Smart Phones, Smart Habits

Workshop Outline


On this page, you will find the following:

  • Description
  • Learning Goals
  • Workshop Outline
  • Further Reading and Resources


This workshop will look into habit formation and the many ways smartphones have been designed to grab our attention. Through exercises, participants will begin to make the connection between external influences and internal stressors as well as come up with strategies to outsmart their smartphones.

  • Duration: 110 minutes
  • Ideal for 10-25 participants

Learning Goals

  • Reflect on how habits are formed
  • Explore strategies to form balanced digital habits

Workshop Outline

Below is an overview of the workshop outline:

  • Opening
  • Warm Up: How do we form "good" habits?
  • Presentation: How Habits Are Formed
  • Activity: Notice Your Relationship with Your Phone
  • Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 1
  • Discussion: Tech That Keeps Us Hooked
  • Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 2
  • Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 3
  • Discussion: Keeping Your Tech In Check
  • Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 4
  • Reflection: Takeaways
  • Closing


Time needed: 5 minutes+
Purpose: to welcome participants as well as setting expectations and goals.

  1. Introductions:
    • Introduce workshop title
    • Facilitator introduces themselves
  2. Explain the learning goals
  3. Review the ground rules


  • Develop collaborative ground rules along with participants if there is time.
  • Ask participants to go around and introduce themselves if there is time.

Warm Up: How do we form "good" habits?

Time needed: 10 minutes
Purpose: to get participants involved, and to set the foundation of the topic.

  1. Give participants 1 minute to reflect privately on what they would consider "healthy" habits they have, ideally a habit that they consciously formed (e.g. flossing teeth daily, drinking enough water, exercising as much as their doctor recommends, etc.). They should also reflect on how they formed those habits.
  2. Discuss the following questions with participants:
    • Why is it so hard to form good habits?
    • Is it easier to acquire “bad habits”? If yes, why you think that is?
    • What did you find helpful when trying to form a new habit?

Variations: If there's time, ask participants to write their reflections on sticky notes to display on the wall.

Tip: Use this warm-up to start breaking down the steps participants need to turn their one-time actions into long-term habits. This will help you to transition into the next part.

Presentation: How Habits Are Formed

Time needed: 5 minutes
Purpose: to look at a few guiding principles of how habits are formed to take us through this session.

  1. Make small incremental changes that work for you
    • Focus on small step-by-step changes you can apply in your life.
    • Be realistic about what you want to achieve and how you can achieve these. For example, taking a daily short walk might lead to a greater interest in exercise, or keeping a glass of water by your side may encourage you to keep hydrated.
    • Behavioural researcher Dr. B.J. Fogg recommends starting with tiny habits (which is also the name of his book). For example, getting into the action of flossing just one tooth each night before bed may lead you to flossing all of your teeth.
    • In his book, Tiny Habits, Dr. B.J. Fogg gives an example of his own tiny habit. He wanted to do more push ups, so he tied it to another recurring event: going to the bathroom. So after every trip to the bathroom, he would do one push up, now he has a habit of doing 40-80 push-ups a day.
    • One more example: If you want to become a jogger or have an exercise routine: rather than start by attempting to jog for 30 minutes, start off by taking a walk, then progressing to power walking, and then intervals of walking and jogging, until you have built up stamina.
  2. Acknowledge your progress
    • Don’t beat yourself up if seeing progress takes longer than you expect.
    • Reward yourself or recognise the changes you’ve managed to make (no matter how tiny).
    • Generally speaking, if you slip for a day or two, don’t take it too seriously.
  3. Strike a realistic balance
    • Consider your surroundings! Maybe the reason why its hard to make that habit stick, is because there are some factors outside our own control.
    • Example: You want to read more, but work is so busy, and other chores and duties leave little time. If you can find a quiet time of the day where you can put aside everything else, that's great. But perhaps some days it is not manageable.
    • In her book "Good Habits, Bad Habits", Dr. Wendy Wood notes a study in which the elevator door at an office building was altered to take a whole minute to close, instead of 10 seconds. This led many more people to take the stairs, as they didn’t want to wait a whole minute for the elevator door to close. It shows how sensitive we are to our environment and to little changes.

Did you know? Habit formation is not only beneficial for helping us to feel more balanced in regards to our digital wellbeing. Habits can also be an important piece to digital security practices.

Activity: Notice Your Relationship with Your Phone

Time needed: 15 minutes
Purpose: to get participants to begin thinking about their relationships with technology and start disecting what they like and dislike.

