Addicted to Distraction: How our Smartphones Add Value or Limit our Lives

I am The Queen of Distraction! There. I said it. It’s not a self-proclaimed title that I am particularly fond of, but it is the truth, and for me the truth always feels liberating. In this moment, I accept my current reality (some days are easier than others when it comes to acceptance!) and as Carl Rogers says, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

What I am working to change is the fact that I continually distract myself from anything and everything: my work, time spent with my family, I distract myself from uncomfortable feelings, I even distract myself from distracting myself. HA! Basically, the list goes on and on. I’m being a little dramatic here, but you get my point.

In looking back, I can see that drinking played a vital role in my need to distract. It was a tool I regularly used to avoid the present moment, because the present moment was never enough. I was unable to sit with my feelings of discomfort. If I was bored, I would drink. If I was angry, I would drink. If I was sad, I would drink. If I wanted to have more fun, I would drink. It was a tool that enabled me to move away from whatever it was I didn’t want to feel.

Now that I’ve left drinking behind I can see that I am still doing this in sneakier, more insidious ways—mainly with technology.

I have recently been reevaluating my relationship with my precious little beloved iPhone. How many of you feel as though you are missing a limb when you leave home and realize that you accidentally forgot your phone? I know I certainly do! I also know there are probably many of you out there who feel me on this because I seeeee you on your phones all the time. Now, granted, that is just my judgmental-self sneaking in and being all judge-y, because really, I can’t know if your phone is a problem for you. Only you can know that. It may not be a problem for you at all. It may be a great distraction that is protecting you from something you just aren’t ready to deal with, and that’s totally okay. YOU get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t, regardless of what others think.

However, if you are anything like me, you might not even realize that it is a problem or that it is creating suffering in your life until you look closely at your relationship with it.

When I got real with myself and acknowledged that I actually crave my phone, I knew I had to go beyond the surface and dig a little deeper, to inquire into this experience of craving. Instead of reaching for my phone on autopilot, I decided to slow it and look at my intentions. I began to look at what reward I was seeking from checking my phone incessantly throughout the day.

I asked myself questions such as: why do I use my phone so much? Why do I feel the need to check Facebook, Instagram, and email so often? What am I hoping to get from my actions? What reward am I seeking? Is this behavior affecting other areas of my life? What emotion am I attempting to avoid feeling?

Your answers might be different than mine, but the only way to know what your answers are is to inquire deeply into your own usage of technology in this digital age. If you want to know why you do anything, get curious. Investigate your thoughts, your behavior, your experience.

When I look closely at my own usage I can see that I am trying to distract myself from boredom. It’s an old friend, or I guess it’s more like an enemy I should say, when I consider the fact that I am constantly running away from it. HA! For me, boredom ultimately comes down to the belief that the present moment is never enough. My mind likes to tell me that the present moment can always be better and that there is always something I can be doing to enhance my experience. I am a glutton.

More, more, more is the name of my game and through deep inquiry I can clearly see how much suffering this creates in my life. Albeit, it is suffering on a small scale, but suffering is suffering, nonetheless. In The Pali Canon Buddha says, “The Noble Truth of the Origin [cause] of Suffering is this: It is this craving.” If you find yourself craving something throughout the day, notice if this causes you to suffer in any way. When you avoid giving into the craving what emotion arises? How does that emotion feel—pleasurable or painful? When you act on the craving how does that feel? For how long is the craving satisfied? Take a close look.

What I have come to know and understand is that I can unwind the neural pathways that cause me to be chronically distracted, through deliberate practice that is geared towards increasing my focus on the task at hand—even if that just involves being focused on the present while enjoying a day at the beach! Shouldn’t be that hard, right? Well, the thing is, for many of us it is hard.

I recently read Deep Work by Cal Newport who believes, as I do, that it’s important to notice how you are distracting yourself in the little ways, because that feeds into other areas of your life—which is exactly what I have found. He asserts that “Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction…it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate.” In other words, if I distract myself every time I feel a sense of boredom, I am training my brain to live in a chronically distracted state which is not only painful, but also keeps me from being able to engage with life on a deep, meaningful level.

