“I don’t know how to get out of this,” Ethan said. “I have it all, but I’m not happy. I think I need to start meditating.” Ethan’s zip code told me that he’d reached a certain level of success attained by few, but my intuition told me that he faced the same problem I see in a lot of my clients: he woke up at 5 a.m. every day, chugged down a cup of coffee, dictated several emails during his brisk ten-minute walk to the train station, wrote more emails during the thirty-three-minute train ride to midtown Manhattan, and spent the next ten hours in his corner office with his eyes glued to the computer screen or on calls, barely noticing that he could see the Empire State Building from his window.
At the end of the day, he repeated his commute in reverse, kissed his wife and children, had a glass or two of wine, watched a mindless Netflix series, and went to bed so he could do the same thing the next day. A nagging voice in the back of Ethan’s mind whispered, Is this all there is? When does my life begin? While his life looked extraordinary from the outside, with a gorgeous home in the suburbs, a beautiful wife and children, and an extremely high-paying job, he experienced a feeling of inner mediocrity.
I believed I could help Ethan find greater fulfillment, but we had some work to do. Meditation would be only one part of the plan, as I believed that consistent movement and exercise was going to be key in supporting his ability to find stillness. In our first conversation, I mentioned the other three pillars of our program and how different forms of self-care feed off and support each other.
With all my clients, I gather information during our calls, and much like therapy, I ask the questions that help clients find their answers. I also offer insights and recommendations based on years of study and supporting people in finding greater balance. That said, we are all on our timelines for personal growth and development, so I can offer information, but I ultimately meet clients where they are and build a trusted partnership from there.
Ethan wanted to meditate. He wasn’t interested in moving more, eating better, or having weekly massages yet. He wasn’t quite ready to let go of his behavior patterns—pat-terns that had served him well professionally, or so he thought. I agreed to meet him where he was. I sent a meditation teacher to his home, and his self-care journey began.
The antidote to overindulging in technology is to be proactive in creating healthy habits to replace those that consume our attention and waste our time. First and foremost, we must approach our relationship with technology with mindfulness and compassion for ourselves—and check our shame at the door as most of us are struggling and working on getting better in this area of our life.
Picture-Perfect May Not Be
Lisa Mason’s life looks perfect—on Instagram. Her popular millennial mom feed belies the postpartum depression she suffered after her son was born. With every picture-perfect post, she missed out on living another moment in the pain and bliss of being a new mom. She was so distracted by the storyline she presented to the world that she wasn’t connecting inward or with her baby in a consistent or meaningful way.
Lisa began meditating and practicing yoga because she was given a gift of a Namaste membership. She was open to anything and thought yoga and meditation could be a nice addition to her storyline. At our suggestion, she turned off her phone and found herself alone in her skin. At first, it felt a bit disorienting. As she developed more presence in her physical body, mind, and heart, she began to understand that some moments are meant to be moments, not photo ops.
She had a lightbulb moment when she realized she deserved to have experiences for herself and that was enough—no one else had to know or approve. She realized that her attention had been out of alignment with her values, and she was a bit bewildered as to how she got there. Lisa enjoys her hundreds of thousands of followers and influencer status on Instagram.
Because she finds creative expression and the joy of connection in these virtual relationships, there’s no need to stop. What she realized, though, was that done without mindfulness (as she was at first), she was misplacing her focus much of the time. By integrating a meditation practice, she was able to have a more wakeful relationship to the moment, her child, and her community of followers.
Conscious and Intentional
Technology has changed our world in less than a century. The tools it brings into our lives are extraordinary. I don’t recommend becoming a Luddite, but our relationship with the digital world needs to be intentional. Technology becomes problematic when it takes us away from real life, flesh and bone, eyes, heartbeats, and hands. It’s all too easy to slip into reactive mode and allow our brains to be manipulated by the barrage of inputs that are sent our way all day.
It’s a problem when we’re lying in bed scrolling through social media instead of having pillow talk with our partner, reading, or stretching. We must consciously choose when we plugin and when we unplug. We must understand the difference between being digitally connected and being truly connected to people. When we say yes to our phone, we’re saying no to the person sitting next to us, and vice versa.
More and more people come to me for virtual wellness coaching—that is, coaching them to integrate some of the practices sensibly discussed in this book into their lives. These conversations always start with time management. It’s no secret that the amount of time in a day is finite. Yet how often do we reach the end of the day asking ourselves, Where did the day go? We often forget that time spent doing one thing is time not spent doing another.