  1. In small groups, ask participants to discuss their most and least favourite things about their relationship to their phones, as well as points they feel could fit in either category depending on the context.
  2. The participants of each group should organize their thoughts into a table with three columns. Points to include could include:
    • camera - allows us to record memories
    • internet - if a smart phone (emails, maps, wallet)
    • clock / alarm
    • the notifications
    • carrying phones around everywhere because of fomo, urgency, anxiety
    • privacy; being tracked
    • being hyper-connected
  3. Ask: What happens when some of our favourite attributes become our least favourite?

Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 1

Time needed: 3 minutes
Purpose: for participants to begin to make the connection between external influences and internal stressors.

  1. Let's take a minute here to stretch and give our bodies a break. We are going to do a gentle twist.
  2. On your chair, sit up straight, and with your right hand grab your left knee, or your left chair handle.
  3. Then use your left hand to gently rotate your upper body until you feel a nice stretch in your spine.
  4. Don’t forget to breathe!
  5. Now gently come back to center, and let’s do the other side!

Did you know? Studies have shown that they types of misinformation which tends to go viral are those which cause us "strong" emotional reactions such as anger, awe, disgust, etc. As a result, our hypothesis is that with this knowledge, becoming more attuned to our physical reactions may help individuals become more aware of and perhaps even slow down and reconsider sharing emotionally-triggering content.

Discussion: Tech That Keeps Us Hooked

Time needed: 10 minutes
Purpose: for participants to identify common examples of technology that is made addictive-by-design.

  1. Display photo from inside a casino showing rows of slot machines.
    • Ask the audience: What do you see?
    • They may answer: casino, dark, flashing lights
    • The dark ambience is intentional, to keep the people in a casino focused into the lights of the slot machines.
    • The darkness, and lack of natural light makes people loose sense of time, often keeping them in these types of spaces for longer.
  2. Display the Facebook “Like” button.
    • Ask the audience: What do you see?
    • This is the ultimate dopamine boost!
    • If you wanted to show someone you liked them, and there wasn’t a like button, what would you do?
    • Ask people if they think the “like” function on social media is positive or negative.
    • Positives: Likes quickly and easily show that we approve or like something, gratify others, easy to click
    • Negatives: When we don’t have likes we might feel down, likes give us a sense of approval which we don’t need from others, we get too focused on getting more likes
  3. Show a screenshot from the end of a YouTube video which shows recommended videos.
    • Ask the audience: What do you see?
    • End of a YouTube video, suggestions for videos to play next. This is called recommendations, and by default, "Auto-play" is turned on, automatically starting the next video.
    • These videos will play automatically after the actual video you selected ends, making your streaming experience endless!
    • These videos will most likely be selected based on your search history, and could even lead you down paths that are more extreme than you intended (e.g. searching for healthy recipe videos can eventually lead to anti-vaccination content).
  4. Show a picture of a smartphone where the screen is full of notifications.
    • Ask the audience: What do you see?
    • Notifications popping up on your phone, often accompanied with vibrations, sounds and visuals make everything seem urgent.
    • Ask audience: When was the last time you checked your phone because you felt it buzz? Maybe you even found there was nothing new on the screen...
  5. Show The Glass Room poster "How Your Phone is Designed to Grab Your Attention".
    • Smartphones are fun and useful, but they're powerful tools of seduction.
    • Every feature, colour and sound has been 'optimised' by teams of designers and psychologists to keep you hooked and come back for more. Examples:
      • It rewards you for everything! - And these seemingly small acts (Facebook like) end up giving us huge dopamine boosts
      • It makes it easy to keep going - like the examples previously shared of the autoplay. Another example is the autoscroll, on social media our feeds are endless!

Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 2

Time needed: 2 minutes
Purpose: for participants to begin to make the connection between external influences and internal stressors.

  1. Let’s close our eyes, and take a deep inhale through the nose, and a big exhale through the mouth.
  2. Talking about these things can something make us feel stressed, let’s remember to care of our wellbeing.

Discussion: Let’s Talk About It

Time needed: 30 minutes
Purpose: for participants to imagine a reality without technology and making connections to quality of life (positive, negative, in between).

  1. Imagine this scenario... There is a storm which disrupts complex cabling underground. This causes the internet in your whole city to collapse for an entire month! What does everyday life look like by the end of that month?
  2. We will now get into small groups, for 10 minutes. Each group will focus on a different aspect of life that will change with the disruption. Groups will assign 1 notetaker, and 1 person to present. Aspects that groups can focus on:
    • social interactions
    • entertainment
    • work
    • transportation and infrastructure
    • social services
    • childcare and education
    • environment
  3. After the sessions end, regroup and the presenter of each group will have 2 minutes to sum up the groups views.


