Embarking on a 5-Day Mindful Technology Challenge—Being More Aware
Do you remember the days before cell phones? Growing up, my parents had guidelines: when I would go to a friend’s house or stay after school for sports or clubs, I had to check-in at certain times or call if I was changing locations by using a pay phone or landline. Using the internet was completely different too—using the internet tied up the phone line, and only one person could use it at a time. For the most part, if it wasn’t for school, we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves. The “dark ages” forced me to communicate clearly and plan things ahead of time. Not knowing another way of life, it never bothered me.
Jump forward a couple of decades—technology basically runs my life. I am constantly on my computer to run my private practice, my cell phone is never more than a few feet away and regularly buzzing with notifications, I live for my Pandora stations (currently I’m on a Florence and the Machine radio station kick) which I play through a Bluetooth speaker, and my Fitbit reminds me to be healthy by buzzing if I haven’t walked 250 steps that hour.
I’m not opposed to technology, far from it, actually. Technology has enhanced my life is so many ways. I love Snapchatting with my sisters who live across the country; it allows me to see what their daily lives are like. I love learning about all of the exciting events happening in Chicago on Facebook, and the ability to easily invite friends to join me. I love curling up on the couch on a rainy night and binge watching the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Netflix after a long work day.
While I simply love technology, I’ve noticed the ways in which the constant accessibility has impacted me. When I’m plugged in, I’m more anxious, more impulsive, and constantly in a state of living in the future or past (thank you Facebook for reminding me of a photo from 12 years ago). Eating breakfast isn’t a long affair for me, yet I grab my phone and start scrolling through articles or social media posts. I began to ask myself, is it fear of sitting in silence? Must I always be doing something?
When I became a therapist, I began to learn about mindfulness and the benefits it has on people who face anxiety and stress on a daily basis. While I have incorporated a mindfulness meditation practice into my own daily life, I thought it would be interesting to apply mindfulness specifically to my technology use. And so, I created my own 5-Day Mindful Technology Challenge.
Rules of the 5-Day Mindful Technology Challenge
I wasn’t trying to do a technology “fast”, like those T.V. tune-out weeks we did in Elementary School, or a juicing cleanse. The idea was to bring awareness to the impact technology was having on me both physically and emotionally. These were the rules I set up:
I could use technology for professional purposes only during the day. That meant no social media, no phone games, nothing with a back-light unless it was work related until the evening, when I would grant myself half an hour of tech time.
I could only check my email and marketing data 3 times a day. Why you might ask? While I needed to keep up with my correspondences from current and potential clients, I knew I was checking waaaaaaay more than I needed to (I mean, every few minutes is a little much, and not very conducive to getting other work done).
Playing music from my phone to my Bluetooth speakers were allowed, as long as I didn’t continuously open up Pandora to “like” songs. I would have to live with whatever came on.
When feeling a sudden urge to engage in technology, I would sit for a minute and notice how my body and mind were feeling. After the minute, I would need to write it down in my log.
That was it! For a full work week, just 5 days, I would be mindful about my technology use. Not too hard right?
The first day wasn’t too difficult. I took note of when I felt compelled to reach for my phone or check my email, my urges to open a new tab and check-in on my friends and family on Facebook or Snapchat. Each time I would write down how I felt—anxious, antsy, distracted, disconnected, etc. After writing it down, I felt prepared to return to the task at hand. Not too bad.
Not incessantly checking my marketing analytics was awful! I had just launched a new marketing campaign, and all I wanted to do was see if people were engaging with it. I was only allowed to check 3 times a day, and I felt incredibly preoccupied by thoughts of checking the progress. In my log, I wrote down 18 different times I started to instinctively open my analytics, only to have to close it again and sit with a horrible nagging feeling. Ugh! Not the best day.
While I was still hung up on checking my marketing analytics (after all, it was only day 2 of the campaign), that constant feeling of needing to check was reduced in both frequency (only 10 times!) and intensity. I no longer felt antsy about it, and was able to return my focus to the task at hand. My Pandora station was a different story.
I am avid music lover, and I am always looking for new songs, hence my love for Pandora. It was so difficult not being able to “like” a new song I loved—how would I ever find it again and make sure it was added to the station’s algorithm? While I initially felt an increase in undesirable emotions, it forced me to listen to the song more intentionally (in hopes that I would remember the lyrics to find later). After a few of these instances, I noticed that I was enjoying music in a way I hadn’t for years—I was actually listening to the song, not just hearing it.
Guess how many times I checked on my analytics day four? Only five—still not perfect, and I certainly don’t expect to be! The goal of mindfulness is to be aware, not to judge and be critical. Every instance, but two, occurred during my allotted times to check. I felt significantly more productive, and when I got home, I felt more engaged with my husband. We sat on the couch and hung out without me constantly checking my phone and working.
I felt great. This may sound weird, but it almost felt like my mind was healthier (that might be in part because I slept better the two previous days than I had any other night that month)! I was able to focus better and longer on my work, I was enjoying music even more than before, and I was fully present with the people I was interacting with. As quickly as my technology habits developed, they faded almost as fast. Perhaps this could be a lifestyle, not just a week-long challenge!
What I Learned
Like I said previously, I love the power of technology. I also believe in the importance of using it mindfully. From my 5-day Mindful Technology Challenge, I learned that constantly being plugged-in has an impact on me physically and emotionally. Slowing things down helped me become more aware of why I was doing something, and how I was experiencing it. Am I opening Facebook simply because I’m bored, or because I want to actively engage with my social network? Am I checking my marketing analytics because it will change the results, or because I’m worried? Does instantly reacting to something give me the desired outcome, or make me feel worse about the situation?
This experience is one of the reasons why I decided to create the CCT Mindfulness Walk. On Saturday, October 6th, 2018 I’ll be leading a silent walk where we’ll engage in our 5 senses and experience life in the present moment. This walk will be an opportunity to reflect and spend the morning with some incredible people who are ready to experience the world around them more fully. You can see more details here or on the CCT Facebook Event Page.
If you can’t make it, but would like to partake in your own 5-Day Mindfulness Technology Challenge, I would absolutely love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
Enjoy living your life in the present,