Author Winifred Gallagher says, “the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.” A meaningful life is a life of depth, one where we are not constantly distracting ourselves while hanging with our friends or waiting in the grocery line. If we continually allow these distractions to keep ourselves from feeling our feelings, and from deeply being with and connecting with those around us, then we are on some level letting life pass us by.

We are fighting an uphill battle this day and age. The digital age has in so many ways trained our brains to never have to tolerate boredom, because we can always reach for something more interesting than the present moment when our smartphones are close by.

Now let’s re-frame this positively—instead of trying to stop distracting ourselves, let’s instead look at increasing our focus. Where in your life are you losing focus? When do you find yourself reaching for something instead of fully engaging in the task at hand—no matter how small that task is? This is where a mindfulness practice, called RAIN comes in handy.

I came across RAIN while reading The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer—a book I highly recommend! The steps are:

  1. RECOGNIZE: The first step to changing any behavior is to recognize the thought that then leads to the behavior. You can’t change that which you are unaware of. You also need to relax into this new found awareness and realize that you ultimately have no control over the thoughts that arise. If you did, you would never have a thought that causes you to suffer because you would simply change it and never allow it again!
  2. ACCEPT: Accept that you have no control over the thoughts that arise. Don’t take it personally when you find yourself craving. It’s not you, it’s simply a neurochemical process occurring in your brain. Don’t try to distract yourself from your thoughts, don’t try to force them to go away, but rather, acknowledge that this is your experience and while you can’t control your thoughts, you can control how you respond to them.
  3. INVESTIGATE: Bring a sense of inquiry and curiosity to your experience. Check in with your emotions and your body. When the craving arises, such as the thought “I want to check my phone” investigate it. I ask myself questions such as: when was the last time I checked my phone? Do I really need to check it right now? Why or why not? How often does this thought arise? How do I feel when I have this thought? What emotions arise? How does my body respond? What physical sensations am I feeling? What am I avoiding?
  4. NOTE: In your investigation, simply take note of what has arisen. When I have the thought that I want to distract myself I notice that I start to feel a sense of anxiety, and that anxiety increases when I refuse to engage in the distracting behavior. My body contracts. I feel a surge of energy that makes me feel as though I need to take some sort of action. All of this is simply feedback about my lived experience. When I acknowledge and accept this feedback I create agency and allow myself the ability to respond rather than react. I can choose to engage in the behavior and see how that feels, or I can choose to use RAIN, ride the wave of craving, anchor into my body, witness my experience, and notice when the craving passes. Because it always does. The mind is pretty much always either in the past or in the future, however, the body is always in the present. We can anchor our minds to the present moment by investigating and tuning into the experience of our body.

Another helpful tool to create lasting change is to break it down into bite-sized chunks. I could completely do away with my phone, but it is a useful tool and I like it. In many ways it gives me pleasure and helps me to quickly and easily communicate with others. So instead of quitting all together I’m working to increase the length of time that I go without it.

I want it to be a tool that adds to my life, not one that takes away from it. Going back to bite-sized chunks, let’s look at how I am working on this blog post. I set myself a goal of going 30 minutes without doing anything besides focusing on the task at hand. In the past 30 minutes the urge to check email arose on seven (!!) different occasions, I used RAIN to ride the wave of craving. In doing so, I am building my focus through deliberate practice and, rewiring my brain in the process.

If you’re trying to increase your focus to complete work, or to spend an hour of uninterrupted, distraction free time with your family or friends it is also helpful to bring in ritual. Ritual is a powerful tool for the mind and psyche that signifies a beginning and end to something. When the same ritual is used consistently it primes the brain for that activity. For writing, I have decided to light a candle when I begin my 30-minute chunk of time and blow it out when I am done. Then I take a short break and repeat. As my urge to distract loses momentum, I will be able to lengthen these chunks of time.

