I spent last week at the beach and it was… lovely.
Beautiful, calm and restorative. There was the gorgeous setting of course but that wasn’t the whole story. A big part of why my time felt so refreshing was that I severely cut back on the time I spent in the digital world, spent more time reading actual books and more time just sitting or walking quietly. That break inspires this month’s theme of renewal.
Before you start to break out in hives at the notion of taking time away from all things digital let me clarify. I’m not talking about a hard core digital diet, I’m talking about taking time in your life so that you can renew on a regular basis. Everyday renewal is all about figuring out ways we can live in the world without being overwhelmed by the world. That said, let’s start by looking at how a modest digital diet can be helpful as we work towards creating the habit of renewal.
One of the things that makes it so difficult to step aside from the digital world is that it is really hard to live without our devices in the 21st century. My mobile phone is rarely far from my side. It is how I get my news, connect with family and friends, find out where the movie I want to see is playing and the list goes on. The same is true for almost everyone I know. What we don’t often focus on is the cost of being so available.
When we are instantly notified of every new email, tweet, phone call and Facebook post we not only are constantly flooded with input we are also constantly having our attention pulled from one thing to another. Constantly being distracted, having to shift focus all day long is exhausting. Equally important, paying attention is something we learn to do. Our attention spans increase with practice. However, if we stop exercising that muscle of focus our ability to keep our mind on one thing at a time diminishes.
The first thing about seeking renewal is to recognize that we need time to renew ourselves on a regular basis. We are often so caught up in just keeping up with all that comes at us in the course of a day that we may not notice that we are in need of a break until we are on the verge of collapse. Making renewal an everyday part of our lives is the antidote to the stress of day-to-day life.
So, how do you do that? One small step at a time. A behavioral change that has worked for me and my clients is to start by setting limits on when notifications are on. Your mobile device can be an asset in your quest for renewal time. Try setting your “do not disturb” settings for two hours before you normally go to bed. Let that time be device free. Don’t worry, you can set your phone to allow calls from anyone you really need to be available for such as children or parents.
In those two hours try reading, talking with your partner, listening to music or some other non-stimulating activity you enjoy. Studies have shown that being on our devices till right before we go to bed disrupts sleep. Allowing our brains to get into a calmer rhythm before going to bed means a deeper more restorative sleep.
If being device-free for two hours feels impossible then try starting with a half-hour and work up over time. I’d be willing to bet that as you experience the benefits of unplugging before bed that you will come to cherish that peaceful, restorative time.
If, on the other hand, this feels pretty easy you might try to extend the time that you unplug. Try taking a morning, afternoon, or even an entire day once a week to let go of the pressure of instant response.
The world isn’t going to stop pulling at us for faster and faster responses and more and more connectivity but we can, with a little awareness and attention, make renewal part of our everyday life.