Distracted? Turn Your Screen Time into Mindfulness Time

Tips and meditation ideas to turn everyday idle moments into opportunities for mindful awareness of the present moment.


If you’re like most people these days, you probably live with a subtle undercurrent of distraction. During idle moments—waiting in line at the store, the doctor’s office, or the hug-and-go line to pick up your child—you may reach for your phone, without even thinking about it.

These distractions are a problem. But they’re not the real problem. The real problem is that we actively seek them out. We crave these seductive mind snacks the way a gambling addict craves a place at the blackjack table. We are, in other words, experiencing a mild to moderate form of behavioral addiction, to our screens.

How can we interrupt this momentum of distraction? 

In my new book OPEN: Living With an Expansive Mind in a Distracted World, I explore various tools and practices for breaking this habit. One of these tools is a mindfulness practice that involves changing our relationship to idle time, a practice I call “street meditation” or “street opening.”

Instead of seeing meditation as a practice that requires us to carve out time and seal ourselves away from distraction, street meditation turns ordinary moments of distraction themselves into a mindfulness practice. The goal is to transform all those throwaway moments of everyday life—standing in line, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and all the other idle moments of the day—into opportunities for mindfulness.

But how can you do that?

1. Notice the Urge to Distract Yourself

Street meditation practice starts with awareness. Without awareness, we tend to follow the well-trodden path of habit. And nowadays, that means pulling out our phone.

When we notice the craving for distraction as it arises in real time, a radical shift occurs. We can now investigate and explore this experience of craving.

Try this noticing practice next time you feel the urge to pull out your phone and reflect:

  • What happens when you don’t immediately reach for your device? 
  • What sensations arise in your body? 
  • What thoughts loop through your mind? 

Like all forms of mindfulness practice, see if you can observe all of this non-judgmentally, just watch it from a place of interest and curiosity.

2. Intentionally Choose Your Next Action

With noticing and awareness comes choice. Instead of unconsciously grabbing your phone and launching into your Instagram feed, you now get to decide what to do next.

You can choose not to pick up the phone (more on that in the next tip), or you can make the conscious choice to pull it out and indulge in a few quick digital hits of novelty.

It’s easy to see this second path as a kind of mindful failure, but that’s simply not true. By consciously choosing to engage with your phone after all, you’ve radically changed the quality of this action. It’s no longer automatic. It’s now intentional.

So if you find yourself saying “yes” to your email, text, or social media feed, try wandering through Screenland mindfully. Slow down your scrolling. Notice the sensations happening in your body or the sounds happening around you. Pay attention to your breath. Try turning screen time itself into a mindfulness practice.

3. Try a Short Street Meditation

Mindful screen time is a powerful practice, but if you’re able to resist the seductive urge to pick up your phone, there’s an even more interesting option available: street meditation.

This practice isn’t like other formal styles of meditation. In the settings of real life, formal meditation is usually a non-starter. You can’t just drop down into a cross-legged seated position and close your eyes at the grocery store or in the airport security line. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t meditate.

Enter street meditation. This is a different, more informal, way of practicing mindfulness. In this practice, you don’t have to sit in a special way or change the position of your body, nor do you have to close your eyes. All you have to do is bring your attention to some quality of the present moment. 

This could be sounds. In the chaotic and wild environments of modern life – train stations, shopping malls, and busy street corners – sounds can become a captivating object of your attention. Listen to this orchestra of sound. Turn sound into your street meditation.

Your object of attention could also be the sensations in your body.  Scan through your body and notice the predominant sensations (either pleasurable or uncomfortable). Then watch as these sensations twist, twirl, and change with each passing moment.

Your object of attention could even be the visual field. See the bus stop, the dry cleaners, or the fabric store as though you were gazing at the ocean or taking in the view from the top of a mountain. See the rushed and messy world in panoramic awareness.

This practice of street meditation has two amazing benefits. The first is that it helps us integrate more moments of mindfulness into the chaos that is modern life. The second is that it interrupts the momentum of distraction. It creates a space where we have the freedom to turn our attention from all those podcasts, TikTok posts, newsfeeds, and text messages to what’s happening right here, right now.