page-header-image

Blog

The 4 Principles of Insight Timer and Why They Matter: A Conversation with CEO Christopher Plowman

Christopher Plowman is humble when he talks about how his meditation app, Insight Timer, achieved such explosive growth in the last few years.

With 10 million users, 5,000 meditation teachers, 6,500 active online communities, and 350,000 five star reviews, you would think Insight Timer has a massive marketing budget and an army of developers creating new features every day.

But in fact, it’s quite the opposite. As Plowman says casually, “We’re not doing a lot.”

In other words, they’re strategically not doing things, which has led to some unexpected results.

When Non-Doing is the Best Thing To Do

Christopher Plowman, Insight Timer CEO

On a recent episode of the Technology for Mindfulness podcast, Robert Plotkin chatted with Plowman about his novel approach. Throughout their conversation, he emphasized what they’re not doing – and how the purposeful absence of promotion is their defining characteristic.

Although not stated explicitly, four principles emerged during their discussion. They offer clues as to why Insight Timer has been so successful as well as fascinating implications for how we want to engage with technology.

1 – Making Meditation Accessible to All

After Plowman and his brother bought Insight Timer in 2014, one of their first changes was to make everything free. “We wanted to make sure every person on the planet could access free daily meditations,” he says. 

And that will always remain the same, even as they add optional paid features. With more than 28,000 guided meditations in their library (so far), Plowman promises they will always be free. 

As it says on their website, “Magic happens when you give meditation away for free.”

You might think offering something for free would result in a lot of users, but low engagement. After all, most people equate free with a lower value.

But again, Insight Timer confounds the usual expectations. Over 10,000 people use Insight Timer to meditate every day, spending more time than their competitors – 21 minutes on average versus 4 minutes for similar apps.

Is it magic?

It’s the magic of non-doing.

Insight Timer
Insight Timer’s goal is ” Free meditation for every person on earth.”

2 – Not Commercializing Their Members’ Meditation Practice

Insight Timer doesn’t have pop-ups trying to upsell features. There are no notifications. They don’t send promotional emails with special offers. They don’t even advertise.

How does Insight Timer maintain such high engagement? Aren’t these methods necessary to ensure active users and renewed subscriptions?

Not necessarily, according to Plowman. He believes that “attraction long-term is more powerful than promotion. Stillness is the greatest magnet of all.” Insight Timer users have a subliminal understanding that they’re not being sold to. And this encourages them to meditate more. There’s no pressure.

“Attraction long-term is more powerful than promotion. Stillness is the greatest magnet of all.”

christopher plowman, insight timer ceo

Plowman points out that most meditation apps start out with pure intentions. However, as he says, “their financial engine depends on you feeding it with your meditation practice.” This creates a serious conundrum when the purpose of meditation is to detach and let go. 

Now, all this being said, with a free library of meditations and no marketing, he needed another way to create a profitable business. Plowman spent about 18 months speaking to thousands of users and meditation teachers, trying to find a way to build a strong, sustainable company and a reliable income for meditation teachers. All without commercializing meditation practice. They introduced three new ideas:

  1. A handful of popular advanced features and add-ons for a nominal fee
  2. A donation option
  3. New Insight Timer courses (Long-form, interactive courses to purchase individually or for a monthly fee)

Plowman’s goal was to provide an affordable price point for these options and courses, but keep the guided meditation library free. 

However, remarkably absent from the conversation about Insight Timer’s evolution was the introduction of any other new features or major changes. Why? He wants to keep the experience distraction-free.

Insight Timer
A recent social media post playfully talks about their non-approach to marketing.

3 – Creating a Simple User Experience

Plowman says he’s often pushing off his enthusiastic development team who want to add lots of new features. After all, the app is popular. Let’s make it even better!

But better to Plowman means simplifying. In other words, distilling the app down to what it’s really meant to do. “Our users are there to be still. Have quick access to the timer and meditations. Perhaps send a message to friends. That’s all.”

So, rather than adding “bells and whistles,” Insight Timer is focused on streamlining what’s already in place, creating a simple, clean, fast interface. 

And much to the chagrin of his colleagues, he’s not quite ready to change the name either. “Even if we’ve evolved, that’s what we are,” he says, “Call us by our rightful name.”

After all, meditation at its core is about peeling back what’s unnecessary. Discovering what you already are. Not being seduced by the next shiny thing.

It would be easy for Insight Timer to focus their attention on one of the shiniest parts of their app, their online communities. But despite their popularity, Plowman has no plans to make significant changes there either. 

It’s another example of non-doing.

Insight Timer plans to focus on simplifying, not adding new features.

4 – Being Good Custodians of the Insight Timer Community

Plowman says that when they bought Insight Timer, there were about 1,000 groups on the app. These user-generated communities covered wide-ranging topics like managing anxiety, the science of meditation, and artistic expression. 

Without any intervention, Insight Timer now has an unbelievable 6,500 groups. Plowman says they view themselves as “custodians” of these communities. They don’t need to moderate or control the flow of connections, just create a safe space for them to arise. By making the meditations free, it opened the door for these new relationships. 

As Plowman said, “I often hear people say, ‘I downloaded the app for the timer and stayed for the relationships.’” He also pointed out that users with more friends on Insight Timer tend to meditate more, which creates positive reinforcement.

In addition to the draw of these communities, Insight Timer lets users know who else is meditating at the same time – anywhere in the world. For those who have meditated with a group in person, there’s a certain motivating effect that’s hard to explain. Insight Timer seems to replicate that feeling with this feature. 

Could it have something to do with sensing the collective consciousness? Perhaps. You’ll have to try it out and see what you think!

Insight Timer
Insight Timer users can see everyone who’s meditating with them around the world.

Download Insight Timer

Meditators

If you’re seeking a gentle introduction to meditation and a welcoming, open community, Insight Timer is free (and always will be). With over 28,000 titles easily searchable, you’re certain to find a teacher that resonates with you. Don’t forget to check out the free guided meditations from Technology for Mindfulness founder, Robert Plotkin. He also has a new course “Develop Healthy Digital Habits.”

Download Insight Timer on Google Play or The App Store.

Meditation Teachers

If you’re a meditation teacher, there are ten million meditators waiting to hear what you have to say. With Insight Timer there is no contract and no catch. It’s completely free to be involved and you remain in full control of anything you upload.

You can learn more by checking out the Insight Timer for Publishers page.

The Best Free Mindfulness Meditation Apps in 2019

Short on spending money, but want to find the perfect meditation app?

No problem!

We’ve gathered the best free mindfulness meditation apps in 2019 based on features and user reviews. While some of these apps are completely free, we’ve also included a few that have optional upgrades.

However, you can still get a lot of value out of their free versions.

Choosing a free app to start is a good idea, especially if you’re new to meditation. Since there’s so much variation in meditation apps, try several and see which one feels right. Then you can get a better idea of what works for you. You might decide the free options are just what you need. Or, you can invest in an upgrade or subscription with confidence.

Let’s take a look at the best free mindfulness meditation apps, so you can get started!

free mindfulness meditation apps

SmilingMind

Smiling Mind is an Australian nonprofit web and app-based meditation program developed by psychologists and educators to help bring mindfulness into your life.

Audience

They offer programs for all ages, divided into these categories: 3-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, 16-18, and adults. The app also includes structured programs for educators looking to bring mindfulness into their classrooms and guidance for parents helping their children incorporate mindfulness into their day.

Topics

After you create an account, SmilingMind asks a few questions to recommend programs that would match your needs. Their programs are designed to assist people in dealing with the pressure, stress, and challenges of daily life, specifically at work, playing sports, and in the classroom. Examples include Mindfulness 101, Digital Detox, Sleep, Mindfully Back to School, and On the Field.

Features

You can set reminders, save your favorites, track your progress, download for offline use, and create sub-accounts for your family members.

Cost

100% Free, except for the structured workplace program

Where to Find

Google Play or The App Store

SmilingMind
free mindfulness meditation apps

Insight Timer

Insight Timer offers the largest free library of guided meditations and music tracks with over 25,000 titles from thousands of teachers, plus the world’s most loved meditation timer.

Audience

With so many titles, Insight Timer really works for everyone – kids, teens, or adults. They also offer meditations in several languages, including Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, and Russian.

Topics

Since Insight Timer has such a variety of resources, they have a robust search engine. They’ve also broken them into helpful categories. You can search by:

  • Topic (i.e. sleep or confidence)
  • Benefit (i.e. performance or healing)
  • Audience (i.e. kids, women)
  • Practices (i.e. visualization, concentration)
  • Origins (i.e. scientific, Buddhism)

Features

In addition to the meditation library, Insight Timer has a meditation timer that you can use to gently remind you that your practice is concluding. There are also detailed charts to track your meditation progress as well as hundreds of user groups to answer your questions and keep you motivated. You can even favorite specific titles and follow specific teachers, so you don’t miss their new releases.

Cost

The vast majority of their meditations are free. However, they also offer a premium subscription for $5.99 per month. This includes hundreds of 10 and 30-day courses, offline listening, night mode, and an advanced audio player. You can also do a seven-day free trial to test it out.

Where to Find

Google Play or The App Store

Insight Timer
free mindfulness meditation apps

Stop, Breathe & Think

Stop, Breathe & Think is a free mindfulness meditation app that helps you check in with how you’re feeling and offers short activities tuned to your emotions.

Audience

Stop, Breathe & Think defines themselves as “the emotional wellness platform for the “under 25” generation.” Their mission is to help kids, teens and young adults build the emotional strength to tackle life’s ups and downs.

Topics

The free version of Stop, Breathe & Think provides over 40 recordings and videos on the foundations of meditation practice. They’re short but designed to quickly help you get centered in common life situations. You could choose to learn about core breathing or counting breaths. Or focus on topics like forgiving yourself, falling asleep, dealing with anxiety, or welcoming the day.

Features

When you open the app, it asks you to “check in with yourself” by taking a deep breath, then answering a few simple questions with helpful prompts. The app will then recommend particular sessions. It also offers a timer, progress statistics, and it can integrate with your Google Fit app tracker.

Cost

The 40+ topics, timer, progress tracker, and Google Fit app integration are all free. If you’d like to access 100+ activities (more added monthly), customize the tracker, and enjoy longer versions, you can purchase a subscription for $9.99 per month (or $5.00 if you choose the annual plan).

Where to Find

Google Play or The App Store

Stop, Breathe & Think
free mindfulness meditation apps

Breathe2Relax

Designed by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, Breathe2Relax provides detailed information on the effects of stress on the body and practice exercises for diaphragmatic breathing.

Audience

Breathe2Relax was designed for adults. Teenagers could also use the app, but some might require initial guidance.

Topics

While this app doesn’t have the breadth of topics like other meditation apps, it’s high user rating and valuable stress management techniques make it worthy of a spot on the list. This app specifically focuses on diaphragmatic breathing, which has been shown to help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management.

Features

You can set up preferences such as the length of the session, breath rate, background scenes, and music. Breathe2Relax also asks you to rate your stress before and after each practice session, graphing these responses to track progress.

Cost

100% free

Where to Find

Google Play or The App Store

Breathe2Relax
free mindfulness meditation apps

Let’s Meditate

Let’s Meditate is a curated list of guided meditation tracks – simply click and play with an uncluttered interface. You can take a quick break with meditations as short as five minutes or recharge yourself with tracks lasting over 40 minutes.

Audience

Let’s Meditate doesn’t have specific tracks for children or teens. However, older teens could easily benefit from some of the topics.

