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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.

The Pros and Cons of Mindfulness Reminders

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.

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.

Ep. 6-Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional

Neil Seligman is the Founder of The Conscious Professional, the Author of 100 Mindfulness Meditations and one of the UK’s leading experts in Corporate Mindfulness, Wellbeing and Professional Resilience.

In this episode Neil discusses about his work at The Conscious Professional and what his mission and goal is. According to Neil his practice brings skills of mindfulness to professionals. His vision is enlightened executives and conscious businesses. Neil links mindfulness to professional excellence, and his vision is to find the missing link in many professionals who are not able to express themselves in the exterior reality. The internal world is the key to emotional intelligence and we have to find peace within ourselves.

Continue reading Ep. 6-Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional

Ep. 5-Tiffany Shlain, Creator of the “Technology Shabbat”

For the past eight years, Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, her husband & two children have embraced “Technology Shabbat”, a modernized version of the Jewish day of rest, where they break away from digital screens & other technology for 24 hours. Shlain joins host Robert Plotkin to discuss how “Technology Shabbat” works & doesn’t prevent her & her husband from embracing technology in their everyday lives. Tiffany Shlain is an American filmmaker, author, & public speaker regarded as an internet pioneer for her work, including founding the Webby Awards, co-founding the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences & running the Moxie Institute Film Studio & Lab. She lives in Northern California with husband Goldberg whom she frequently collaborates with on art installations & other projects. Find more info on Tiffany Shlain’s “Technology Shabbat” at http://www.moxieinstitute.org/technology_shabbats.

Continue reading Ep. 5-Tiffany Shlain, Creator of the “Technology Shabbat”