Are you at the place in life where you can’t stop browsing social media? Checking your phone for “updates”? Communicating over texts?
I am with you. Turns out about 210 million… yes, m i l l i o n of us today are addicted to the internet and its capabilities.1
Who created the internet? And are we as a society becoming slaves to the internet, or are we using its master?
I still remember the first few emails I sent and received, with my dad’s help, through America Online. Back then, it cost per the minute to get online, so we made good use of the time we had. (And I practiced the piano and did my chores to earn my internet time!) As a kid, I connected with an “electronic pen pal” about my age, and we exchanged many emails. My dad sent emails to researchers and doctors, and as novel as email was back then, they would courteously reply!
Fast forward 21 years, and most of us are constantly bombarded by electronic stimulus. Today at a social gathering, I took note that several of my friends would hold their phone in their hand while talking – just in case something came in for them, they wanted to check the time, see a sports score, check out a tweet.
Choose your favorite topics and you can get a continuous stream of information and advertisements.
Mountains of Messenger messages! A plethora of pings! Torrents of tweets! A deluge of ding dongs! (Well, at least the ding dong sounds)
What is a person to do? Here are 13 ways I have found to cut out the endless cacophony, slow down and…
feel the wonders of being human again
1. Get Out in Nature
Being in and around nature is uniquely restorative. Try going to a small mountain city and talk with the locals. Are most of the people stressed or relaxed? Repeat with a big city environment with less access to nature.
People pay a steep price to get homes that are in nature, especially if they are near enough a city where they can commute for work.
But you do not need a high price house to enjoy nature, nature is all around you. When my family gets out into nature, we are refreshed in a way that is impossible by staying in the house. Nature is constantly refreshing itself – life and death, sunlight and rain, burning and regrowth. Being in nature is one of the best ways to reconnect with your Creator. And being on technology is one of the best ways to become depressed. So go refresh yourself!
By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such cannot see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. Romans 1:20 The Message
2. Mind your Dopamine Loops
You’ve heard of Fruit Loops, now it’s time to hear about dopamine loops. The latest research on dopamine indicates that dopamine starts you seeking for something, with the reward when you find something, prompting you to seek more. Check your email and have something new? Pick up your phone and find a new text message? The dopamine loop has started powning you.
How to break it? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google says turning off as many auditory and visual cues as possible is the best way to prevent and break dopamine loops.
I would add a little trick I learned from a book for breaking habits or negative self thoughts. Find a pattern you want to break, such as picking up your phone every few minutes to check if you received a new message. Make and write down a plan for when to check your phone, such as every 30-60 minutes when you are taking a natural break from work or home activities.
Now, put a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you find yourself doing something you don’t want to (such as picking up your phone while you’re working), snap the rubber band against the inside of your wrist. This alerts your body to some discomfort and will help you break the negative cycle rather than indulging it (picking up the phone to find the information).
3. Turn Off Sound and Pop Up Notifications Everywhere Possible
I work on the computer the entire day, creating web and mobile applications for a living. I email, chat, text, video conference and carry about all sorts of communications all day long. It’s business, so I need to be notified right away when someone contacts me, right? Then respond in a neurotic efficiency like a game of ping pong till my opponent finally drops the ball? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
I learned from Dan Ward, a dear mentor and author with incredible work ethic that one does not HAVE to have their dings and their dongs constantly ringing all day. (On second thought, I do not mind if on-call emergency room doctors have sound notifications, but most of us aren’t ER docs so this still applies) Just turn off the sounds and notifications! And when you’re finished with your current round of thinking and doing, the apps will be there for YOU to check, instead of for IT to nag and distract you.
In my life, I mute group threads (you know the ones where everyone replies for the next hour with emojis), and I even mute my wake-up alarms, because I find the vibration is enough to wake me up.
4. Unsubscribe from Marketing Emails
If you’re like me, every 10 minutes or so some new email comes in. Did you know that email marketers have algorithms about the best time to steal your attention from you? I put that negatively, but when it comes to guarding your mind from marketing attacks, emails are a very challenging battlefront.
The cure? Click unsubscribe often! You don’t need to be on email lists. Look, I like getting a free buy one get one free burrito every now and again, but it turns out most of the emails I get from my favorite tex-mex place are just noise. I do like the freebies, but I like a sane inbox too. What are you willing to give up to allow marketers and services to infect your eyes and brain with unnecessary noise?
Can’t stop Facebooking? You can adjust notifications down to only the most important notifications to you. This one is “hard” for me; for instance when I turn off most/all notifications on Facebook, I find myself not going back very often. I “catch up” on some people I care about every month or so, and the rest of the time, I just know that lots of people are yakking while I am enjoying some internal peace and calm.
Ahhh, now isn’t that nice.
