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SET YOUR BOUNDARIES
Regaining balance from any addiction starts with setting boundaries. It's not that we're using screens at all that's the problem, it's that we're using them without limits. Our screens are our constant companions all day and night, at work and at play, when we're with friends and when we're alone. There's no respite. No wonder our brains are frazzled. How can we ever switch off?
The simplest boundaries to set relate to time and place. Consider your lifestyle and decide where screens simply don't belong. Then look at the times when you should be setting them down. Start by setting small workable limits and work up to more significant lines in the sand. Even just one or two "no-go" times and places will reduce your screen overuse, and free up a surprising amount of time to do the things you really enjoy.
Here are some boundary suggestions to get you started.
1. Wake Up
Our smartphones have invaded our bedrooms. They're the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we see at night. With their blue-light-emitting screens, they suppress our melatonin levels (the chemical that sets our biological clock), which hinders our ability to get a good nights' sleep.
So, buy an alarm clock.
We've become used to relying on our devices' built-in applications to wake up. Using an alarm clock instead is your single best weapon against the tide of technology wreaking havoc on your sleep schedule, leaving you more rested and energetic. Until you've bought that all-important alarm, leave your phone outside your door so you can hear the phone alarm without having your device in your bedroom.
2. Screen Scheduling
We need to reestablish some rules in our "always-on" culture, about when work stops and when play begins, for our physical and our mental health.
A time boundary is set when you draw the line between work and play, when you're "on" and when you're "off." Some goals you might set:
> Switch devices off at 10pm.
> No email after 7pm.
> Screen-free Sundays to enjoy quality time with family or friends.
> Digital Sabbaths (no logging on over the weekends). To give yourself a fighting chance, plan something else to do during the time when you've set your time boundary. And put your screens somewhere out of sight so that you don't inadvertently get drawn into picking them up or turning them back on.
3. Before Bed
For many of us there's no winding-down time at all before we nod off. And simply switching off our phones and hoping we can shut down at the same speed is not the answer.
Even if you can't ban your phone from your bedroom entirely, one really useful boundary to establish is the last time at night that you check your phone or tablet.
The first time I stepped out without my phone I felt anxious. I hadn't been anywhere without it for such a long time, so I kept patting my pocket reflexively to check whether it was still there. This weird behavior even has a name: "nomophobia" – the fear of being without your phone.
Start small, with just an excursion to the corner shop. Think of it as exercising your digital detox muscle: you have to work out how to engage it before you can start the heavy lifting. Before long you'll find you can go for longer and longer periods without being tethered to your phone, without panicking or worrying.
5. Phone-Free Food
How many of us complain about friends, family, and loved ones checking their phones while eating with us? Yet many of us are guilty of the same offense.
Start enjoying quality time and food together.
Whether it's snatching a sandwich by yourself or enjoying a longer meal with someone else, resolve to keep your phone tucked away, hidden, and out of sight. Make your meal moments mini-digital detox moments. Savor and enjoy what you're eating, and relish every mouthful free from screen distractions.
5. Bathroom Ban
What is it about our addiction to our phones that means we can't leave them behind, even when we take a bath? Why can't we just relax and enjoy a long soak? What is so urgent that it can't wait?
Try banishing your smartphone from bath time for a week. Pause, be mindful, and enjoy the experience. You really don't need to use this time to keep up-to-date on social media, messages, or the news. Just lie back and enjoy.
Take time to remind yourself how relaxing a few minutes without your phone can be.
7. Track Tech Time
Try for one day to make a note of every time you pick up your phone and when you put it down again. With some research showing we pick up our phones up to 150 times a day, just logging it all may be a challenge!
Each time you make a note (even just a mental one) of when you check your phone, notice how long it's been since the last time you checked it. You'll quickly get a sense of how much time in your day you're making available to focus on other activities – and how long you can actually go before you get the urge to pick up your phone.
This exercise will give you an idea of how much time your phone habit eats up. You might well find yourself shocked at all those wasted minutes (and hours).
8. Put Your Phone in Its Place
1. Find a box or basket big enough to hold all the smartphones in your household. Make sure whatever you choose makes it impossible to see the phones once they are inside (removing temptation).
2. Agree on a central location where the container will be kept. Perhaps the hallway right where everyone comes in, or just outside the kitchen.
3. Discuss with everyone in the household what the rules are for when phones need to be stowed here. Is it as soon as anyone enters the house? Overnight? During family meals? Only on a specified phone-free day of the week?
4. Set a test period when you can try out the phone container and see how it's working for you.
5. Tweak the plan to maximize chances of sticking to it.
6. Get going!
GO WITH THE FLOW
One study estimates that we tap, swipe, and click on our devices an average of 2,617 times a day. Yet another, that we consume more than five times as much information a day than we did in 1986.
