Technology helps us connect with the world – at a cost. When behavioural scientist Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste wrote her dissertation on using technology to make us more physically present, she found toxic relationships with tech virtually the norm.

In today’s episode, Dr Heidi talks about the far-reaching effects of technological bad habits, and the simple behavioural changes you can start making today to greatly improve not only your relationship with technology, but also your quality of life.

After listening you’ll know:

  • Why having everything consolidated into one device (your phone) isn’t as great as it sounds.
  • The physiological damage caused by bad habits.
  • The importance of a regular technology detox.
  • Why fixed boundaries and guidelines don’t work for everyone.
  • How to define and set your own healthy boundaries.
  • When NOT to blame tech for your stress.

Important Links & Mentions

Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste’s Website

Global Nomad Hacks Podcast

RescueTime Productivity Software

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Solopreneur Success™ Transcript

SSP043 Establishing Tech Boundaries with Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste

Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste:

I want to remind you of an extremely important function that you have on both your computer and your phone, and it’s called “do not disturb”. And the other piece, particularly on your phone, is airplane mode.

Steve Coombes:

You’re listening to Dr. Heidi Forbes Öste, whose work as a behavioral scientist has pulled back the curtains on interesting – and sometimes disturbing – trends in our relationships with our digital devices.

This isn’t a toss-your-phone-in-the-trash show. They’re quite useful after all. But you will want to get things under control when they become too stressful or distracting. And you’re about to learn how, because Dr. Heidi is today’s guest on Solopreneur Success.

Narrator:        Welcome to the Solopreneur Success podcast, where successful business owners gather to share true stories and sound advice to help you start and grow your own solopreneur business. Come soar with us and design the life you love. Now, here’s your host, Steve Coombes.


Hello, solopreneurs. Do you find yourself constantly checking in on social media? Feel totally lost without your phone by your side for five minutes? Maybe you simply have a love-hate relationship with the tech in your life. Many of us struggle with creating healthy boundaries around our relationships with technology, and it’s truly just getting worse with many of us trapped at home with Covid.

So, I’m happy to have Doctor Heidi Forbes Öste as my guest today. She’s a behavioural scientist, author of the best-selling Digital Mastery Series, and host of the Evolving Digital Self and Global Nomad Hacks Podcast. So, Doctor Heidi knows why tech is such a challenge, how to ensure your digital well-being in this teched-up world. So, I’m really happy to have this conversation. Doctor Heidi, welcome to the show.


Thank you so much for having me, Steve. Nice to be here.


I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation for a while now. I know, for myself, I’m on the phone quite a bit. I don’t answer phone calls but I’m on there checking Facebook or, I’m an Amazon seller now as well, so I’m checking my Amazon seller reports or whatever. It’s non-stop picking up the phone and checking something, then 10 minutes later, picking up the phone again. It almost seems like we are tethered to this device, and I don’t know that’s always healthy from a perspective of productivity or even well-being. I think you’d probably agree with that assessment. So, I could jump right in and just ask you what’s going on in our world with this tech?


Well, for one thing, it’s all being consolidated into one space. So, what used to be our rolodex and our calendar, and our telephone (imagine that – telephone), our typewriters, all of these different things, our fax machine, everything is being consolidated into one particular device. Not only that – it is becoming our bus ticket, our plane ticket, our booking device, our shopping device – so, it’s very hard to separate out that which is necessary and that which is not necessary, because maybe you were the one that sat at the dining room table and read the newspaper for an hour every morning.

Now, you’re sitting at your phone instead. Then, of course, just like early stages of the Internet, where you get sort of curious about one thing and you click onto another, and you click onto another, and you go down that digital rabbit hole. Now, it’s even easier to do that because everything is accessible through that one particular device. A lot of us, particularly those of us in Gen X, I would say, because we’re sort of in that sandwich generation, having had a lot of digital tech but also still being used to using the analog, so we try to do both – it can cause this incredible overwhelm. We’re not natives but we’re we’re still trying to figure it all out. So, balancing that relationship and creating healthy boundaries has become a big challenge for a lot of us.


