Is a digital detox part of your 2016 wellness plan?

If you need to break the cycle of information overload and nonstop distractions, read on

Do you need a digital detox from the constant stream of texts, emails, notifications and reminders on our mobiles or tablets? Time for a game of chess instead?

Do you need a digital detox from the constant stream of texts, emails, notifications and reminders on our mobiles or tablets? Time for a game of chess instead?

 

As we move into a new year, it’s time for reflecting on the way we live our lives and wondering if and how we can make improvements. Often, we promise ourselves to eat more healthily, exercise more often and pay closer attention to how we relate to those around us. But where does our relationship – notice the term – with technology come into all of this?

Do we need to assess how much time we spend on our smartphones and other mobile devices? Do some of us need a digital detox from the constant stream of texts, emails, notifications and reminders on our mobiles or tablets?

Surveys have found that we check our phones up to 150 times a day and that up to 60 per cent of us check our emails when on holidays. In fact, checking emails on holidays is now so common that it almost seems silly to mention it. But is it?

If you never feel the need to break the cycle of information overload, nonstop distractions and high-pressure schedules you have in your life, then simply move on to the next speed-read; otherwise, read on.

One Second Ahead, a new book by Danish mindfulness teacher Rasmus Hougaard and “change agents” Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts, sets out a new way to work with calmer, more focused and less cluttered minds. And, interestingly in this “always on” culture, the once-coveted skill of multi-tasking loses its allure.

“Researchers have shown that multi- tasking is the worst possible reaction to information overload,” says Hougaard. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, multi-tasking “makes human beings less productive, less creative and less able to make good decisions”.

Hougaard and others of his ilk suggest ways to integrate mindfulness into the working day. Learning to be present, to maintain balance, to make choices and to manage energy levels are all part of the grander scheme of managing technology rather than having it manage you.

Other approaches However, there are other approaches to getting a handle on your use of technology in your daily life. The founder of Dublin’s early-morning raves Morning Gloryville, Chris Flack, says many people find mindfulness and meditation inaccessible.

A social entrepreneur of sorts – he prefers the term “happiness architect” – Flack has started digital detox weekends with his work partner, William Meara, under the brand unplug.ie.

“There is a huge amount of tech addiction out there and most people don’t want to talk about it. People working in the corporate world don’t want to talk about stress and anxiety either. They want to talk about resilience and leadership,” says Flack.

Flack and Meara are aiming their digital detox weekends at the corporate world. They have held one so far. A yoga teacher and charity fundraiser who also practises meditation, Flack believes the usual mix of yoga and meditation with complete withdrawal from technology doesn’t work.

“People say to me that the harder they try to meditate, they more they feel it’s a chore. And they just go right back and binge on technology when the workshop is over,” he says.

Detox package The duo are still fine-tuning their digital detox package, but so far it includes “breath-to-beat” dance sessions, storytelling, aqua aerobics, arts and crafts workshops, and nature walks.

“We don’t tell people to get rid of technology,” Flack says. “It’s all about balance. They can hand in their devices at the start of the weekend or not. We use things like the human wall, where people post up [handwritten] questions and others answer them.”

Participants are also allowed to post messages in the “confession box”, admitting when and why they turned to their devices over the weekend.

Flack is a fan of the headspace.com meditation platform and its founder, Andy Puddicombe, the former Buddhist monk turned millionaire. The Headpsace app, with its soothing 10-minute “time-out” prescriptions, has been downloaded by people in 150 countries. He also likes Sherry Turkle, the American author of books such as Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age and Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

According to Flack, using a good meditation app is one way for people to sustain themselves after they’ve completed a digital detox weekend – despite it being delivered via your phone.

“We also allocate a buddy for everyone leaving the weekend and ask people to write goal-setting letters, which we send out to them two weeks later,” he says.

So how addicted to technology is he himself? “I use technology for lots of things, but I don’t use a smart [phone] at the weekend and my top tip for people is to keep technology out of their bedrooms.”

Flack also recommends real conversation as a way to overcome technology addiction. Try it yourself and see how it feels.

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