Change is HARD. We all know this. What we are going for here is deliberate practice, not perfection. Knowing that you will inevitably fail many times in your endeavor to create change, The Craving Mind offers us some helpful tips.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. There is no point. You can’t control the thoughts that arise, you can’t control your genetics, your history, what you’ve been exposed to over the years—it’s all been said and done. Instead lean towards non-judgmental acceptance.
  2. Take it slow. Change is often only sustainable when we approach it in a way that works for us, in bite-sized chunks. If I were to say I’m going to write for six hours without checking email or looking at my phone, I am inevitably setting myself up for failure. Start slow.
  3. Don’t take it personally when you mess up again. It’s not personal. It’s just your brain at work. It’s a neural pathway that needs to be unwound and that is a slow and ongoing process.
  4. Focus on quality over quantity. It’s about deliberate practice. Not perfect practice. Five minutes of writing and riding the waves of craving to distract is much more beneficial in rewiring the brain long term than going big right out of the gate. Start small, practice deliberately, use RAIN, and gradually increase the times you set aside to intentionally increase your focus on the task at hand.

 

Calling on the Wisdom of the Wild Woman

What are you hungry for deep in your soul? The Wild Woman Archetype can help you to bring forth that which is calling to you. She connects you with your innate wisdom, she is your innate wisdom. She is powerful and wise. She is connected to all those who have gone before you. Call on her. Invite her in.

For the past several weeks I have been endlessly fascinated with the Wild Woman, ever since reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes bestseller, Women Who Run with the Wolves. In the past month or so I’ve been feeling as though I’d lost touch with a part of my wild nature. Going through the motions, trying to live a soulful, fulfilled life. But still, there has been a touch of wildness that is missing. There has been this part of me that deeply longs to just break out of all the norms and run free. But in reflecting on this, I wonder, what exactly does that look like?

Clarissa’s book provides more or less a road map to connect with this innate, wild energy that is available to all of us. We’ve been so conditioned by culture, religion, and family norms, to name a few, knowing what we must and must not do to have and maintain connection and belonging. But what part of ourselves do we lose in this process of domestication?

We lose a huge part of ourselves. We lose our connection to the wild, we lose our connection to our soul, if we are going through the motions unconsciously.

You see, the Wild Woman doesn’t just survive—she THRIVES.

We need to reclaim our instinctual life, our soul, our spirit.

Clarissa discusses how this Wild Woman is an endangered species in today’s society, and a protective preserve must be created to nurture her. This protective preserve, this sacred space, is created and nurtured by US. This wild aspect of self is needed more now than ever in today’s politically tumultuous climate—with our safety, our water, our environment, our children, our dignity being threatened at every turn. With women making 77 cents per every dollar made by a man, our society needs us to reclaim our wildness. To stand for equality. To step out of our acceptance of the status quo, and instead to call on our fierce, wild nature.

You may be wondering who or what this Wild Woman is. What she looks like. How she acts. If you had asked me 15 years ago I would have said she is the one carelessly dancing on table tops, streaking through the university campus at the sight of the first rain of the season, swimming naked in the ocean (I have done all of these!). Yes, this can be her, and yet she is so much more.

Below you will find some thoughts and questions to reflect on to cultivate the Wild Woman energy in your life. Grab a cup of coffee, grab your journal, and take a few minutes to reflect on and answer the following questions.

1.  The Wild Woman leads a truthful life that is informed by both gut instincts as well as intellect. She runs, gets lost, and risks making mistakes in order to answer the call of her soul.

  • What is my soul hungry for?
  • Where am I in denial, or not telling my truth?
  • Where am I staying small out of fear of making a mistake?
  • Am I afraid of getting lost, and is that fear holding me back?
  • Do I listen to my gut instincts, or do I continually rationalize with intellect?

2.  The Wild Woman is a rebellious seeker. She takes the road less traveled. She doesn’t wait for a guide to show up, instead, she strikes out on her own.

  • In what area of my life do I need to set out on the road less traveled?
  • Where am I waiting for a guide?
  • Why am I waiting for a guide?

3.  The Wild Woman cannot be controlled, she is the original rebel, the original revolutionary.

  • Where am I being controlled? By what or by whom?
  • Where do I need to call on my rebellious nature?
  • What status quo am I currently accepting?

4.  The Wild Woman uses all of her senses. She uses her imagination, her passion, she tells her stories. SHE USES HER VOICE.