Topics

Let’s Meditate has over 50 tracks that cover the full range of modern concerns. Choose from meditations like No More Overthinking, Zen Breath Before Sleep, Attract Abundance, and Gratitude.

Features

While Let’s Meditate is light on features, that’s kind of the point. They want to keep you focused. However, it does offer the option of reminding you to meditate each day. And you can download them to use when you’re offline.

Cost

100% free, but donations appreciated

Where to Find

Google Play

Let's Meditate

Try Out the Best Free Mindfulness Meditation Apps

While there are many more excellent mindfulness meditation apps in the marketplace today, sometimes it’s tough to add another app subscription to a limited budget.

These five apps offer a broad range of meditation options at no cost. They’re a great way to build mindfulness in your daily life or enhance your current practice.

Did we miss any great free mindfulness meditation apps on our list? Let us know in the comments!

4 Mindfulness Exercises to Manage Tech Use and Find Balance

Mindfulness exercises can help you manage the effects of daily tech use on your mental well-being and allow you to find balance in daily life, easing stress, developing self-compassion, and providing perspective. Read on to learn 4 exercises to help you do just that. 

It was just yesterday that the first iPhone hit the market, and with it, renewed excitement for what the future could hold.

But more than a decade later, we’ve begun to realize that regular tech use– as incredible a quality of life improvement it has been in many ways– has potential negatives as well. 

The adoption of smartphones across all aspects of daily life has led to: 

And that’s not to mention the effects of social media on perpetuating unrealistic standards and an obsession with perfectionism among teens and adults. 

Mindfulness brings balance to the craziness of daily life

Daily life is stressful, hectic, and complicated. But mindfulness has the ability to bring balance to that craziness. 

Even a few minutes of practice, done effectively, can make a real difference in not only your mental well-being but your resilience toward future stress. 

That’s where these simple mindfulness exercises come in. 

4 Mindfulness Exercises to Manage Tech Use and Find Balance

Below are 4 mindfulness exercises that, taken together, can form the basis for an effective practice to help you manage the effects of technology and find balance in daily life.

However, each stands on its own as an effective practice as well, so experiment to find which provide the most benefit to you. 

TFM - Mindfulness Exercises

1. Managing the impulse

The first of our 4 mindfulness exercises is about helping you learn more about how your regular tech use is impacting your behavior.

When a chime sounds off on our phone, many of us pull out our phones without even thinking about it. The impulse has become so automatic that we never take the time to question what we’re doing.

If you have 2-3 notifications a day, that’s no big deal. However, when that snowballs– as it often does– to 20-30 (or more) notifications each day, it becomes a real problem. 

At that rate, you’re being interrupted from whatever you’re doing several times an hour all day long, every day. That includes when you’re working on an important project at work that requires your full concentration to when you’re blocking out time with your family. 

How to practice managing the impulse

To practice managing the impulse, the trick is to follow these steps whenever you:

  • Notice yourself reach for your phone when it pings
  • Go to click on a notification for an app (from Facebook, etc.) when you’re already in the middle of something else on your phone 
  • Or when a notification pings on your desktop while you’re working

Follow these steps:

1. Pause 

It might sound self-explanatory to pause when you notice one of these impulses arise, but it’s easily the most important part of the practice and therefore needs to be emphasized.

We’ll talk about acknowledging what’s going on and identifying patterns in a moment, but beyond that what you’re really trying to do is break the pattern of behavior the is supporting the impulse.

Each time you consciously pause when you notice the urge to check your phone when it pings, or a similar situation, you take a step toward reworking that unconscious habit.

2. Acknowledge

Next, once you’ve paused, take a moment to acknowledge the thoughts going through your mind: 

“Did Jen reply to me?”

“What’s everyone up to?”

“What am I missing?”

Or, it could simply be an emotion:

“Anxiety”

“Anticipation”

“Stress”

Whatever you notice, acknowledging those thoughts and feelings has a kind of power to it. It’s like bringing a problem to the surface.

Admitting there’s a problem is often half (or more of) the battle, so acknowledging that you feel anxious every time your phone pings immediately starts shifting the power back into your hands so you can begin to interact with your tech in a more mindful way. 

3. Note down

This last step isn’t required, or at least can be done mentally, but it’s important to start keeping tabs on the different feelings you’re noticing. 

You don’t just want to notice the emotions that arise when you’re interacting with these tech-related impulses, you want to identify patterns and get to the root of the problem, and you can only do that by seeing the bigger picture. 

TFM - Mindfulness Exercises

2. Mindfulness meditation

The most basic of mindfulness exercises, think of sitting in meditation as also the most concentrated form of mindfulness practice.

Diving deep into meditation is important– and different from simply being mindful of what you’re doing as you go about your day– because it allows you to uncover and explore your subconscious mind. 

The subconscious is the place where your inner dialogue resides, and the more you can enter deep meditation the more you’ll help whatever internal challenges and limiting beliefs you might have risen to the surface. 

We often feel and think things in our normal state that go completely unnoticed by our conscious mind. 

For example, the icky disappointment, frustration, or envy you might feel after scrolling through your Instagram feed and only seeing a bunch of people who seem to have comparatively “better” lives, bodies, or stuff than you. 

Sitting in meditation regularly helps these feelings and thoughts rise to the surface. And awareness is the first, most important, and often only step necessary for dealing with them. 

How to practice mindfulness meditation:

To practice mindfulness meditation, find somewhere relatively quiet and private and then follow these steps:

1. Sit

This is a simple step, but it’s important to emphasize that no particular sitting form is necessary. You could even sit in a chair if that’s more comfortable for you (back problems, etc.). 

Just sit, straighten your back, then allow yourself to relax a bit and you should rest in a position where your posture is good without being tight or rigid. 

2. Turn your attention to your breathing

Now that you’re relaxed, turn your attention to your breathing. 

Don’t attempt to control your breathing, even if it’s short or shallow. Simply noticing your breathing will automatically calm your body, mind, and as a result, lengthen and deepen your breaths as a result. 

Concentrate from the beginning to the end of each in-breath and out-breath. Focusing on the movement of the breath through your nostrils or the rhythmic movement of the abdomen or chest will help you stay focused. 

3. Count your breath

At the end of each out-breath and in-breath, count 1. Continue this count up to 10.

In most cases, you’ll lose focus and fall off your count somewhere early, often between 3-5, gradually and consistently being able to reach higher numbers as you practice more. 

Don’t worry, losing focus constantly is perfectly normal in the beginning– even if it seems like you’re losing your concentration every 10-20 seconds. 

4. Notice + Refocus your attention

So, you’re losing your attention constantly. Totally normal and nothing to worry about. 

In fact, in the beginning, it’s a good thing to notice this. If you’re noticing it, it means your awareness is improving.

But what do you do about it?

Notice the distraction– even if you simply noticed yourself become distracted in general but can’t sense what it was that actually distracted you.

Start by labeling it “distraction”. You’ll gradually move to “thought”, “feeling”, or “sensation” as your awareness improves. And, finally, specific thought: “I’m anxious about the future” or specific emotion: “anger”. 

Once you’ve acknowledged what it was that distracted you, refocus your attention on your breathing and continue your count. 

TFM - Mindfulness Exercises

3. Pausing to reflect

Earlier, we talked about managing your tech-related impulses. 

In this exercise, we’ll move from a proactive exercise to a reflective one you’d do after ending a particular session (especially a session of distraction) with that same technology. 

Once you’re done scrolling through Instagram, how do you feel about yourself? What kind of thoughts revolve within your mind? How does your mood change after spending half-an-hour on Facebook? 

These are the kinds of questions you’ll want to ask as you go to put down your device or refocus after becoming distracted.

How to practice pausing to reflect

To practicing pausing to reflect, follow these steps:

1. Pause 

Pausing isn’t the important habit-building step that it is in the ‘managing the impulse’ exercise from earlier, but it still serves the same basic purpose otherwise: 

instead of rolling into the “next thing” unconsciously (getting back to your work, bringing your attention back to your loved ones, etc.), stop to become aware of the thoughts and feelings that arose in connection with the experience. 

This includes:

  • Jumping on your favorite smartphone game
  • Scrolling through Instagram
  • Checking your notifications on Twitter
  • Swiping through stories on Snapchat
  • Getting sucked into Yahoo!’s endless front page
  • Watching YouTube videos
  • Or any number of countless tech-related sessions that aren’t entirely productive (and, even when they could be misconstrued as such, noticing that checking your email at 7PM when you’re supposed to be spending time with your kids is ill-timed) 

No matter what the experience was, when you catch yourself, take a moment to pause and fight back against your unconscious conditioning. 

2. Ask: “How did that make me feel?”

Next, once you’ve put your device down, switched tabs, etc., before moving on, reflect on how that experience with your device made you feel.

Ask: “How did that make me feel?”

Take a moment to turn inward and notice how your body feels. The body often mirrors the thoughts and emotions we have going on within us without us noticing it. But by paying attention for a few moments you can pick up small insights.

For example, you might notice you feel anxious or generally ill-tempered after scrolling through Instagram. Maybe your experience with it is conditioning you to compare your life to one of the countless influencers who appear to have betters lives in every way than you (which, by the way, is almost always a fake representation).

There are all kinds of insights you might notice as a result of asking this question. 

3. Experiment

The mindfulness part of the reflecting exercise is simple and easy, but there’s an extra mindfulness-building step that’s essential to making this exercise effective. That extra step is experimentation.

Once you’ve begun practicing pausing to reflect, you may notice certain patterns of thought or feeling when you interact with your chosen piece of tech, including sites, apps, etc. 

Continuing with our example, if you notice these negative feelings of anxiety and unhappiness spike every time you use Instagram, see what stepping away from it for the next 2 weeks does for your mental well-being.

You don’t have to stop using it altogether, but consider only checking it once a day at the end of the day on your desktop and delete the app from your smartphone, like vlogger and filmmaker Casey Neistat did:

Whatever you decide is the right action to take, be smart– and brave– and consider what is best for your life and mental health and how your choice could affect your loved ones. 

TFM - Mindfulness Exercises

4. Pomodoro break 

The Pomodoro method, or the Pomodoro technique, was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. 

The technique uses a timer to break down an activity into pieces, from 25-55 minutes in length, which is then separated by regular 5-minute breaks.

The basic idea is this (and it’s been supported in several studies since): By taking regular breaks between any activity, particularly work, you’re more productive than if you were to work straight through without stopping.

That might sound weirdly counterintuitive, but it’s not. The brain works like a muscle, and muscles need regular breaks between reps when you’re working out, otherwise, you’ll tire yourself out faster. 

Many of us believe that we can’t afford– or aren’t worth– to stop because we have to work harder to hit our goal. The result is that we work so hard we burn ourselves out and end up less productive than we could have been. Bummer.

You know what else you can use these regular breaks for? Mindfulness. By taking a minute to do some mindful breathing every 1-hour or so of work (or any activity), you can center yourself and start developing more self-awareness, which is critical for improving your mental well-being– and your life as a whole. 

How to have a Pomodoro break

This exercise doesn’t have unique instructions, they’re pretty much identical to sitting in meditation:

  1. Turn your attention to your breathing
  2. Follow your breath (I suggest just following your breath since the practice will only take you a minute or so)
  3. Notice

However, where this exercise differs is in time. A Pomodoro break using the mindfulness bell extension, or whatever else you prefer, should only last about a minute. 

It’s a quick “check-in” with yourself during your day, however many times during the day you choose to check-in. 

