There are many apps out there that can remind you to meditate or be mindful. You can set them to remind you at a certain time and configure them in all kinds of ways. Some of them ring a bell to remind you to be present, and then it’s up to you to do what you want at that time, such as pause and breathe, stretch, or meditate. Some of them will ring a bell and then actually play a sound to help you in your meditation. Some of them will offer you an inspiring quote or guided meditation.
I’m a big fan of these apps — I’m actually using two of them right now. I suggest you experiment with them and find which ones work best for you. It’s always up to you to experiment, investigate, and pay attention to what feels good to you.
But there’s an interesting paradox here. As I’ve said many times, when your phone or computer pops up a reminder or notification about something, that itself can be distracting, create anxiety, and therefore be counterproductive to your mindfulness. The very apps that are reminding you to be mindful — if they remind you too much, in a wrong way, or at the wrong time — can actually end up creating the problems we’re trying to help to alleviate with mindfulness.
I was at Wisdom 2.0 a couple of years ago in San Francisco and attended the breakout sessions on technology and mindfulness. Some of the people in the group were app developers and one of them talked about a category of app that he called “Nag Apps” — apps that nag you to be mindful. I really like that term because when an app is bothering you to be mindful, it can indeed feel like it is nagging you.
Lately, I’ve been test-driving a new app. I’m not going to say what it is, but it has a very wide range of notifications that can provide reminders during the day. After installing it, I found that it was popping up notifications left and right. “How are you feeling now?” “Check in with your body,” asking me to write a journal note about how I was feeling. The frequent reminders were really frustrating.
That’s an example of the potential downside of using technology too much to be mindful. That’s why we have to be mindful of our use of technology, how we configure it, and how we choose to automate it.
What I like about this app is the settings: I can get complete control over when and how I receive notifications as well as what I am notified about. After some trial and error, I’ve struck a balance that’s good for me. Kudos to the app developers for thinking that through and giving the user the power to configure the app. If it wasn’t customizable, if it just always reminded me when it wanted to, I probably would have stopped using it because any mindfulness benefits would have been counteracted by annoyance with the many reminders.
As users, we also must take responsibility for how we configure our technology and how we choose which technology to use. We must also stay aware over time of whether the apps we’re using remain helpful.
There might be some apps that are beneficial for six months, but then you find that you no longer need the app to remind you anymore. Pay attention to how you actually feel when you’re using these apps. Pause and think: “Is there something about this that I like and something I don’t like? If so, are there any settings here that I can change to make it work more like how I want it to?”
I don’t know if it occurs to a lot of people, but if there aren’t any settings to change, you can contact the app developer to request an improvement. While I’m not saying they will necessarily be responsive, there’s so much competition among apps these days that developers are just craving feedback from their users — it’s one of the things they spend the most time, money, and energy on. If they’re using something like a lean startup methodology, a key aspect of that is staying in touch with their users and keeping in mind what works and doesn’t work for the users.
So if you’re thinking, “There’s no point in contacting an app developer. What are the odds they’re going to make a change for me?” You might be wrong about that. Get in touch with them. And I don’t just mean by posting a review. Send them an email or message them on their website and let them know what you would like changed. You may be surprised.
I’ve even done this for software from my law firm. The vendors I’ve contacted have made changes based on my feedback. When a company gets feedback from one user, they usually assume that for every one user, there are probably a hundred others with the same issue or concern.
Another thing: Contact app developers when you like something too. Don’t wait until you have a problem and only tell them about the negatives. If there’s something that really works well for you, let them know. Or if you found a problem or bug that you want fixed, tell them something that also works really well that you don’t want to change. That’s really helpful for them and may actually make someone’s day. Most businesses — not just app developers — often only hear from customers when they have a complaint. That means they never hear back from customers when things are going really well.
In the end, it’s tough to strike a balance between the benefits of mindfulness reminders and the risks that they will actually frustrate you and impede your mindfulness.
But even if you are not a programmer or software developer, there is a way to take a more proactive stance to influence how the technology you use is developed and deployed for your own benefit, others like you and the technology companies that put a lot of time, energy, money, and other resources into creating apps that will help people be mindful.