The Good, the Bad, and the Mindful Use of Your Electronics

I keep reading articles on cell phone or social media addiction. Or on the flip side, the temporary solution of doing a digital detox. I get this idea. If our bodies can get filled with ama (toxic build up) and can be optimized through a clean up and reboot, why not our minds which we fill with the constant stream of social media, news, and twitter feeds? Whether you do a digital detox formally in a led course or a bit more laissez faire by choosing a vacation spot in nature conveniently located far away from a wifi router, this seems like a good thing to do at least seasonally, in the same way we yogis and Ayurvedic folks do physical detoxes. Of course, just like in food detoxes, it’s helpful to learn some things about how to sustain some of that fresh and clean feeling in our daily life, of what is the point? 

I struggle with the use of my devices and online life too. I am human after all. :) But I got a lot better at this when I started taking and teaching courses online. Sounds weird? Hear me out. In the past, I went on social media or checked email whenever struck my fancy and responded the incessant pinging of text messages and alerts on my phone when they arose. At some point, I realized if I didn’t control my use of technology, it would control me.

 When I started studying online, I had a busy teaching and mentoring schedule as is, so I had to schedule in blocks of time not only for participating in actual classes, but also getting involved in the online groups with like-minded people from all over the world who offered tips, podcasts to listen to, articles of interest and even resources to manage time and be more productive. I knew that online groups could be a huge time suck if I didn't learn how to use them mindfully. I had too much shit to do and a dharma to follow. Getting pulled into social media la-la land wasn't an option. 

All told, online education in it's myriad forms is pretty fucking cool. I use Headspace and Insight Timer when I am on a plane and want to use a few quiet minutes to meditate. Youtube has taught me how to make and edit yoga videos, shrink and send files and send cool email chain health challenges. Canva allows me to make my own cool designs for flyers and invites. I learn and am inspired by at least 2 or 3 podcasts per week (I love Gretchen Rubin, Yogahealer, Tim Ferris and Sadh Guru) and these talks make their way into my yoga classes and brighten the minds and moods of my students, or so they tell me. I teach my transformative 10 week Ayurveda and Habit Change program Align to Thrive online (this is a new thing starting April 18th so friends not from Munich, you can join now yay!). 

 So how do we keep the good but avoid dropping into the great phone/social media abyss? Here are a few things I have discovered in my own studies and experimentation with habit change. 

Start to get how habits are formed

 If we don’t get how habits form, we are more likely to fall back on existing patterns without even realizing that we have a full-blown habit that feels like an addiction. And as they say, old habits die hard. This is because with a habit your subconscious takes the reigns. In order to implement a new plan, we have to engage the conscious mind. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states that for any habit, addiction, or compulsion you have, there is a cue, a routine, and a reward. 

The cue. In the case of your phone or device, the cue could be that you heard or saw your device ring or buzz. It could also be that you were you bored, overwhelmed by something and not sure of what to do next or you were just in a daze. Get to know your triggers. Sit with them. Get cozy with them. Learn to not unconsciously react to them. The routine is the easy part – the behavior. In this instance, picking up our phone or ipad and fiddling with it. The reward is that big old hit of dopamine we get when we get a new email or facebook like. It feels oddly satisfying. The more we repeat this habit loop, the more unconscious and deep we get. So what to do? If we know this is the habit loop we get stuck in with our phone/ipad/whathaveyou, how can we stop the loop before it sounds like a broken record? How do we get out.. Ahhhhhh!


1. Create a plan for your phone use

But planning is boring.. I want to feel more free and in the flow in my life. So do I, but how is that working for you? Do you have phone/technology freedom? You are still reading this, so I am guessing not. So plan times you are going to use it. Maybe you want to avoid checking work emails until you get to work and want to really enjoy your meals, free time and family time. Try a 9am -6pm plan, with lunch or social times blocked out. Put it on silent or airplane mode during off times. Alert your friends or family that this is the plan. Most of us love to tell other people what to do, so use this for your own betterment.:)


2. Use time blocking

Time blocking means blocking set times in your schedule for certain activities. I do this for many things in daily life that either needs to happen or I want to happen – projects, general work, self care, exercise and definitely emails and time-wasting crap. Figure out how much time you actually need to respond to messages, check in with your social media, or map your plans for the night. I rarely need more than 15 minutes more than a few times a day. Stick to it. Don't worry creating and sticking to a plan won't make you a total bore.  Time constraints can make you both more efficient and more creative


3. Remove the stimulus

Ever heard of the saying, Out of sight, out of mind? This works for our devices too. If you use your phone as an alarm so it is tempting you by your bed at night and when you wake up, buy an alarm clock.. You know the ones. They are plugged into the wall and tell the time and play you a song when it’s time to get up. No more bells and whistles other than this, so not so much distraction. If you look at your phone too much during the day, choose a place away from your desk to charge your phone so you have to walk over to pay it a visit. Studies say that even the smallest obstacle between ourselves and the object of our desire can be a deterrent. 


4. Turn off your alerts or delete time-sucking apps 

If you don’t already know how much time you spend and doing what on your phone, app companies have gotten hip to the fact that this is a real problem. Luckily the phone can be both the source and the solution to your problem. First, find an app that suits your needs and see where your time is going. Moment, Offtime and BreakFreeare all good ones to try. Moment tracks your device usage and allows you to set daily limits and notifies you if you exceed them. You can even use a setting that "forces" you off your phone by flooding your screen with super annoying alerts when you try to extend your screen time. How cool is that? Offtime blocks time-sucking apps like Facebook or games, helping you remove the cue entirely. 


5. Reward yourself

Over time, the clarity and ease felt from being free to use or not use your phone is reward enough. If you struggle in the uphill battle to get to this place, external rewards are helpful. I am a big fan of keeping track of how often I stick to my healthy habits. I share it with my accountability partner/best friend and journal it. Think of it as giving yourself a gold star. And like in primary school, once you get enough gold stars (think 10 or above) give yourself something you really want – a night out with your sweetie, a massage, or an hour at the sauna 

Okay, now you read my full newsletter, from a device I assume.. Now re-read the action steps and do them. Motivation is low for most people most of the time, but often after reading something that gives you a shot of inspiration, motivation is higher. Jump on that and do something NOW. 

Habit change science is super interesting, no? And we can learn cool things online and be inspired from people anywhere in this interconnected world we call the planet earth. I am teaching my first fully online Align to Thrive course starting mid-April. So you, my friends as far away from Munich as the U.S., Canada, the Middle East or even just nearby European countries can take part in a dynamic group experience that will change your life and your habits. We start with creating better body habits and then the world continues to open up more and more.. What more do you want in your life that you don't already have? Schedule a chat with me and let's talk more. It's free and I'm not pushy or salesy. I just get all fired up helping people live more healthy, and awake lives.