The result of this constant connectivity and deluge of information is rising rates of burnout and stress, and rapidly deteriorating concentration. One piece of research even claims our human concentration span is now less than that of a goldfish!
The ideal activities to recharge and restore your screen-addled brain are those in which you can enter a state of "flow" – a meditative state in which your breathing and heart rate slow down considerably.
Flow occurs when you become totally absorbed in what you're doing such that your brain simply can't be distracted by anything else. Time just seems to fly by and you may even lose track of it completely.
To find the perfect "unplugged" pursuit, try out a range of activities that require all your focus, and preferably both your hands – so you can't juggle your phone while doing it. This section has a few suggestions.
1. Mindful Coloring
Why are coloring books so popular? Probably because coloring in an intricate and detailed pattern has been found to be one of the best activities to relax with.
Unlike more physical activities that get you into a state of flow, such as surfing or yoga, coloring requires very little skill, so we can all do it. It also harks back to our childhoods, so it's evocative and nostalgic – and it's incredibly satisfying when you complete a difficult design.
A creative outlet is important when your brain is moving at break-neck speed for most of the day. Coloring in beautiful illustrations not only takes you on a trip down memory lane but also gives your brain a well-earned rest.
Coloring is particularly good if you find it hard to relax and switch off; altering the brainwaves from alpha to beta (which occurs when you're in flow) facilitates deep sleep, so it's great to do to unwind before bed for a good night's sleep.
But coloring is fantastic for clearing the head at any time of day, even if done in just 10- or 15-minute bursts. With repeated coloring sessions you'll soon find you can focus for longer when doing other activities too.
2. Turn the Page
When was the last time you got lost in a book? Really deeply immersed, turning the pages hypnotically and lifting your head only to find with surprise that most of the day has gone?
One of the casualties of our over-dependence on screens is our relationship with reading. When we're used to snatching sound bites of news and entertainment here and there from online news sites and social media, it's hard to stay focused on reading long enough to get drawn into a good book.
If reading for long periods of time is something that you're struggling with, start by setting a small challenge of reading for just six minutes a day. Read before bed and it'll help with sleep too.
3. Complete a Puzzle
Smartphones are constant distractions. Their intrusive notifications and hard-to-ignore alert sounds mean that we're developing what's known as "monkey brain" – rapid mental darting from one thing to another, between what's happening on our screens and what's actually going on in our lives – and it's completely eroding our concentration and focus.
Remember the joy of jigsaw puzzles from your childhood? They're the perfect activity to get lost in to recharge your brain.
Choose a puzzle that has a complex design, preferably with more than one thousand pieces. The idea is to become completely absorbed in finding and fitting all the tiny pieces. Time will fly by.
4. Keep a Journal
Scientists are discovering that there appears to be a special relationship between the brain and the hand: writing by hand stimulates a unique neural circuit that simply isn't activated by typing. Some research even suggests that the act of writing by hand may help us to learn better and be able to commit something to memory much more easily than by typing it.
However, writing in a journal offers more than just the benefits associated with writing by hand. Setting down your thoughts and reflecting on your day encourages you to be more mindful and notice what's going on in your life.
Journaling can be as brief or as time intensive as you want it to be – a five-minute exercise in closing the day by jotting down a few thoughts to help you drift off to sleep, or a longer "voyage to the interior." Either way, journaling delivers the most benefits when you commit to it as a daily practice. Start by journaling every day for a week and see how you do.
5. Sew Something
In, out, in, out, in, out ...
The steady movement of a sewing needle piercing its way through fabric can be a hypnotic and meditative experience.
Find a button that's fallen off. A hem that needs fixing, or an item that needs a name tag and settle down in a quiet corner with a needle and thread.
A mere five minutes of sewing will slow down your breathing and reduce your stress levels.
As a bonus, sewing over time will improve your hand-eye coordination and smarten up your wardrobe! Knitting and crocheting are also good activities to try, with similar repetitive movements to help you enter a state of flow.
1. Dig out an old recipe that you love. Make sure it involves something that will really absorb you, where you can dig in and use your hands – rolling out pastry, cutting biscuits, and making pasta dough from scratch are good examples of this.
2. Clear the kitchen of digital devices and distractions, and lay out all the ingredients and utensils.
3. Focus as you measure out the ingredients.
4. Read the instructions carefully and absorb yourself in the step-by-step process.
5. Really notice the sensations on your hands as you're handling the ingredients and mixing them together.
6. Appreciate the smell and look of your creation as it starts to come together.
Being immersed in the digital world inevitably involves a lack of physical movement. We're stuck at our desks all day and when we're not we're glued to our phones, often completely immobile. Moving physically is a great way to get out of our heads and into our bodies, resting our brains in the process.
Any form of mindful movement is a good way to get into the flow state. Yoga is particularly good for developing concentration because the effort required to get into some of the harder poses demands complete focus. Yoga's emphasis on breathing also helps you to enter a meditative and restful state.
