Month: May 2018

Group Text Messaging: Productive or Annoying?

Trying to make plans with a group of people can be challenging. Obviously, everyone has their own schedule and it can be hard to coordinate a mutually convenient time for all of you to meet up.

Many of us turn to group text messaging as a quicker alternative to group email. However, receiving text messages in a particular thread or conversation with one or a group of people can quite simply be annoying — especially if you keep getting notifications within that thread!

Silence Your Notifications

The good news: It’s possible to silence or turn off notifications within that thread and still receive notifications for all of your other text messages.

On an iOS platform, for example, you can go into your messages app, slide the group message (or any text message) to the left, and hit “hide alerts.” If people send more messages in that thread, you won’t get notified and your phone won’t make a sound or pop up a little summary of the message. You will still receive other messages, however.

To be clear, this doesn’t block the thread.

Anytime you go into the messages app, they will all be there. This is just meant to stop notifications so you’re not bothered by them. I find this very helpful for group threads in particular — especially when they involve three or more people.

Exercise Some Control

Here’s a scenario from my personal experience: When I’m trying to schedule dinner with five people and messages are being sent back and forth about unrelated topics, I will often hide alerts or silence notifications from that thread once the dinner has been scheduled. This way, my phone doesn’t beep every time someone posts an emoji or says one word.

To catch up on all these messages, I set time aside once a day so I can scroll through the ones I’ve missed without interruptions or distractions from my phone.

You can think of this like a targeted version of Do Not Disturb — you can turn it back on when you don’t mind getting these notifications and are ready to engage.

This is the kind of feature that gives you significant power over when, how, and by whom you are interrupted. It also helps you exercise some conscious control over who gets to grab your attention and why.

The Mind Can Also Follow the Body

As mindfulness in the West is picking up and taking off as a popular movement, I’m getting the feeling that
many people are being introduced to it as a purely intellectual and mental practice. After all, the word “mind” is in mindfulness.

However, there are different ways to achieve a state of mindfulness that can be accessed beyond your mind
. The key is also moving and training your body.

Mind-Focused Learning

Education here in the U.S. is obviously very focused on training the mind. In my experience from kindergarten through high school, almost all the teachings were about training your mind in some way. There was one period of Physical Education a day, and it was taught separately from everything else rather than integrated into other courses.

Our energy and focus were all put into training our minds and learning things intellectually. Even feelings of assertiveness and confidence were trained to revolve around the mind. 

Intellectual competence can certainly result in positive bodily effects like feeling relaxed. There’s definitely some truth to the assumption or belief that the body will follow the mind. When you focus your attention and energy on training your mind, the bodily effects will follow.

That was by and large how I learned: You focused on your mind, but exercise and training your body were completely different disciplines.

A Different Perspective

However, I’ve learned through martial arts that the mind can also follow the body.  I’ve studied a few different martial arts and remember one lesson in particular during which one of my teachers was taking us through an exercise. He started to become frustrated with us because we weren’t conveying or expressing an assertive attitude. He felt like we were holding back or not really putting 100 percent of our energy and intention into each attack.  

At one point, he said, “If you’re having trouble getting that assertive intention and 100 percent focus on the attack — that mental aspect of it — before you start, bend your front knee forward.”

Normally, as you start to move forward, you would bend that front knee to shift your weight forward as if you’re almost leaning forward to prepare yourself for an attack. Priming your body in that position will help induce the mental state of assertiveness needed to carry out the attack.

Then the teacher said, “The mind follows the body.”

I remember being confused for a while. What does bending your knee have to do with feeling mentally assertive? I spent a lot of time just stewing on it. I think it’s something I’m still trying to integrate myself, but I have come to basically understand that the mind can follow the body just as the body can follow the mind.

Striking the Right Balance

In our culture, our body is often ignored and looked down upon. There’s a very strong overemphasis on the mental and intellectual to the detriment of the body.

Martial arts differ from this tack by taking an outside-to-inside approach with the body and mind. The instructor teaches you to train your body and learn the physical techniques, and as you start to become more proficient, you advance through the ranks. The teacher then shows you how to bring your mind into the practice. At first, very little attention is paid to the mind or even understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing. Focus on the physical, and then turn your attention inward.

When I regularly practiced meditation, I found that a sitting meditation involved the inverse order.

To me, both perspectives feel very valuable. I train both the body and mind.  I’m concerned that people are learning one way and not even considering how the body relates to it all. Balance is crucial: The mind can follow the body too.

Responding, Not Reacting to Your Smartphone

Have you ever watched a tennis sequence in which a player serves and the receiver runs in reaction to the serve and then hits the ball back off balance? Throughout the exchange, the server stands firm and it seems like they’re dictating where and when the receiver moves. 

Do you ever feel like that with your smartphone? Are you the receiver and is your smartphone the server?

You’re woken up every day by an alarm on your phone, and from that moment on, you may feel like you’re frantically reacting to it. We’ve all been there and know the feeling.

You can see it in many if not all competitive sports: One side appears to be in control of the flow and is doing what it wants while the other side is just barely keeping up and trying to react. It’s prevalent in many human interactions as well. I see it frequently in negotiations, with one party taking the lead and making the first strong offer while the other party just reacts.

When you’re on the receiving end and feel a lack of control, it’s obviously not enjoyable. It can almost feel like you’re a puppet for the other party, and even if you’re ultimately deciding how you’re reacting to them, you’re still reacting in some way.

In terms of mindfulness, it’s certainly a situation in which you are not acting based on your own intention or self-direction.

Apply Some Mindfulness

There is hope, though. We don’t have to be this way — with our smartphone, in sports, or in negotiations. In all of these scenarios, there are strategies that have been developed for learning how not to react or how to break out of that cycle.

The first suggestion is a very general and personal one. If you feel like you’re often out of control, reacting to your smartphone, and your habits are mindless, apply some mindfulness. You may actually want to sit down and meditate or think about your life in general. Ask yourself if there are particular situations in which you regularly feel grounded, in control, able to set your intention and consistently act according to it, and not reactive to technology or people.

We are all complicated beings. Sometimes, we can be very grounded, self-directed, and have the initiative in one context (ex. at work) but not in another (ex. with our family). It’s very common for people to not be reactive with close family members.

Think carefully about your life and I bet that you will find at least one context in which you do have skill, wisdom, and the ability to not be reactive. This is not something you’re going to figure out in one sitting, but asking yourself, “What is it about me in that context that has enabled me to be non-reactive?” would be beneficial.

Transfer Your Skills

The goal is to learn about yourself in one context and then try to see the parallels in another. In this case, can you try to apply those same kinds of habits or skills in connection with your use of technology?

I’ll leave you with two final tips:

1. You may find it easier to transfer over skills to the smartphone context from one in which you had to consciously practice and learn how to be grounded, focused, and not reactive.  If you are naturally a good negotiator but find it hard to negotiate with your family, it may be harder for you to transfer that natural talent because you may not be conscious of how or why you are effective. It might take more effort to understand the how and why.

2. Start practicing whatever you think may be useful from the one context in which you’ve been successful, happy, and self-directed. Then you can develop some ideas for how you can apply that practice to your smartphone use. See if it works. Don’t expect it to work immediately or give up too quickly. Practice every day or throughout the day.

By following these pointers, you can identify and leverage the skills needed to wrestle control back from your phone.