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By Phil Murphy

Mindful use of Digital Technology

On 01, Dec 2014 | No Comments | In Blog, Career | By Phil Murphy

The developments in technology and digital media have impacted hugely on our lives. Digital and social media has significantly reshaped our generation – from how we interact, communicate, learn, access services, buy things to even how we find a ‘mate’! It is mind boggling what is now possible and what the future holds in terms of what technology can facilitate and enable us to do. For the most part, this is hugely positive however it is also important to recognize the challenges that technology presents in terms of how we experience life on a daily basis.

The ‘always on’ and ‘always accessible’ nature of our now digital world is impacting our experience of life as we know it. Every day I ask myself questions like – did I really enjoy that walk and take it in? Or was I too busy taking pictures to post on Instagram, or posting on Facebook to let the world know that I was ‘out and about’. I go to a music event and rather than absorbing the atmosphere and the performance in full – I take out my phone to tweet about how great it is and check what others are saying – in the process losing touch with physically being present and getting lost in the digital drama.

If technology and usage of digital and social media becomes all-consuming of you, your time, starts to impact on your interactions with people and your personal life – then you know that things have become out of control.  The constant chatter in the digital world can have you stuck in a place where it is hard to turn off the noise and escape the chaos. Digital is an incredibly powerful and useful tool, but those that use it more often than not can find themselves in the same state of constant anxiety and motion. If you’ve ever scrolled through your Facebook feed only to refresh and do it again a few minutes later, or constantly checked your notifications, then you know the feeling. Over time, most of us become stressed, anxious, and burnt out, especially when combined with long hours, stressful jobs, or stressful home situations.

Take me for example. I am extremely lucky to work in digital media – it’s a very busy role and it requires me to interact with the computer, ipad, phone at all times to get things done. Like the majority of people, I use digital and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp in my ‘free time’ to catch up on what’s going on in the world and talk to friends and family. When I look at my typical day – I can easily average 12 hours a day where I am staring at a screen of some sort. Yes this impacts my life – for the good and for the bad. There are many occasions where I have checked work email at 11:30pm and was unable to sleep as a result as I could not ‘quieten’ my mind.

My Mindful Journey:

In the midst of all of this I was introduced to the world of Mindfulness. My initial thoughts were of budhist monks, incense, sitting uncomfortably crossed legged and chanting. I was very wrong. My curiosity led me to Oscailt, Dublin  – where I completed a 12 weeks ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme’ which literally changed my mind. I have since continued to complete daily mindfulness meditations through use of the excellent ‘Headspace’ App developed by Andy Puddicombe. Andy recently spoke at TED Talks discussing mindfulness and tech, detailing how most of us move through almost half of our lives without actually being present. The result is stress, and the slow degradation of happiness as we fail to be in the present moment.  Rather than relaxing and letting stress go, we focus on it, even, in the words of Andy, “eventually becoming anxious about being anxious”. For a species with an average lifespan of approx 67.2 years, living nearly 47% of our lives not in the present moment seems like a waste of valuable time.

My consumption of technology has not lessened as such since I have begun to make mindfulness a part of my life, but my engagement with it has. I am more conscious and aware of my time spent and make sure that I give myself plenty of opportunities to experience the world around me uninterrupted. I think that an ‘all or nothing’ approach to technology would not have worked for me. I enjoy being a part of a digital world and the opportunities that it offers me. I don’t however want to go back to a time where I was mindlessly using my time loitering through various social media sites etc.  where time was passing me by without realizing or not connecting with events/people around me.


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is “…the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment… To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing”

Essentially, Mindfulness is the process of becoming aware of one’s surroundings, living in the present moment, and enjoying it for what it is rather than looking forward to/stressing about the next moment or worrying about past events.  However, it’s more than just a tool to relax. Practicing mindfulness is a technique that helps to prevent stress and anxiety, but also improves concentration, memory, and helps us to tune out unnecessary distractions.  Most importantly, you don’t have to spend half of your day clearing your mind and thinking of nothing. Experts suggest that spending just ten minutes a day meditating is sufficient to achieve the benefits mediation can offer.

Research recently published from Harvard has proven that consistently practicing a mindful mediation for 30 minutes daily can literally alter the mechanics of your brain.

Major companies around the globe including Google, Apple, McKinseys, General Mills and Deutsche Bank are all integrating mindfulness campaigns into their business.

Google’s ‘Search Inside Yourself’ program has been attended by over 1,000 employees according to the New York Times. Others are using mindfulness to improve work ethic, improve mental attitudes, and otherwise help employees to cope with being in the workplace.

What can you do to introduce Mindfulness into your life?

I started with a 12 week course from which I developed a solid grounding in the theory and practice of mindfulness. From there I started with Headspace –progressing from 10 minute daily meditations to 20 minutes advanced series within the Headpace programme.

What can you do to avoid digital vertigo and promote a more healthy relationship with technology? I would suggest a more balanced and sustainable approach – similar to what I have done, rather than ‘all or nothing’. Going cold turkey on technology is unlikely to last for long and you end up turning your obsession from using technology to trying to avoid it.

 Here are a couple of suggestions that you might work for you;

 Look out for a Mindfulness Programme in your locality – Most of the time it is difficult to get into meditation or practice mindfulness without some form of instruction. The popularity of mindfulness has exploded and you will be surprised about what is happening local to you.

 Have digital opening hours – if you’re still checking notifications and emails at home late at night and over the weekend, consider turning it off for set periods. The average person checks their phone 110 times each day!! Ban phones/ipads/t.v from the bedroom – that should be a place for other things! On work nights I try to not look at work emails past 9:30pm.

Meditate – Set aside a small portion of each day for you to practice mindfulness meditation. Whether that’s ten minutes or an hour – it is up to you. You don’t have to sitting on the floor or all by yourself in a quiet room. Think about using your commute time on the bus or train, try taking a walk at lunch time and sit in the park, even sitting in your car before you go into work. There are plenty of accessible meditation apps for you to try.

Enjoy Non-Digital – Digital is a wonderful thing, but in large doses, it can leave us feeling stressed and lonely. Make sure you take the time to interact in physical social settings, to do non-digital hobbies, and to spend a good portion of each day away from your computer and phone.

Go mad and introduce it to your work place – If you have started the above and are seeing the benefits that mindfulness can bring to you, why not branch out. Just like the major tech companies who are all reaping the benefits of their employees engaging in mindfulness practice, why not try to incorporate some aspects of mindfulness into your workplace? It might help you to stay committed whilst at the same time having a positive influence on your work environment. Apart from a few strange looks – what have you got to lose!

Image creative commons: Mereel Skirata

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