“It is not what technology does to us, it is what we do to technology. Used skillfully, it can improve and enhance our lives beyond our wildest imagination. Used unskillfully, it can leave us feeling lonely, isolated, agitated and overwhelmed. Get smart with technology, choose wisely and use it in a way that benefits both you and those around you.” ~Headspace
Ever since a cell phone was first thrust upon me as a young professional in the 90’s, I’ve been somewhat vexed by technology. I resented the thought of 24 hour availability. And, as a 20 something at the time, how could I maintain my aloof nature if I could always be tracked down?
Decades later, I’m slightly less aloof but still maintain a love-hate relationship with the technology that saturates my family’s life. We own “i-everything” it seems, and are far too often in front of or behind a large or small screen. Much of my day is spent online purveying health, nutrition, eco-wellness and spiritual wisdom through our Spunky Avocado website, blog and social media. At the end of the day, everyday, I’ve been finding myself actively squelching the urge to calculate just how much of our precious time as a family had been mindlessly spent on our many devices.
I decided it was time to confront the ugly truth and take a deep, honest look. What I found was that despite all my efforts to get my family out into nature, to travel, to have great experiences and quality time together, we were way out of balance in terms of our collective technology use. It was also clear that in order to make changes to our family’s bad habits, I would first need to address my own. So in an effort to bring it all back to a place that felt balanced and productive, I put on my researcher’s cap and and dug in. Here is what I have found to be most helpful.
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a psychologist at Stanford University, helps us identify when technology is having a negative impact and too much control over our life (click here). She suggests that any of the following indicates an unhealthy relationship with your technology:
- Separation anxiety when you aren’t sure where your phone is.
- Physical discomfort when you haven’t checked your device in a while.
- Intimacy with your device. For example: Do you sleep with it? Does it call to you in the middle of the night? Do you check it as soon as you rise in the morning?
If you recognize yourself or a family member here, don’t despair. It certainly hit home with me. But, with some simple and sustained practices, you can adopt a more mindful approach to the use of your technology.
- Start by taking a serious look at your own tech consumption habits. Pay close attention, be honest and consider these questions: Are you using it in a way that is productive? Is it moving you forward in your life? Do you find that a simple check-in on social media results in an hour of lost time? Does it ever leave you feeling anxious, unsatisfied with your life, or ruminating? Does it leave you with a smile and a feeling of connection? Are you spending money that you regret spending? Is it distracting you from your life and the people you love? Does it keep you from being physically active? Do you feel like it is time well spent? This purposeful attention to the way your tech time makes you feel will allow you to better evaluate its impact on your life. Instead of allowing yourself to be on device autopilot, you can instead approach technology with mindful awareness.
- Set your intention, daily, for your technology use and it can become an effective tool in your life rather than a time suck or even, an addiction.
- Turn off notifications and alarms that aren’t absolutely essential; all those alerts keep us from being in the present moment. Set specific times where check-ins occur and hold yourself to those times. Set an alarm, if necessary.
Further, in an excerpt from Elizabeth Millard’s article Intentional Computing in Experience Life Magazine (click here), she suggests the following 5 techniques for upping your mindfulness game:
- Breathe when you log on, notice if you’re holding your breath. Breathing slowly and evenly releases physical tension and helps you be more restful and alert when you engage with information technology.
- Take advantage of software that helps you avoid disruptions when you want to focus. Some applications turn off email and chat notifications or block time-wasting websites. Consider apps that can help you be more productive and creative.
- Programs that keep you on task are great, but you’ll benefit most from disciplining your mind. Learning to sit and count your breath is a starting point for noticing your tendency to get distracted and for staying on track.
- Log how much time you spend with your devices each day. If you would like to refine your usage, experiment with different choices — communicating in person instead of via email or limiting social media to certain times, for example.
- Unplugging altogether (for an evening, day, or week) lets you slow down from the fast pace that technology enables. Return from your “digital sabbath” rested and with a fresh perspective that supports creativity and connection.
Additionally, there are very useful apps which help keep track of how time is spent on devices as well as those that help with mindfulness in general. Headspace is my favorite but here are a few articles that will help you choose the one that is best for you: here , here, and here.
At the end of the day, I want to know that technology has enriched my life and the life of others through me. I also want to know that I’ve been a good model of healthy tech habits to my kids. Waking up to my own less than perfect practices has been a gift.
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