Smart phones don't often leave me feeling very smart. In fact, my iPhone often hijacks my mind. And I use the word "hijack" deliberately, as constant pings and chirps and buzzes steal our attention away. Then something else steals it - our partner, the dog, a thought of ____________.
The habit that this instigates is a cause for so much of the pain and suffering we homo sapiens sapiens experience. This is the habit of thinking without knowing we are thinking. Simply put, our thoughts and how we think play a key role in how we feel. To a significant degree, how we feel is dependent upon how we think and the amount of control we have over our thoughts.
To change how we think, we must first be aware of just how we are thinking right now. When we bring mindfulness to our thinking and thought patterns, then we give ourselves a chance to make a different choice than what we have been habituated toward. And since mindfulness is always wholesome, this different choice is one that supports positive well-being.
If we are engaged in excessive smart phone, and more-or-less doing it mindlessly, I don't think one has a real chance at reversing this behavior. For in this case, one would be unaware of the underlying thinking patterns driving the tech use. Thus, when would there be an opportunity to change or disentangle from such unhelpful ways of thinking?
Below are a few suggestions for mindful smart phone use. These can be used to either prevent our minds from being hijacked or they can be used to "rescue" us from an ongoing (mental) hijacking.
1. NOTICE YOUR POSTURE
Clearly, mobile devices do not support ergonomically friendly postures. When I teach meditation, I'll often recommend holding a relatively straight posture, one that embodies confidence, dignity, and wakefulness. In my experience, there is a strong connection between the strength of our posture and the excessive mental activity of the mind.
In general, the more solid and comfortably straight our posture, the less discursive our minds will be. The less discursive our mind, the more likely we are able to know when to stop scrolling and refreshing, and get back to the colors and textures beyond our screen.
You may be reading this on a mobile device right now. And so, how is your posture? How would it feel to mindfully adjust your posture to something more upright and solid? The posture we hold while holding our smartphone influences how we hold our own mind.
At the same time, we can bring awareness to our physical body no matter our posture. The more deeply we can do this, the more well-informed our next decision will be.
It's slightly embarrassing to say, but sometimes I find myself just looking at my iPhone. As if I'm calling out to it, "Entertain me!" In this moment, I am wanting to want something. Turning that mental roulette wheel and hoping it lands on something that'll serve me a plate of fleeting pleasure: 2 minute YouTube video it is!
Sometimes, however, I pause. I unlock my phone and I just look at the vibrant colors, rounded squares, and floating red bubbles. Then...Then I take three mindful breaths. By the 3rd breath, I'll sometimes come to the realization that there was no particular reason I unlocked my phone in the first place. I did it mindlessly. I was thinking without knowing I was thinking. This mental awareness then empowers me set it aside (or to continue using my phone, yet mindfully).
Consider how or when you might implement a mindful pause with your tech use. Three mindful breaths right before you open your email app? Three conscious breaths before you send that text message? The breath is always in the present moment. This doesn't change when a screen is in our face. So, think about when you can apply a mindful pause in between you and your screen.
3. ASK, "Is this helpful? What is this doing for me right now?"
Building off of the practice of pausing either before or after we've picked up our "black mirror," we can ask ourselves one powerful question: "Is this helpful?" Is it helpful to check my email for the 10th time this hour? Is it helpful to Google my ex-boyfriend for the third time this week? When we pause with the breath - dropping judgment and feeling into the textured immediacy of the present moment - we create a window of space for a voice of reason to float in. And this voice of reason is aware of the fact that watching another YouTube video in bed before going to sleep is not a good idea, for example.
Here's another question that directs attention inward: "What is this doing for me right now?" This can create more of an internal dialogue, as it's not a 'yes' or 'no' question. So, we may find that our answer to the question is, "Nothing."
"What is this doing for me right now?"
Now we are being honest with ourselves. And we are seeing a little more clearly than we were before.
"What is this doing for me right now?"
"It actually feels like it's making me anxious. Oh, it's actually making me procrastinate."
Now we're seeing more clearly still!
"When we pause with the breath...We create a window of space for a voice of reason to float in."
So, think about when you might drop either of these questions into your day. You might even want to write it on a sticky note, or write it on your hand. The process is the same regardless: (1) take a mindful pause, perhaps looking up and soaking in the sights and sounds of the moment and/or simply taking a conscious breath, and (2) looking closely at what's going on: What happening here? Is this useful? What would be helpful right now?
OTHER TIPS - Adjust the Phone Settings
- Re-organize the apps on your phone so the ones that are susceptible to pulling you down the metaphorical rabbit hole are not on your home screen.
- Delete apps you don't really need. Are there any apps you can afford to delete?
- Disable notifications for any apps that don't require your immediate attention.
- Turn down the stimulation your mind receives by switching your phone to the grayscale function.
If we are interested in beginning or deepening our own mindfulness practice, we must become familiar with how we relate to our everyday experiences. Is it with anger? fear? apathy? cynicism? Or is it with openness? cheerfulness? love? kindness? Whether it's one of these qualities you can relate to, or a different one, the way we relate to technology will either be in service of a wholesome quality or in service of an unwholesome one. Ultimately, the choice is up to us.
To what degree is our smart phone use serving us well? To what degree is it wasting our time? Though, of course, the device itself isn't wasting our time, it is our relationship to it that decides this. It may be that this relationship is one of submission, our minds being hijacked again and again with every bathroom break and idle moment we have.
...the way we relate to technology will either be in service of a wholesome quality or in service of an unwholesome one. Ultimately, the choice is up to us.
The good news is that the human mind is far more expansive, powerful, and beautiful than any block of plastic and metal. This means that change is always possible. The non-clinging, non-judgmental awareness that arises from mindfulness is the factor that will re-habituate us to shift our posture, pause, and observe.
Over and over again we forget about our posture. Then over and over again we remember.
Then we forget to pause. Then through honest intention over time, we remember. Over and over again. We forget; then we remember: Is this helpful?
What would be the alternative? To live in constant forgetfulness? Our hearts and minds deserve more than that; they are bigger than that. They are far too precious to be hijacked, to be stolen away. And any amount of buzzing and pinging are only momentary obscurations keeping us from remembering this truth, even when we forget.