  • Feel free to come up with more aspects for groups to focus on, or you can repeat topics among more than one group to see the similar or different conversations they have.
  • If you have time to add, each group can create a poster with words or drawings to support their presentation.
  • If you have time to add, you can also invite participants from other groups to comment on each presentation in case they have thoughts to add.

Tip: We'd recommend to keep the groups fairly small (no more than 5 people), to ensure participants get the chance to speak up.

Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 3

Time needed: 2 minutes
Purpose: for participants to begin to make the connection between external influences and internal stressors.

  1. This exercise soothes the eyes.
  2. Rub your hands together as fast as you can, really let the heat build up in your palms.
  3. When you feel you can no longer rub your hands, and they feel quite warm, gently place them over your closed eyes.
  4. With your eyes covered, take a deep breath in.

Discussion: Keeping Your Tech In Check

Time needed: 10 minutes
Purpose: to suggest and crowd-source practical solutions that participants could apply in their daily lives.

  1. Ask audience: Does anyone want to share their personal tips and tricks on how to keep our tech in check? (Write their suggestions on a poster or ask them to write their suggestions on sticky notes to put up on the wall.)
  2. I also want to share a few practical steps for keeping your tech in check. These were inspired by the NY Times article and book: “How to Break Up With Your Phone” by Catherine Price:
    • Create Speed Bumps
      • Have you ever picked up your phone to quickly check something (like the weather, or your emails), and you found yourself 20 minutes later endlessly scrolling? Catherine Price calls these “Zombie Checks” and says they nearly always unsatisfying and a waste of time. The solution may be to create speed bumps: small obstacles that force you to slow down. You can put a rubber band around your phone to make it uncomfortable to scroll, or put an image on your phone asking yourself "Do you really want to unlock me?"
    • Pay Attention to Your Body
      • If you use your phone until late at night, do you sometimes find it difficult to switch off and get to sleep?
        • Apple’s downtime, and Googles wind-down features partially turn notifications and apps of your choice off - so your phone won’t be buzzing and beeping so much as it gets later
        • The Android wind down also features grey scale, which makes watching a video or playing a game virtually impossible - making it easier to put your phone down.
        • There are also some apps which dim the phones brightness and help promote habits you want to keep. But pay attention to the app details and permissions, as they may not take care of your privacy.
      • How about your posture? How does that look when you’re on your phone, or at the computer for too long?
      • And try to step back and ask yourself if whatever you are doing on your phone is making you feel good.
    • Gamify Your Actions: Use the sight of other people on their phones as a reminder of your own intentions.
      • Next time you are somewhere (elevator, with friends) and you see someone pull out their phone, resist the urge to pull yours out, and use it as a cue for a new habit, like taking a deep breathe in and out.
      • On iPhones we can limit our phone / specific app usage: we can actually set limits on how long we use a particular app (for example: You can limit Instagram to be used for only for 30 minutes in a day, and you’ll get a warning when you used your time).

Micro-Break: De-Stressing from Technology 4

Time needed: 1 minute
Purpose: for participants to begin to make the connection between external influences and internal stressors.

  1. Let’s do the last micro-break of the day and give ourselves a big hug!

Reflection: Takeaways

Time needed: 10-15 minutes
Purpose: to get a sense of what your participants have learned.

  1. Ask participants to create a takeaway poster by sharing their answers to the following question in the shared whiteboard / drawing board: What are your main takeaways from today's workshop?
  2. Give participants a few minutes to write and/or draw their thoughts.
  3. Ask participants to share their posters, either by presenting or hanging them on the wall.
  4. Highlight some of the points brought up to the group.


Time needed: 5 minutes
Purpose: to give a chance for participants to review what has been covered.

  1. Wrap up the workshop and sum up its contents.
  2. Run a quick feedback session to gather participants' reactions. Each participant can share:
    • one thing they found very good about the session and
    • one thing they would improve for the next time
  3. Encourage participants to ask questions or give some final tips.
  4. Share resources and any follow-up details.


  • Take notes of the feedback points.
  • In case you have trouble accepting critical feedback, try to respond with a simple "thank you" and think about it later when you have the headspace for it.

Further Reading and Resources

Last updated on: 1/26/2023