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Category: Habits

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. 

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.

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

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

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