Our generation makes up the most informed, most connected society to date. Thanks to social media there are political and human rights movements. Fads and fundraisers can go viral in hours. It's an amazing power that poses huge potential for future change. We live in an age where time is so valuable that every second must be productive and engaging. Listening to a book on Audible.com during the daily commute, checking and reorganizing emails constantly when at work, flipping through the latest Instagram or Facebook post on lunch breaks, and reading online news article at the gym. As author Sherry Turkle put it, in a world where social media rules, we are Alone Together, interacting with each other through our screens.
As a college senior on the brink of graduation, all of my friends feel left behind if they are not constantly checking their phones. Most of them even admit to falling asleep cycling through their apps. Our screens send the sensation of daytime to our brains even just before bed. I believe as a consequence of this need for unrelenting information and communication we are overstimulated and this heavy use of social media is now creating more stress and less productivity. This hyper-connectivity isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's something we are all guilty of. At some point we need to take a good look inward and realize when to hit the off switch. Not an hour of deactivating your Facebook, but intentional, mindful disengagement. It's about that time of year to be making New Years re-resolutions. So here are some suggestions to practice for the moments when you need that break.
1. Appreciate your surroundings (or at least notice them).
When staring at a screen while you walk, talking on the phone while you drive or just thinking about the next place you need to be or person you need to see, it's easy to forget to simply enjoy the task at hand. "Smell the roses" as they say, but really, stop and smell them. If we are focused on which filter makes a photo look best instead of seeing the world in real time, we are missing the point of what it is to experience and appreciate. We must remember that the future isn't a destination we are trying to get to, but a direction we are traveling with each step.
2. Practice square-breathing.
Meditation is very in. Try it out, but start small. Make it a goal to practice mindfulness 100 percent for only five minutes a day, and see if your perception of things begins to change. Square-breathing is a great place to start and stay focused. It is a technique where each breath in is four seconds long and is held for another four. You then exhale for a count of four, hold again for four and start the process over. You'll find it's more difficult than relaxing, but when done right it can serve as almost a reboot for the brain and is proven to release higher levels of serotonin. "To add knowledge, add things everyday. To attract wisdom, subtract things everyday." These are the wise words of ancient Zen Master Lao Tsu.
3. Go for a 15-minute walk, alone.
Socrates said, "Beware the barrenness of a busy life." It is so easy to think that logging on your computer or checking your phone is going to be more productive than stepping outside for 15 minutes, but in reality we need to take moments to commit ourselves to disengage from the daily routine. Again, in a world where we are constantly plugged in, we are just alone together. Be disciplined and take the time every day to simply be.
4. Read a book.
For just 15 to 20 minutes a day, either to start it up or wind it down technology free, read. It doesn't need to be a classic, critically-acclaimed or on the New York Times best seller list, but it does need to be print on pages. We like to fancy ourselves multitaskers in a world where everyone can do it all and all at once, but reading reminds us otherwise. Focusing on the task at hand, and learning to enjoy it rather than view it as just another obstacle to the finish line is an important habit to get into.
It's easy to start a journal and by the fifth day of ardently writing, forget or get too busy to write. Be the tortoise. Aim small and go for endurance. Get a journal where you'll only have to write a sentence or two a day of your most memorable experience, and again, get in the habit. Looking back will be fun, but the simple act of just doing it could even be therapeutic. You need to do little things for yourself everyday. So start now and start with a sentence.
These are all obvious and easy suggestions, but they are necessary reminders for the times when we feel overwhelmed by our to-do list or the pressure of constantly communicating the right thing at the right time. We don't always need to be "on," and we shouldn't.