When was the last time you did nothing? And I mean NOTHING. Nothing other than being in your own mind, and directing your attention to your breath or your senses.
When was the last time you sat still for at least five minutes? Perhaps with eyes closed, and a mindful awareness of your breath.
When was the last time you ate and focused all your attention on the food on your plate? Going as deep as noticing the different textures in your mouth, discerning between different tastes as you slowly chewed your food, and giving yourself a moment to enjoy the aftertaste.
When was the last time you took in all the beauty surrounding you on your walk on the beach/at the park/on the way to work?
When was the last time you allowed yourself a moment to listen to the whispers of the ocean, the ruffle of leaves and the wind, the giggles and ruckus your kid makes in the other room, or even your favorite music album which you purposely played?
When was the last time you gave your undivided attention to the person talking to you?
Doing nothing is a struggle. In part by our own making, as we came to believe that by multitasking we prove higher efficiency and intelligence, so we therefore choose to always do three+ things at once. In part as a result of exposure to technology, which yes, it can be argued that it is by our own making, too. However since most of us have lost control over our interaction with technology, I’ll regard it as a pollution of our modern society, a pollution whose effects you may strive to control, but which will never be eradicated.
I sometimes find myself reading a book while watching TV. My husband not only reads his newspaper while eating, but he also reads the news on his phone while watching the news on the TV. I currently spend around 120 min a day (down from 230, so please!) on my phone, so I refresh my Facebook and Instagram feeds pretty much all the time, while I eat, while I poop, while I try to fall asleep, while I walk the dog, and sadly, at times, while I play with The Kid. (I am yet to pull the phone out when I am snuggling with my husband. He would disown me.)
Needles to say, going through life without focus on the present moment, without taking some time to let our minds wander and do what clear, decluttered minds do, has tremendous impacts on us, our health and well-being. To mention just a few, which may motivate you to take a closer look at your habits and perhaps implement some changes:
“When eureka moments occur, they tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed.” Source
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity.” Source
“Multitasking doesn’t just slow you down and increase the number of mistakes you make; it temporarily changes the way your brain works. […] Because the simultaneous processing of tasks requiring attention is so tough on the brain, often, when we multitask, the brain switches attention back and forth between activities. Such task-switching ‘comes at a cost in performance’.” Source
“20% of the work you do gives 80% of the impact and effectiveness. We often make the mistake of thinking that being busy means being effective. And the busier we get the more multi-tasking we end up doing. According to the research the result is that you are actually less effective.” Source
“Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.” Source
Increased risk of making serious mistakes
“[…] multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.” Source
“80% of all car accidents and 65% of near misses are caused by distracted drivers more focused on their burgers than the road.” Source
” […] driving while conversing on a cell phone, impairments can be as profound as operating a motor vehicle at the legal limit of alcohol.” Source
Physical health issues
“Over time, the stress of multitasking may even become dangerous. A steady flow of stress hormones can strain the body and threaten health. […] cause headaches, stomach trouble, and sleep problems. Chronic work-related stress can lead to chronic problems, including back pain, heart disease, and depression.” Source
“Recent research by New York spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj found that our constant Instagram scrolling and incessant text messaging may be hurting our backs. The study found that when you tilt your head 60 degrees to stare at your phone, you’re putting 60 pounds of pressure on your neck.” Source
“Too much eye contact with our screens is […] causing our vision to become blurry and drying out our eyes. […] Nearly 70 percent of American adults say they’ve experienced symptoms of digital eye strain at some point in their lives.” Source
“If you stare at a screen for too long, you may experience tension headaches as another result of digital eye strain. Reading dark text on a bright screen can lead to muscle spasms at the temples.” Source
“Being constantly overwhelmed and encouraged to multi-task splits your focus. Your mind and attention is put on overdrive with texting, emailing, twittering, replaying the day’s events, going over your endless to-do list, plus the usual emotional ups and downs of trauma-dramas. No wonder your mind can’t shut down and allow you to sleep.” Source
“The influx of smart phones, tablets, and other portable electronic devices has made us more prone to poor sleep habits, researchers say. The artificial light emitted by these devices signals our brain to stay awake, as it grows accustomed to thinking light equates to daytime. Our natural circadian rhythms become disjointed, and as a result, our brain produces less of the hormone melatonin, which is produced in the absence of light and helps regulate sleep.” Source
“Technology becomes our focus and everything else becomes a distraction handled on autopilot—tasks we often dismiss as irrelevant, such as walking, driving, working, talking, or even dealing with other people. Our gadgets and devices are compelling and so user-friendly that we can develop a relationship with them to the exclusion of other people.” Source
Now, seeing this Debby-Downer-ish list kinda makes you want to give mindfulness a try, doesn’t it? Why not make today the day you decide to enter a technology detox AND begin a mindfulness practice? Start with small, attainable goals, like paying attention to your breath for a few minutes a few times a day. Perhaps no phone before 9am and after 6pm. Perhaps no phone while walking. No Home Decor magazine while eating. No Facebook scrolling while watching your favorite TV show. And when Taylor Swift is playing on the radio, stop whatever you’re doing and sing along, would you?
If you’d like to give meditation a go, there are plenty of apps out there which can introduce you to the world of mindfulness. Headspace, Calm to name a couple. Plenty youtube videos (keywords: “guided meditation”).
Make a list with your “dos” for the week ahead. We are trying to get rid of the “shouldn’ts” in our life; positivity is always more likely to inspire and manifest things, so phrase all your “don’ts” as “dos”. For instance “No work during breakfast” can become “Mindful breakfast”, “No electronic devices after 6pm” can become “Electronic devices between 9am and 6pm”. Place this list somewhere you can see it every morning and throughout the day – I have a card on my bathroom mirror, one in the kitchen, and one in the car (reminding me to focus on the road…). Be gentle on yourself. Patience is key in this exercise.
It will take some time to break the bad habits, but once you get to the point where doing less becomes your nature again (yep, again), you will find yourself accomplishing much more. I know because I am on my own journey of becoming present in every moment of my life. If you’d like to see how I’m doing, how often I remember to stop, take a deeeeeep breath in and smell the roses, follow me on Instagram.
Be challenged. Be healed, love. Namaste.