  • Where do I need to speak up?
  • What is keeping me from using my voice?
  • What are my passions?
  • What are my stories?
  • Am I living them? Am I sharing them? If not, why?

5.  The wild woman doesn’t want to settle or be forced into any box.

  • Where in my life am I settling?

6.  The Wild Woman is in tune with nature. She’s in tune with the rhythms, cycles, and seasons of her life.

  • Do I know what season I am in?
  • If I’m in winter, am I allowing myself to hibernate and replenish? If not, why?
  • If I’m in spring, am I taking myself out into the world, creating, sharing, and blossoming? If not, why?

7.  The Wild Woman is uninhibited, erotic, and comfortable with her life force energy.

  • Am I allowing myself pleasure?
  • How can I cultivate even more pleasure in my life?
  • Am I comfortable in and embracing my sexuality?
  • Am I embracing the dirty, juicy, moist, earthy parts of myself?

8.  The Wild Woman accepts and embraces all parts of herself.

  • What aspect of myself do I find unacceptable? Why?
  • What do I need to do to find acceptance in this area?
  • How can I foster more self-love?

9.  The Wild Woman allows for spontaneity. She is inventive. She creates and she destroys.

  • What do I need to create?
  • What do I need to destroy?
  • How can I allow for more spontaneity in my life?

The Wild Woman is often feared because she is immensely powerful. She is liberated. She is unstoppable. She knows when to soften and when to call on her fierce nature. Where in your life do you need to invite her in? Perhaps in your relationship? Your parenting? Career? In your creative life? Your activism? Your emotional life?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, “The Wild Woman is only intimidating to those who are not yet free. She is a mirror of all you are or all you have yet to become. She is a living invitation to claim your freedom. Your wings long to life you on the wind.”

Claim your freedom by inviting this powerful and wise archetype into your life. Her wisdom and power will set you free. She will help you create and live a life where you can THRIVE. She will connect you to the wisdom of all women who have gone before you. It is time to unleash your power.

When we free ourselves, it is then that we can truly step into our power and help to liberate others.

Flip the Bird to Resistance

Flip the Bird to Resistance

Resistance. It is a beast that often gets the better of us. It comes in the form of self-doubt, procrastination, distraction, and perfectionism to name a few.  It can stop us in our tracks and keep us from that which we desire.

If there is something you care about, you are bound to encounter resistance. If you are a yogi, it may grace its presence in the form of the inability to consistently show up on the mat. If you are a writer, you will experience a period of lack of inspiration and lack of desire to show up to your craft. Have a business idea? Resistance may keep you from moving forward. Basically, It can show up in all aspects of our life, often without us knowing what is actually going on.

I experienced it this weekend when it comes to writing, and it is so sneaky, I didn’t even realize what it was until I was observing my almost ten-year-old daughter.

It has been a stormy, full moon weekend—the first weekend of the rainy season came in with a bang and it is also our first weekend in months without plans. No soccer, no play dates, and nowhere to go.  Which you’d think would be lovely. In many respects, it has been.

I’ve watched my imaginative five-year-old play all day and engage with the world around her whereas when I ask my ten-year-old to turn off the TV and find something to do she mopes around muttering:

“I’m bored”

“There’s nothing to do”

“This is the worst day ever”

(Do all you moms out there feel me?!?!)

Being the awesome mom that I am I roll my eyes and tell her to stop whining and find something to do. Anything. Just dive in and get started with something. Think outside the box. Go through the cupboards and see what’s there. Engage with something and if you don’t like it, if it doesn’t entertain you, then move onto something else.  It’s not that hard.

What’s ironic and quite hilarious is that I did not heed my own advice.

Every week I am inspired to write and this week I’ve got nothing. Nada. No inspired ideas.  I find myself mindlessly scrolling Facebook and distracting myself in every way possible instead of just. showing. up. Instead of jumping in and brainstorming ideas or just getting started and writing about anything, I decided it would be more fun to mope around and hope that I would be struck with divine inspiration.

