Last week I wrote in my blog that mindfulness had helped me lose my social media/email addiction, and someone responded to it asking how.
First, here’s a definition of addiction:
Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol,cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.
Here’s how it interfered with my life and responsibilities:
My other business is a video production company. I would spend about five minutes editing, and then check my emails. Then another three minutes editing… maybe they’ve replied now, I better check again. This made me miss lots of deadlines.
I would get halfway down a page I was reading and then decide I urgently had to message someone. It therefore took me forever to finish a book and I found it very hard remember what I’d read.
I would be waiting for the traffic lights to change on my bike and rather than ‘waste’ those moments just sitting there, I’d check my emails. Filling all those little spaces made my mind feel full and I was a lot more forgetful.
I’d find it hard to listen when someone was talking, so it degraded my relationships and interactions with people.
I wouldn’t appreciate my surroundings: the sky, the changing seasons, the steam rising from my tea… because I was too agitated and distracted.
Sometimes the behaviour would be driven by wanting to avoid boredom, sometimes I was stuck on something and rather than try to solve it I’d distract myself, sometimes there was a particular person I was desperately impatient to receive a message from.
For this to change I didn’t revert to a ‘dumb’ phone with no apps, I didn’t quit Facebook and or go on a digital detox. It was just a bi-product of sitting in meditation for twenty minutes every day and thereby training myself not to instantly respond to impulses.
I’d have an itch, and instead of scratching it, I would just observe it. I’d watch how the desire to scratch it rose and I feared that it would become unbearable as it continued. But what actually happened is that the itch vanished. Then it might pop up somewhere else on my body, and I would observe it, and it would disappear.
This is harder to do outside of meditation, because you’re much less concentrated, but I can do it more and more.
Another thing that happened is that I started to enjoy being focused, immersed in something or in ‘flow’ more, and being distracted felt increasingly jarring and unpleasant. I would sit on a bus and enjoy having some silence and space more than looking at my screen.
I saw a series of stages in how my behaviour would change:
- Unconscious behaviour — I don’t realise I’m doing it
- I notice I’m doing it as I’m doing it
- I notice I have an urge to do it before I do it
- I no longer have the urge
Some of the highest paid, most intelligent people in the world are designing phones, apps and games to make them as addictive as possible so that you use them more. The default set up is to have notifications appearing on your computer, tablet and phone all the time.
So my top tips for unshackling your mind from its notification cravings are:
- Meditate every day
- Turn off all your notifications
- Use the Pomodoro technique
- Leave your phone outside the bedroom at night
- Have set times you check your emails — I check mine once per day, after lunch
- Notice the urge to look at your phone when you’re in a queue or waiting for someone, and choose to pay attention to your surroundings or how you’re feeling instead
The benefits include feeling calmer and more content, having stronger relationships because you listen better, and getting more done in less time. What’s not to like?!
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