So much of our personal growth work encourages us to get to know ourselves better, to take a long hard introspective view of our internal world. Yet there is another component to our personal development that is equally important:
The external roadblocks that can derail even our best intentions.
We can become fairly unaware of external obstacles that prevent us from gaining traction in our personal growth work. Our attention gets pulled in a lot of directions throughout the day and we lose track of our time and our good intentions. James Clear teaches us that consistent small investments of time and effort is the best pathway to developing new habits and skills. The one thing we really need to cultivate to help us gain traction with short and long term goals, with developing better habits and with improving our relationships is — self awareness.
A major external obstacle to cultivating greater self awareness is often in the palm of our hand…..our phone.
Let’s be candid about this. We do have a growing crisis with regard to our phones. We observe how so many people are walking down the street, their eyes fixated on their screens and not their surroundings. Parents at playgrounds are watching their phones and not their children. Families and friends in restaurants all sit with heads down, fingers flying across flat keyboards not engaging with each other or even the waitstaff. Standing in line at the grocery store or sitting at a red light in our cars seems to be an open invitation to check our phone. No one is immune from this. It is a habit that slowly seeped into our daily lives over time.
I’m old enough to remember a time when we did not have mobile phones on our bodies at all times. It makes me wonder what it might be like to measure the quality of our memories that were created more with our five senses than a camera roll of countless photos. I’m not being judgmental here, for I love the ease with which I can capture the moment on my thin phone too. I just wonder if we saw a chart or graph that could visibly show us the distinction of “being fully present in a moment” vs. “freezing a moment in time” would it help us want to moderate our phone usage?
While we may not have such a graph, we are learning through neuroscience about how we can enrich our present experiences and “store” them in our brains with all the sensory details to help override the brain’s default negativity bias. But in order to do this, we have to be aware of how we are letting our attention and our focus slip away.
BEING FULLY PRESENT: (even briefly…but a few times a day)
Dr. Rick Hanson has a brief and effective tip to help us capture more present moments. He calls it “taking the in the good”. Rather than reaching for your phone to take a photo, simply steep yourself in the full experience in real time. All it takes is 15-30 seconds to take it in — and imprint in your brain an incredible memory. Add sounds to your experience — listen to a child’s laugher as you watch her run through a pile of crunchy autumn leaves. Be aware of the sounds the crunchy leaves make and use your eyes to take in the rich autumn color palette. Gaze at the floating fluffy white clouds against a cerulean blue sky. For 15-30 seconds you are the creator and director of an internal movie memory; set it to music, imbue it with scents, enrich it with details.
Just doing this a few times each day will help in training our brains that we are in charge of our attention. We can resist the temptation to look at our phones and choose to fully be in the present moment. For fun, keep a little journal about your “fully present” moments each day for a week or two. It is a game-changer for cultivating greater self awareness and harvesting all the good that is showing up in our lives each day. Things we often miss…..because we are staring at our phones.
POSTURE AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS:
Are you aware that our posture has been impacted by our phones? Dr. Andrew Huberman, neurobiologist at Stamford, recently referred to this as our “C” posture. Just look around today at the posture of others who are on their phones — do you see the “C” — forward neck position, slouched and rounded shoulders?
Many people are dealing with chronic pain in their necks, shoulders and spine as a direct result of spending a good portion of their day in this awkward “C” posture position. The tension we are adding to our bodies from our phone posture gets added to the stressors of our daily busy lives.
Do your own research as you go about your daily routine today: How many people do you observe with this “C” posture? How many missed opportunities to say “hello” or ask someone how their day is going? How many people do you see in the coffee shop or restaurant who are engaging with their phones and not their friends and families? Are people walking to their cars unaware of the traffic around them, heads down staring at their screens?
RESTORATIVE, RECHARGING BENEFITS OF SLEEP:
An essential way to care for our dynamic, powerful, personal processors — yes, I am describing our brains that way.….is to get consistently good sleep. There are simple things we can do to help us achieve the beneficial brain attributes of sleep. The easiest and most impactful is to not look at our phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Instead, first thing in the morning take in 10-20 minutes of natural sunlight if you can. That will set your circadian rhythm. While it might seem silly, doing this in the morning actually helps you fall asleep at night. If you can’t get sunlight first thing, turn on the lights in your home and let your eyes take in that light. It is the blue light emission from our phones that inhibits the production of melatonin. The hot tip here is go “old school” and get an alarm clock if you need one to wake up, avoid looking at your phone for the first 30 minutes of your morning, and get some natural sunlight if possible. Just a few days of this new routine will make a noticeable positive difference in sleep patterns.