The Bell of Mindfulness Chrome extension is nice because you can set a timer to go off every hour, or whenever you prefer, and a traditional Buddhist bell will sound to summon you to mindfulness for about a minute, without you having to remember to take these regular breaks:

TFM - Mindfulness Exercises - MINDFULNESS BELL APP

This exercise is unique because it creates little moments of consciousness in what is usually one big blur of a day where work whizzes by, then you head home, pick up dinner, spent time at home, and end your day all in what often feels like the blink of an eye.

It conditions mindfulness throughout your day, which is a skill that takes a lot of work to develop in daily life (at least spontaneously) and helps you check in with how you’re feeling, giving you all kinds of insights that help you create a greater sense of internal balance. 

Find balance with mindfulness exercises

Daily life is more complex than ever with the introduction of recent technology. 

This has led to some incredible quality of life improvements, among other things, but it’s also led to some negative side effects. 

However, mindfulness can help you find the balance necessary to move forward with a clear mind, calm heart, and happier you. 

The practices are simple, but it takes work– just as with anything else– to develop a regular mindfulness practice. 

Use these mindfulness exercises to help you find balance and invest in yourself to make that practice a reality. 

New Course Available on Insight timer: Develop Healthy Digital Habits (9/19)

Today, we’ve released a brand new course in conjunction with our friends and popular meditation app Insight Timer– Develop Healthy Digital Habits (yes, it’s available now!):

Develop Healthy Digital Habits - Insight Timer course

The course, which TFM founder Robert Plotkin personally walks you through, shows you how to use mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices to use technology more intentionally, promoting healthy digital habits and the healthy digital habits of those around you, whether it’s your kids at home or your team in the office.

Through the course, you’ll learn:

  • How to take control over device interruptions
  • Tips for changing your environment that can facilitate more mindfulness
  • Techniques for overcoming smartphone obsession
  • How to use reminders to promote mindfulness and regular breaks
  • Ways to reduce technological clutter
  • Limiting screen time
  • And more

The course is available now with a free trial of Insight Timer, the world’s most used meditation app, so head over to the official Develop Healthy Digital Habits course page to get more information and enroll in the course.

How Technology Can Ease 5 Common Causes of Stress

Whether you’re juggling your aging parents’ health, a micromanaging boss, or your kids’ busy schedules, much of your everyday stress arises from feeling disorganized or out of control.

But unfortunately, hiring a personal assistant isn’t likely for most of us.

Instead, let’s take a look at the five most common causes of stress and suggest some specific tools and apps that can help you stay on top of all your obligations and create healthy boundaries. Continue reading How Technology Can Ease 5 Common Causes of Stress

How to Help Teens Build Their Self-Worth

Avoiding social comparisons that harm our sense of self-worth has become more difficult than ever with the growing culture of social media. Learn how to help your teens build their self-worth with key insights based on the latest scientific research. 

“I’ll never be able to do that.”

“I’m not pretty like them.”

“I’m not good enough.” 

Being a teen has always been challenging. 

There’s school work, drastic physical and chemical changes, social pressure, and the urge to compare ourselves to others, be it through our grades, intelligence, physical attributes, or other. 

But according to new insights, it’s growing even more challenging than ever before. 

The rise of social media and the effects on teen self-image

Over the past 25 years, rates of anxiety and depression have increased by a startling 70%.

And those rates continue to climb, with social media shouldering much of that blame in recent years.

According to recent research, college students across the U.S., U.K., and Canada are becoming more consumed with perfectionism, with social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat largely contributing to the perpetuation of unrealistic standards that cause it.

This, in addition to the atypical challenges of simply being a teen in grade school, means teens are under more pressure than ever. 

Fortunately, there has also been a number of powerful insights from similar research, offering knowledge into how you can help your teen manage those challenges and build their sense of self-worth in the process. 

Here are some ways to help your teens build their self-worth. 

1. Help them obtain mastery curve experiences

Social scrutiny is a big part of teen life, and knowing how to navigate those feelings of insecurity and “not-good-enough” self-talk is crucial. 

In an interview with Greater Good, neuroscientist Ron Dahl says that while our self-worth is shaped partly by what people tell us, it’s shaped more by our experiences. Specifically, our experience of feeling competent (or not). 

As parents, we often make the mistake of parenting exclusively through words. In other words, we like to talk at them a lot and expect them to take action on what we say.

But as in all things in life, kids learn more from the actual example we set and from their own personal experiences. 

You might tell your child that they’re smart, but if they fail their next math test they’ll place much more weight on that experience rather than your words.

To combat this, Dahl suggests encouraging mastery curve experiences. A mastery curve is where your child works at something, struggles (and sometimes might even fail), but gets better and better over time. 

How to Help Teens Build Their Self-Worth

A mastery curve creates one of the most solid supports for adolescents,” says Dahl. “And it’s rewarding, too. It’s part of the reason why kids who won’t spend three hours a day doing anything else will spend 14 hours a day playing video games.”

As a parent, it’s your job to encourage them when they make positive strides as those are key moments when your reinforcement can do wonders (as opposed to being discouraging and telling them what they did wrong or how they could do better). 

2. Encourage their unique talents (and show them the truth about skill development and the brain)

Everyone has natural talents and strengths, though what those things are might not be immediately clear to your child. 

In a world which encourages social comparison more than ever before, it’s easy for teens to look around themselves and think, “I’m not as smart as them,” “I’m not as good of an athlete,” or, “I’m just not that talented.”

But your teen has unique strengths and talents, they just need to find them. And doing so can help show them that they’re not lacking, just different. Maybe they’re not a great athlete or they’re socially awkward, but they could be incredibly resourceful, brave, or kind, all highly valuable attributes. 

Adolescent researcher Susan Harter explains in her bookHow to Help Teens Build Their Self-Worth, The Construction of the Self, that the concept we have of ourselves, which makes up our sense of self-worth, really breaks down to 8 major areas, with a 9th global self-concept that those areas form into:

  1. Scholastic competence
  2. Social competence
  3. Athletic competence
  4. Physical competence
  5. Job competence
  6. Romantic appeal
  7. Behavioral conduct
  8. Close friendship

In addition to this, each area has some 4-5 different sub-skills. For instance, one teen might consider themselves great at making friends but bad at getting their peers to accept them, each being one of five different sub-skills under social competence:

As a parent, you need to encourage exploration early and get them involved in different kinds of activities so they can find not only what they enjoy doing (which is an important factor in developing skill, which we’ll talk about later) but what they’re naturally skilled at. This is also important so that you might be able to identify those areas they’re less confident in and help them to build confidence in those areas.

Alternative: Use the VIA Character Survey

Alternatively, something like the VIA character survey is a great way of finding out more about your child’s strengths, which tests for 24 character attributes to help identify those natural strengths. 

How to Help Teens Build Their Self-Worth

Pay attention not only to basic activities such as drawing, mathematics, and writing but also to skills such as focus, creativity, and resourcefulness, all of which could be special valuable strengths and skills that your child might have. 

The truth about talent and skill development

While finding your child’s natural strengths and talents is important, it’s also important not to convince them it’s all about what they’re naturally good at. 

It’s a wide-spread misconception, and an easy one to fall into, that most things are based solely on talent. If you don’t “have it”, you just don’t.

You’re good at math or you’re not good at math. You’re an athlete or you’re not. Or you’re smart or you’re not. 

There’s only one problem with this: it’s not true. 

Years of scientific research in various fields– especially neuroscience– has proven that the brain can be developed like a muscle

The principles of neuroplasticity have shown that what we once believed were static abilities aren’t static at all but can be developed through practice. You can, quite literally, become more intelligent through practice.

Going beyond, “I’m just not smart enough”

For example, the old idea that some are good at math and others not has been thoroughly debunked. Research into neuroplasticity has shown that everyone is capable of learning math at a high level through adequate work: 

Think about what your own school experience was like, especially if you had a hard time in math or another subject. Everyone used to think that you were either good at math or not. 

That idea sticks with kids and makes them think that they’re inadequate, as if they’re not as good as other kids; like they’re lacking something. 

Chances are, your child may be struggling with something simply because they haven’t had enough practice. By explaining to your teen how the brain works and giving them the tools to improve, you can remove those blocks and show them that they’re not lacking but that some things simply take practice– and everything can be learned. 

3. Find age-relevant social support

You play a big role in your child’s support structure. However, it’s not always enough or ideal. 

High school is tough, and other kids aren’t always the nicest. Bullying is as big a problem as ever and cyber-bullying is unfortunately on the rise. 

You can be their rock at home, but if they don’t have anyone they can communicate with or relate to at school, they’re going to feel alone and unsupported. 

When interviewed by Empowering Parents, Josh Shipp, “The Teen Whisperer”, says that an important part of what helped him as a teen was finding somewhere he belonged outside the classroom where he could not only communicate with but relate to other kids. 

“I think a turning point was when I actively began to find places where I could belong at school,” says Shipp. “Eventually, I found a few activities that I felt I could be good at, where I could relate to the other kids. That gave me an incredible sense of self–esteem. School became not just a place for academics and books, but it was also a place where I could belong in something beyond the classroom.”

Josh says it’s difficult for other kids to make friends in class because it isn’t an environment that allows for free socializing. Teachers need their classrooms to be quiet and orderly, so often the only conversing that happens is by kids who already know one another. 

“It’s in extracurricular activities where your child can get to know other kids,” he continued. “Something parents can do is to encourage their kids to try out a bunch of new things. When teens find something they like to do, it helps them begin to feel like they have a group or a community at school—which then leads to being picked on less.”

Don’t fight human conditioning– use it to help build a sense of belonging and confidence

We’re hard-wired from thousands of years of conditioning to want to belong. During early human history, to be separated from the tribe literally meant death. As a result, we’ve developed strong emotional and psychological triggers to feeling isolated from the group. 

Instead of fighting this impulse, by helping your teens find others whom they relate to– a similar interest such as sports, art, the outdoors, science, literature or film, or an aspect of pop culture being good places to start– you help broaden their support structure.

It also gives them a strong reference point for bullying as well. Shipp says, “Think of it this way: even if three or four kids at school like your child and have his back, when he’s teased he’ll be able to say, “Who cares? Those other kids are jerks anyway.” 

4. Avoid social comparisons and teach them the power of loving themselves

It’s harder than ever to avoid the social comparison trap, with social platforms like Instagram encouraging teens to construct a “fake” life to look better in front of their peers. 

When they scroll through social, they often see kids their age who seem to have better things than them– who are smarter, prettier, more fun, a desirable boyfriend or girlfriend, lots of friends, a car or money, the list goes on, as seen in this video from the RSPH:

Social encourages social comparison and makes its perceived importance greater than ever– and can make your teen feel inadequate as a result. But it’s these kinds of comparisons that are poison to self-worth and confidence.

In a survey of over 1,500 teens, the RSPH found that Instagram, followed by Snapchat, are rated the worst by teens for mental health. RSPH CEO Shirley Cramer said, “It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

Teach your teens to love themselves for who they are

As people, we’re naturally inclined to worry about what others think of us. It’s a natural defense mechanism in line with what we talked about earlier. 

To not be accepted, to be removed from the tribe, literally meant death in early human history when you depended upon the group to survive. As a result, we have a strong psychological need to feel accepted by our peers. 

Teach your child– and show them through your own example– the importance of loving who they are. Teach them that what they’re feeling is something everyone feels. We all secretly feel inadequate in our own way at some point in our life, but few of us choose to reveal it (even those kids they think are perfect).