Once again, as with the other practices in the pillars of this book, mindfulness is the foundation of how we spend our time. We have to proactively, mindfully integrate movement, stillness, touch, and nourishment into our day-to-day life. To do that, we also have to understand where we’re spending our time. If we ask ourselves how we’re going to come up with the time to do the things we want to do, the first place to look is the digital part of our lives.
Today, our relationship with our devices robs us of many other relationships and experiences that could be happening. I’m not suggesting we eliminate the digital part of our lives. Instead, I am suggesting we frame it as a problem to solve.
Can we explore how to better optimize our relationship to our digital life rather than spending—wast-ing—time on activities that prevent us from actualizing some of our other goals and intentions? I understand the paradox here: devices and apps can be a huge help in time management, yet they are often the things that occupy too much of our time. What’s the answer? Organizing our schedule around time blocks can be the first step toward “finding” more hours in the day to do the things we want to do.
The world’s most ultra-successful people, some of whom I have worked with, have an extremely evolved and disciplined relationship with time and technology. They do not act impulsively. For example, some of the wisest and most efficient people I know and work with dedicate several hours a day in a compartmentalized way to read and respond to emails, instead of checking it all day long.
They like to stay caught up and know what’s happening on social media, so they block out a certain amount of time each day to check Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They define what they believe is the appropriate amount of time to engage in these activities daily. When the time is blocked on the calendar and the phone isn’t in their hand, people are much less tempted to start scrolling the moment they open their eyes because they know they will have their time when it’s healthy and right.
As my parents used to say, “There are a time and a place.” There is no deprivation or disengagement; it’s just time spent on purpose. This type of time management often means changing ingrained, mindless habits into mindful ones. The digital connection can be great fun, but it is also highly, purposefully addictive, as demonstrated in the documentary Like. The film was shown at my son’s school to educate teenagers about how apps are designed to manipulate them.
Software engineers apply AB testing to know whether, for example, a red notification gets a higher response than a blue notification. The apps are designed to engage us and pull us down a digital rabbit hole. Countless designers and user interface people work to figure out how to solicit the desired response from our brains.
In some ways, it’s not our fault if we’re addicted to social media, the latest television series, or twenty-four-hour news program. Those outlets were built to make us want to stay. To reach a healthy relationship with plugging in and unplugging, we must first understand that the apps are built to entice us to overindulge. Begin to think about one small change as a starting point.
The digital world has removed the spaciousness in our lives. It’s easy to make plans by sending a text or group chat, leading to an overscheduled life. What used to play is now a competition. Children no longer play pickup games on the cul-de-sac but participate in scheduled practices and traveling teams. They’re destined to be overscheduled adults.
Technology allows us to share ideas globally and stay in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away. The ability to connect to anyone virtually anywhere in the world has created a global community a few imagined even twenty years ago. Connection and community are important for our well-being, and plugging into our life in real-time is a vital part of our wellness formula.
To have the best experience of ourselves, it’s about finding inspired, reasonable boundaries. My son is dyslexic and one of the most intelligent and creative people I know. He watches YouTube and knows how to do many things as a result, from playing the ukulele to skateboarding, crafting, and cooking, and he listens to audiobooks voraciously. He can voice-to-text his written homework—all to show how technology is changing lives for people with disabilities.
As much as I love the idea of playing with sticks and stones, when he is on his iPad, he is most often learning in some way. I am grateful that he has this tool to learn, and I have a huge amount of reverence and gratitude for the technological advancements that are changing our lives, and his life. But I have concerns, too. I have noticed that teens are not out as often, spending time together at parties and public places.
It seems they connect online and hang out from home, and quite enjoy this. The result of kids staying home on a Friday night playing video games is that they are not out and about getting hurt or into trouble. Most strangely, kids are physically safer than they have been in the past, but I worry about their mental and emotional safety. It seems that because they are spending less time face-to-face, they will be less adept at recognizing facial expressions, body language, etc.
The bottom line is that our brains are changing and there is a lot unknown. Technology has powerful gifts as well as real liabilities. Owning our mind and choosing where we put our attention and when is the goal. As we think about adding practices from the four pillars into our life to create a wellness plan, it’s important to think about how we can control technology and use our time wisely, rather than letting it control us. The idea of a digital sunset is as simple as turning off our phone and putting it in a drawer at a set hour every evening—after 9 p.m., for example. When we say no to our devices, we can say yes to other fulfilling activities.