Of course, that blue light emission from our phones at night is also not helpful if we want to get a deep, recharging night of sleep. Best to put your phone on a charger and then do the same for yourself. Establish a simple nightly bedtime routine with reduced exposure to light, trying meditation or light reading to relax your busy brain and implementing some cues that work for you to signal that it is bedtime.
Neuroscience is proving that we need consistent quality sleep in order to operate a maximum efficiency for our cognitive and emotional well being. A key factor in our mental health wellness is deep, restorative, brain rewiring and rejuvenating sleep.
SOLVING THE CASE OF DISAPPEARING TIME AND ATTENTION:
Want to discover where so much of your time and attention has gone at the end of a day? Take a look at your average weekly screen time. That will be the biggest clue to solve your case of “disappearing time and attention”. All of can easily fall into the trance of mindless scrolling, or hopscotching from looking up a recipe to reading the latest scoop on a celebrity.
Even the most skilled practitioners of mindfulness, the best educated neuroscientists and the gurus of meditation will confess to using the password lock feature, turning their phone off completely for a set amount of time, locking their phone in a safe, giving it to a colleague or partner while they are working, or keeping the phone in a different room. So don’t feel too bad — you are not alone with regard to our attachment to our phones.
WHAT WE CAN’T GET BACK: (our time and out attention)
Dr. Amishi Jha wrote about how we are unconsciously giving away one of our most precious commodities — our attention — in her book Peak Mind. This won’t surprise you, but our attention is now a marketable commodity and there is even trading in futures for our attention. Now that is mind-blowing, isn’t it?
It is precisely because we are giving away our attention to our devices that we are also giving away time that could be better spent on things that really matter to us. f we could put our phones away for even 30 minutes a day, we could read 10 pages in a book, we could try a new recipe, we could chat with another person, we could take a walk and be awed by nature. Just for fun, challenge yourself to come up with a wish list of 3 thirty minute fun things to do in the coming week; then put your phone away for 30 minutes for 3 of the 7 days in that week….and do those fun things!
Maybe you can make your own chart or graph about how you are feeling about your time management, your attention and your happiness at the end of that one week challenge.
BUILDING BETTER CONNECTIONS:
It’s very evident that while social media was once touted as a great way for us to be connected to each other….it actually has had the opposite effect. We are heads down, eyes diverted and fully engaged with a device and all its mesmerizing content….and all the while our most incredible life is unfolding without us being aware.
When we shift our eyes from the screen to those people we are hanging out with all day long, something magical happens. Our amazing brains help us take in so much more than just the words they might be saying. We see facial expressions, body language, we make eye contact and we co-regulate each other with our emotions and energy. As Brene Brown would say — we feel seen, heard and valued. And all that happens by averting our eyes from the phone to the face.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Dr. Amishi Jha tells us to “pay attention to where we are turning our attention”. All we need to do to cultivate greater awareness is to check in with ourselves in an honest way about where we might be leaking out our time and attention. Just commandeering a few short chunks of time each day for some dedicated “present moment” experiences will no doubt produce some pretty remarkable results for your overall quality of life. Are you willing to give it a try?
Follow Dr. Andrew Huberman on YouTube and Instagram for short clips on his insights and teachings about neuroscience, our bodies and brains. Check out the full length Huberman Lab podcasts and his website if you want to do the deep dive into his teachings.
Read this amazing book by Dr. Amishi Jha to learn from her own experiences, real life stories from her research about the incredible importance of our focus and attention for our quality of life and some of our most demanding decisions we make under tough circumstances. This book also offers a guide to a simple 12 minute daily meditation practice that will help you train your brain for better attention and focusing skills.
Read this article from the Wall Street Journal to gain some fresh insight on how our phones are impacting our kids, their educations and their interactions with teachers, friends, coaches and mentors.
THIS SCHOOL TOOK AWAY SMARTPHONES. THE KIDS DON’T MIND: https://apple.news/AgX2ev7f7SKCNtVqY0aLmyA