But they have unique talents, skills, traits, and beauty which is all their own. Work to reduce media and other influences that encourage those kinds of social comparisons and show them examples of people appreciating themselves who look different and do different things. 

The more you can do this, the more their mind will be open to the truth: that their perception of the world and the reality that exists within each person’s mind are quite different things– and that they’re unique and worthy without having to change anything about themselves.

The Troubling Effects of Parents’ Screen Use on Children – And What To Do About It

Have you ever unconsciously ignored your child’s demands for attention because you were engrossed by something on your phone?

Or felt like you weren’t really present because you were reacting to multiple interruptions from emails or texts?

This is now commonly referred to as “technoference” by social scientists, and its negative effects are becoming more apparent with each new study.

But before you beat yourself up, we’re not here to judge.

Instead, we want to open up a new conversation about why managing parents’ screen time is just as important as managing kids’ screen time. And then help you break the smartphone addiction.

Not only because it sets a good example, but because appropriate technology use by parents can keep kids safer, improve their cognitive development, build a stronger bond, and reduce misbehavior.

Let’s begin by explaining some of the dangers and then dive into exactly what you can do as a parent. Continue reading The Troubling Effects of Parents’ Screen Use on Children – And What To Do About It

3 Lessons from Waylon Lewis on the Convergence of Politics, Spirituality, and Technology

Are spirituality and politics really so different?

Is sitting in meditation and standing up to take responsibility for the condition of the world part of the same practice? Can they– or should they– be separate?

And is mindfulness practice just about becoming more aware of your own thoughts and actions in daily life, or something much more? 

For roughly 17 years, Elephant Journal founder Waylon Lewis has been an advocate for social responsibility and mindful living. 

https://youtu.be/uwhNa8uzQn0

Nowadays, when you hear the word mindfulness, it’s almost strictly in the context of mindfulness meditation. Even the word ‘mindful’ is only used in context to the sensory awareness you develop through that practice (or just the effort to become more aware outside of that practice).

But in Buddhist tradition (to which Lewis hails as, in his own words, a “1st generation American Buddhist Dharma Brat”), mindfulness has long been about much more than just the practice of mindful breathing that’s become so popular in the West over the last decade. 

According to Waylon’s bio, his aim is to “bring the good news re: ‘the mindful life’ beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care.” And that mindful life– something the world needs much more of now than ever– is all about social responsibility, political participation, and compassion. 

3 Lessons from Waylon Lewis on the Convergence of Politics, Spirituality, and Technology

Recently featured on the TFM podcast, episode 20, Lewis talked with TFM founder Robert Plotkin about everything from social responsibility to the role that mindfulness practice plays in connection with politics and global issues, and how we can use technology for the greater good without letting it control us. 

These are 3 lessons from entrepreneur and Elephant Journal founder Waylon Lewis:

1. Mindfulness is about more than just meditation

For nearly two decades, Elephant Magazine, now Elephant Journal, has been a source for opinions and information on mindful living. 

Elephant has been voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, but Lewis says the publication is about much more than just that. 

From love and relationships to spirituality, health and wellness, Yoga, green, and politics, Elephant covers the gamut on topics which center around one single idea: mindful living.

How does all this connect to mindfulness practice? Social responsibility is a form of mindfulness because it’s about stretching beyond yourself to the world at large, developing compassion for others, and realizing that you have a role to play in how all this turns out.

In a world which is more connected than ever as a result of the Internet and, by extension, social media, it’s become more important than ever to not sit idly by and allow the events of the world unfold without at least making an effort to stay informed. 

Mindfulness practice isn’t just about your own stress and suffering but about better understanding how your actions affect the world around you. 

When you see mindfulness practice in this way, you become aware of how interdependent everything is and the role you have to play in trying to make things better. 

2. There is no separation between spirituality and politics

“If spirituality is just for naval gazing I don’t want any part of it.”

Elephant Journal is known for its unique stance on politics: they don’t shy away from it. 

Lewis says you can’t live mindfully and stay out of politics. It just doesn’t make sense.

“We’re actually about life, we’re about the world,” he says of Elephant’s stance on covering politics. “You can’t stay out of politics. Politics affect food, politics affect infrastructure, politics affect education, politics affect war, or peace, or equality. And we’re about all of these things.” 

It’s a common– and damaging– misconception that meditation is about “blissing out” or “emptying your mind”. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. When you sit down to meditate, you confront the issues you’re facing: your stress, your anxiety, your depression, heartbreak, sorrow, despair, jealousy, and anger. 

To sit and meditate is to dedicate yourself to figuring things out on the inside so that you can stand up and go about life more effectively on the outside. Waylon says he didn’t understand this at first when he was a kid.

“I grew up in the Buddhist community and when I was a teenager. I was busy playing video games or playing basketball or, you know, chasing after girls (pretty ineffectually). And I would walk into the meditation room and I’d see a hundred people meditating on a beautiful Vermont afternoon. And in my mind I’d be like, ‘what are you guys hiding from?’ Get out there and live; Carpe Diem.”

He continued: “What I learned later is that people actually are dealing with reality. Meditation is important. They’re sorting themselves out. You call meditation practice meditation practice for a reason. It’s practice for life. And if you’re not going to then get out there and be of service to the greater good than it’s just selfish, right?”

Lewis says that if spirituality is selfish, that’s the opposite of true spirituality. True spirituality is one in which you turn inward to sort yourself out so that you might turn outward and help others. 

In this way, there is no separation between spirituality and politics. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take a hard-line stance on a political issue, but it does mean that spiritual practice should naturally make you become politically active, at least in terms of informing yourself and voting when you have the opportunity. 

3. Discussing mindfulness online is inherently awkward– but important 

Waylon talked with Robert about the apparent contradiction in being an online publication about mindfulness and mindful living.

Lewis says, “There’s an inherent tension in being about mindfulness, living a mindful life, encouraging people to get outside and find their breath and all that kind of stuff and being online where 70% of our readers are reading on their phone while they’re on the toilet or walking and they really should be just, you know, looking at the trees and enjoying their life.” 

Elephant has at times been pegged as hypocritical for talking about mindful living online. But Lewis argues that’s exactly where discussions on mindfulness should be taking place.

“Well, you don’t want to talk about mindfulness to a bunch of monks on top of the Himalayas, right?” says Lewis. “You want to talk about mindfulness to crazy, speedy business people and college kids and parents. These are the people who need mindfulness and appreciate it the most.”

Mindfulness wasn’t just discovered. It’s been in the West for decades and, while recent scientific research sure has helped popularize it, that’s not the only reason it’s become a household term over the past few years. 

Now, more than ever we– as parents, students, and professionals– need to take steps to create balance by becoming more aware of our daily habits and how those habits impact our life. 

Technology and the pressures of modern life– and current events– are constantly pulling us this way and that and threaten to negatively impact our well-being. 

You need to be vigilant in not only balancing your technology use but changing how you use technology so that it becomes a tool that helps you live better.

Learn more about Waylon Lewis and Elephant Journal

Waylon Lewis is the founder of elephantjournal.com & host of the Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis

He’s been voted Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”. 

Check out his recent appearance on the TFM podcast (Episode 20).

His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available here.

Exploring Meditation Devices– Is the Muse Headband Right for You?

Every day, it seems there’s a new study touting the benefits of meditation. Experts say it can enhance your focus, reduce anxiety, increase self-awareness, and give you a sense of calm. The list goes on.

So, why isn’t everyone making time for this simple, free practice that can have such a positive impact on your life?

Well, it’s hard.

As anyone who’s tried to meditate knows, sitting quietly with only your thoughts is more difficult than it sounds. In our go-go-go culture of constant entertainment, pausing feels downright uncomfortable. It’s a step beyond boredom, as your mind searches wildly for the comfort of distraction from unpleasant thoughts.

Not only that, meditation often takes time to be noticeable in your daily life. For beginners, it’s tough to persist in your practice when you don’t see results.

Of course, there’s no shortage of books, classes, workshops, retreats, and meditation apps to help you get through these obstacles. And for many practitioners, they provide enough guidance and support to build a regular practice. 

But sometimes, it’s not enough. After all, no teacher can read your mind. 

Fortunately, meditation devices like the Muse headband are the closest thing to it. They provide biofeedback from your mind and body to help you stay on track. This speeds up the learning curve, helping meditators have a sense of purpose and progress, which translates into continued practice.

What is Muse?

The original Muse headband is a portable EEG (or electroencephalogram) that provides real-time feedback on your brain activity to help you improve your meditation practice. Muse 2 takes this one step further, adding sensors for your heart, body, and breath:

  • PPG + Pulse Oximetry to measure heart rate
  • Accelerometer to measure body movement
  • PPG + Gyroscope to measure breathing

Amazingly, these are all combined into a slim headband that you connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth.

Muse, meditation devices
Muse shrinks down technology for the brain, breath, heart, and body into a simple headband with sensors that communicate with your Muse app via Bluetooth.

How does the Muse headband work?

Without getting too scientific, Muse 2 interprets the data from these multiple sensors and provides subtle prompts that guide you back to stillness. There are four distinct programs.

  • Mind Meditation – As your mind wanders, the soundscape goes from calm to stormy weather. 
  • Heart Meditation – You’ll hear your heartbeat played back in real-time as the sound of a rhythmic drum. 
  • Breath Meditation – When you pace your breath with the guiding tones, the sounds will harmonize.
  • Body Meditation – As your movement shifts, you’ll be gently nudged back to stillness with the sound of wind chimes.

For example, let’s say you select the mind meditation and your thoughts begin to drift. You’ll hear the winds pick up, signaling you to come back to the moment. As your mind calms, you’ll hear the sound of birds gently tweeting.

It provides both an immediate trigger and reward. 

Within the mind meditation, you can select your favorite immersive soundscape. Choose from rain forest, beach, city park, desert, or ambient.

How does Muse encourage continued practice?

After your meditation, you can see how you did through a series of graphs and charts in the Muse meditation app. To keep you motivated, Muse also gives you points, goals, challenges, and bonuses, along with helpful tips on how to improve future scores.

And, at the end of every Muse session, you can record how you feel and reflect on what came up for you during your meditation. If you don’t have time, you can simply choose an emoji to capture your mood. 

Muse, meditation devices
Adding an element of gaming and incentive to your meditation practice can help you stay motivated and on track.

What are people saying about Muse?

“Is all of this worth $250? Your mileage may vary, but to my mind (no pun intended) it absolutely is. Both Headspace and Calm offer lifetime subscriptions for $299, and they don’t give you useable data on your meditation practice.” – Chris Taylor, Mashable

“It’s hard to believe that such a small, simply-designed device can actually read your brain signals. But from my experience using it, I feel like I’ve actually been able to meditate.” – Lee Bell, Forbes

“I found that the device offers something a silent savasana and guided meditation could never: a nonjudgmental companion in your ear (a rain cloud, a wind chime, okay, even the loud tribal drum) that keeps you accountable before your mind wanders too far off. I felt a lot more focused during meditations and ultimately became calmer and sleepier if I used the Muse before bed.” – Lori Keong, New York Magazine

“The science behind Muse is pretty robust – the neurofeedback has been used in the mental health field for over a decade – and its tech has been used in neuroscience research.” Hugh Langley, Wareable

How can I buy Muse?

Are you intrigued by the possibilities of meditation devices? You can visit www.choosemuse.com to purchase the original Muse or Muse 2. They offer a few options.

