Not feeling yourself lately? Lacking motivation at work? Losing patience with people? Before making a drastic change in your life, read on, because the problem and solution may be simpler than you think.
Related: 6 Ways to Break a Tech Addiction
In fact, the better, more relevant question to ask ourselves may be, how often do we check our phones each day? For many of us, pulling out our phones has become almost as natural as walking.
We're at a point now where it’s next to impossible for most of us to sit alone in public without finding comfort in that powerful device. Because . . . well . . . who just sits alone and does nothing? That’s weird.
The trouble is, it's not weird. Rather, most of us are simply not recognizing the detriment our addiction has on our psychological health and our performance at work. We don't acknowledge how our attachment to our phones is sabotaging our relationships.
It’s not technology itself that's hurting us, it’s our overuse of it that is crippling the resources in our brain.
In short, technology accelerates brain fatigue on a daily basis. This is a big reason why, nowadays, we all feel exhausted at the end of each day, despite sitting at a desk all day long!
What distraction does to your brain
Our brains weren't designed to operate effectively in this age of information overload. Every time we shift our attention from one thing to the next, our brains use up additional energy to make that transition happen. And a "transition" can be as small as moving from one Facebook post to the next, or from an email, to a text, to a conversation.
Yet the more we do this throughout the day, the faster we tire. Think of your brain like a muscle: Every time you shift your attention to something new, imagine that it does a squat -- the kind you do in the gym.
Studies say we lose track of our attention six-to-ten times a minute. Going with a lower-end estimation here, and factoring in sleep, that's approximately 6,120 brain squats a day!
The difficulty is that brain fatigue makes it hard for us to regulate our emotions. Feeling happy, loved or determined requires energy, and when that's depleted, we simply lack the resources to sustain those positive emotions. That makes it difficult for us to stay motivated and focused at work, and makes it challenging to remain patient with the people around us.
I've personally experienced chronic fatigue before and can say that it often makes you feel that you just don't care about things going on in your life, even when you know you should.
Add in some additional stress to that, and you may overreact, act out of character or in some other way simply not be yourself.
Here, then, are three ways to conserve your energy and reduce your dependency on technology:
1. Discipline is a habit.
The truth about discipline is that some people are naturally more talented at it. For some, it's easy to stick to a workout routine, follow a strict schedule each day or say no to that last drink. But the reality is that that same discipline can also be built up within you.
The trouble is, most of us don't look at the finer details that make up discipline. We think that the odd glance at our phone, a quick scroll through Instagram or a short reply to a text message isn't a big deal. And in the grand scheme of things, it's not. However, habits are formed from consistency. So, those tiny, consistent actions we do every day, and sometimes every hour, build up to habitual attention-shifting.
Our brains get so conditioned to looking at any shiny object in our peripheral vision that they have no resistance to distraction -- a scenario that gets worse over time, slowly lowering our productivity.
To build up your discipline, understand that each attention transition is either making you form the bad habit of distraction or is otherwise sapping your mental energy.
Know that both of these are ultimately eroding your ability to focus on your more important tasks later in the day. Even having your phone next to your computer will cause your mind to fight itself over not checking it. So, put it on, on "silent"; turn off the flashing light; or better yet, toss it in your bag. Try to check your phone only once every 60 minutes, and build this new habit up over time.
2. Phone management in the morning.
After turning off your alarm in the morning, take some time before looking at your phone. Why? The light from your screen triggers your brain to go into a reactive mode. It becomes almost a fight-or-flight state. Your brain has learned that when the phone is on, potential threats may be coming your way, as emails, text messages and notifications.
Sure, you may not consciously see these as threats, but your brain will, when you start thinking, “Did my client email me back?” “Did that deal close?” “Is my friend mad at me?” or, “I hope I got more than a few likes on my Facebook post.”
For the first week, don’t look at your phone for 15 minutes; the second week, aim for 30 minutes; the third week, try for 45 minutes and so on, until you don’t look at your phone just before you leave for work. Obviously, this won’t happen every day, but it’s not about never looking at your phone; it’s simply about looking at it less.
3. Wrap your experiences with clarity.
When we have an experience in life, our brains create a memory of it. This memory is held in the connections between neurons. These neural connections either get stronger or weaker depending on how often we repeat that experience, and feel the similar emotions that come along with it. Which makes it easier or harder for our brains to reference going forward.
The trouble is, if we are constantly pulling out our phones with everything we experience, we’re disrupting those patterns that are being formed. For example, if you’re reading a novel, but you can’t stop from checking your phone every 10 minutes, you're weakening your ability to stay focused on that literary state.
What's more, the memory within those neural connections that had remembered reading as a place of calm, relaxation and focus, slowly dissipates. In the past, when you picked up a book, your brain could use those inner strengths because they were so strong from years of practice. But, when we disrupt that process time and time again, we lose the ability to recall those strengths when we need them.
You can fix this by what you do before, during and after an experience. Try to give yourself a minute before you start a new activity, and during that minute remain phone free. Let your mind relax and forget about your last email, so it is prepared for this new activity.
Once you’ve begun the new activity, whether it’s going for a walk, working on a project or reading, take 10 seconds to stop and take in the moment. Recognize what’s going on, the actions you're taking and the positive feelings you get from those actions. Finally, after the activity ends, give yourself another minute to appreciate what you've just completed and accomplished before you look at your phone.
This process will help strengthen those neural connections and everything good that comes from those experiences. More importantly, it will make you less susceptible to distraction and less vulnerable to temptation.