In a fast-moving world, our ability to connect with ourselves and others in a meaningful way is getting more difficult. Sitting right at the heart of the challenge is our own relationship with technology, writes Phill Nosworthy.
No one would deny that our favourite gadgets and devices enable us to do incredible things at work and in our own lives, but without acknowledging the potential downsides of always being switched on and plugged in, we risk running headfirst into poor mental and physical health, along with weak and chaotic real-world connections.
Here’s what you need to know when it comes to disconnecting from your work and your devices:
You can have too much of a good thing!
Your phone is an incredible tool that allows you to connect with the world in meaningful and creative ways, but the constant pings and dings are impacting you physically, mentally and socially. And not necessarily in a good way.
The constant notifications and alerts on our phones keep us in a state of high alert. Constantly being in that state wears our immune system down and leads to degenerative diseases over time. What’s more (and you know this already don’t you?), the blue light on phone, tv and laptop screens disrupt our sleep cycles and leave us with less emotional control, slower response times and more sickness.
All that is combined with the reality that social media is a hotbed for comparison and negative self-evaluation. They allow us to keep up with friends and peer into the lives of famous folk we don’t know but all that personal PR, perfect lighting and staged photo opportunities can leave us feeling unsure about our own decisions and lives through unfair comparisons.
My tip: Create sacred spaces.
Put boundaries in place for use of devices at home. There is a flight mode for phones on planes, I’d encourage you to consider and practice “home mode” for when you walk through the door in the evenings. This will get you away from the evening expectations of the office, and the incessant self-promotion of your social feeds. Out of sight and out of mind is a real thing – so consider getting a nice box or a dedicated corner to put your phone, allowing it to be out of view.
Being ‘constantly on’ is literally changing our brains
The internet is fuelled by, and filled with, short-form content that is changing our ability to concentrate for long periods of time. I’ve seen this first-hand as a speaker and facilitator in audiences all around the world; even seasoned executives are finding it hard to stay engaged for as long as they used to!
Short-form content and bite-size news pieces are the digital equivalents of sugary, salty, fatty foods. Just like real-world junk food, they might be fun and taste delicious, but if we make them our staple diet, we’ll be setting ourselves up for some serious challenges in the future.
What we are risking here is losing our ability for what researchers call ‘deep work’, which is the ability to lock into hard and meaningful challenges for extended periods of time. Without deep work, we’ll never find out what we are truly capable of – because as anyone who has achieved anything significant knows – you can’t get greatness done with 15-second limits on your attention.
My tip: Create a rhythm of unstructured time in your life.
Take control of your schedule in advance and set aside time for ‘Constructive Nothing’ time without guilt or remorse. Einstein scheduled two hours into his day for doing nothing but thinking and daydreaming. It might seem indulgent, but it was during these moments of ‘planned boredom’ that he dreamed up equations and insights that changed the world. It might not be two hours for you (!) but deliberately scheduling downtime with nothing on the agenda will ensure a better rested, more creative brain capable of deeper work.
Time is not an infinite resource
Giving time to one thing, naturally means not giving time to another. So when it comes to the decisions we make about what to prioritise, let’s choose what is most meaningful. I don’t anticipate getting to my final moments in life and regretting not spending more time on Instagram. It will be real life that will be remembered and savoured most; slow walks with people we love, taking time to read the classics, cultivating a garden, etc.
My tip: Do now, what can only be done now.
Some things are ‘one-time only kind of things’; kids being young, sunsets and family dinners. Prioritise these things over feeds and inboxes that will still be there next time you go back to them. Trust me – they’ll still be there. Your kid’s impromptu dance after dinner won’t.
The Echo Chamber is real, and just might snatch away your ability to think for yourself
It is critical to know that your experience of the net is different than anyone else’s. Over time, and through use, you have created for yourself your own custom internet that is different than your best friend’s or your mum’s. You see, the algorithms that drive your feed have been designed to show you more of what you have already looked at, and more of what you want. And so, just by using the net, you are shaping your own unique echo chamber of your own thoughts and preferences.
This is a problem, because the last time I checked, growth required exposure to NEW things and NEW ideas, not just pages and pages of more reasons for me to think what I have always and already thought.
My tip: Regularly get off the net and into the real world.
Some simple rules that I use myself to make sure that I am letting the net get the best of me are:
- Educate yourself more than you entertain yourself. Your phone is either a tool or a trap – so use it to build your mind and your life with podcasts, documentaries and thoughtful subscriptions, not just fifteen variations of candy crush.
- Pay a “Connection Tax” before opening your favourite app or game. Every time you are filling time with a game or a social feed, first send two text messages to friends. Not only will it keep you connected to your friend and family, but it will ensure you aren’t prioritising low value activities over meaningful connections.
By adding just a few of these strategies to your everyday life, you’ll feel more present, connected and ready to tackle any challenge that comes your way.
Phill Nosworthy is an executive advisor and keynote speaker. Phill’s insights into personal mastery and career acceleration have led him to work with the likes of Microsoft, AFL, Universal Music and Commonwealth Bank of Australia. More broadly, his key subject areas are meaning, leadership and high performance.