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Category: Relationships

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.

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.

Make Plans as If the Internet Didn’t Exist

In recent years, many of us have taken to canceling plans at the last minute via text or by using our smartphones in other ways. It usually happens minutes from the meeting time. I try not to do this, but I am definitely guilty of it.

Before the internet, this was something that was not done as often. People made a real effort not to cancel unless there was some sort of true emergency. If they did cancel at the last minute without a valid reason, it would reflect very poorly on them. That doesn’t seem to be true anymore. It seems to be socially acceptable now to cancel plans at the last minute — and to cancel them via text.

This can hurt your reputation and perceived willingness to commit to things in both a professional and personal capacity. I believe this issue comes from our ability to get in touch with someone at any moment, which seemingly removes the need to let someone know far in advance that we may be forced to cancel, reschedule, or arrive late.

I’m in my mid-40s and recently spoke to someone in her mid-20s. She explained that “bailing out” is so common among people her age that she actually stopped making important plans with friends.

Smartphones play a significant role in this phenomenon, as they now shape how we schedule events. The interesting part is that you can spend more time scheduling something through online messaging than at the actual meeting itself. It’s hard enough when it’s just one person. When more than two people are involved, it becomes a scheduling nightmare that can be extremely time-consuming, frustrating, and anxiety-producing.

Here’s a tip:

Schedule meetings and reschedule /cancel them as if the internet didn’t exist.

Act as if you had no access to the internet.

Imagine you have scheduled to meet with someone at 1 p.m. If you act as if there is no internet and your morning schedule starts getting delayed, you’re probably going to need to call a couple of hours in advance to let them know. The purpose of this tip is to see how it affects your mindset and how the actions you take will lead you to be more mindful and present. Think about the other person and the consequences of your actions.

The internet gives us this sense of security that we can instantly reach people at any time, and this is what contributes to the last-minute rescheduling. Act as if the internet didn’t exist and see if that results in you doing fewer things at the last minute.

Does anything change if you reschedule the meeting a day before because you’re swamped with work? Would it be wiser to reschedule and avoid the risk of being unable to reach the person at the last minute? Do it a day in advance rather than a minute in advance.

It’s very common now for people to schedule meetings at the last minute.

Try this exercise to break the habit. Schedule a meeting with someone for Friday around noon and talk to the other person about a general meeting area. Leave the details very vague about the time and place. As the meeting approaches and you’re on your way to the area, you can hash out specifics with the other person in such a way that when the appointment time comes, you know everything and don’t need to communicate to finalize anything. You’re acting as if the internet doesn’t exist.

As with all mindfulness, take note of how you feel about your new behavior. Do you feel happier, less stressed, and less anxious?

How to Vacation Mindfully

Phone on beach, mindful technology

 

It was easier to “get away from it all” on vacation before smartphones and the Internet. Our ever-present devices now blur the line between work and vacation, making it more important than ever that we be actively mindful on our vacations, lest our precious time away from work become little more than a week-long telecommute, leaving us feeling like we need a vacation to recover from our vacation.

Continue reading How to Vacation Mindfully