Problem is, it doesn’t always work this way.  Instead of waiting for inspiration to come to you, you have to go to it. You have to show up. You have to do the work. You have to just get started. So I decided to get started.  I started writing and it was total shit. I could have thrown in the towel but I wasn’t going to let distraction and perfectionism get the best of me. I kept writing, and it was then that I realized this week’s blog post had a mind of its own and wanted to be about resistance because that was exactly what I was experiencing. Good ‘ole-keep-ya-down resistance.

When I realized what was going on, that I was at battle with The Beast, I decided to visit a book by Steven Pressfield, a short little gem on resistance called, Do The Work. Great title, huh?

Steven says, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower nature will elicit resistance because our lower nature loves instant gratification. And we are an instant gratification society.  So if you are engaging in anything that does not result in instant gratification, you can be sure to encounter resistance. To feel out of ideas, hesitant, uninspired, and stuck.

You can throw in the towel, think it is just going to be this way, or you can name what it is, The Beast of Resistance, and decide to go to battle.

Resistance is a thing in and of itself. It is not you. You have it, but you are not it. The real you must meet it head on if you care deeply about your endeavor. Once you get started, you are already winning.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur, a yoga teacher, a yogi, or a business owner, you have to ask:

How bad do you want it?

Why do you want it?

If you can only half-heartedly answer these questions, resistance will surely take you down.  However, if you want something badly enough, and if you care deeply enough, you will be able to defeat the resistance, to push past the perceived roadblock in front of you and commit to engagement at all costs.

Tips for working with resistance, inspired by Steven Pressfield

1. Get Started

Start before you are ready. Start without ideas. Start without inspiration. Start unmotivated. Just show up and start working, engage. Then, you are well on your way to finding that gem that you seek.

2. Stay Stupid

It sounds bad, but the point is to not try to be too smart. To not try to be perfect or full of brilliant ideas. To not wait until you feel 100% to show up. It doesn’t have to be your best. Just get going and let what comes up come up. When we try too hard, when we think everything needs to be perfect it will stop us dead in our tracks.  Or it can stop us from finishing. I think it’s better to have done something lousy than to have done nothing at all. It is better to show up at your mat and just lay there then to mindlessly scroll Facebook. At least you tried, you showed up. Chances are if you keep playing, keep engaging, and pushing on eventually divine assistance will come to your aid, and BAM! Inspiration strikes. You feel motivated. You feel excited again.

3. Have Faith

Trust that assistance will be provided if you show up and do the work.  The Muse won’t leave you hanging if you commit to engagement. It could be a short wait or a long wait, you can’t know this.  All you can do is have faith, which is great advice for anything in life. Just. Have. Faith. Keep going.

The Key to Mastery is Failing First

The 2016 Summer Olympics have got me thinking about the concept of mastery and how I can take my pursuits to the next level.

If you are anything like me, you have probably dreamed of success, but your fear of failure has been standing in your way. We tend to think things such as:

  • “If I fail, what does that mean about me and my value as a person?”
  • “What will people think of me?”
  • “Will I be able to withstand the shame of being seen as a failure?”

The fear of shame is what has held me back: Fear of being seen as “bad” or “incompetent.” The result of this fear is that for the better part of my life I have tried to play it safe: Taking calculated risks, but never risking greatly, nor often. The problem with this strategy is that it keeps you small, and it also prevents you from attaining mastery.

Over the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to have had a lesson drilled into my thick head from our kind and benevolent universe: Failure is the path to mastery. We must walk this road to attain that which we seek.

But it’s not simply just failure that we need. It’s failure combined with deep, deliberate practice. I just recently finished reading Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code. He talks about how deep practice is an interesting paradox: We have to practice by operating at the edges of our ability where we are going to make mistakes, and that to master something we must struggle—but it must be a targeted struggle. This means working at your edge, making a mistake, and diving deep into that mistake to find strategies for improvement. So basically, we are practicing making mistakes—we are seeking them out—which seems counterintuitive.

Be willing to suck. That is how you learn, but only if you pay attention to where you are failing.

It’s been said that practice makes perfect, but that’s not entirely accurate. We must practice smart: Finding the sweet spot where we are operating at the edge of our ability. And we must stay at that sweet spot, which means constantly evaluating where that spot lies in relation to our practice.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to take to the next level, and it’s my ability as a yoga teacher, coach, and writer. At one point, my list included about 10 of my various interests, but let’s get real: We can’t achieve success or mastery at everything. We’ve got to hone in. We have to narrow our field of vision to dive deep.