But there are many other types of mindful movement you can try; Pilates, dancing, surfing, or running – all of these require practice and skill to master and perfect. And all of them can help you get into the zone that will help you recharge your brain.
Try as many different types of mindful movement as you can until you find one that works for you.
8. Memorize a Poem
You can probably still remember a special poem you learned as a child. See if you can recall it now. Do the words come flooding back when you concentrate? What images and sensations do they bring back for you?
Committing something to memory requires time and focus, but it is extremely satisfying when you achieve it.
Find a poem that appeals to you and give yourself the challenge of memorizing it. As you repeat the words back and forth, testing yourself to see how much you've managed to retain, you'll find yourself entering a mindful state-all that matters are the words in the poem and whether you've captured them.
At the end you'll have some beautiful words flowing around in your head that you can bring to mind whenever you want. You could also try memorizing an excerpt from your favorite play or book, if that's more your style.
GET BACK TO NATURE
When we decide to do a digital detox we're not just making a decision to switch off; we're also choosing new ways to spend our time. Reconnecting with nature is one of the very best things to make time for each day.
Keeping one foot always in the digital world means we're losing our valuable connection with the natural world. And yet we know so much about how nature heals and nurtures us. For both physical and mental health, getting out in nature is inspiring and regenerative.
In adults, even a quick glimpse of nature has been proven to improve concentration and productivity. And in children, walking in the park has been shown to decrease symptoms of ADHD. Exposure to nature has even been linked to the improved functioning of our immune systems.
Scientists have found that ample time spent in natural light is key to maintaining healthy circadian rhythms in the body – the biological cycles that regulate our sleep, mood, hormones, and stress levels. How many more reasons do you need to get away from screens and go outside? This section has some ideas on how you can reconnect with nature.
The average person in a developed country spends around 90 percent of their life indoors. So, despite the huge boom in health-based technology (fitness trackers, smartphone health apps, online fitness classes), it seems we're mostly trying to be healthy indoors, and usually while glued to a high-tech gadget.
But one of the best things we can do for our health involves using no screens, equipment, or technology whatsoever – just walking outside. We know how good we feel when we get some fresh air and go for a walk. Walking in nature, rather than an urban environment, has been shown to improve mood and short-term memory in people with depression, as well as decrease the number of repetitive, negative thoughts and the type of brain activity associated with mental illness.
Stowing away your screens, putting down your phone, and going outside for a walk can't help but relax you! Using your walking time to think and appreciate your surroundings is mindfulness meditation at its most basic.
Take a dog, take a friend, or just take Yourself – outside. Go for a walk.
2. Plant Something
Anyone who has spent time gardening understands just how therapeutic the experience can be – all the scents and sounds of the garden, and the sensory qualities of touching the plants, watering them, feeding them, and feeling soil on your hands.
Gardens are soothing spaces and tending to one is a rewarding pleasure. Working with plants can't be hurried and you can't garden with a phone in your hand either! But even if you don't happen to have a garden or access to a piece of land, you can still enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from when you nurture and grow something. A window box or even a single pot near some natural light is enough to grow a plant in. Watching something grow through the seasons connects us to the cycles of life and makes us feel renewed.
Excerpted from "Off: Your Digital Detox for a Better Life"
Copyright © 2018 Tanya Goodin.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK, 6,
SET YOUR BOUNDARIES, 12,
1. Wake Up, 16,
2. Screen Scheduling, 18,
3. Before Bed, 20,
4. Unplugged, 22,
5. Phone-Free Food, 24,
6. Bathroom Ban, 26,
7. Track Tech Time, 28,
8. Put Your Phone in Its Place, 30,
GO WITH THE FLOW, 32,
1. Mindful Coloring, 36,
2. Turn the Page, 38,
3. Complete a Puzzle, 40,
4. Keep a Journal, 42,
5. Sew Something, 44,
6. Cook, 46,
7. Move, 48,
8. Memorize a Poem, 50,
GET BACK TO NATURE, 52,
1. Wander, 56,
2. Plant Something, 58,
3. Look UP, 60,
4. Go Cloud Spotting, 62,
5. Sit in a Green Space, 64,
6. Cleanse, 66,
7. Do Something Seasonal, 68,
8. Sleep Under the Stars, 70,
TAME YOUR TRIGGERS, 72,
1. Mute, 76,
2. Declutter Your Digital Home, 78,
3. Delay Your Response, 80,
4. Go Off the Grid, 82,
CHOOSE ANALOG, 84,
1. Find Your Built-In GPS, 88,
2. Draw a Selfie, 90,
3. Think Positive, 92,
4. Just Ask, 94,
1. Write a Postcard, 100,
2. Talk More, 102,
3. "Friend" Someone, 104,
4. Write a Secret Note, 106,
5. Play the Game, 108,
6. Be Present, 110,