#MindfulMarch | Create More Than You Consume

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Happy Thursday everyone + welcome to the third week of #MindfulMarch. It’s wild to think that we only have one more topic to tackle, and then this series will come to an end. I’ve loved, loved, loved the discussions this series has started, both in my DMs and in person.

Today we’ll be chatting about something that I, personally, struggle with the most, and that is spending too much time on my phone. Regardless of whether I’m scrolling through Instagram, reading an article, or catching up on my podcasts, I find that I spend the majority of my waking hours with my nose in my phone. Worse than that, I become frustrated with myself when I go to read a book and, next thing I know, I get a text or a notification, and there I am again, stuck in the vortex of distraction. Or when I want to write but my thoughts are scattered and disjointed. Or when I’m enjoying time with a friend or my husband and I realize we’re both on our phones.

It seems that I’m not the only one. Here are some staggering statistics about cell phone use, that I learned by reading the book How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. (I highly, highly recommend you read it as well).

- Americans check their phones about 47 times per day. For people between 18 and 24, the average is 82. Collectively, this adds up to more than 9 billion phone checks every day.

- On average, Americans spend more than 4 hours a day on their phones. That amounts to 28 hours a week, 112 hours a month and 56 full days a year.

- Nearly 80% of Americans check their phones within half an hour of waking up.

- 75% of people between 24 and 34 check their phone in the middle of the night, if they wake up.

- More than 80% of Americans report that they keep their phones near them “almost all the time during waking hours”.

- Nearly 5 out of 10 Americans agree with this statement: “I can’t imagine my life without my smartphone”.

- Nearly 1 out of 10 American adults admits to checking their phone during sex. Yes, sex.

Do these statements hit too close to home for you? Me, too.

I’ve noticed lately that more and more people take “social media breaks”. In a 2017 edition of the American Psychological Association’s yearly Stress In America report, nearly two thirds of American adults agree that periodically “unplugging” or “taking a digital detox” would be good for their mental health. We believe that, and yet, we’re in a wild panic when Instagram goes down for a day.

Probably the more alarming information I’ve come across is that “spending extended time on them (electronic devices) has the power to change both the structure and function of our brains - including our abilities to form new memories, think deeply, focus and absorb, and remember what we read. Multiple studies have associated the heavy use of smartphones (especially when used for social media) with negative effects on neuroticism, self-esteem, impulsivity, empathy, self identity, and self image, as well as with sleep problems, anxiety, stress and depression.”

I’ve learned, also from reading the book mentioned above, that every app we use is designed strategically to redirect our attention back to them, by manipulating our brain chemistry (through releasing dopamine) in ways that are known to trigger addictive behaviours.

Don’t get me wrong, our phones can be incredibly useful tools when used responsibly. It allows us to connect with people from all over the world, making opportunities possible and providing information at our fingertips. But I feel like we sometimes forget that our phones are there for our convenience, not the other way around. Next time you’re out for dinner with your friends, reading in a coffee shop or waiting for your flight to board, look around and see how many people are heads down on their phones. We are missing an entire world happening around us, in real time, by being so engrossed in our screens, in a virtual world, that is days behind in their algorithm anyway.

In a world that constantly pulls at our attention, encourages us to buy more than we need, and has us comparing our lives to people we don’t even know, how do we then, regain control of our focus? And as creatives, how do we focus more of our time on creating, rather than consuming? Here are some ways I’ve found to be really effective in my own life (not every time, because I’m human and I fail, but every time I stick to these, I notice a big difference in my mental space and the quality of the work that I’m creating).

1. Put it away.

Ha, so simple right? Not necessarily. If you need to get work done, if you want to read uninterrupted, if you want to do some yoga or meditate, or if you simply want to go about your day without the constant disruption, set your phone on airplane mode and put it in another room. Start with 30 minutes. Then an hour. Then maybe half the day. You don’t need to completely throw your phone away (you do pay for it monthly, after all) but if you can distance yourself from it, for a while, it will help you get what you need to get done quicker and more efficiently.

2. Set boundaries.

Okay, so let’s say you’ve been working and crossing items off of your to do list and now you’d like a break and to scroll through Instagram. Absolutely! You’ve earned it. But how can you be sure that it doesn’t completely derail your flow? Set a time boundary for yourself. In my case, I set a timer for seven minutes, and I can scroll to my heart’s desire. Once the timer goes off, my phone goes back on airplane mode and I return my focus to what needs to get done.

3. If there’s someone with you, you phone doesn’t need to be.

Very few things grind my gears more than having a conversation with someone while they’re on their phone. It just seems incredibly disrespectful to me and it shows me that this person isn’t interested in what I have to say and, quite frankly, they have no respect for my time. So make it a habit that if you’re out for coffee with a friend or just sharing a meal with your partner, to put the phone away and enjoy some real life interaction.

4. Put a pin in the guilt.

The reason why I have such a hard time putting my phone away is because I feel guilty. What if a client needs to get a hold of me? What if something happens to a friend and they need me? What if? What if? More often than not, I’ve come to realize, is that I’m creating scenarios for very unlikely events. So I put my phone on airplane mode and return to it after half a day to check in on messages from friends, social media notifications, etc. Nothing that REALLY needed my attention and nothing that couldn’t have waited the 3-4 hours to get a response.

So these are the things that have helped me to distance myself from the constant attention-sucker that is my phone. (He’s so needy, gosh). I’m not perfect. There are days when I forget I even have a phone, and others when I’m reaching for it every few minutes. What I’m working towards is having a healthy and sustainable relationship with my phone and setting boundaries where necessary. What are some things that help you achieve this? I’d love to know, so please let me know in the comments section below.

Until next time,

Vanda