A while back I wrote a post with the inquiry, “Is it Time to Unplug?” The question was rhetorical in a way saying that in our culture there are too many things to pay attention to and when we end up abusing all our options, we become overconnected and this feeds mental and physical dis-ease. But, what about when our work requires us to be plugged in, what can we do then?
First it’s important to break down how we pay attention to technology. At times we are focused and need to get things done so we power through a number of emails. Other times we need to do research and so we surf the web looking for content and resources. This is an effective use of attention.
However, other times we get overwhelmed by mounting projects and we use technology as a distraction or a way to “kill time.” Maybe we start answering unimportant emails or start surfing the web for brain dribble. This is what is called a distracted or wasteful zone of attention.
So what can we do when we really feel like we want to "unplug," but we can’t because our work requires us to be "plugged in"?
Email meditation: In my upcoming book The Now Effect (Simon and Schuster, 2012) I have a chapter in there that looks at how we can bring more awareness to technology at work. So, I bring up the notion of creating an email meditation. This is simply about carving out a specific period of time, 10, 20, 30 or 60 minutes and making email the object of your meditation. When your mind wanders off onto wasteful or distracted zones of attention, you note that and gently guide it back to the email. In other words, just like you would focus on the breath in a breathing meditation as the object of awareness, you’re replacing it with email.
Applications: We’re recently piloting a Mindfulness at Work application where someone moves through short chunks of education and practice (5 minutes) to help reduce stress, strengthen mindfulness and focus at work and give you insight how often you find yourself in distracted or wasteful zones of attention. The app keeps track of how you’re doing along with everyone else who is on it. There are other meditation Apps out there to choose from as well.
Bell Timer: You can get free meditation timers online to pause and sit for a period of time from 5 minutes to 30 minutes.
We don’t need to always break away from our digital devices to practice mindfulness. We can use them to support us in our practice.
Take a day or a week and try some of these out. See what your own experience tells you. At the of the day, that’s your best teacher.
What about you? Please share you thoughts, questions and stories about how being plugged in supports being more mindful. Your ideas provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Elisha Goldstein is a clinical psychologist and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. He is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger). Visit his mindfulness and psychotherapy blog on PsychCentral.com.