Have you noticed while dining out at restaurants, there’s a new dinner utensil butting its way into the traditional table setting? It’s a cell phone. And it’s become the newest table adornment, typically plopped down next to the salad fork. Always at the ready, to be checked upon, even when unprompted, during the meal.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of my friends are distracted by their phones. So, here’s a challenge for you. The next time you’re dining out with a friend or few, don’t pop your cellphone down on the table. Put it away, either in your pocket or your bag.

Can you do it? Can you enjoy a full meal, from appetizer to dessert, simply enjoying the people you’re with, engaging in the moment, maintaining conversation, and yes, even suffering through the awkward silences that occur, without relying on your ole digital crutch?

The sad reality is, and research now confirms:  simply having a cellphone within your line of sight when you’re with others seriously compromises the quality of the relationships you have with them. No one wants to have your divided attention. They want the full Monty!

If you feel uncomfortable not always having your phone within easy reach, if you check it for notifications even in the company of others, or if you treat your phone as another member of your dining party, you may have a cell phone addiction.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s just something to be aware of – and to take action against, especially if you want to nurture genuine relationships with others.

Below are some ways I encourage people to free themselves from the grip of technology – in order to improve their face-to-face relationships. These suggestions are simple enough to implement immediately. Try choosing at least one of them – and be intentional about investing time and attention to your in-real-life relationships.

On being lit

Start simply with this: when your phone lights up with a text, tweet or an app update, it’s very distracting and takes you away from the real-life task at hand. Honestly, notifications were invented by the app creators so that we would use their apps more frequently thus making them more money. It blew me away when I found out that we are three times more likely to use an app if the notifications are enabled!

Try to go through and take off as many notifications as you can, leaving only the essential apps with notifications. For me, I only have phone and texting notifications on. This has helped me focus on using my phone intentionally to get done what I need to do, instead of constantly being distracted.

Another huge step in improving Face-to-Face Relationships is intentionally setting aside time to connect with people in person without any distractions. So eliminating your phone, also eliminates any distractions that might take away from the intimacy of a conversation.

We have found that simply by having your phone present, the intimacy of a conversation decreases significantly. The person you are talking to subconsciously feels like they are only as important as the next interruption and if something better comes along on your phone that you will abandon the conversation all together.

Phubbing

In addition to being present, we all need to stop phubbing. Phubbing, aka phone snubbing, is pulling out your phone in the middle of a conversation, interrupting the person you are talking to. Next time someone checks their phone in the middle of a conversation, watch how other people in the room immediately gravitate to pulling out their phones as well. It turns into a domino effect where we all end up distracted on our phones instead of actively engaging in conversation with one another.

Next time you are talking with someone, purposely choose to be fully present in the moment wherever you are and whoever you are with.

I recently read a book called Hands Free Life by Rachel Stafford, where she encourages her readers to embrace the beautiful moments throughout their day. When we are constantly distracted by our cellphones, we are not able to fully appreciate the life-giving moments that surround us.

Try to seek out the beautiful flashes that fill your day and pause long enough to fully embrace them. Smile at a stranger, soak up the sunsets, hold the door for someone, get coffee with a new friend, embrace a family member and listen to those you love without any distractions.