We’re all distracted. The problem is everywhere. On trains, in restaurants, in homes, in business meetings and at conferences the temptation to check your inbox, tweet your thoughts or research something is too great for most people. It’s normal now for people watching TV in the sanctuary of their homes to be invited to “get involved” with the movie or programme rather than just sit back, relax and be entertained. At work, laptops are the constant companion of most people in meetings and with new emails or slack chats coming through whilst we are physically present our minds are often pulled away from the people we are with. What does this mean? Our attention spans are shorter, many of us feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of information, and our focus and productivity are suffering. And a state of continuous partial attention means interactions with those around us can remain shallow.
This isn’t going to go away. Technology is continuing to develop at a faster and faster rate and it is up to us to take responsibility for our own attention, wellbeing, our own tolerance for information, and make the appropriate changes to ensure we have a balanced and controlled use of tech rather than feeling it is controlling us.
Mindfulness is central to Shine Offline’s ethos of understanding our relationships with our digital technology and using our devices in an intentional way that supports our goals and values. We understand the impact digital distractions are having on people’s lives but also know that this is the world we live in and that it is up to us as individuals to each manage the role it plays, how we deal with it and how much we can handle.
Reasons why mindfulness is invaluable to thrive in today’s always-on world.
It helps you to exercise your attention
The origins of mindfulness are in Buddhism but for many people these days, including the team at Shine Offline, it is practised in a secular form. Many mindfulness teachers would describe the practise as brain training. A workout for the mind. When we practice mindfulness what we are doing is finding an anchor for our attention, usually the breath as a starting point, and bringing our attention back here every time our mind wanders. Practising this exercise regularly builds our “attention muscle” and ability to focus. It is neuroplasticity in practice – the brain changes depending on how you use it and regular meditators are found to have very different brains to people who never practice mindfulness. In a world designed to distract us, with notifications pinging and live chats streaming, exercising this part of our brains is invaluable in managing our own attention.
It increases our awareness of our thoughts and behaviour
Humans live on autopilot much of the time and one behaviour that has become automated for many people is checking. Checking the phone, inbox, slack, news, social media. The mobility of our digital technology has resulted in it being very easy to check our devices, and the work and personal information coming through on them, constantly. The simple practise of mindfulness can help to increase our awareness of our thoughts and behaviours and in turn help us to change them. Through the regular mindfulness practice of coming back to the breath whenever our minds wander we can start to remove the autopilot and live our lives in a way we choose. We believe it is no coincidence that mindfulness has risen at the same time as smartphone use – our devices constantly pull us out of the present moment.
It gives us a break from the phone
In a world where there is always a post to check, an update to read, an email to make sure you haven’t missed, having a really valid reason to have a break from our digital is invaluable. Getting into the habit of putting the phone on flight mode and in the drawer every day for 10 or 15 minutes to practise some mindfulness creates an offline space in our world that so many of us crave.
At the end of every session we run at Shine Offline we ask workshop participants what their biggest take away has been from some time thinking about their relationship with their digital technology. The value of mindfulness in today’s distracted world is one of the most popular responses. And we know, first hand, why. Everyone could benefit from just 10 minutes a day of focus on the breath.
If you fancy giving it a go we would recommend this short guided meditation by one of the UK’s leading Mindfulness teachers Mark Williams.