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Mindfulness and technology
Mindfulness and technology
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, is a leading expert in the new field of “science-help.” BeWell talked with Kelly about how mindfulness can mitigate technology’s downside and ensure that we get the most from our gadgets without succumbing to their potentially less healthy consequences.
How do I know if my technology is having a negative impact on me?
If you start to feel dysfunctional when interacting with your device, you may have a problem. A few examples include:
- Experiencing separation anxiety when you don’t know where your phone is.
- Feeling physical discomfort when you haven’t checked your device in a while.
- Feeling an intimacy with your device — e.g., you sleep with it, or check it in the middle of the night or when you first get out of bed.
If the device is shaping your agenda for the day, determining your emotions, and dictating what you focus on and how you spend your time, your device is controlling you.
What can I do if there is a problem?
The first thing to do is to pay attention. When does the technology interfere with your sleep, make you procrastinate or cause anxiety? When does it make you smile, help you be productive or feel more connected?
Spend some time figuring out what it is like to turn off your computer or put your phone away. Be curious about your behavior in a non-judgmental way. Pay attention to how you stalk your former high school friends on Facebook or how you waste your time on online shopping. [Laughter]
Paying attention influences what is happening in your brain, interrupts habitual thinking, and gives you access to choice.
Next, spend some time figuring out what it is like to turn off your computer or put your phone away. Create some barriers, such as no technology at the dinner table, or just make it more difficult to access by unplugging it, putting it in a drawer or on flight mode.
Finally, know why you want to make a change. Reflect on whether your device is contributing to or taking away from your quality of life. Notice the benefits of disconnecting.
Technology addiction and food addiction seem similar in that they both require interaction. Do similar management techniques apply to both?
What a perfect analogy! I am whole-heartedly against a “fast” for either one of them. Going on a “technology fast” will be as unproductive as going on a severely restrictive diet, as both are just too difficult to sustain and will send you right back to where you started. Instead, take what is nourishing and necessary and learn to leave the rest aside.
Remember, you can’t trust your brain in either process. If you put a donut in front of me I will eat it and my brain will tell me to go look for more donuts. The same is true for YouTube: you can’t trust your brain to inform you that the next video will be no more satisfying than the last and you should shut it off.
Mindfulness is a very broad term. How do you define it?
Mindfulness is essentially comprised of three parts:
When all three factors are aligned, it becomes easier to do what matters to you. Technology really interferes with this process because it makes you forget what matters to you (intention), distracts you (attention), and keeps you from taking action.
Mindfulness is not a “what” but rather a “how.” Mindfulness is a way of doing things: a process, not a technique. When you are training in mindfulness, you know your own goals and values. You are paying attention to cause and effect. You know there are consequences of your choices and you are able to act skillfully based upon your observations. Mindfulness is a skill that allows you to choose the way you want to live.
How can I add an element of mindfulness to my day?
Start to make individual choices with intentions. For example, if you check your device right when you get out of bed, ask yourself whether this action aligns with your intentions. Pick small choices and see them in relation to your bigger goals.
Then, choose a “right-sized” commitment. Most people choose actions that are too ambitious. Pick one that you can do. Make it finite and consistent with your goals. Decide on one action that you will do before you check your phone, such as taking a shower or doing ten pushups. Trust that small changes are better than broad proclamations.
… any final thoughts?
The thing I love about mindfulness is that it can become a vehicle to help with many other areas of your life. When you learn how to be mindful of your technology, this skill can transfer over to being mindful of how you spend your money, how you spend your time, and which relationships are worth your effort.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.