turned those off in favor of the cartoon smiley seen on the screenshot of my current Home Screen. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement!
Second I resurrected an app I used several years ago, Day One, to help kickstart my daily journaling habit. The widget for Day One includes a “Streak” view which motivates me to write a journal entry each day. The new Day One app makes it much easier to add a photo (with time stamp) which ends up being a great trigger for me to record the good, new, and interesting thing that happen each day. If I took a picture it must have a story, right? Day One also has a premium subscription option but I’m still using the free version for now and it’s working great!
Third I polled Twitter for app options to help track habits. Folks I trust recommended Streaks which I bought in a bundle with two other apps by the same developer for $7.99. The widget I use to access the app is infinitely customizable (and you can change the app icon color if you’re into that sort of thing) and includes timers for certain tasks I want to do – 10 minutes each of reading and meditation. For the meditation tracking Streaks actually relies on Apple Health data so regardless of whether I use Headspace or Tap In (my two main meditation apps) the streak gets extended and recorded.
I’ve also got two additional habits I’m trying to make stick – not drinking on weekdays, and not eating dessert. I figure curbing alcohol and sugar are noble tasks made harder during a pandemic so I’ll take whatever help Streaks can provide. Thus far it’s been a mixed bag with my not-drinking much easier to do than not eating desserts. Midnight snacking, late grazing, and plain old mindless munching are all too easy to do.
So now I’m reading, writing, meditating, and tracking my mood more often – though not quite daily – but what about the rest of my Home Screen? I added a very simple app/widget called Moon that displays the current phase of the moon in the widget. I find the photorealistic moon very beautiful and calming, and most quality watches & clocks show moon phase, and what is my phone if not a secondary clock when I’m not twisting my wrist? The Moon just adds an air of sophistication, class, and adulthood to what had been, and still is sometimes, a big toy.
And just today I finally went all-widget on my Home Screen and added a new weather app, Hello Weather, that is free and taps through to radar or forecast, all powered by Dark Sky. It’s pretty great so far and means I get glanceable info that I can park at the top of my phone screen where it’s hard to reach to tap anyhow. It’s a win-win.
Mainly the widget layout means I have to be much more mindful – or just more willing to swipe down or right – to get to brain-and-time-sink social apps. If I don’t see it on that first screen I’ve got to go searching for it. The things I can see are all things I’ve decided I want to do more/better. They ultimately serve as a measure of whether that day has been productive in the sense of accomplishing life-affirming, spiritual tasks. That might sound cheesy but it’s the choice I’m trying to manifest in my life by virtue of the way I use my phone.
I’ll let you know how the actual habit cultivation turns out long-term but in the past few months, since around mid-February when I got Streaks and did my first Home Screen widgets, I’ve garnered a few streaks in the teens. That may not sound like a lot but I’m very pleased with things. I also find that when I mindlessly swipe to open my phone I’m confronted with all of the good things I could be doing – reading, writing, meditating – which has led me down the path towards actually completing a book or writing a journal numerous times.
I also just love seeing the smiling face of Moodnotes and the moon phase. They make me smile.
If I’m being philosophical about the devices it’s because I’ve had time to consider why and how I use them. I decided I want to use them for self-improvement and now I’m learning to live with the consequences of that decision. So far that’s been calmer, more meaningful, and mindful experiences.
Here’s to hoping those things continue.