page-header-image

Category: Distraction

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.

How to Manage the Pull of Your Smartphone

Do you ever feel like your smartphone is calling to you even when it’s just sitting in your pocket not doing anything? When your phone beeps, vibrates, or buzzes at you, do you ask yourself, “Why is my phone doing this to me?!?”

When I speak to people about using mindfulness to help develop healthier relationships with technology, these are the kinds of things that I often hear from them. I feel these things myself — the feeling that the phone is like a living thing that’s doing something to us. It’s calling to us or trying to attract our attention.

From my experience of working for many years in technology and mindfulness, it seems that this feeling about our smartphones and other devices is very common. It feels as though these devices are acting on us. I’m calling this a feeling rather than a fact. It is something that we feel, and as real as it may feel to us, it is a feeling. And it’s a perfect type of feeling to apply some mindfulness to.

What I’ve found from my own personal experience and working with other people is that not applying mindfulness to that feeling can contribute to many of the problems and pains we experience in relation to our technology.

Think about the situation. Your phone is sitting in your pocket or somewhere else, but not in your hands.  You feel an urge, which is often called a craving in Buddhism, to pull out your phone and check Facebook or your email. At that moment, it may feel like the phone is pulling you, but if you were to pause, engage in some mindful reflection, and ask yourself, “What is actually happening now?,” what would your answer be?

This is part of what mindfulness is. It is an intention to see the present moment for what it is without a filter.

Step back at that moment and ask yourself, “Is this phone doing anything right now?” If you see the phone for what it is, you will see that the phone is not physically doing anything. It’s just sitting there. If you feel as though the phone is pulling you, I would strongly suggest that the pull is coming from somewhere within you rather than from the phone. Practicing mindfulness can help you to stop perceiving your feeling that the phone is pulling you as if it reflected reality.

What is true is that you feel like the phone is pulling at you. This is an exercise in separating the reality of the feeling from whether the meaning of the feeling accurately reflects reality. By detaching yourself from the feeling, you can separate the reality of the feeling from the reality of the meaning of the feeling.

I know how alluring or tempting that feeling can be in the moment. It can feel completely real. And it’s so natural and mindless that you can easily react to it.

If we apply some mindfulness when it arises, however, we may be able to short-circuit that automatic habit which leads us to pick up the phone and start using it as a reaction to the feeling that the phone is pulling us.

That craving is coming from within us. If we apply mindfulness, we can actually create an opportunity to make a mindful choice as to whether or not to use the phone. Practice mindfulness so that when you do reach for the phone, it’s the result of a mindful, conscious and intentional choice — not a reaction to the feeling that the phone is pulling you to it.

None of us is perfect at applying this.

With that said, I can pause some of the time and make a conscious choice, and whenever I do that, it has great side effects. It decreases my general feeling of anxiety. It’s a good feeling to know that I have a choice — just that feeling of freedom to choose is much better than the anxious, tight feeling that the phone is pulling me and that I have no freedom not to react to the pull.

When it surfaces, investigate the feeling that the phone is making you do something or acting on you. Use that to cultivate some mindfulness in that moment. Spend some time separately when you’re not experiencing that feeling in your practice. Then see if you can draw on your practice in your daily interactions with your phone.

Tips for Mindful Task Management: Part 2

Here are some more ways to apply mindfulness to tackling the tasks on your to-do list.

1. Time Your Tasks and Prioritize Them

Sometimes it feels overwhelming to get the to-dos onto the calendar — particularly at the beginning of the week.

I start out by just dumping all of my to-dos on a Monday and creating an appointment, description, and duration for each item. I throw them all onto Monday in any order simply to get them out with a description and period of time I want to allocate to them. Then I start dragging them around to different days and different times of day to see what feels right by looking at them visually. If you’re a visual thinker who feels hesitant and overwhelmed by the scheduling of to-dos, this tip could prove beneficial. I find that seeing them out there not only helps me schedule them but reduces the anxiety I have about the idea of organizing them, which then makes it easy to revise the schedule if I slip up on anything.

2. Incorporate Mindfulness into Processing Your To-Do List

What does this have to do with mindfulness? There is great value in stepping back from everyday chaos and thinking mindfully about when to-dos should be completed so that you can focus on what’s important rather than simply what’s urgent. To me, that’s all an exercise in mindfulness.

