Let’s face it — in this digital age it is so easy to get sucked into minutia, is it not? With electronics at our fingertips, this pull has become ever so powerful.
I was one of the last strongholds when it came to getting a cell phone. I prided myself on not watching TV (until some great Netflix series pulled me in). I chose not to be on Facebook (with the exception of a professional page). And yet, little by little I have noticed how my attention has become more scattered, and my time has become more consumed by the enticement of “needing” to check my emails and other sites, which often can lead me clicking on this or that, falling down the digital rabbit hole and wondering where my time has gone.
Whether your habit is the constant need to check your cell phone, to keep up with social media, to binge watch the next number of episodes of your favorite TV show, to shop online for that thing you might need, or to surf the web for interesting tidbits and trivia, we can get pulled into the vortex of time sucks that leave us wondering where the day has gone, all the while not getting to some of those things that matter the most — our health, our face-to-face relationships, our connection with nature, our time to replenish, or to create, to tackle that meaningful project or to just be.
In a recent article in the New York Times, the research that was cited highlighted how our phones are not just giving us constant hits of dopamine, but are also raising our cortisol levels (a stress hormone) in ways that can negatively impact our health. So there is a cycle of addiction and stress that can keep us in an ever-circling loop from which it can feel hard to escape.
There is plenty written about breaking the habit of electronic addictions. I would like to focus here instead on how we can create new daily habits that support our deepest values and nourish our souls. How do we go through the day making sure that all of our time does not get consumed by minutia, so that we can get to the parts of our day that create lasting meaning and deep satisfaction? (And, by the way, I am not suggesting that spending time on electronics or social media or TV is inherently problematic. When done mindfully it can serve a purpose. But it is when it consumes us mindlessly and takes us away from other important aspects of our lives that it becomes problematic.)
This is where intention and attention can be helpful. We can set an intention at the beginning of each day to engage in at least one thing that matters most to us, and we can then choose to put our attention on this as we go through the day, and look for actions to take that can support our intention.
Here is a short daily practice you can try:
1. Set an intention and write it down. (Carrying a notecard around with you throughout the day works especially well.) First thing in the morning (or the night before if you prefer), ask yourself what is one most important thing that you would like to focus on for the day.
This first step need not be a specific goal, and in fact it can work well if you focus more on a value that is important to you, or a way that you would like to show up in your day. For example, you might want to bring out the best in others at work, you might want to look for opportunities to show kindness, you might want to be more present with family members, or you might want to focus on nurturing your health.
This step is what I refer to in my newest book Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life as “the beacon.” It is like a beacon of light that we can hold out in front of us to give us direction and help us stay on course when we start to drift astray.
2. Pick one or two concrete actions that align with your intention.
Write this down and envision carrying this out in your day before the day starts. Using the above examples, you might plan to: write a note to your employees highlighting their strengths and recent accomplishments; bring your friend who is sick a bowl of soup and call your mother-in-law; set aside 10 minutes right when you walk in the door after work to play with your kids; or spend ten minutes before you leave the house preparing a healthy lunch for yourself.
3. Pay attention as you go through your day and hold that beacon out in front of you throughout the day. Prioritize time to carry out step 2 above. Make it happen by focusing your attention on this goal as an essential part of your day. Look for other opportunities to take actions that align with your initial intention.
4. At the end of the day, reflect back on any actions you took that aligned with your intention. Make note of what was most helpful for you and where you may have gotten tripped up. Rather than berating yourself if you drifted far astray, ask yourself what might be most helpful next time.
By following these steps you are laying down the foundation for new behaviors that support your deepest values. Rather than leaving it to chance (and we know how that goes) you are intentionally creating a life that matters, one action at a time. Even if the pull of electronics and other distractions creeps in, by prioritizing actions that align with your intentions, you ensure that you are taking an active part in creating meaning in your day.