Imagine life without the internet. No Google, no GPS, no social media, no email, no connectivity whatsoever.
Most people are highly addicted to the convenience provided by the ability to find the answer to just about any question with the touch of a button. The allure of the tiny yet powerful computers we carry around in our pockets or purses is hard to resist.
While technology is an incredible tool that can provide us with numerous benefits in our jobs and personal lives, we typically spend far too much time on our devices, day in and day out. Yes, computers, phones and tablets are fantastic resources for keeping us connected and informed. On the other hand, scientific studies are consistently showing that our excessive screen time habits are negatively affecting our ability to focus and pay attention.
The impact of our screen time is related to the total amount of time we spend on our devices, as well as how frequently we use them. Adults in the US spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes a day on their phone and check it some 58 times a day. Mind you, this is just the average! Many people are on their phones for 4 hours or more every single day, treating wifi as though it is as important as basic necessities like air, water, shelter and food.
Research has concluded that even just briefly checking the phone for notifications of new messages or to read a quick note can drastically lower our productivity level. It often leads us down a rabbit hole of unnecessary scrolling and searching, wasting loads of time. This slows us down, leading to feeling more rushed, stressed and (ultimately) burnt out.
In order to be able to function at our best, it’s essential to cultivate self-discipline with regard to our tech habits and screen time. It’s important to balance the use of technology with what seems to be its opposite: unplugging, going out into nature and meditating. This behavioral shift will most likely affect the rest of our tasks and responsibilities in a radically positive way.
The Antidote of Nature & Meditation
In Western society, we have become so accustomed to being in a hurry most of the time (at least during the work week, if not on the weekend as well) that we no longer remember to sit or stand still very often. We may forget to look up at the sky with gratitude and miss out on the everyday beauty of sunrises and sunsets. We rush from place to place, rarely slowing down to contemplate, reflect, smell the flowers or hug a tree — activities which may seem cliche but are actually extremely beneficial. When we’re busy all the time, it’s easy to forget how to take regular, healthy breaks.
Here’s where meditation and fresh air become medicinal. The great thing is, both are readily available and free. Stop to take some long, deep breaths. Step outside and look around at the sky, plants, trees, insects and animal life. Both meditation practice and the simple act of spending free time in nature empowers our mental space to be more clear, focused and creative, boosts our mood and lifts our energy level.
People who consistently practice meditation and/or spend quality time in the forest, by the sea or even in their own home garden have a reduced risk for depression, heart conditions, skin conditions and asthma. Reducing stress levels enables the body’s natural defense system to work at its best. Breathing the natural essences that trees release into the air literally strengthens our immune system.
Tips for curbing the excessive use of technology
Whether we acknowledge that our amount of screen time is out of control or not, we can all benefit from cultivating more mindfulness around our technological habits. It may seem daunting, depending on your level of technology dependence, but with dedication and persistence, you can make small changes that will bring your life into better balance. To cut through a smartphone addiction, try these strategies:
- Delete as many apps as possible from your phone (use them on a computer instead, if necessary)
- Log out of social media apps and sites when you finish using them — even the simple act of having to type in a username and password may help stop you from mindlessly scrolling through the feed
- Create a “distraction-free” home screen by deleting any games or social apps from the first screen on your phone (move those to other screens to keep them from luring you in so often)
- Turn off notifications; the less your phone is beeping, buzzing and lighting up, the better
- Put your phone in “do-not-disturb” mode while working (or meditating!)
- Set online and offline hours for yourself. Turn your phone to silent (or turn it off) each night after a certain time that you designate. Maybe even work up to spending a whole day each week away from digital world.
Meditation guidelines to inspire your practice
Meditation can be practiced anywhere and anytime. If the weather is nice, it’s extra beneficial to meditate outdoors. Bonus points for being near a mountain, natural body of water, jungle or forest.
- Take baby steps. If you’re out of practice or brand-new to meditation, start by sitting for just two to five minutes. You can gradually work up to meditating for 15-30 minutes in the morning and/or in the evening.
- Practice often. The more you practice, the more you’ll experience the benefits of meditation. Ideally, sit every day in the same place and at the same time.
- Sit down, either on a bolster or cushion on the ground or in a chair. Sit up tall, yet relax the body and try not be rigid. Let go of tension in the shoulders and forehead, the jaw and eyes, the back of the neck and anywhere else you feel rigid or stressed in the physical body.
- Begin to breathe more deeply, in and out through the nose. Allow your body, mind and heart to fully arrive in the present moment. Feel the sensation of the breath. When the mind wanders, come back to the breath, time and time again.
- Observe any physical sensations inside the body. Also notice the sensation of the air and clothing touching your skin. Notice where your body is connected to the earth.
- Listen to the sounds all around. Sounds are always happening in the present moment. Typically more sounds can be heard if you are outdoors. Listen to the birdsong, the cars passing by, the voices of the people. Don’t label the sounds as pleasant or unpleasant, just listen and stay present.
- Notice your current feelings. With compassion, without judgment, just see what is there and allow it to be. Soon, it will pass away and a new feeling will take its place.
- Watch how the mind wanders. It’s natural for the mind to drift into thinking about the past and future. The mind often prefers to avoid the present. Notice any memories, plans, worries or ideas that arise. Allow them to come and go naturally like clouds in the sky.
- Of course, you will get involved in trains of thought and that is totally fine. As soon as you notice that your mind has become distracted, gently remind yourself to come back to the present, back to the breath and back to the meditation.
- Now, take five long, deep breaths to close the session. Press the palms together, feel your connection to the earth, the sky and your heart. Dedicate the merits of your practice to all beings, including yourself. Bow with gratitude.
Technology is constantly changing the ways we live and work. When used mindfully, technology can be an amazing tool for getting things done. When not used mindfully, it can be as addictive as any hard drug.
It’s essential to counterbalance our screen time with offline time. Both spending time in nature and meditating regularly help improve our well-being, emotional intelligence and mindfulness. Mindfully disconnect each day in order to reconnect with your innate joy, presence, creativity and productivity.
Take a moment to stop, close your eyes and breathe. Remember to be grateful for the simple miracle that we are here today, right now. It’s a wonderful and exciting time to be alive.