App Highlight: Forest Can Help You Put Down Your Phone


Smartphones may not cause depression, but depression and anxiety go hand in hand with feeling like you can’t put your phone down. Surprisingly enough, there’s an app for that: Forest.

Forest is an app for your phone that rewards you for not using your phone. It’s often recommended as a productivity tool, and it can work well for that purpose–but it’s also good when you’re going into a social situation and you want to consciously stay away from your phone for a while, or anytime you want to focus on your surroundings when you might be tempted to escape into your phone.

When you open it up, you pick one of several cute, cartoonish trees, then set a timer. As long as you leave the app open for the duration of that timer, your tree will grow. Swap to another app, on the other hand, and your tree will die. It’s intended to make you think twice about something most of us do without any thought.

As the day goes by, you can build a little forest of trees, each representing time you spent focusing on, well, anything other than your phone. You can look back at the forests you’ve built on previous days, too. That can be a nice reminder of the willpower you displayed, even if you needed a little help to get that willpower going. That’s nothing to be ashamed of–like any strength, willpower needs to be built. Forest offers one small way to build it.

It also gives you the chance to do some real-world good in the process. As you grow your trees, you earn coins. Those coins can be used to support initiatives to plant real trees in places where they’re needed. They can also be used to unlock more cute tree designs within the game. Your choice, so you can go with whichever motivates you more.

Personally, I love my phone, but I don’t love how easily I fall into using it mindlessly. I’ve been using Forest for a while to catch myself when I’d rather stay present–like when I’m out with friends or talking to people. There are easier ways to forget your phone for a while, of course, like turning it off or leaving it in your bag or pocket. But if you need a gentle nudge or a small reward, Forest is one good option.

Forest is available through Google Play, the App Store, and Windows Phone. You can also use it as a free browser extension for Firefox or Chrome.
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