Yeah. It’s interesting, you say, about Gen X in particular, we kind of grow up kicking a ball in the street or whatever, but also moving – I remember, as a teenager, that’s when I first got into computers. For example, of course, we didn’t have digital phones back then. The phone was on the wall, but it grew from there, and there’s some young kids today – my teenagers are like, “okay, phones to the wall. What does that mean?” You might remember that when you were a little kid, I don’t know, but this is what we’re used to, now. We’re used to, everywhere we go, we’re instantly in contact with the world and the world’s instantly in contact with us, unless we learn to shut that device off. I, personally, a few times say I’m just going to get off of everything, I’ve shut down news and, for a large part, I still ignore the news. I just don’t go on it. I just find that’s healthier for me and my mental well-being. I don’t need to bother with that everyday and checking in constantly what’s going on in the world. I figure if something big’s happening, somebody’s going to let me know, and I’ve found that to be true.

But I do find myself constantly drawn into other ways of using the device. So, let’s talk about the impact. I think that’s really where we want to realise – it does have an impact on your life, it has an impact on your family, because I’m trying to talk to you and your nose is in the phone, we’re sometimes a little short with people we love, like “okay, well I’m doing something right now. I’m typing this text message. Can you give me a minute?” Somebody else has more value to our instant time, it seems like, than the person who’s right in front of our face, and that’s really sad commentary but I think that’s true for many of us, and something to be aware of, perhaps. What is your experience in this? You’re seeing is a lot more than I am because this is where you focus.


I would say, “yes, and…” I think there’s the good and the bad of this. So, as I talked about before, it’s so much more than just our phone now, so we’ve always been challenged for attention, but now our attention is all drawn to one direction – to this one device that accomplishes all these different tasks and things that we need to do, and it’s those boundaries that haven’t really been clearly defined. I think, in the early stages of the Internet and while I was doing my research, a lot of the conversation around how do we do this in a healthy way was building contracts, and we were focusing on the kids – “the kids are doing it wrong, they’re over-using devices”, when, in actuality, they actually have a lot better boundaries than we do, because, for them, it is more natural.

So, it was more sort of, “okay, we want to create this contract of when you can use your phones, how you can use your phones, but we don’t do it for ourselves. So, you have the parent that’s standing on the sideline of their kid’s soccer game and they’re busy texting and they’re busy reading the news, and, I mean, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Then, I think, that’s really what it comes down to, in most cases – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You need to rebuild the self-awareness of those bad behaviours that we have been picking up.

Along with “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”, you also have to recognise that everyone has different requirements and needs, so you can’t put one fixed guideline that works for everybody. So, for me to say “Oh, well, your kids should only have access to a phone or a tablet one hour a day” or “you should or should not do thing” – it doesn’t make any sense because everyone’s environment is different.


Yeah, especially now, talk about kids, they’re in school on the device, many of them. Public schools are doing remote learning right now. In my city, that’s how they do it, and we homeschooled our family, so that’s a different situation, but, at the same time, we’ve had our kids to do some digital courses and, of course, they’re on the computer if that’s the case, or they’re doing some coursework and they’re submitted by email, so there’s always going to be reasons.

I think what it boils down to, it seems to me, would be “are you present with what’s important right now?” Is the priority really the priority? Are you treating it like a priority? If you’re supposed to be spending time with family, are you really nose in the phone? Sometimes, we can do so, even with a phone, it seems to me. Sometimes, people will be sharing and looking around, they’re all looking at the the funny picture somebody just took of their face with the app, and it changes how you look, and those kinds of things. That’s kind of social interaction immediacy, but there’s other times where we are distracted by our device or our technology, and it’s pulling us away from those relationships.

I know this is a business podcast but, you know what? Business is also real life and I want to make sure we’re tackling the big issues because, as a solopreneur, especially, a big part of what we do is communication. Often, it’s remote. It often is by technology, whether it’s zoom, like we’re talking today, it’s email, it could be a phone call, whatever it is, text message, we’re communicating, often remotely, with many of our clients, especially now. Many of the folks I work with, we are never meeting our clients. We see them across the world on zoom, maybe once in awhile. It’s about the extent of meeting in person, unless we go to a live event. Hopefully, we can do that again soon. What do we do to help provide these boundaries you’re talking about, how do we define boundaries, and what makes something a healthy boundary?

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