Technology is sabotaging our mindfulness
By Brooke Stiles
Assistant News and Features Editor
Whether I am at school, at a restaurant, or even driving down the road, I look around to see mindless robots with their eyes glued to their phones.
We forgot how to walk to class, wait for the bus, or make coffee without feeling urged to reach for our phones.
Having technology that can deliver information to us at light speeds has translated into us wanting everything to be fast-paced in our daily lives. Our continually checking emails and social media has made us so used to always being occupied that we forgot how to slow down and breathe.
A typical young adult unlocks their phone more than 70 times a day for about 260 daily minutes, according to 2018 research by Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University.
Our over-reliance on technology has turned into a mindless obsession. Whether it is distracting ourselves from a task at hand, or having minutes to spare, we are always reaching for our phones.
As a result, the way we think about the future is very short-term, or about as long as it takes for the next notification to pop-up on one’s phone.
Philip Zimbardo, a famous psychologist, calls this being trapped “in a cycle of instant gratification.” He describes this as being stuck in a present moment that is not actually present because we focus on the next moment or the next post or notification.
We have started using technology in place of times where we could be engaging in free thoughts. The mindless scroll now wastes times like walking our dog, going to the mailbox, or even on a drive home.
Neglecting to pay attention to these thoughts can crowd our minds and cause us to feel anxious or stressed. Practicing mindfulness, however, can train us on how to be aware of our thoughts and not be overcome by them.
Mindfulness allows us to be in the present moment truly and to be aware of our thoughts, our feelings, our body, and even our surrounding environment at that moment. It enables us to observe our minds and be in tune with our bodies.
Paying careful attention to what our mind and body are telling us can nurture our thoughts and feelings. Then, we can use them to strive towards a more pleasant and peaceful way of living.
Practicing mindfulness involves anything from breathing and meditation to yoga. Here is the easiest way to start practicing:
- Set aside time. You do not need to sign up for a yoga class or a breathing seminar, but you should find a space where you feel relaxed and comfortable. Give yourself about five to 10 minutes every day to be in this place.
- Stay still. Lay criss-cross applesauce or even lay on your back. Whatever feels most comfortable for you, do it, but make sure to be still.
- Close your eyes. Closing your eyes will expand your other senses. You will be more in tune with the sensations of your body (the feeling of the wind kissing your skin) and the thoughts that float by your mind.
- Take deep breaths. We all know how to do this. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take time to feel your lungs fill with air, then your stomach as it pushes back out when you let the air escape your mouth.
- Observe the moment. Mindfulness is not about quieting the mind but instead paying attention to moments without judgment. Listen to what is going on around you. Pay attention to your thoughts that roll by. Feel your external and internal bodily sensations. (I like to pretend I am beside myself simply just observing my own life and ignoring any judgment.)
- Be gentle with yourself. Simply observe. When the mind decides to wander, gently return it to the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness is something we all can do. It is not something that asks us to change ourselves to achieve, but rather something that will help us more deeply recognize ourselves.
Jon Kabat Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), explains that when we are mindlessly in auto-pilot, different parts of the brain are lit up than with mindfulness practice.
He calls this “selfing” or “how much of our time we are running the narrative of I, me and mine.”
When we meditate or practice mindfulness in other ways, we are getting rid of our obsessive, controlling thoughts. Instead, we gain awareness of our human experience — our growth, conflicts, emotions, and other conscious experiences that define being a human.
This practice, in return, will reduce stress and not allow our thoughts or emotions to disturb the peace we are manifesting through mindfulness. It will also allow us to be more in tune with the now and let us easily concentrate on tasks at hand. It will re-create the stepping stones to our future to one that will reflect our authentic human experience.
One of the best things about mindfulness is anyone of any background, race, religion et cetera can practice mindfulness. You don’t have to be some barefoot hippie to understand how to live more peacefully. Although you might feel funny at first, or it might seem super challenging to sit down and not let your mind wander to your to-do lists, that’s okay. Mindfulness takes practice. Give yourself time. Allow yourself to make mistakes in your practice and know that you have the power to refocus your mind back to the present moment.
With time, you will start to notice yourself being in a more relaxed state, you will have heightened senses, and your concentration will improve.
I have been trying to optimize my mindfulness practices through yoga and meditation since high school. However, I, too, can sometimes find it challenging to release control of my thoughts. Whenever I have days like this, I am more patient with myself. I give myself more time to close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and relax. I don’t punish my mind, but rather help guide it back to a mindful state.
Since I started my journey to a more mindful life, it is easier for me to examine my thoughts and feelings and act on them appropriately. I can find peace with my decisions and actions. I am conscious of when my thoughts start controlling me. I am even aware of the state of those around me.
These are all skills that you, too, can obtain through mindfulness. These are skills that will allow our minds to stop being controlled by technology or the influx of our notifications. These are skills that will guide us all towards a more positive and peaceful human experience as one and as a whole.