This is a sponsored blog post. I was compensated by AT&T. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
We were at the end of our street, about to pull out onto the main road, when it hit me.
WE ARE ALMOST OUT OF MILK.
My mind raced.
We only have enough for one more sippy cup’s worth.
Milk is my toddler’s main source of nutrition, since she’s going through a “no bread, no protein, no vegetables” phase.
How on EARTH had I forgotten to get milk at the grocery store yesterday???
Moms everywhere know this pattern: We keep track of so many lists and schedules and to-dos that vital information flies into our brains at random times—and often leaves as quickly as it came.
So I unconsciously and reflexively did what I always do when such information lands in my noggin: I wrote it down.
On my grocery list.
Which I keep on my smartphone.
Truthfully, I didn’t think twice about what I was doing until, in a surprisingly firm voice for a 5-year-old, I heard…
“Pay attention when you’re driving, Mommy.”
I’ve made the argument before that little ears are always listening. This was my reminder that little eyes are always watching too—often from the backseat.
The 21-Day Challenge
So a few days later when I got the invitation to participate in AT&T’s 21-Day #ItCanWait Challenge, I knew I needed to sign up.
For 3 weeks, I committed to not using my smartphone at all while driving: no texting, no email-checking, no song-switching, nothing! (You should take the pledge too!)
The timing is important, as research suggests it takes at least 21 days to make or break a habit. And distracted driving is a seriously bad habit!
Unfortunately, it’s also an extremely common one. Lots of people will deny that they ever use their phone while driving, but the stats suggest otherwise.
What are people doing on their phones while behind the wheel?
- Text (61%)
- Email (33%)
- Surfing the net (28%)
- Facebook (27%)
- Snapping a photo (17%)
- Twitter (14%)
- Instagram (14%)
- Shooting a video (12%) (seriously!)
- Snapchat (11%)
- Video chat (10%)
Distracted driving is never ok, but too many people still aren’t taking it seriously enough—despite the fact that habitual distracted drivers are also twice as likely to have been involved in a near crash or collision.
The Struggle Was Real
I’d be lying if I said my 21-day challenge was a walk in the park.
My hands soon stopped reaching for my phone, but my thoughts still fired away. I was constantly thinking of things I wanted to write down—grocery list items, changes to kids’ schedules, things to tell my husband, and on and on—and I felt panicky when I couldn’t immediately add it to my calendar or to-do list.
But I persisted. “Everything can wait,” I told myself over and over again.
I also noticed that I’d grown unaccustomed to—and indeed uncomfortable with—mental “white space.” You know, times of quiet where there’s no mental distraction, from smartphones or otherwise. I’m not proud of this, but at the beginning of the challenge, I found myself squirming quite a bit when sitting at a long red light with nothing else to occupy my attention.
By the middle of week two, however, it was much easier. I even started to reap a lot of benefits, some of which were pleasantly unexpected.
Positive example for my kids
Forget “do as I say, not as I do”; kids learn the most by watching and imitating their parents. My chest tightens just thinking of my kids driving distracted when the times comes. I’m more than willing to change my own bad habits so those habits don’t become theirs.
Much-needed opportunity to relax
Once I grew comfortable with the peace and quiet, I quickly fell in love with it. My morning commute became a chance to drive mindfully and do some deep breathing exercises—so I could start my day feeling calm and centered. The drive to pick up my kids after work became a chance to listen to a motivating podcast (hitting play before pulling out of the parking lot, of course) to mentally shift from work to home.
Now I genuinely look forward to those drives!
Chance for unexpected creativity
As is argued in the new book Bored and Brilliant, constant distraction leaves us less happy, less productive, and less creative. Our best ideas come to us when we’re not on information overload. I found that putting away my smartphone while driving led to lots of unexpected creativity—including many new ideas to write about on this site!
A better outlook on life
Looking back on my opening story, I really did think I needed to write “milk” on my grocery list right away. When we’re so busy and scattered and overwhelmed, everything feels like an emergency.
This challenge has helped me remember that even things that feel incredibly urgent probably aren’t. The world won’t shatter if I forget to buy more milk. Everything can wait!
10 Tips to End Distracted Driving
Are you ready to take the pledge and commit to ending distracted driving?
The first few days won’t be easy, but I found there are lots of ways to remove the temptation to glance away from the road and down at your phone.
Here are my ten favorites:
1. Keep your phone out of reach.
Out of sight, out of mind! Try keeping it in the glove box instead of right next to you.
2. Turn your phone off completely.
No more dings and notifications to distract you.
3. Make playlists.
This has worked great for my kids, who like to dictate the music choices while we’re driving. I made playlists with all their favorites so I can just hit “shuffle” before we leave and we’re good for the whole drive!
4. Use your car’s audio controls.
They’re there for a reason!
5. Download the AT&T DriveMode app.
AT&T DriveMode is a free app that can silence incoming alerts and phone calls so you can stay focused while driving.
As a bonus, it even has parental alerts! Parents can get a message if their young drivers disable the app.
6. If it’s that important…PULL OVER!
If it really is an emergency, then handle it safely.
7. Reframe your commute.
It’s not a waste of your time; it’s a chance to unwind and unplug!
8. Find your motivation.
Is it to be a better role model for your kids? Is it to keep yourself and everyone else on the road safe? Is it to break your overall addiction to distraction? Identifying your goals will help you succeed.
Taking the pledge makes a powerful statement—and it increases the likelihood that you’ll hold yourself accountable.
10. Tag your half.
Research from 2017 shows that 57% of people are more likely to stop driving distracted if a friend or passenger pressures them to. (My story is a clear example of this!) In other words, most people are just waiting for someone to tell them to stop!
So go ahead and #TagYourHalf—you know, your spouse, your best friend, your mom, or someone else you can’t live without. Staying focused on the road is easier when everyone’s on board.