I learned through my studies that mastery is the result of myelin insulating neural circuits, and it grows according to certain signals that are sent as the result of your practice. And luckily, myelin is like a muscle: When you use your muscles in a certain way, they respond by getting stronger. Similarly, myelin is also a living tissue that responds by getting faster and more fluent when we are using our skill circuits during deep, deliberate practice. But to build that precious myelin we must fire these skill circuits in the right way by trying to do things that are hard—things that we can at this moment barely do. We need to be at our edge to build that myelin!

Such relief! A light bulb went on when I realized that it is myelin that creates mastery and myelin is like a muscle that I can build. This means that through deep, deliberate practice I can become the yoga teacher that I have always dreamed of being—skillful, intuitive, responsive, and dynamic—through intentional, deliberate practice and immersion in this skill.

If you’re ready to take your practice (whatever that may be!) to the next level, consider the following:

  1. Hone in and be willing to make mistakes.

You’ve got to narrow your focus. What is it that you want to master? What skill is it that you are seeking to improve greatly? Making mistakes and struggling is a necessary component of building myelin, and thus, attaining mastery. In the myelin building process, struggle is not optional—it’s a neurological requirement for your skill circuit to fire optimally. It’s a paradox in that the circuit must fire sub-optimally as well: Mistakes must be made and we must pay attention to those mistakes to get those circuits firing in a way that leads to mastery of our skill. If you have a fear of failure or a fear of making mistakes, dig into why you have this fear before moving forward. Are your desires important enough to make you willing to face your fears?

  1. Immerse yourself in the field.

You must immerse yourself in that which you seek. If you desire to be a master yoga teacher, train with the masters: Seek them out, take their classes, watch classes online—every day. Absorb the picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it.

  1. Break it into chunks.

Break the skill into its component pieces. Memorize those parts individually, then link them together into larger groupings. To use the yoga teacher example, break the class into its component pieces. Take just the opening, then deliberately study and practice the opening postures of the class you plan to teach. Practice many variations so that you can responsively and intuitively adapt to the needs of your students. Next, move onto the next chunk of your class, and so on and so forth. Then link it all together. Master teachers in the making often record themselves teaching and then take their own classes to determine what worked and what didn’t so that they can fine tune.

  1. Slow it down.

Slowing it down is vital because it allows us the time and space to closely attend to our errors. When we attend to our errors in this way, we are creating a higher degree of precision with each firing of the circuit. In his book, Coyle talks about how precision is everything when it comes to growing myelin. This means taking your time when you deliberately practice.  You don’t have to practice at the speed you would teach—slow it down to find that precision and those neural circuits will fire, allowing you to teach effortlessly and with ease after your many hours of deliberate practice teaching.

  1. Embrace failure.

Be willing to suck. That is how you learn, but only if you pay attention to where you are failing. Hone in on the failure. What exactly wasn’t working?  Slow it down and find a way to remedy that which wasn’t working. Then practice again.

  1. Learn to feel it.

This deliberate practice can’t just be done all in your head. You must feel it.  It must be an entire-body mode of practicing. There are many yoga teachers out there who have thousands of hours of class and a lifetime of knowledge—but they live in their heads. I can always spot these teachers versus the teachers who are living in their bodies. They feel the pulse of the class—they know the feeling their instruction is trying to convey. I have a more profound experience in classes where instructors have learned to feel it.

  1. Stay in the sweet spot.

Once a section of practice finally becomes easeful, there’s no need to practice over and over and over again. Yes, practice makes perfect, but only deliberate practice within the sweet spot. Find your next sweet spot, where you are making mistakes and operating at the edge of your abilities and repeat steps one through six.

  1. Be patient and kind with yourself.

Keep in mind that it takes 10,000 hours of deep, deliberate practice to master a skill. It is not going to happen overnight. But with this deep immersion, you will continue to improve and be well on your way to success. Don’t give up—believe in yourself. The world needs YOU—and it needs you out there offering up your very best.

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