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Month: April 2018

Practice “Not Even One”


On this blog, we’ve shared many tips on the following topics:

  • How to use technology more mindfully.
  • How to exercise more control over how and when you use technology in order to be more productive, focused, and creative.
  • How to enable your use of technology to be more aligned with your intentions and goals.
This article is about what to do when none of the suggestions seem to work.

I’ve often expressed the importance of being hopeful rather than hopeless about our ability to change, but if we’re honest with ourselves, there may be some situations in which we can’t change in a positive direction — no matter how hard we try.

In those moments, it’s always tricky to know when to keep trying, when to change our approach, or even when to accept that there may be some things we can’t change. In those cases where we believe we can’t change something, it may be best to accept that fact.

With regard to behaviors that are harmful to us and not susceptible to change — perhaps because they’re addictive — it may be best to adopt a strict “not even one” approach.

The Mantra

I picked up that term from Joseph Goldstein, who is a very well-known mindfulness practitioner and teacher. He’s been teaching mindfulness in the U.S. for about 50 years and was one of the first Westerners to study the discipline in the East and bring it back to the West.

He once shared a personal story about his struggle to quit smoking when he was younger. What he decided to do was repeat “not even one” to himself as a mantra any time he found himself slipping back into smoking. As he was unable to stop after one cigarette, he adopted the saying to counter his cravings. He would train himself to have the phrase come to mind so he could remember his commitment to not having even one cigarette.

According to his story, that worked for him. He acknowledged that, to a certain extent, his mindfulness and skill enabled him to stop smoking.

How to Use It

It can be difficult to identify when one of our behaviors is so extreme, harmful, or resistant to change, mindfulness, or other approaches that we need to adopt a cold-turkey or “not even one” counter.

As you engage in your mindfulness practice, you should try to develop your capacity for self-awareness and self-understanding. This way, you can exercise your own judgment about which behaviors to keep working on even if they are very resistant to change and which behaviors you should accept as being too resistant or harmful to change.

In the context of this blog, it’s more about your connection to technology and how you use it. Try adopting the “not even one” mantra in relation to a behavior that isn’t particularly healthy for you.

This is something for you to investigate. You have the ability and power to decide what’s best for you.

You might decide that you need to stop engaging in personal text messaging while you’re at work and adopt the “not even mantra” for that purpose. That’s just one example of a way to tailor the solution to what feels suitable to you. No one can dictate from afar what you have to adopt in terms of an all-or-nothing policy. That may not even be what you need. You have to do what works for you. 

Although my overall approach is to empower people to make changes in how they use technology, there may be times when the best solution is to stop engaging in it and recognize that’s OK.

There’s nothing wrong if that’s the case for you. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging the situation in a mindful way and responding with wisdom.

Note: I don’t claim to be an expert on addiction — I’m far from it. On our podcast, we’ve interviewed Judson Brewer, who is an expert. If you worry that any of the ways in which you interact with technology really qualify as addictive behavior, I would strongly suggest that you check out the Centre For Mindfulness. There are programs there, and while Brewer has courses that address particular types of addiction, his work (all of which is mindfulness-based) targets addictions of various kinds.

Beyond Noticing: Putting Mindfulness into Action

A critical part of mindfulness is paying attention to our experience in the present moment.

In fact, every definition I’ve ever heard of mindfulness includes this element in some form. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

The very first step is recognizing what your present experience is. Paying attention to and noticing whatever we are perceiving, thinking, and feeling in the present moment is a crucial aspect of mindfulness. There’s a risk — particularly as mindfulness becomes more popular in the West — that we will end up merely practicing mindfulness as if that’s all there is and being mindful is the end goal.

Moving Beyond Noticing

Within traditional Buddhism, mindfulness is not the only thing. It is only one part of the overall path. I get the feeling that there is often a misunderstanding as people get introduced to mindfulness: The assumption is that the goal is to simply become more and more mindful…and that’s it.

If you want to address your problems and interactions with technology, start by noticing how you feel and what you’re thinking while you interact with technology. This is important as a first step.

However, this is the beginning and not the end.

Noticing is a necessary but insufficient condition for addressing the problem. If all we do is notice and never turn that noticing into action, then we won’t improve. Noticing has been so focused on in the West because we do so little of it, but we need to be careful not to just stop there. We have to move. We need to go further and come to a greater understanding of everything.

Tap Into Mindfulness

The mindfulness teachings I’ve encountered didn’t specifically address our current relationship with technology. It was also assumed that practicing mindfulness on its own would help people with their relationships.

That may be true, but it may not be the most effective or targeted way to address problems.

Moreover, when I saw people who had developed specific tech-related teachings, they tended to focus on noticing but stopped there. They would teach things like “Look at your email and pay attention to how you feel when you look at it. Make note of your thoughts and emotions. The end.”

I noticed my own frustration with this and felt like I wanted to go beyond just noticing. As a result, I developed the Tap Into Mindfulness exercises based on my combined experience in both traditional mindfulness meditation and martial arts (which you could think of as an applied mindfulness).

In self-defense training, you learn how to pay very close attention to a punch when it’s coming at your face. You learn to become incredibly mindful and still so you can be focused and not wrapped up in fear. It takes a lot of practice to see that punch coming at your face. There is a lot of noticing that you work on. But you don’t stop there. There are all kinds of actions you learn to do in addition to the noticing, and that’s why I’m calling all of this “beyond noticing.”

With all of the problems we seem to be having due to our use of technology — the stress, distraction, and disconnection between people — I felt like we needed to go beyond noticing.

That’s what Tap Into Mindfulness does. It gives people practical ways to develop and practice how to act based on what they’ve noticed in order to become more mindful and less enthralled by technology. It’s all by supplementing mindful noticing with action.

This is the next stage of mindfulness’ development in the West.