  • Muse 1 – The original Muse includes the EEG sensors, so you have access to the mind meditation. This version retails for $149. Although it’s a single headband, multiple users can link to their own Muse app to record sessions.
  • Muse 2 – This includes sensors to measure the brain, heart, breath, and movement, so you have access to the mind, heart, breath, and body meditations. It’s also a single headband, but for multiple users. This upgraded version costs $249.
  • Guided Meditations – You can also purchase 100+ Guided Meditations from renowned meditation instructors on topics like sleep, performance, stress, and more. After each meditation, you’ll receive a post-session report with your Muse data (brain activity) during that session. This is a monthly or annual subscription.
Woman using Muse, meditation devices

What does the future hold for meditation devices?

As this technology advances, we’re already seeing potential new applications emerge. Especially in conjunction with virtual reality. 

For example, Healium combines immersive technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, with biometrics monitoring like Muse. The visual meditation experience is powered by your own brain and heart rate, so as you move towards greater inner peace, the various brainwave patterns and changing heart rate moves alters the visuals. Imagine making flowers spontaneously grow or the sun shine more brightly with your mind!

It’s clear we’re on the cusp of some exciting, positive developments that will help more people enjoy the significant mental, emotional, and physical benefits of meditation.

Have you used Muse or similar meditation devices? We’d love to hear your experiences.

20 Apps To Help Stressed Parents Find Balance

Parenting is the best job in the world. But it can also be the hardest.

With a neverending to-do list and 24/7 schedule, parents often find themselves scattered and tired, just trying to get it all done.

But no parent wants to miss those beautiful childhood moments of growth, happiness, and discovery.

So, how do you take care of the basics and still have time to be fully present with your kids?

As the old Apple commercial says, “There’s an app for that!” 

Technology can be a lifesaver for stressed parents. Whether you need to find an afternoon activity, book a last-minute babysitter, or simply calm your mind after a long day with the kids, there really is an app for everything.

We’ve gathered 20 of our favorites to help you balance it all.

Continue reading 20 Apps To Help Stressed Parents Find Balance

3 Lessons from Nir Eyal on Building Positive Habits with Technology

For the past two decades, tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond have competed for their share of a budding market.

More valuable than cold cash, gold, or stocks in the latest hot startup, this market doesn’t deal in any kind of traditional currency. 

It’s the attention market. 

With the advent of the Internet and handheld devices that allowed us to surf online at all times of day, a user’s attention– what app they’re using, how long they’re staying on that app– has acquired significant economic worth for anyone able and willing to build an app, service, or simply a website. 

And so the war for attention began.

Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but tech companies most certainly have a lot of muscle in the way of millions, even billions, of investor dollars being put towards figuring out how to capitalize on and hook more of people’s attention for the profitability of their venture. 

Is it really all that bad? 

But wait– is that all this is? Are tech companies just trying to profit from us and we’re being used by pawns for economic gain?

There are definitely some questionable practices going on. Some have criticized social networks for what could be seen as manipulative design practices. However, that’s only part of the story. 

Within this booming tech revolution are many bright spots as well, things that have made many of our lives better. Much of which many of us couldn’t imagine living without. 

Plus, as we’re about to find out from tech psychology and design expert Nir Eyal, techniques used for the purpose of drawing consumer’s attention are as old as Fruit Loops (Okay, maybe a little older than that), and no one’s ever seemed to mind them. That or the bright red stop sign on your street corner. 

3 Lessons from Author Nir Eyal on Building Positive Habits with Technology

Recently on TFM podcast episode #35, Nir Eyal is a writer, consultant, speaker, and expert on the intersection between technology, psychology, and business. 

3 Lessons from Nir Eyal on Building Positive Habits with Technology

He’s been dubbed “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology” by M.I.T. Technology Review, and for good reason.

Between his books, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life he teaches on: 

  • The science behind habit-forming products
  • The difference between ethical habit-forming product strategies and unethical ones
  • The effect of this technology on our well-being
  • And how we can take back our attention, develop more positive habits with technology, and lead a more intentional life

Here are 3 lessons from Nir Eyal on building positive habits with technology: 

1. Technology isn’t bad or evil, but we need to learn how to live with it in a healthier way

Eyal makes it clear in Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products that there are two types of psychological manipulation: 

  • Persuasion: Getting someone to do something they want to do. 
  • Coercion: Getting someone to do something they don’t want to do. 

Persuasion involves a kind of convincing nudge. Take a Coke commercial, for example. 

They always make that bottle of Coke look like the most incredibly delicious thing ever. You practically want to jump out of the house and go straight to the store to pick up a bottle. 

Coke is something you like. You’ve tasted it before and you enjoy drinking it. Coke knows this and they gear their advertisements in a way that entice you based on this knowledge. 

That’s persuasion, and it’s far more common than you think. 

Even the stop sign on your local street works the same way. It’s designed in a way to catch your eye when you’re driving by (the bright red color, reflective surface), influencing you to stop. 

Smartphone apps and other newer technologies are designed in a similar way. Colors, intuitive design, sounds (see: Pavlov’s dog), and other persuasion techniques are used to hook users and keep them coming back to the app, be it a social network, mobile game, or other. 

But coercion is different (and unethical) 

Coercion is when someone, or something, get you to do something you don’t want to do. 

Think about the pushy salesperson that’s so relentless you eventually give in and buy whatever they’re selling just to get them off your back. Afterward, you can’t shake that uncomfortable feeling– like you were just used.

Some argue that the persuasion techniques smartphone apps and other new technologies are utilizing ride dangerously close to coercion. 

However, we all get value, be it connection, entertainment, or functionality, from the apps we use. And we use them because we enjoy the value we get from them. And, well, software companies use them because they work

Using persuasion tech to build positive habits with technology

Ultimately, it’s unrealistic to think that we can just dump technology. Our smartphones and things like social media have become tightly bound to how we operate and communicate in daily life. 

You could argue that tech companies need to be a bit more compassionate with their design practices. However, your best bet of making a difference in the quality of your life as it pertains to your tech use is to look at your own habits.

The first suggestion many will make is a tech detox. However, a tech detox doesn’t work, says Eyal, as we just end up coming back and gorging before moving right back into our old habits with technology. 

Therefore, we need to learn how to use technology in a healthier way. We need to look at our tech habits.

Start paying attention to when you use what device, what you use it for, and how often you use said app or scroll through said website.

Get clarity about what your tech vices are– those things you just can’t seem to live without– and work on curbing your use.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all on your own. Companies such as Facebook have started moving away from measuring success based on time on app. Instead, they’re now beginning to measure user well-being (how they feel after using the app). 

2. Understand the internal and external triggers that cause distraction

It’s clear that we can, and should, use technology in a healthier way. The way that newer technology is designed, though, makes that difficult.

We’re being hit with constant distractions via our smartphone: social notifications, text messages, reminders, etc. 

However, while these should be dealt with, Eyal argues that it’s not these external triggers but the internal ones that are the real problem. 

According to Eyal, there are two types of triggers:

  1. External triggers: These include a ping from social or a text message, a phone call, or anything else that prompts you to take action now. 
  2. Internal triggers: These are the emotional states which cause us to want to distract ourselves such as loneliness, fear, frustration, boredom, and fatigue. 

External triggers, Eyal says, aren’t inherently bad for us. Rather, it’s how we respond to them that matters. 

Dealing with external triggers

“If you plan to pick up that phone call and that’s what you scheduled and then that external trigger moves you towards traction… it helped you,” says Eyal. “But if that phone call interrupted the focused work you were doing and now you’re doing something you didn’t plan to do now, it’s moved you towards distraction.”

The first step, he says, is to analyze these various external triggers– the pings and rings– to understand how they’re affecting you. 

“Two-thirds of people who own a smartphone never adjust their notification settings,” says Eyal. Simple actions like this can help us take positive action towards controlling these external triggers and living a more intentional lifestyle.

Getting to the root of the problem with internal triggers

“Internal triggers are these prompts to action that come from inside our own heads,” says Eyal. These, Eyal says, are the real issue and often the cause of our susceptibility to external triggers. 

“Distraction starts from within”

“The icky-sticky truth that we don’t like to acknowledge… is that so much of what we do is driven by these uncomfortable emotional states,” he continues. 

  • We run from fear by indulging in YouTube videos or scroll forever through Twitter
  • Binge on Netflix to distract from our loneliness
  • Seek out feel-good sensations when we’re bored, like mobile games or checking on our friends on Facebook
  • And we break down and succumb to virtually any vice when we’re exhausted. 

Distractions are a way for us to numb uncomfortable feelings, and we’re skilled at avoiding them at all costs. 

“You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from.”

The problem is, “If we don’t tackle these internal triggers and find ways to cope in a healthier manner,” Eyal says, “we will always be distracted.” 

3. Focus on traction vs. distraction

Discovering what your internal and external triggers are is a big part of the puzzle, but what else can you do to build more positive habits with technology? 

To be more mindful with your tech use, Eyal suggests focusing on traction vs. distraction.

Traction is intentional, it’s when you’re doing the things you planned to do. In other words, you’re moving forward (hence traction). 

Distraction is self-explanatory– it’s when your pulled away from intentional action (hence distraction).

How to move from distraction to traction

The goal, Eyal says, is to figure out how you can make distraction less likely and traction more. 

For example, one of the simplest things you can do to live a more mindful life and take control of your technology use is to plan your day. Surprisingly, “only about 1/3 of people actually plan their day,” says Eyal. 

Ultimately, if you don’t put down on our calendar what you plan to do, you can hardly say you were distracted. You need an intentional plan for traction before anything. 

In addition to planning your day, Eyal suggests you make a pact with yourself to remove distractions.

To that end, there are a ton of apps already on the market that can help you live a more intentional life, like work focus app Forest and Time Guard (Apple), both of which Eyal personally uses and recommends. 

“This is why I really bristle when people say that technology is addictive and that it’s irresistible or hijacking our brain,” says Eyal. “This gives us the impression that we’re all somehow addicted, that we’re all powerless.” 

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, Eyal says. There are countless tools and techniques out there that you can use to take control and live more intentionally. 

Learn more about Nir Eyal

Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. He is the author of the bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and his new book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, teaches you how to manage distractions, build more positive habits with technology, and live more intentionally. 

In addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today

Find out more about Nir at Nirandfar.com and watch TFM podcast episode #35 with Nir Eyal here.

3 Key Insights on the Psychology of Technology from Author & Researcher Dr. Larry Rosen

If you’ve ever been concerned about the psychological impact of our society’s increasing obsession with technology, Dr. Larry Rosen has studied it from every angle over the past 30 years.

You might be wondering what there was to study back in the late 1980s! Even then, as computers made their way into homes and workplaces, Rosen began to recognize and study signs of “technophobia.” In fact, his first publication TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work @Home @Play was published in 1997. 

But with the exponential growth of personal technology like iPhones and social media, fear has been replaced with anxiety and distraction due to our constant connectedness. That’s been the focus of his research over the past decade. 

Robert Plotkin had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Rosen on episode 23 of the Technology for Mindfulness podcast about what he’s learned from his years of research and how the fields of neuroscience and psychology can help us engage with technology in a healthy way. Here are three key insights we gleaned from their conversation on the psychology of technology.

Continue reading 3 Key Insights on the Psychology of Technology from Author & Researcher Dr. Larry Rosen

Robert Plotkin Talks Smartphone Addiction with the Early Risers Podcast

TFM founder Robert Plotkin, was recently featured on the Early Risers podcast

Listen as Robert talks with host Schuyler Diehm about using mindfulness to break smartphone addiction and establishing a healthier relationship with tech.

