“Is this useful?” That was a question posed by Joseph Goldstein in one of the meditations offered on 10% Happier.
While he was referring to the thoughts and feelings that constantly tug at our focus and divert us from being present in our own lives, I would extend that question to the multitude of digital distractions at our fingertips.
Dozens of times a day I pick up my phone and fall headlong into a compulsive search for the tiniest hit of digital dopamine while neglecting everything right on front of me. It’s an addiction. Even now as I write the faint glow of my phone is tantalizing me into grabbing it just in case anything monumental has occurred in the last five minutes.
For several years I often wondered what I had done all day. I couldn’t remember, yet I felt so overwhelmed and busy. What was I so busy doing? I was buried in my phone. My time evaporated with each bit I shaved off for social media, games, apps and email. All those slivers add up into hours, days, weeks…
Click by click I was serving time in a self-imposed digital prison. I could have used that time growing or making or living or building or reading or loving or talking or walking or writing. Instead I was fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming the Foursquare Mayor of the Ralph Kramden Statue.
I can’t stop using my phone. Complete abstention is impossible. But I can modify my behavior and change the relationship. I can set limits and curtail the empty minutes and hours wasted.
Below are just a few things I do to limit my time online and on my phone. Rigorous pruning of my daily digital commitment has yielded powerful results. Sometimes it means tough choices, but I guarantee the time and freedom gained make up for the low-calorie enjoyment lost.
- Unsubscribe from email lists.
- Delete unnecessary apps.
- Turn off all sounds and notifications.
- Don’t take phone to meetings or the bathroom.
- Close time wasting browser windows.
- Drop RSS feeds.
- At home, leave the phone in another room.
So what is useful in my life? You may notice I write frequently about six daily habits or practices that I have instituted over the last few years. All of these require putting down the phone and reclaiming my day.
Meditation. I take ten to fifteen minutes to sit and do nothing. The sense of calm and well being I feel most days is a direct result of meditation. It stops the negative chattering in my head and reinforces the good things.
Exercise. I lose weight, tension and stress. I gain strength, confidence and calm. With regular exercise, I feel sharper, more focused, and better prepared to handle the challenges of the day. It can be as easy as a short walk or as hard as I want to make it.