5. Check your Email Less Often
Good news! Unless you work for the New York stock exchange, you can probably get away with checking your email only 2-4 times a day! This one varies, but if you’ve turned off email notifications, you can wander over to email at convenient times for you. Plan for productivity, then plan for brain breaks to check email and do some responses. You are not on call to email all day, every day. What chains can be freed by giving yourself focus on what matters to *you*, not what matters to other people and businesses (their emails to you)!
6. Out and About? Leave Your Phone in the Car
I have grown to love leaving my phone in the car at social gatherings. Surprise surprise, most of the time I don’t *need* my phone. So, I think through who might contact me, whether I’m with the most important folks who I want to be available for (like my wife and kids), and what the cost of being out of touch for 1-2 hours will be. I even figure on missing a picture or two. Too bad, so sad. Most of the time I find I can be without my phone for at least 30 minutes, upwards to 2 hours and the world will keep revolving. So I leave my phone in the car for social events, and I am freed up to be with the people who matter most to me!
7. Eat Without Moving Around
This one is simple to explain, but hard to do in practice. Eat sitting down, while you’re not moving. Think about the taste of your food, your enjoyment and thankfulness for the food you have, breathe deep and enjoy eating. If you have to multitask, you might even read something or talk with a family member while eating your meal! Fancy that.
8. Just Breathe
I found very useful some practical advice a dear pastor friend gave to me. When you are feeling stressed, take a deep breath in, and hold it for 3 seconds. Then breathe out, and say to yourself one of these paraphrased Bible verses:
“When I feel stressed, I remember: God gives His peace to me” (John 14:27)
“The peace of God will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
“I cast my anxiety on God, because He cares for me!” (1 Peter 5:7)
“The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
Rinse and repeat a few times.
9. Exercise in Practical Ways
If you monitored my life, you would find that I am on the computer a lot. I find taking breaks critical (I use the pomodoro system for managing my time, it has helped improved productivity immensely). When I feel myself getting too much like “sludge in the matrix” (aka “daddy has computer face”), I like to mix things up by exercising in practical ways. That means I will take on a house fix-up chore, and do little exercises along the way. This allows me to be productive while getting my body in motion. I come back to the computer feeling energized and ready to take on some more of the matrix (which for me is programming for the web).
10. Keep Hydrated + Eat More Veggies
A great way to feel human is to drink a glass of water when waking up. And eat an incredible amount of veggies during the day. I enjoy meat proteins as well, but delicious veggies + water clears my body to function at peak capacity.
New to eating veggies? Get some tasty olive or avocado oil, some pink salt if you can, and lightly cook the veggies. Scrum-diddilly-umscious, and your body will thank you by shedding weight and giving you new energy!
11. Give Yourself Downtime Without Electronics
Take a bike ride, read a book, go on a walk, stare at the sunset. It is okay. You and your soul were meant to do these things at a slower pace. And if you can do without, leave your phone somewhere. Ending the evening talking with a spouse, reading a book, listening to the audio Bible in the YouVersion app – all will help you slow down and breathe. Ending the evening with an action movie, Facebook gossip and the like will leave you with discontentment and a daze, if you are anything like me!
12. Sleep Without Your Phone
It used to be your stuffed animal got all the attention in the evening.. or as a grown up, your spouse. Now that those computers in your pocket called a phone can do so much, like turning the lights off, it is tempting to have them near you all the time.
I own a vacation rental in Denver, and I found that the security notifications were giving me a dose of stress every night as I went to bed. I had to move the phone away from me – still able to hear notifications if someone broke into the house while no one was there, but far enough away such that I could sleep better.
Get some physical separation, light a candle near your bed, do some reading.. see how you can detach from the matrix while you sleep!
13. Power Down Alexa and the Dick Tracy Watch
First off, voice recognition technology is incredible. Smart watches can do amazing things. But don’t you think a smart watch is a little like a handcuff? Chaining you to more technology? I watched a waitress once who had to fiddle with her watch to tell the time. It is even funnier when a smart watch runs out of battery – what is it useful for then? If you need a watch, consider one that always tells the time – not just when you touch it!
Thinking about having a voice device in your house? Think about the mental overhead of having everything that you say scanned and interpreted by some electronic device. Does it make you smarter or just make you forget things more since you can always ask some attentive knowledge fairy the answer to your questions?
Just… unplug the cords and simplify.
Lest I be labeled a luddite, let me tell you that I enjoy technology in use for a life-giving purpose. I am around technology all day for my work. Perhaps that is why I like to unplug, or perhaps being married to Mrs. WBMH is why I like to – she has taught me that doing electronics all the time is a drag. I know as a single guy, I rarely had an evening where I felt satisfied – technology just slowly zapped my energy till I went to sleep late.
So friend, sit up, unplug and find ways to enjoy your life more!