You’ll learn:

  • Dealing with FOMO and the need to constantly check your phone
  • A simple mindfulness exercise for managing tech habits
  • And an important step you can take to start creating a healthier relationship with technology

Listen to Robert on the Early Risers podcast (iTunes).

Robert Plotkin Talks Tech and Stress with The Stress Mastery Podcast

TFM founder Robert Plotkin was recently invited onto The Stress Mastery Podcast with Bill Cortright.

Listen as Robert talks with Cortright about the effect that technology has on us and what we can do about it, to not only better manage stress but take back control over your time to become more focused and productive.

You’ll learn:

  • Why it’s important to Impose structure that influences how you use technology
  • Techniques for taking back control over technology
  • And tips for dealing with binge-watching

Listen to Robert on The Stress Mastery Podcast (iTunes) or via Thestressmasterpodcast.com.

How to Use Multiple Desktops to Maximize Focus

Are you one of those people with 30 tabs open at any given time? Do you find yourself checking Instagram or absent-mindedly responding to someone on Whatsapp when you should be working? Don’t worry, we all do it. As soon as you hear the ping of a notification, it’s incredibly easy to wander off and lose valuable time during your day. But what if you could remove all those attention suckers when you’re trying to do your best work? And easily switch back when it’s time to communicate or play? It’s possible — and easy to do with multiple desktops. Learn what they are, why they’re so helpful, and how to set them up for yourself in a way that maximizes not only productivity but focus as well. Continue reading How to Use Multiple Desktops to Maximize Focus

How to Manage Your Digital Environment – 6 Practical Ideas from Pete Dunlap

The concept of mindful technology is edging its way into the mainstream as more and more people want to break free of unhealthy digital habits.

Pete Dunlap, Founder of Digital Detangler, is poised to help with this uniquely modern problem. He empowers individuals, schools, and businesses to transform their digital environments for greater well-being.

Robert Plotkin recently interviewed Pete on the Technology for Mindfulness podcast to learn how he became the Digital Detangler and what individuals can do to take control of their own technology use. Continue reading How to Manage Your Digital Environment – 6 Practical Ideas from Pete Dunlap

How to Take Back Your Health Without Putting Your Smartphone Down

Our smartphone helps us stay connected with those we love and can keep us safe.

It helps us navigate uncharted roads, light dark rooms, manage our to-do list, and keep up with world events.

It entertains us and gives us the ability to find an answer to virtually any question at a moment’s notice.

And the power of the handheld devices in our pockets grows by the day.

But while the benefits of 21st Century technology, especially smartphones, is undeniable, the conversation about our smartphone habits and their effect on our mental and physical health is becoming louder. Continue reading How to Take Back Your Health Without Putting Your Smartphone Down

4 Ways Technology Can Improve Your Relationships – A Conversation with Marla Mattenson

When you read the latest headlines, you’d think technology is the worst thing to happen to couples since… well, ever. After all, it takes our attention away from our partners, right?

Not so fast. It’s not all bad news. Marla Mattenson has a different perspective, and it’s quite empowering. Continue reading 4 Ways Technology Can Improve Your Relationships – A Conversation with Marla Mattenson

Thriving as an Entrepreneur in the Digital Age – 5 Lessons from Dr. Sherry Walling

Dr. Sherry Walling offers a unique perspective on entrepreneur burnout.

As both an accomplished clinical psychologist and the spouse of a serial tech entrepreneur, she’s combined insights from both roles and developed a much-needed resource called ZenFounder.

On a recent Technology for Mindfulness podcast, our founder Robert Plotkin interviewed Dr. Walling to learn more about her work.

They chatted about entrepreneur stress, how it’s made worse by the frenetic pace of technology, and her recommendations for founders (and their partners). Continue reading Thriving as an Entrepreneur in the Digital Age – 5 Lessons from Dr. Sherry Walling

25 Mindfulness Quotes to Help You Hit the Pause Button

In our modern society, technology is often an obstacle to mindfulness. It’s so easy to reach for your smartphone when the pangs of loneliness, fear, or boredom appear.

After all, it offers instant relief. And we’re only human.

If you want to break this reflex and empower yourself when it comes to technology, you’re in the right place. In today’s blog, we begin with inspiration.

We’ve gathered 25 mindfulness quotes to help you remember why it’s so important to accept the present, embrace your feelings, and welcome the gifts that mindfulness offers us. Continue reading 25 Mindfulness Quotes to Help You Hit the Pause Button

How to Manage Your Technology Notifications for a Mindful Workday

You might think mindfulness at work is impossible these days. With constant connectivity comes constant interruptions, right? But it doesn’t have to be that way. Many of us never stop to consider that we can control our notifications, settings, and reminders. Sure, you might change a few things when you get a new phone or download an app. But when was the last time you thought critically about whether they’re really working for you? In this post, we’ll talk about how you can create a work environment that’s conducive to mindfulness. That includes easy tips, smart tools, and helpful resources to move you from frazzled to calm. Your coworkers will be asking for your secret, so be sure to share! Continue reading How to Manage Your Technology Notifications for a Mindful Workday

5 Mindfulness Practices for Stressed-Out Teachers

As a teacher, there’s a lot that’s out of your control.

Testing requirements. New standards. Budget cuts. Bigger class sizes. Demanding parents.

It’s no wonder teacher stress levels are among the highest of any occupation. Continue reading 5 Mindfulness Practices for Stressed-Out Teachers

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music

For the past decade, mindfulness has arisen as a valuable tool for educators.

But mindfulness’ value in the classroom has only just begun to become clear.

Now, it’s inspiring others to find new and creative ways to teach mindfulness and other related qualities.

One such example is a Toronto instructor who is using music to help students learn about mindfulness, kindness, and teamwork in a fresh new way. Continue reading How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music

10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus

It’s a daily struggle.

You sit down at your computer, ready to tackle your day. And then it happens.

A notification pops up – you’ve got three new emails. Before you can open them, there’s an instant message on the bottom of your screen.

Then you hear your phone ping and think, “Is that the sound of a calendar reminder or just a reply on my social media post? I’d better check before I start working…” And so it goes.

Sound familiar?

In today’s notification-obsessed world, it’s harder than ever to focus. Distractions like these can really add up.

Not only do you lose time reacting, but it also takes time to refocus. In fact, according to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after being interrupted.

Fortunately, technology doesn’t always have to be a distraction– it can also be a tool to help you focus. Continue reading 10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus

10 Best Mindfulness Meditation Apps to Manage the Craziness of Daily Life

If you’re feeling frazzled by the demands of modern life, you’re not alone.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 79% of Americans feel stressed every day. But we have good news. You don’t have to jet off to a month-long meditation retreat to reap the benefits of mindfulness.

It may sound counterintuitive, but your smartphone (you know, that thing in your pocket that you love-hate?) might just be your best tool for managing stress and helping you focus.

Mindfulness meditation apps are an inexpensive way to test the waters with a new mindfulness practice.

But they’re also great for trying out meditation if you’re new to it as well. 

So, ready to give it a try? We’ve gathered the ten best mindfulness meditation apps ideal for beginners, but with room to grow.

Here are the 10 best mindfulness meditation apps to manage the craziness of daily life.
Continue reading 10 Best Mindfulness Meditation Apps to Manage the Craziness of Daily Life

How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

“Meditation calms me down and stuff.”

– 4th-grade girl, Holistic Me program

Should we replace detention with mindfulness?

That’s the question now posed to schools all across the U.S. as a result of the work by the Holistic Life Foundation. Continue reading How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

Robert Plotkin of Mindfulness for Technology Featured on the AATH Laughbox Podcast

Our very own Robert Plotkin, Mindfulness for Technology founder, was recently featured on the Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor’s (AATH) Laughbox podcast.

Listen as Robert talks with host Chip Lutz about how technology affects our brain and how to integrate that technology into your mindfulness practice.

You’ll learn:

  • A simple mindfulness practice for learning how to use your smartphone more mindfully
  • How the “reptilian” brain affects our behavior
  • And a powerful tip for managing your technology use

Listen to Robert on the Laughbox podcast (iTunes) or via Laughbox.AATH.org.

Social Media: Taking a Break

For many of us, the holidays are a time when we spend precious connected moments with our loved ones. We may also engage in sacred rituals associated with these holidays. Regardless of how you celebrate the holidays — or even if you don’t celebrate them specifically — this may well be one of the few times during the year when you can enjoy the presence of your family and friends in person and celebrate your relationships together. Continue reading Social Media: Taking a Break

Smartphone Distraction? Take back Control In 2019



Finding yourself consistently distracted by your Smartphone? In this 1 hour workshop, join Robert Plotkin, founder of Technology For Mindfulness and get the tools you need to gain back control in 2019. Click here  for tickets

How Technology Can Help You Exercise More Mindfully


People can engage with technology in a wide variety of ways while exercising. Some people put their devices away entirely so that they are not distracted by them, so that they can be fully in touch with their body, or both. Others find that they can only stay focused on exercise while listening to music or watching a video, television, etc. Some people like to talk on the phone with a friend while working out. Continue reading How Technology Can Help You Exercise More Mindfully

Positive Affirmations Around Social Media Reactions


Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are designed not only to enable but encourage people to provide feedback about content posted by others. This might take the form of a like, a simple thumbs up or down, text, or something more sophisticated like a text or video response.

If you’ve ever posted content online, then you know just how enticing it can be to check how many people have liked what you’ve posted.

Continue reading Positive Affirmations Around Social Media Reactions

Scheduling Downtime into Your Calendar

Although electronic calendars, software, and the internet were supposed to make it easier than ever to schedule meetings, the actual result of these technologies has been that people arrive late, reschedule meetings, or miss them altogether more frequently these days.

Here are just a few of the reasons why I think we are more disorganized, late, and stressed out about our calendar than ever before:

    • We are now able to contact people at the last minute if we need to cancel or reschedule.
    • We often schedule meetings without having our calendars in front of us.
    • The sheer number of appointments, devices, and calendars that we have to stay on top of can be overwhelming.

Today, I’m going to focus on just one of the many ways that you can address this problem in your life: Consciously and explicitly insert downtime into your calendar between your scheduled appointments.

Account for Travel Time

The first reason to schedule downtime may seem obvious, but I’m always surprised by how many people don’t take it into consideration. People rarely put any travel time between appointments, and if you do that, you are setting yourself up for failure.

This is worth it even if you have back-to-back appointments in the same building, as it still takes time to travel from one meeting to the other. You need to gather up your things, get to the next room, and then settle in there before you are truly ready to begin your next meeting.

The simplest way to put downtime into your calendar is to leave empty space in between your meetings. If you’re new to this habit, I would suggest specifically putting the travel time into your calendar as an appointment. Most operating systems now have a travel time feature you could use to that end.

Less Stress, More Productivity

Taking downtime into consideration can prove beneficial in a number of ways:

    • Having to create that appointment will encourage you to think consciously and realistically about how much time you really need to travel instead of mindlessly assuming it. When you create that travel time appointment, you’re going to need to decide how long to make it, which gives you time to pause and think about it.
    • You can set yourself a reminder that you need to start traveling by a certain time, which will ensure that you get moving when you need to.
    • Putting the downtime into your calendar will increase the likelihood that you will give serious thought about whether your previous or next meeting is going to be long enough to fulfill its purpose.

