If you have already browsed our site you might have noticed Elephant Rock Counseling emphasizes the importance of mindfulness. It has been through our own experiences and significant research studies, we can say with confidence that regular mindfulness has significant physical and emotional health benefits. And more people are practicing mindfulness than ever which is encouraging.
However, we are in interesting times as one doesn’t need a research study to confirm people have also never been more mindless when observing groups of individuals staring at their phones in numerous settings – the couple on a date, families at dinner time, and a group of friends at the game. It’s become the status quo. Some people it seems get together to look at their phones, like one would get together with others to play softball or tennis, “phoning” maybe it could be called. “Hey, do you want to meet me downtown at the festival, we can phone.” It sounds strange to say that, but isn’t that what happens all too often. We are spending our planned time together posting pictures to Facebook and Instagram, interacting more with people in cyberspace than the person next to us. I know it’s cliché but this all reminds me of individuals who spend their entire vacation getting the perfect pictures to show everyone back home, but upon arriving home, some of us realize we never really took a vacation. It’s great getting those amazing pictures, but was it worth it?
The smartphone has deeply affected our culture and it’s becoming hard to find anyone, including the grandparent generation, that hasn’t become part of this shift in how we interact and spend our time. The smartphone is sleek and stylish looking, it’s helpful and useful, it’s a new thing being able to communicate with all your friends and family who aren’t present – and that’s definitely fun, so it makes sense that it stirs a certain excitement alluring everyone to join the party.
Of course I have one, I love my phone. And I have to admit I’m somewhat addicted to my phone. And that is the dark side to these wonderful devices. Technology companies understand psychology better than our best psychologists and counselors and they have utilized reinforcement principles flawlessly, urging us to look at our phones over and over receiving regular hits of dopamine to our brain. Unfortunately, the research is indicating this is making all of us more anxious and feeling a sense of being unfulfilled as we keep looking at our phones to make us feel better.
And getting back to mindfulness, how much of our life are we willing to miss? When I think of time I spent on my phone as my daughter was growing up, especially when she was a young toddler, I wish I had spent less time on my phone and more time being present with her, mostly because it can be so rewarding when we are present. Last fall my wife, daughter, and I took a camping trip with several other families and there was no internet service available. Everyone had a fabulous time and it didn’t go unnoticed by several of us that without devices to distract us there was something meaningfully different,and we all liked it. My daughter indicated she couldn’t remember having so much fun, of course none of the kids were on their devices either, so they had to play old fashion games into the night.
Have you ever really slowed down to notice every flavor and aroma present in your dessert or entree? Occasionally we practice this in our therapy groups, and most people report finding more joy and satisfaction when eating mindfully.
Most things in life are more satisfying when we slow down and fully participate. So how do we balance being present in our life with having these wonderful, useful, fun devices that can take over our life with some negative side effects if we aren’t using them mindfully. Here are a few suggestions:
- Try and use your phone one-mindfully – don’t use the phone while you’re watching a TV show, having a conversation with friends, during class, or during a meeting. If you’re going to use your phone, only be using your phone, and use the phone mindfully to accomplish whatever communication – tasks needs to be done, or what information you are looking for.
- Be mindful of how you feel when using your phone, if you are feeling more and more compelled that you can’t take a break from your phone, feeling anxious, ask yourself if you’re willing to take a break from the phone and consider how this might be relaxing for you to take a break. If you’re not willing, consider asking yourself how you might be more willing to take a break.
- If it feels uncomfortable to take a break from your phone, consider reminding yourself that mindfulness is about just noticing what is there, even when it’s uncomfortable, and in doing so often we can let go of the discomfort and go beyond the uncomfortable feeling holding us hostage by fully acknowledging the feeling.
- If you have a lot of willingness – set time limits with your phone such as during the evening, only 20 minutes to an hour, especially if your usage is mostly recreational.
- Consider having a day where the entire family takes a break from electronics.
I hope this blog brings a little awareness into how your smartphone fits into your life, and I wish you the best in finding a healthy balance between your electronic life and being present with those most important people and activities in your life.
Chad Randall, M.Ed., LPC, CCDP-D
Elephant Rock Counseling