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Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D. Headshot

Minimize Distraction to Restore Connection

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A 45-year-old woman walked right off a pier and into Lake Michigan because she was texting. As rescuers fished her from the freezing water, I doubt she was thinking of her phone, or the lost message. But moments before, this task had consumed her. Though texting-induced icy plunges are rare, our compulsion to multitask can be unhealthy and even dangerous. We're in the midst of a distraction epidemic, with mental, physical and emotional repercussions.

Jan Brogan of the Boston Globe, in an article called "Constant Distractions Can Take a Toll," says:

In a 2011 survey conducted by Euro RSCG, an international communications company, 49 percent of the 7,000 respondents said that they worried that digital technology and multi-tasking were impairing their ability to think deeply and focus.

Their inclinations are correct. It is not possible to divide our attention equally among tasks and retain the same level of concentration. Too much multi-tasking causes cognitive fatigue.

A piece on Savor Blog, "Tired, hungry and reaching for junk food," says:

A constant onslaught of beeps, buzzes and flashes keep our parietal cortex, the part of the brain scanning for sensory information, on overdrive and taxes our decision-making mind. This lack of focus not only impairs our ability to make healthy consumption decisions, but also our capacity to dig into a problem and achieve workflow.

All this for the sake of connection, yet studies show that we feel less connected than ever.

Steven Marche of The Atlantic says in "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?":

A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to a major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans -- about 60 million people -- are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.

Is loneliness amplified by multitasking or distraction? I'm aware of no evidence directly correlating the two. But it is clear that when we text instead of call, email instead of popping into the office next door or Google instead of asking a friend for advice, we forsake valuable moments with our loved ones and community members.

An important question to ask ourselves then: Do I want the fullest life, or the most fulfilling life?
If you're feeling full and unfulfilled, it's time to try something new. Your habit energy is like a car with a sleeping driver. It will keep running you off the road, as long as you let it. So wake up and take the wheel! You have the capacity to focus, flow, and connect, but practice is required.

Why not begin now, by stepping into the present fully, with an awareness mediation? (Don't worry, this will only take a moment.)

Prepare yourself by closing all unnecessary browser tabs, placing your phone out of sight and on silent, turning off the television or radio and reveling in this newfound freedom. Nothing calls to you in this space. All you have to do is sit and breathe.

Take a few deep breaths through your nose. Sit comfortably, relax your shoulders and close your eyes.

Breathing in I acknowledge my restless mind
Breathing out I am free from distraction.

Practice this mantra when you begin to feel anxious, overwhelmed or scattered. Stick with it for a few days and let me know how it goes. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

"Our true home is in the present moment. When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

For more by Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D., click here.

For more on unplugging and recharging, click here.