If you’ve really put some thought into budgeting your time and considering unexpected delays, you’ll be more punctual and less likely to worry about the state of your appointments. Your anxiety will be reduced and you may have actual downtime in between meetings.

These are all mindfulness and stress reduction side effects. Scheduling downtime will also help you get better over time at estimating how much you can get done in a day. Many of us tend to schedule too many meetings to the point where there’s not enough time to be in them. This can create assumptions that lead to rescheduling and cutting meetings short, which then induces stress.

It’s important to be realistic about what we can accomplish with the time we have in a day and to schedule accordingly. Ultimately, downtime will help increase your productivity and reduce your stress.

De-Cluttering Your Desktop

The so-called “desktop metaphor” has been around on personal computers for about 40 years and is still the dominant way of visually organizing information. It was originally designed to emulate a physical desktop on which you put folders, files, and other types of documents and devices.

Regardless of how you feel about computer desktops, they can become cluttered just like a physical desktop, which can be distracting, stress-inducing, and hinder your productivity.

If your desktop is filled from top to bottom with icons, are you aware of whether just glancing at that desktop hundreds of times throughout the day causes any feelings of stress? Perhaps you catch an icon for a document you’re working on out of the corner of your eye. It may cause a thought or worry about how you’re going to complete that document. The thought may be fleeting and you may only be semi-aware of it. However, consider the cumulative impact of having so many experiences like this throughout your day just because of how many times you are looking at that desktop.

Here are a few tips you can follow to remove the clutter from your desktop.

Relocate the Clutter

If you like having all of those icons on your desktop because you feel that they are easy to find, I have one simple suggestion that will let you access everything just as easily without cluttering your visual space and creating any anxiety. Just create a single folder on your desktop called “Desktop” and move all of the icons from your desktop into that folder. Now your desktop is clear, but you can still access everything that was in it by opening that folder.

You lose virtually no productivity by taking this step while potentially making a very significant gain in how relaxed, calm, and de-stressed you feel when looking at your desktop.

To make sure you keep enjoying the benefits of this practice over time, you must close the folder after opening it so that its contents are no longer visible. Otherwise, you will be seeing the clutter just as regularly as you would if it were scattered around the desktop.

As an additional step, you can create a small number of subfolders within your new desktop folder. Keep it very simple — you might just have a folder for apps and separate folders for different types of documents (word processing, spreadsheets, photos, etc.). If you make too many folders, you will start making it hard to find documents and reduce the benefits that this simple method provides.

Maintain the Habit

Now, you merely need to keep your desktop from becoming cluttered again over time. The most common ways in which this happens occur when installing new apps or creating new folders on your computer. Move those icons and documents into your desktop folder.

Even if you’re someone who loves having a full desktop, try out this approach and see how different you feel when booting up your computer in the morning and seeing a completely tidy space. You could even use a desktop background image that you love in order to stay motivated to keep it from being blocked by countless icons.

Once you make the small investment of time and energy required to start using this method, it takes very little effort to maintain it over time. You can get a huge payback in feeling calm while maintaining very high productivity.

Scheduling Time to Respond to Emails

Staying on top of your email inbox can feel like a daunting and never-ending task. Although I don’t have any magic solution to this issue, the tip I’ll share today has helped me cut through the clutter much more efficiently, allowing me to stay focused on real work and thus have much more time during my work day.

Here is my suggestion: Put emails that you receive onto your calendar so that you respond to them at scheduled times.

If that sounds completely crazy to you, let me clarify. First, I have a few recurring appointments on my calendar for responding to emails in certain categories. These include:

  • Accounting- and bookkeeping-related emails such as invoices I receive from vendors.
  • Messages from potential new customers.
  • Emails related to marketing tasks.
  • Small miscellaneous questions that I receive from my clients.

The common thread between these categories is that the emails don’t require an immediate reply. Also, they aren’t typically part of a longer conversation — a single response will do the trick. This combination of qualities makes these types of emails work really well with my calendaring system.

Granted, this may not suit urgent emails quite as well. So if you think that calendaring your emails won’t work for you, perhaps it’s because you’re thinking about certain types of emails that aren’t fit for your calendar. Step back for a minute and consider whether you frequently receive the types of emails I’m talking about. Your categories may be different than mine, but if they’re similar in nature, then read on.

1. Pick Your Categories and Put Recurring Appointments on Your Calendar

Choose times that would make sense for you to respond to emails in those categories. Think carefully about the timing. Some categories might require you to have appointments every day of the week or even multiple times a day. Other categories might only require a weekly appointment.

Consider how frequently you really need to respond to emails in each category and put in the minimum number of appointments per day/week that you will need. Set up the appointments to repeat according to a schedule that you think will work for you.

2. Be Disciplined

Whenever you check your inbox, you must be very diligent about not responding to any emails within your calendared categories. Instead, add them to the next appointment for that category.

Personally, I use Microsoft Outlook, which makes it very easy to just drag and drop emails directly onto calendar appointments. Just open the appointment, drag an email onto it, and it will attach there. It’s that simple. You could also type notes next to each email in the appointment to give yourself some guidance or context about how to respond to it.

I’m sure you will find it hard to resist the temptation to respond immediately, so expect this to happen and remember that it will take practice to create the habit.

3. Stay Focused

When the time arrives for each of your scheduled email appointments, you must be disciplined about opening that appointment and staying focused on responding to all of the emails without switching to other tasks. Try doing it a few times and see how it feels.

In my experience, I typically feel very satisfied by how efficiently I can get through a large number of emails in each category. There are many reasons for this, and one is that I find it easier to keep my mindset focused on a particular topic (ex. accounting or marketing) and to respond to emails solely in that category rather than switching back and forth between different categories.

Another reason is that many of the emails in the same category often relate to the same topic or project, and as a result, I can easily keep all of the information about that topic or project in mind while responding to all of the emails.

Moreover, I’ve often found that by waiting to respond to emails, some of them become unnecessary to address by the time I get around to them. Maybe someone else responded to them. Waiting to respond can sometimes eliminate work that I would have had to perform if I responded immediately.

4. After You Respond to Your Emails

When you’re done responding to all of the emails in one of your appointments, it’s important to return to not responding to emails in that category until your next appointment. Begin the process again.

Give this a try and see how it works for you. Some aspects may not work for you immediately, but instead of giving up on the process entirely, tweak it to see if you can make it work better for your particular situation. For example, you may need more or fewer appointments. You may need to change your email categories. You may need to change your stance on which types of emails you will respond to. All of this will depend on your own situation, demands, and preferences.

I hope you find this helpful and your email productivity increases!

Finding the Joy in Anticipation Beyond All the Communication

A while back, I heard someone say that technology has brought about the end of anticipation. Before the internet, when we went to visit a family member or friend who lived far away from us, we had a lot to talk about and catch up on since the last time saw each other.
Continue reading Finding the Joy in Anticipation Beyond All the Communication

3 Easy Ways to Form a New Tech Habit

On this blog, we often provide tips for how to make more mindful, productive, and efficient use of technology. It’s easier to describe what to do than to actually create and engage in the habit of doing it. Suggesting that you don’t use your smartphone immediately upon waking up in the morning or within an hour of going to bed doesn’t make creating and following that habit easy to do.

Today, I’ll offer three pointers that will improve your chances of forming a new and enduring technology habit.

Ease into It

Many of us try to create a new habit by just engaging in it directly. For example, if you want to practice not using your smartphone for an hour after you wake up, you might try going cold turkey right away. I’ve found that this approach often results in failure, as it doesn’t help change my behavior or reinforce the intended behavior.

Try easing into a habit like this: On the first night, start out by not using your phone for the last five minutes before you go to bed. That should be much easier than an hour. Practice that for a few days, a week, or until you feel like that habit is ingrained and does not need additional practice. Then increase the amount of time and keep expanding the habit in that way until you reach your original goal.

By easing into it, you may find that you’re more likely to create the habit than if you try to bite off the entire task from the beginning. Start with a smaller, more manageable version of it and increase it over time.

Make It Easy on Yourself

When I try to create a new habit for myself, I often do it in a very austere kind of way. This can work if I pose some structure around it, but it can be quite boring. Other than the reward of feeling like I’ve accomplished my goal, it doesn’t really create any other positive associations in my mind. As a result, I’ve found that trying to create a new habit in this way sometimes either fails or leads to habits that don’t stick.

With that said, there’s a wide variety of ways to make it easier to create the habit. For example, these are all things I’ve done and you can try:

  1. Enlist the help of your friends, family, and coworkers to support you. For example, they can provide reminders for you or even just give moral support.
  2. Use technology to set a reminder to do or not do something.
  3. Associate a positive feeling with this new habit. Focus and draw your attention to that positive feeling.

You may worry that these tricks are crutches. If you ask friends to remind you of something, you may feel like you’ll rely on them and may stop engaging in the habit altogether if they stop reminding you. On the flip side, sometimes we can do things to help us create a habit and supports for the habit, and once the habit is ingrained in our minds and bodies, we no longer need those initial supports to keep the habit going.

Be creative when thinking about what you might be able to do to help you form a new habit. In addition, make the trigger for engaging in it fun if that helps you.

Pay Attention to How You Feel Each Time After Engaging in the Habit

Say you’re practicing not using your phone before bed. Maybe you set an alarm 15 minutes before bed to remind yourself not to use your phone. When that 15 minutes is over, pay attention to how you feel now that you have not used your phone. Bringing my attention to how I feel after I’ve practiced something I want to form as a habit actually helps that habit to form better. It’s a way to bring mindfulness to the formation of a new habit to help enforce the behavior you’re trying to habituate in yourself.

Bear in mind that you can apply these tips to any kind of habits. I hope you find them helpful for any change that you are seeking.

Turning Off Your Work Mind

Do you find that it’s hard to turn your work mind off even after you stop working? Is the “end of the work day” concept foreign to you because you keep your nose so close the grindstone? Many of us find ourselves in this situation, particularly with smartphones, laptops, and mobile internet enabling us to stay connected at all times.

Those of us who work from home can find it especially difficult to create boundaries between work and personal life. Here are some suggestions for doing just that.

1. Try to develop a regular work schedule.

This allows you to get into the habit of starting and stopping work at certain times of the day. It doesn’t have to be a traditional schedule. Just find what works for you. It can even include several different periods of work on different days. The key is doing your best to schedule certain regular times for starting and stopping work, creating a habit in your mind through repetition.

2. Develop starting and ending work habits/rituals.

These are certain actions that you perform and thoughts that you have to transition your mind into and out of work mode. They could be as simple as stopping and pausing for 5 or 10 seconds and thinking about what you’re going to transition into. You might say it out loud or in your mind to engage your focus. It could be something as simple as arranging things on your desk or simply starting work. No matter the tasks, these should help you make the mental transition to and from work.

Rituals are found in several other traditions. For instance, when you walk into a Japanese martial arts school, you pause and bow at the threshold before entering. At the beginning of each class, there is also a bowing ceremony. I was always taught that one of this ritual’s purposes is to help us reach a more focused mental state.

These tips have something in common: They help to create and enforce mental boundaries between work time and non-work time. I think these boundaries have always existed, but it’s particularly important these days to intentionally create them because they’re missing in the way that many of us work. Technology makes information and communication available to us at all times and in all places. Many of us can work without going into an office, with different people, and on different projects. Obviously, this situation suffers from a lack of boundaries.

If we want to have them in our lives, we have to create them ourselves through force of habit.

