Mindfulness and the Average Smartphone

Using technology for calm instead of chaos

Posted Jul 01, 2015

The modern, technology driven world often seems to make people feel distracted and stressed. In my field, child development research bluntly shows under-monitored technology influences children for the worse. But technology is simply a tool, and how it impacts our lives depends entirely on how we use it. 

As with any part of our life, we can aim for awareness and clarity in choosing how to live with modern technology—in other words, we can be mindful. Mindfulness means aiming to live life more often in real time, as it is, with emotional openness, mental clarity, and resolve. Its practice reinforces traits that make managing life easier. 

In spite of how it often feels, at its best technology aims for a similar end. Used wisely, it can make life simpler and easier to manage. So here are some ways to cultivate awareness and clarity through technology: 

Practice Mindfulness.  Any new habit requires consistent, sustained effort before becoming a routine, including getting started with mindfulness; technology can support the process. Multiple apps provide guided mindfulness instruction, and most also include a prompt for daily practices.  Better known apps include Headspace, Calm, Smiling Mind, Stop, Breathe & Think, and the Insight Meditation Timer, with many others available (apologies to those I’ve forgotten). The Mindfulness Bell chimes randomly at times during the day as a reminder to pause and settle for a moment—or use your phone ringing itself, pausing before responding to the call.

Support Healthy Habits. There are more healthy living apps than can be easily summarized, so the links that follow connect to best-of articles. Your phone can monitor your daily activity, and can offer new fitness programsNutrition from recipes to food diaries and calorie counters are available. Or use your phone to monitor how much and what quality sleep you’re getting

Change Tech Habits.  Perhaps the most fundamental starting point for changing any habit is recognizing it exists in the first place.  To that end, Checky, Quality Time and Moment provide you a daily summary of your own smart phone use.   On the computer, RescueTime does a similar job.  Don’t forget, open-ended down time (sometimes called ‘boredom’) is often where creativity arises.

Stay on Task.  Hopefully, when we need to be productive we are able to resist checking news, messages or playing games, but if not there are ways to keep ourselves on task.  For example, Freedom and Anti-social are programs that lock out the distractions.  

Practice Gratitude In the classic novel, White Noise, an ill-defined crisis lurks in the background undermining everyone’s well-being, a feeling similar to what many people experience in our media-driven world. To counter that trend, the app Happier promotes a daily gratitude practice, which research shows increases happiness. And websites such as 100 Lives and PositiveNews focus on better (but no less real) news as a way to sustain some mental balance.

Create mindful contact reminders.  For common contacts whose calls and messages cause you stress, set their image to something peaceful or that makes you smile.  Remind yourself, with a picture or words, to pause and settle before answering.  Of course, pick something that if accidently seen by someone else will not anger them or get you fired.

Be Proactive About Notifications.  There’s no need to permit default settings on phones and computers to rattle our minds all day long.  Shut off notifications and alarms that aren’t vital; we don’t need to know immediately about every email, social media posting, game update, or news event.  Check in with programs only when you have time for them.  This also helps you attend to the reminders you actually want to see.     

Instead of remaining on autopilot and letting technology happen to you, approach it with awareness and openness to change.  In the end, technology based products are meant to grab our attention and hold it whether or not that’s in our best interest.  It can provide organization, efficiency, and entertainment, but it can also distract, disorganize, and disorient.  Pause, check in with yourself, and then resolve both to keep technology in its place and to make skillful use of it throughout your life.

Since there are plenty more applications and uses that I probably have missed, please continue the discussion and suggestion for applications and programs in the comments below …