Staying Mindful in the Digital Age
There’s no doubt that the advancement and availability of the internet, laptops, and smartphones have had a positive impact on our lives. Two-fifths of UK residents agreed that the increasing accessibility to the internet has made work more flexible and nearly 75% said it helps them keep in touch with family and friends[i]. However, recent research also suggests that we spend more than 11 hours a day on average with digital media; a number that’s been on the rise for the past decade[ii], suggesting that more and more of our lives are spent interacting with technology.
For most of us, our day-to-day lives are
completely immersed in a sea of information provided by the same tools that
help us connect with our loved ones and better do our jobs. The onslaught of
the digital age can make us feel overwhelmed, with millions of messages, news
articles, and videos vying for our attention. Although the focus of technology
in society can present significant challenges to staying mindful, there are some
techniques we can easily apply to immediately improve our ability to be
Our Biggest Challenges and What to Do
Challenge: The Ubiquity of Electronics
Nearly 95% of us own a cellphone of some kind that vibrates throughout the day with notifications for new emails, text messages, and news items[iii], all tempting us to check in for just a minute. Our devices, in turn, can make it very difficult to find the quiet we sometimes need to engage in mindfulness.
Technique: “Unplugged” Breaks
Setting aside our devices can sometimes make us feel cut-off from the rest of the world[i], but it can provide us the opportunity to experience the moment without interruption. One way to tackle this is to set time aside every day to “fully unplug” from all of your devices. If possible, step away from the work space and leave your devices behind to help reduce the temptation to check them.
Further, use these unplugged breaks to meditate. Research shows that even quick meditations as short as five minutes can significant reduce feelings of stress and anxiety[iv, v] and help you be more productive. Choose your favorite practice – body scans, breath-based meditation, mindful walking – to give you a few minutes away from your devices. Not only can this help you become more mindful, it can also improve your health.
Challenge: The Need to Be “On” For Work
The flexibility offered by our devices allows us to be reached at all times and makes our work always accessible. While this flexibility can help us address urgent issues, in a recent survey, 15% of employees admitted it feels like their phones make them feel like they’re always working, and over 50% of employees expressed that work has interrupted their time with family and friends[i]. Work is an important part of our lives, so when it comes up, it can be easy to be pulled away from the moment to engage with work instead. An important part of mindfulness is recognizing what is impacting our ability to be present and, without judgment, seeking ways to gently guide ourselves back to the moment.
Technique: Set Clear Boundaries
Once we establish a habit of handling work-related issues whenever they come up, it can be very difficult to recognize when we need to address an issue immediately or when it can be resolved later. Help yourself be more mindful by setting clear boundaries as to when you will not be available for work so that you can be present for things that matter to you. These boundaries can be defined around areas of your life (e.g., your weekly poker night with friends) or can be defined on a case-by-case basis (e.g., weekend getaway with your family). As you improve your mindfulness, you’ll better identify when work requires your attention and when it can wait, but setting clear boundaries around important moments can improve your performance at work and help you have a more satisfying career by reducing conflict between your work and family life[vi].
As an extra tip, make sure you use “Do Not Disturb” and similar modes in your devices to help you succeed!
Challenge: Socializing and Social Media
On average, we spend over four hours a day on our phones and other devices[vii], and nearly two hours of that time is spent on social media[viii]. This means that many of our interactions with other people occur through digital means. We send text messages, we like or favorite pictures, and we share updates and accomplishments on a variety of platforms. Generally, it means that it’s much easier to stay in touch with a large number of people at once, but it also means we get less time to focus on any single relationship. Our conversations become shorter and we become prone to distraction. While convenient, these changes can hurt our connections with others, leaving us with fewer meaningful relationships.
Technique: Go One-on-One
Seek out opportunities to create more meaningful shared moments with others. Instead of catching up with a message over social media, extend an offer to go for a walk together or meet up for lunch to give you both a break during the work day. It is much easier to be present and focused on the person you are connecting with when you are together. In business settings, finding a way to meet in person can avoid misunderstandings and foster more productive relationships.
Even if you’re reconnecting with college friends who now lives halfway across the globe and meeting in person is not possible, look for ways to get as close to that as possible. A video call is always better than audio and audio is always better than a text message. Use technology to help you interact with others in ways that are fulfilling and practice Mindful Communication to improve your experience and the experience of those around you.
How SIGMA Can Help
At SIGMA, we can help you tackle the challenges of being mindful in the digital age. Check out our mindfulness offerings, including our webinar, workshops, and one-on-one coaching services. Contact us for more information on how mindfulness can help you.
[iv] Lam, A. G., Sterling, S., & Margines, E. (2015). Effects of Five-Minute Mindfulness Meditation on Mental Health Care Professionals. Journal of Psychology and Clinical Psychiatry, 2(3), 1-6.
[v] Burgstahler, M. S., & Stenson, M. C. (2019). Effects of guided mindfulness meditation on anxiety and stress in a pre-healthcare college student population: A pilot study. Journal of American College Health
[vi] Hoobler, J. M., Hu, J., & Wilson, M. (2010). Do workers who experience conflict between the work and family domains hit a “glass ceiling?”: A meta-analytic examination. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77(3), 481-494