Here’s another resource that could help: Shutdown Rituals: Leave the Work Stress at Work.

How Older Technologies Can Keep Us More Mindful

Our culture strongly promotes the idea that the newest technology is always the best. That belief is spread by its makers with their own incentives for encouraging us to always buy the latest version of every product. However, sometimes using older technology can be better in terms of reaching our mindfulness goals.

Today’s tip is to not automatically reach for the shiny new toy. Instead, be aware of your options so you can make wise and mindful choices about which technology to use in any particular situation.

I’ve given a few specific examples, but I encourage you to apply the same principle to all aspects of your life. Focus your attention on becoming aware of any opportunities to use older technology or no technology at all when you want to get something done.

Writing the Old-Fashioned Way

Most of us do nearly all of our writing on devices. When was the last time you wrote an actual letter to someone? Using pen and paper is just one of the writing options you should explore:

    • I often write first drafts of longer things such as essays or work memos by hand. I find it easier for me to dump out my ideas without distraction or editing that way.

    • You may also want to try some of the distraction-free word processors that we’ve mentioned before if you want to stay more focused while writing. They show you little more than a blank screen so that you can stay focused on the words you are writing and not the toolbar, menu, or any other visual elements.

    • Some authors have even switched back to using old-fashioned typewriters for their novels and other books — or at least their first drafts.

Try out different options and see what works best for you.

Although I use an app on my phone to keep track of my tasks, sometimes I find it more effective to quickly jot them down on a small piece of paper so that they’re easier and faster for me to find and look at as I move from task to task.

Efficiency and focus are not the only reasons you might want to try using older forms of technology for writing. If you want to convey a personal and heartfelt message to someone (such as a thank-you or condolences for a loss), many people find it more meaningful to receive that kind of message in hand-written form than by email or even a pre-printed card.Â

You may find that writing out the message longhand helps you focus not only on the content of what you’re writing but the feeling behind it. You might experience that feeling more deeply than you would on a device.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Now I’ll use the flip side of writing: reading. While I do an incredible amount of reading on devices, scientific research confirms that attempting to read anything longer than a paragraph on a modern device’s screen can be extremely frustrating and counterproductive. This is in large part due to the number of distractions that our devices present to us while we are reading.

The good news is that many other options are available to us, and they don’t all involve giving up on technology completely.

For reading books, I have an older black-and-white Kindle that only shows me the text of the book. This is a much more pleasant and calming way to read, and it helps me absorb more of what I’m reading than on a smartphone or computer.Â

Think about the size of the screen that you use to read different types of messages too. I don’t know anyone who’d want to read a long piece on an Apple Watch. On the other hand, a smartphone can be a great way to read text messages. As a general rule, most people find it easier to read longer works on bigger screens, but try out different options to determine what works best for you.

I don’t want to suggest wasting paper at the expense of the environment, but in some cases, I print out documents to read them on paper — particularly if I need to provide the author with feedback on what has been written because I find it both easier to stay focused on what I’m reading and to jot down notes on paper than on a word processor. Despite all of the advances with screens and document software, I still find it easier to quickly glance back at previous parts of a document on paper than on a screen.Â

When I’m done, I either scan the document with my hand-written edits or type the edits into the document on a word processor.

Consider Your Options

Writing and reading are just two examples of how many different technological options are available to help you avoid the common trap of automatically turning to the latest technology or whatever technology you happen to be using at the moment.

We all tend to engage in that kind of technological inertia or let it dictate which technologies we use and how we use them. But if we apply some mindfulness to pause, step back, and reflect on what our intention is for the task at hand while considering our options, we can then make a conscious choice based on our intention and understanding of our current situation.

As a result, we will be less likely to rush ahead automatically and more likely to engage in that task in a way that is not only more productive but also more satisfying.

How to Prioritize Responding to Important Messages


Have you ever planned to respond to a particular message and then found yourself replying to new ones as they arrive? Of course you have. We’ve all done it. Continue reading How to Prioritize Responding to Important Messages

How to Mindfully Use Your GPS


I have no natural sense of direction. As a result, I think the GPS is one of the greatest inventions in human history. I rely on the GPS on my phone to get me almost everywhere and appreciate it not only because of its obvious purpose but also because it reduces the stress of driving, walking, and traveling to new places. It gives me the confidence to go places on my own that I normally wouldn’t try to travel to without a GPS. 

At the same time, I’ve become aware of how overly reliant I’ve become on my GPS and how I tend to use it in a way that does not necessarily help me become engaged with, aware of, and attuned to my surroundings.

I’ve recently tried to start applying mindfulness to my use of the GPS, and here’s what I’ve noticed and learned so far.
Continue reading How to Mindfully Use Your GPS

Apple and Google’s Digital Health Initiatives

Both Google and Apple recently announced major initiatives to address the problems of digital distraction, stress, and anxiety. These will affect all of their products.

Each of the companies has a different name for the department responsible for the initiatives. Apple calls it “Digital Health” whereas Google calls it “Digital Well Being.” Right at the top of Google’s Digital Well Being webpage, it says, “Great Technology should improve life, not distract from it.”

A Great Message

The initiatives are going to include a variety of features for their products, like an enhanced version of Do Not Disturb and other ways of giving users more control over how and when they’re interrupted or distracted by their devices. Some features will provide you with in-depth, quantitative information about how frequently you’re using your phone and what you use it for.

I think the details of these initiatives aren’t as important as the magnitude of the message Apple and Google are sending.Â

Like most companies on the internet, they have based a significant part of their business model on distracting people and encouraging them to maximize how much time they spend on their products and devices.

The launch of these company-wide initiatives is a pretty groundbreaking and historic event for two of the big five tech companies. The fact that they’ve decided to create and make major announcements about these initiatives shows that they are taking the problems seriously enough to invest in shifting their direction to enable people to live more balanced technological lives.

A Shift in Direction

It’s clear that some of the features of these initiatives will help people to spend less time using the devices and apps that Google and Apple make and sell. They must have decided that this would be more helpful to them overall from a business perspective.

I’m sure part of it was in response to increasing demand from individuals and businesses to address the problems of constant distraction and overuse of technology. Some of it may have been the result of a desire for people to use their devices in limited ways rather than not at all to avoid distraction. I don’t know what all of the reasons were behind these decisions. To a certain extent, they don’t matter to me.

In the end, it’s certainly a positive that these two huge tech companies have taken the initiative to display that they care about the well being of their users. I applaud Google and Apple for taking these steps and moving their future technology development plans in a direction that will give people more transparent information about how they’re using their products and more power over how they use them.

With all that said, both companies have previously taken other steps to address digital addiction and all of the issues we discuss on this blog. Let’s stay mindful of how they implement these major initiatives in response to our needs.

Let’s Start Planning for Meetings as if There’s No Internet


For those of you who are old enough to remember what it was like to attend a meeting before the internet, the only opportunity to speak to that person was at the scheduled appointment.

I remember when I started working as a lawyer and I was going to meet with a client. What would I do? I would prepare!

Continue reading Let’s Start Planning for Meetings as if There’s No Internet

How Social Media Has Poisoned Us



This blog post was inspired by an article published by The Guardian on April 9.

While the write-up isn’t strictly focused on technology, that topic is still explored and the content is worth addressing.

Continue reading How Social Media Has Poisoned Us

Positive, Negative and Neutral Posting on Social Media


We all know that the image people portray of themselves on social media is highly selective and curated. People often post only the information that paints them in a positive light and makes them seem as interesting as possible. As a result, their social media lives don’t always reflect their full reality.

Continue reading Positive, Negative and Neutral Posting on Social Media

Turn Off Autoplay for Videos


Do you ever find yourself binge-watching on YouTube, Netflix, or any other site/app on which you view videos? It’s so easy to get lost in the content and then wonder where the time went.

To minimize this issue, turn off autoplay so that when you’re done watching one video, the next one doesn’t start automatically.

Continue reading Turn Off Autoplay for Videos

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!

Continue reading Group Text Messaging: Productive or Annoying?

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 ways to achieve a state of mindfulness that don’t start with or focus primarily on your mind. Other approaches focus more on the body or integrating mental and physical training. Continue reading The Mind Can Also Follow the Body

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 is seemingly 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? Continue reading Responding, Not Reacting to Your Smartphone

You Use Technology More Mindfully Than I Do


Since I write and teach about using technology mindfully, many people assume that I’m somehow naturally gifted at that practice.  They believe I’m always focused at work and never struggle with distractions when I should be doing something more productive.

In fact, when I tell people about my work in this field, they get embarrassed and think I will look down on them because of how poorly or distractedly they use technology. Continue reading You Use Technology More Mindfully Than I Do

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.

Continue reading Practice “Not Even One”

Beyond Noticing: Putting Mindfulness into Action

A critical part of mindfulness is paying attention to our experience in the present moment.

Continue reading Beyond Noticing: Putting Mindfulness into Action

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.
Continue reading Make Plans as If the Internet Didn’t Exist

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, do you ask yourself, “Why is my phone doing this to me?!?”

Continue reading How to Manage the Pull of Your Smartphone

The Pros and Cons of Mindfulness Reminders

There are many apps 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 (ex. 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 and suggest that you experiment with them to find which ones work best for you.

Continue reading The Pros and Cons of Mindfulness Reminders

Technology May Be the Reason You’ve Lost That Creative Spark

Whether you’re a writer, an artist, or simply trying to figure out a creative Technology May be the Reason You’ve Lost That Creative Sparksolution to a difficult problem, there’s one thing standing in your way. One thing that would have never been a problem 15 years ago! Just one little thing that’s blocking your way to thinking more creatively. What is it? Technology, of course.

Like we’ve discussed before, boredom has its benefits. But with technology around, we’re never truly bored or alone!

Continue reading Technology May Be the Reason You’ve Lost That Creative Spark

Learn to Unwind Your Anxiety With 10 Minutes Per Day

We all struggle with anxiety once in awhile, but for some it can feel worse andLearn to Unwind Your Anxiety With 10 Minutes Per Day more difficult to control. At times, it can feel nearly debilitating. Some turn to meditation, others visit psychiatrists despite their fears of the stigma it holds. But there’s another way to help you control your anxiety… no medication, no stigma, and you can do it from your phone! What is it?

Continue reading Learn to Unwind Your Anxiety With 10 Minutes Per Day

Winter Feast: A Time to Reconnect

A Feast For Your Soul & Spirit.

Winter Feast is a 40 day Worldwide Spiritual Practice Period everyone is invited to join.

It’s for people of all faiths who take part in committing 40 minutes of spiritual practice each day for forty days. The intention behind Winter feast is to create peace in each individual’s life and to extend to others as well. Participants are also invited to practice daily acts of kindness. Although it may seem like only a small group of people setting out to do this, the impact of such an act can be much greater.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Winter Feast is from the morning of January 15th until February 23rd. As most of the Northern Hemisphere is deep in winter during this time, it’s a perfect way to begin the New Year to reconnect with spirit and bring our awareness to a new level.

“What nine months does for the embryo, forty early mornings will do for your growing awareness.” — Rumi

I’ll be taking part in Winter Feast and I encourage you to do so as well! Here are ways you can participate: http://feastforthesoul.org/feast-2018/

Winter Feast — Jan 15 to Feb 23

www.feastforthesoul.org

We can do it when we work together!

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

Sign up to receive a free, 5 minute guided meditation that helps you gain control over your smartphone, instead of being controlled by it. 

You will receive our free 5 minute meditation soon!