Digital Detox

Recently, while sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's office, I noticed a posting for a mindfulness group on the wall. 
It was a drawing of a person and a dog walking side-by-side. The thought bubble over the person's head swirled with clutter and screamed of CALGON, TAKE ME AWAY! 
Underneath were two words: mind full. This person totally lost out on anything their moment in the park had to offer due to their messy mind.

To the right, the dog's mind was completely opposite. Its mind was clear of everything but the sun, the flowers, the beauty surrounding it. 
It had the ideal state-of-mind we'd all like to have. A "mindful" mind, whose attention isn't scattered but fully focused and present in each moment. 

As I sat back down, and reflected on the depth of such a simple illustration, I had an "aha moment". 
So THAT is what they mean by "mindfulness". I heard that word so much but couldn't totally grasp what it actually meant. 
Now that I understood it, boy did I want and need some mindfulness. I was psyched to start working on getting it.

But my calming sense of clarity was suddenly interrupted by a beeping reminder on my cell-phone that I had a new text message in my inbox. 
After I checked and answered it I thought, "Is it even possible to be mindful today where iPads, smartphones, and other gadgets are at the ready, tempting us to distract ourselves literally 24/7?". 
Is the pursuit of mindfulness a losing battle in today's world?

Face it. Nowadays, if you're not aware of it, you can easily fritter away precious quality time with your eyes glued to one screen or another. 
We've all either heard about, seen it or done it ourselves. The teen sleeping in class because they stayed up all night on their Facebook. 
The neglectful parent on their cellphone, oblivious to their child sitting next to them (I've seen this more than once on the train). 
Or, how about the texting-while-driving foolishness?

But what if you realize the toll this tech overload is taking on your focus and are sold on the idea of being more mindful from moment to moment? 
Like me, you may think, "Yeah, this IS getting out of hand. But what am I supposed to do? This is just how things are today!". 
For most people these days, a digital detox seems easier said than done. But, if having a clearer mind IS a priority for you, here are some small steps you can take:

1) Set a time each day to completely unplug and turn off your gadgets every hour or so. 
Then take this time to balance your tech time with regular off-line tasks, like taking a quick stroll around the block or catching up on some errands. 
Believe it or not, according to UCLA Psychiatry Professor Gary Small, this simple discipline will greatly help minimize stress, maintain mental focus, and improve the quality of your life.

2) Limit digital multi-tasking. 
Try as much as possible to do one thing at a time. If you're gonna walk, walk. Texting while you walk takes you out of the moment of both tasks. Heed the wisdom of everyone's favorite sage Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid fame who said: Concentrate Daniel-san! 
Go with the quality of one deeper, richer experience rather than a quanitity of a few half-hearted ones. 
Or, as musician Carlos Santana puts it: "If you're going to sweep the floor, sweep it better than anybody in town. And if you're going to play the guitar, really, really, really get in it, and don't be jivin'."

3) Challenge the idea that you have to be entertained and/or plugged-in, on-call 24/7. 
With the mobile device explosion of the last few years the notion of healthy downtime went by the wayside and, with it, much of our sense of calm. 
Just because this is the new normal doesn't make it any less psychologically unhealthy. 
Gradually scale back using your digital devices during those quiet times that would be better spent centering yourself. 

But what about while you're at work in front of a computer all day? 
Is it even possible to have a clear mind while on your job? Yes it is, according to Maureen Cooper of Awareness in Action, which holds workshops on how to incorporate mindfulness in the workplace. 
She has a few tips:

1) Take care of your digital to-do list in time "batches". In her article "Change The Workplace Norm", University of California professor Gloria Mark writes "this could mean reading e-mail once in the morning, once after lunch, and then again once in the evening. 
With enough discipline, e-mail could even be reduced to a single reading each day". 

2) While sitting at your desk, take a minute or two to consciously attempt to slow down and notice the area on your body where the most stress has built up. 
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and squeeze this muscle group with all of your might for ten seconds. Then suddenly let go, exhale and release all of that excess tension. 
Continue to other parts of the body that are also particularly tense or simply enjoy that deep sense of calm before you move forward to tackle the rest of your day (this technique is called progressive muscle relaxation).

3) Use your breaks to TRULY relax rather than simply "pausing." 
For instance, instead of having coffee or a cigarette, try taking a short walk -- or sitting at your desk and renewing yourself with the relaxation technique mentioned above.

4) Decide to simply stop what you are doing for one to three minutes every hour during the day. 
Become aware of your breathing and bodily sensations, allowing the mind to settle in as a time to regroup and recoup.

5) Choose to eat one or two lunches per week in silence. Use this as a time to eat slowly and be with yourself.

6) At the end of the workday, while your car is warming up, or you're on the bus or train, resist that urge to whip out your cell-phone and start texting away. 
Sit quietly and consciously make the transition from work to home -- take a moment to simply be -- enjoy it for a few moments.

In short, relearn the beauty of living in the moment totally free of technology. This may not only be difficult but unfathomable to the younger crowd. 
But it's never too late or impossible to simplify your life and break ingrained habits. And what better time to change? 
We're only a month (or two) into the new year!

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