THE BLOG
02/29/2016 10:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why This Is the Most Powerful Personal Technology

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Recently I was talking to a client who has a four year old child. When I told him that my oldest son is headed off to college next fall, he asked me "knowing what you know now, what wisdom would you pass on about parenting?" I offered some thoughts, but nothing that really felt like it was coming from a place of wisdom. A day after that conversation, I had the good fortune of watching a friends six month old baby. For an hour I had nothing more important to do than observe and be with this 20 pound miracle of life. She squawked, talked, giggled, gurgled, rolled over, and drooled while I looked on in awe. As I sat with her, I knew what I wanted to tell my client about parenting - knowing what I know now, I would have spent more time as a parent being still.

Okay, but what does any of that have to do with technology? While the word "technology" generally brings to mind gadgets with chips and screens, a quick search for definitions of technology comes up with "the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area" and "a capability given by the practical application of knowledge." These definitions allow us to think about technology differently.

We know that pathways between cells in our brains are reinforced or reconfigured based on our behavior. We are shaping our brains with every choice we make. In other words, everything we do is practice. We also know that how we use our attention has a profound impact on our ability to choose behavior. The foundation of behavioral and emotional self-control is the skillful use of attention.

So, how do we apply this knowledge? What is the technology? After 25 years of studying the brain, well-being, and human performance, I believe that the most powerful personal technology we have is the practice of being still. Stillness as technology? Sound a bit abstract and maybe even nutty? In addition to thousands of years of wisdom that attests to the effectiveness, there is actually a ton of scientific research that points to the power of integrating stillness into the busyness of life. The technology of being still improves physical and psychological health, quality of relationships, and performance.

This technology is free and portable. It never needs a software update, and the charger cord never gets lost or tangled. Being still offers the opportunity to refocus attention and energy on what is present, what is important, and what is possible. In this stillness, we can observe our thoughts, feel our feelings, and choose effective action. The technology of stillness maximizes our capacity to use attention, emotion, and energy skillfully. Being still is the first step in cultivating and accessing the balance, calm, confidence, and connection that allows us to thrive rather than simply survive.

I am certainly not the first person to suggest the power of this technology. In fact, Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician who was a contemporary with some intellectual bigwigs such as Rene Descartes, Gallileo, and Thomas Hobbes, famously said that"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

Recently I was with a class of six and seven year old boys. For two five-minute periods, they practiced being still, following their breath, and noticing urges to move their bodies. When they felt an urge, they just allowed it and made the choice to remain still. It was pretty remarkable to watch these children and then to hear them describe all the things they noticed. In first grade, these boys were already well-versed in using an ipad, but the technology of being still was brand new to them.

Many of us are stressed and overwhelmed by the demands and distractions of daily life. We have time-saving devices that we use to cram even more into our days. We seek balance, but we practice imbalance. We know that whatever we are practicing in this moment is what we will be better at in the future. We know that being still for short periods several times a day has enormous benefits. We can apply this technology whenever we choose. How about right now?

Dave Mochel is an internationally recognized teacher, coach, and speaker. He partners with individuals and organizations to optimize health, happiness, and effectiveness. Dave uses modern neuroscience and enduring wisdom to help people master the skillful use of attention, emotion, and energy. You can contact him at dave@appliedattention.com.