It was Sunday morning. My iPhone Screen Time feature faithfully reported my smartphone usage: 

You averaged 5 hours, 36 minutes of screen time per day last week.

I sighed to myself in dismay, thinking to myself, “How did that happen…yet again?”

Apparently, I was not alone. Recent statistics compiled by KommandoTech show that Americans spend around 5.4 hours a day using their phones every day, with the heaviest users spending up to 12 hours a day. Most of us say that we want to cut down the time that we spend consuming media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Netflix. 

But that’s like saying that we need to eat better or exercise more. Vague, undefined—and easier said than done. Add to that a full, brimming schedule, and our well-meaning smartphone intentions fall to the wayside faster than our New Year’s resolutions. 

Many self-help and productivity gurus suggest using Screen Time, Digital Wellbeing, Rescue Time, and other software to monitor and manage our habits. They propose using technology to help limit our use of technology. 

These tools have their place, but I think the less willpower required, the better! After all, how much willpower does it take to pry yourself away from the latest comments on social media, or to stop after just one episode of Stranger Things?

A Better Solution

Fortunately, there is another approach to tackle the same problem. We don’t have to resort to sheer willpower. The opposite of passive consumption is active creativity. By finding ways to engage in creativity, we can naturally replace the time that we spend on our smartphones with a more therapeutic, soul-refreshing activity. 

A few years ago, I started to feel burned out as a nurse. I was forced to re-examine my habits. One of the issues I discovered was the way I spent my time recharging on my days off. I didn’t have any hobbies, so my time off consisted of scrolling mindlessly through my smartphone.

My favorite “hobbies” consisted of:

  1. watching video after video in the infinite scroll of YouTube 
  2. browsing through Amazon, comparing different product descriptions while reading their corresponding endless reviews
  3. going down internet rabbit holes after asking Google random questions of interest (Quora or Reddit, anyone?)

There was nothing wrong with my pseudo hobbies per se, but I discovered that they didn’t recharge me the way I needed. For me, mindless social media/internet were not the fillers of time between activities, they were my main activities. 

If my soul were a bank account, these were neutral activities at best, draining my account at worst. They most definitely were not adding to my account.

An Answered Prayer

For years, I had prayed that God would give me a hobby. I ended up discovering meal delivery kits, which became the training wheels for me to learn how to cook. Each meal became like a crafting project that engaged all five senses. Cooking became a therapeutic activity that helped me unwind from work and recover from burnout.

This was an unexpected answered prayer for me because I had always disliked cooking. (Just ask my husband!) More recently, I also started writing, which gives me a different kind of joy pulling together ideas on paper. Whether cooking a meal or writing a short devotional, I enjoy the creative process, and also gain a small sense of achievement when I am finished.

What is Creativity?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of the verb create is “to make or bring into existence something new.” I like to think of creativity as the art and science of putting together something whole from distinct parts. While creativity is found in many forms, including our work outside and inside the home, I want to focus here on using creativity through therapeutic hobbies as a way to refresh our souls. 

Starting in the book of Genesis, God is the ultimate Creator, forming His creation from nothing. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV). 

To a lesser extent, we are called to be creators since we are created in His image. We create to cultivate the possibilities of His creation. God gave us each talents to explore, nurture, and multiply (Matthew 25:14-20). When we create, He is glorified because we are doing what He created us to do. 

The Benefits of Creativity

The act of creating is deeply rewarding and therapeutic for us as well. Creative hobbies facilitate the state of flow, as first defined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In this state, people are engrossed in an activity with concentrated focus and creative engagement. He noted that the act of creating seemed at times more important than the finished work itself. 

According to Martin Seligman in his book Authentic Happiness, “high-flow” activities bring about more sense of well-being and happiness, but fewer people engaged in them because they require more effort than “low-flow” activities, such as watching TV.

Csikszentmihalyi himself wrote in his classic book Flow, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

In psychiatric hospitals, recreation therapists engage the patients in coloring, painting, bracelet-making, and crafts because these activities are therapeutic to the mind. By giving our minds something else to focus on, we give ourselves a much-needed break from the rest of our world. This is one reason that adult coloring books have been so popular over the last few years. 

Work is now a major stressor in many people’s lives. Much of the stress in our modern workplace comes from our having little control over what happens. Work can feel like toil at times because we live in a fallen world. There is something soothing about having total control over a quiet, creative process after spending eight hours in the harried frenzy of the modern workplace.

In his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Pang stated that people need a complete mental detachment from work in order to recover from work. He explains that deep play through engaging hobbies provides this opportunity. 

In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, he said, “We think of rest as a negative space defined by absence of work but it’s really much more than that. The counterintuitive discovery is that many of the most restorative kinds of rest are actually active.” 

My Experience with Creativity

If these hobbies restore and recharge, pseudo-hobbies on our phones distract and drain. One involves creativity; the other, consumption. 

In my experience, I have found that the more time I spent immersed in cooking or writing, the less time I had or even wanted to spend on my smartphone. I didn’t have to use willpower to “try harder” to cut down on screen time. I naturally wanted to spend more time on my hobbies.

I discovered that engaging in creativity made me feel more refreshed on my days off from work. If I deliberately put away my phone to pursue my hobbies, I would not have any work-related thoughts for long periods of time. To my amazement, Iwould have what Pang called a complete mental detachment from work. I would feel like my days off were full, rather than empty—the same way one feels after a good vacation.

A few years ago, I turned off my Screen Time feature for good. I didn’t need the extra guilt that came with each weekly iPhone report card. Plus, I didn’t need Screen Time anymore. I had discovered that one of the best antidotes to excessive technology consumption was creativity itself.

How do you recharge on your days off? What is the most therapeutic hobby that you have?

Try to engage in that hobby twice this week instead of spending time on your phone. If you do not have a creative hobby currently, pray and ask God to bless you with one!

Reflection:

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11 (NIV)

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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