If our norm is to mindlessly race from one thing to the next throughout the day and then again every time we have a spare minute to scan our to-do list for an item to check off, that’s a somewhat mindless approach — regardless of how important or relevant the to-do is.

This process of stepping back periodically and really thinking carefully about what needs to be done and why represents an exercise in mindfulness. Reducing the stress and anxiety level can help facilitate a more mindful state. If I know that my important to-dos are sitting on my calendar somewhere, I feel much less anxious than when I’m thinking, “Oh no, there are things I know that I need to get done, but I don’t even know if I have them written down or indicated somewhere.” If I know I’ve scheduled them, then I’m less likely to believe that something critical is going to slip through the cracks. That decrease in anxiety can help me be more mindful overall.

The Case For Adding “Call Me” Back To Your Vocabulary

When you pick up your phone, how often are you using it to actually do what itthe-case-for-adding-call-me-back-to-your-vocabulary was first intended for? How often are you actually talking on the phone? And I don’t mean talking via text, or email, or some other form of digital communication. I mean actually talking. Picking up the phone and calling someone.

If you’re like most people today, your answer is probably something like “very rarely.”
Continue reading The Case For Adding “Call Me” Back To Your Vocabulary

How be Happier & More Productive at Work This Week

Work is a place that we can easily feel stressed and overwhelmed. Maybe you How be Happier More Productive at Work This Weekhave multiple projects going at the same time or an impossibly short deadline that your boss wants you to meet. It’s happened to all of us at one point! The key to keeping calm under all this stress? Mindfulness.

When a workplace promotes mindfulness a few changes begin to happen. The entire company culture changes. The workplace begins to attract (and keep) the best employees. And performance within the company improves!

Continue reading How be Happier & More Productive at Work This Week

Track Your Screen Time with Moment

How much time do you spend on your phone each day? I bet it’s probably more track-your-screen-time-with-momentthan you’d expect! According to a new study, U.S. consumers spend an average of 5 hours per day on their phones. That means that about ⅓ of your time awake is spent staring at a phone screen. If you ask me, that’s a lot of time wasted. And nearly 20% of that time is being spent on Facebook—FOMO, anyone?

Continue reading Track Your Screen Time with Moment

Study: Facebook is Might be the Reason You’re Unhappy

I’ve talked before about how technology is taking over, about how many times Study: Facebook is Might be the Reason You’re Unhappywe’re “accidentally” sucked into our phones. We’re checking our social media accounts, multiple times a day for no other reason that the fear of missing out (FOMO).

Continue reading Study: Facebook is Might be the Reason You’re Unhappy

Is Your Time Well Spent?

I know I’ve talked about this so many times before, but let me say it again for is-your-time-well-spentthose of you that are new to the blog or new to mindfulness: technology is taking over our minds.

Whether we realize it or not it’s happening. And a movement that goes by the name of Time Well Spent it looking that help change that! Fighting back against digital distraction. Asking technology companies to create app designs that “empower us and reduce pollution to our attention.”

Continue reading Is Your Time Well Spent?

Podcast Episode #02: Interview with Maggie Jackson, Author of Distracted

maggie-jackson-smallWe’ve just posted the latest episode of the Technology for Mindfulness Podcast, where author Maggie Jackson joins host Robert Plotkin for a discussion about how technology can distract us and what we can do about it. Jackson is an award-winning author and former Boston Globe columnist known for her penetrating coverage of social issues, especially technology’s impact on humanity. Her essays and articles have appeared in publications worldwide, including the The New York Times, Business Week, Utne, and on National Public Radio. Her acclaimed book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, jumpstarted our global conversation on the steep costs of fragmenting our attention. Jackson’s first book, What’s Happening to Home? Balancing Work, Life and Refuge in the Information Age, examined the loss of home as a refuge. Find more info on Maggie Jackson at maggie-jackson.com.

Continue reading Podcast Episode #02: Interview with Maggie Jackson, Author of Distracted

Ask Yourself These 5 Questions When You Reach for Your Phone

You’re about to start cooking dinner when you have a question about the ask-yourself-these-5-questions-when-you-reach-for-your-phonerecipe… what can you substitute for tarragon? So you pull out your phone to type your question into Google. But what happens first? You see a new text message, notifications from 3 different apps… By the time you’ve finished checking everything out you’ve completely forgotten why you originally grabbed your phone in the first place.

Does that sound like something that’s happened to you? It’s probably happened to most of us!

Continue reading Ask Yourself These 5 Questions When You Reach for Your Phone