It’s currently the summer school holidays in the UK and as I don’t have my own children, I sometimes borrow other people’s. Last week I spent a lovely day with my god-children rowing on the Thames at Richmond, playing with our dog Taz in the park and making some chocolate buttons in the afternoon.
It was lots of fun, particularly as it was all in-real-life, off-my-phone activity.
It also reminded why I need to take regular time off technology – and sometimes even a total holiday (especially in the summer time when the weather makes it so nice to be outside).
I enjoy social media, my phone, laptop and Netflix as much as the next person – and I certainly couldn’t be without the first three (and sometimes even Netflix!) for my work. But I know I need to make an effort to be as conscious as possible about how I use them.
We’re constantly bombarded by messages and blue light, and it can sometimes be way too stimulating, which affects sleep, our relationships and our focus. Social media can also really hit self esteem buttons with the constant comparison of other people’s glossy edited lives.
Unfortunately even as someone working in the field I do, I’m not immune to this.
As a meditation teacher I have the joy of working with something I care about AND I get to taste really amazing chocolate most days. But I also get trapped into over-checking email, scrolling through social media and seeing out all the ‘amazing’ things other people who seem to be so much more successful and together than I am are doing.
Even knowing that these things aren’t good for me, or even real some of the time, doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me!
Do you need a break?
The fortunate thing is that I’m now much more aware of when I’m getting triggered or I haven’t taken a proper technology break.
Even though I don’t always get the balance right all the the time, I’m a lot kinder with myself about it – especially knowing that most of our devices are designed to keep us on them as long as possible so of course I’m going to be impacted by this.
If you’ve noticed…
– you start using social media and then peer up and an hour has passed with you realising it; or
– you constantly jump over to your email while you’re doing other things; or
– you generally find it hard to focus after being on your laptop all day and all you can do in the evening is crash out in front of the TV
…it might be time to take a little break.
Where can you start?
Look honestly at your current technology usage and how it makes you feel. It’s can be pretty difficult to gauge, for example, how much you’re using social media so you might even want to download some apps or tools that help you measure this (though be warned: you might be a little shocked by the results). And if you feel a bit icky after being on social media this is definitely a sign that a little time off might be worthwhile.
Just as an aside, general mindfulness practice can also help with building your sense of awareness and ability to focus.
Some tips for staying on top of your tech use
If you are looking to develop more mindful use of technology, here are some of the things that I’ve personally found have helped me the most…
1. Turn off notifications
Those little pings, beeps and lights all hit our dopamine receptors and keep you coming back for more. Notifications are also massively distracting. I’ve chosen to keep just one or two for things I like to respond to more quickly, but everything else is turned firmly off.
You could even go one step further and completely remove apps from your phone if you really feel you’re getting sucked in. You could also turn off email and only check it once or twice a day (I do this occasionally, but don’t always find it’s feasible!).
2. Take as much tech out of your bedroom as possible
Sleep is HUGELY important to our wellbeing so doing anything that can help you get a good night’s sleep is worth it. Technology, including being on your phone just before bed, can be really disruptive.
I’m not totally purist about this, but I haven’t had a TV in my bedroom for years and I definitely don’t bring my laptop to bed – however I do have my phone in my bedroom as I use the alarm. That said, I turn it over so the screen is facing down. That way if I do wake up in the night I’m not tempted to check it.
3. Schedule some total time off
Sometimes it’s good to not just tinker around the edges, but to take a total break from technology. This might be an evening, half a day or even a whole weekend. I try and limit my usage over the weekend, especially on social media, unless I’m working.
If you want to go the whole hog, you could choose to holiday somewhere with limited mobile signal and no TV, if that doesn’t freak you out too much. It’s really interesting to experience what it’s like when you’re not totally reliant on filling spare time with Google, TV or Instagram. I did this recently in Wales and it was a bit of mini-revelation; I came back from holiday feeling so refreshed. It was also nice to feel more focussed on my husband, our little dog and what was going on around me while we were out and about.
I’d like to leave you with a little something to mull over.
This is a spoken word piece on connecting in real life and what might happen if you look up from your phone (I’ll admit to getting a bit teary the first time I watched it…):