Family

A meditation teacher’s 5 tips for breaking your screen addiction once and for all.

We’re all internet addicts. Here's how we can get clean.

A meditation teacher’s 5 tips for breaking your screen addiction once and for all.

I first realized I was a junkie during a meditation retreat in the California desert.

It was a silent retreat, so we turned in our phones and pledged not to speak for 10 days. Every morning, we walked to the dining hall just as the sun crested the mountains, and I paused for a few minutes to enjoy the sunrise. It was one of the highlights of my day — drinking in the beauty of the desert with no sense of hurry and nowhere I needed to be.


Image via iStock.

On the final morning, the retreat leaders announced that we could pick up our phones in the dining hall. As always, we walked to the hall just as the sun was rising. I glanced at the desert sunrise, gorgeous as ever ... then thought, “%*@$ it” and speed-walked to the dining hall to reunite with my phone. I mean, I might have texts!

As I hurried along, trading the glory of the desert sky for the chance to hunch over a tiny screen, it hit me: I was a junkie. And seeing my fellow retreat-ants trot alongside me with eager looks on their faces, I realized I wasn’t the only one.

Smartphones are amazing — I barely remember life before the poop emoji — but it’s time to admit that we have a bit of a problem.

Think about the last time you had dinner with a friend, and she got up to go to the bathroom. Be honest: Did you reach for your phone? Was there something specific you needed to look at, or was it just a reflex?

Most of us are addicted to distraction.

It's as if going a single second without something to occupy our minds would be intolerable. There's a compulsion to fill the empty space with something to read, watch, listen to, eat, etc.

This is a very old human problem. Scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal nailed it back in the 17th century: "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."

There’s no denying that the internet, especially our phones, have made the problem worse.

Photo via iStock.

We sit on the subway and play Candy Crush, which might be the biggest waste of time ever invented. We procrastinate on Facebook when our work gets a tiny bit boring. We scroll through Instagram while ignoring the friends we’re with. We leave Netflix on in the background while we try to fall asleep.

There’s a desperate quality to the way we binge on distractions, too.

We're so scared of a content-free moment that we maintain a frenzy of activity to stave it off. It's agitating and exhausting, but we've gotten so used to living this way that we barely notice.

How do we quit our addictions?

As a meditation teacher, I often teach the simple practice of non-distraction as a way to meditate: being quietly where you are, without reaching for some distraction or entertainment to fill the quiet.

This isn’t a complex technique; you just notice when the urge arises to do something and politely say, "No, thank you."

Here are five ways to practice this in your daily life:

1. The next time you take the subway, try not to pull out your phone, a book, or any other distraction from the time you board until you reach the next stop.

Instead, you might rest your attention gently on the sensation of breathing, observe the people around you, or do nothing in particular. See what it feels like to go just one stop with nothing to fill the moment.

This could be you someday, riding a packed train with joy and zen. Image via Anita Tung, used with permission.

While you're playing with this, the urge to do something might bubble up. That's OK. You can treat that as just one more interesting thing to observe.

2. When you need to walk somewhere, experiment with leaving your headphones in your pocket.

Decide not to listen to music or podcasts. Don't look at your phone. Enjoy the simplicity of walking without distractions.

3. Let's keep it real: You probably read on the toilet.

I'm not judging, but there are compelling reasons not to do this:

  1. Hygiene
  2. Risk of dropping phone in toilet
  3. It's gross (see point 1)
  4. Opportunity to practice non-distraction

So maybe try declaring your bathroom a non-reading zone...

4. Make your morning device-free.

Try staying away from your phone and computer until after you’ve washed up and eaten breakfast. You’ll start your morning in a mindful place and set a solid precedent for your day.

Pro tip: Put your phone on airplane mode the night before. That way, if you need to briefly use your phone (to check the time or the weather or something), you won’t get hit with a zillion notifications.

5. Speaking of notifications, do you really need to hear about it every time someone Snap-grams your Yik Yak? (I’m old.)

It’s hard enough to keep our noses out of our phones without them actively interrupting us to say, “Hey, look at me.” I’ve found it helpful to consider what notifications I could do without and then turn those off.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how anxious do those unread notifications make you feel? Photo via iStock.

I still get notifications for texts (of course) and for Twitter replies, but I turned off my email and Facebook notifications. It works for me.

Practicing non-distraction can be deeply rewarding, but it's not always fun.

Sometimes it feels pleasant and peaceful, so it's easy to stick with. Other times, your mind might feel twitchy, and resting in the quiet of the moment is a challenge. My suggestion: Do it anyway. The freedom you’ll discover is worth the slight effort involved.

Freedom doesn't advertise itself as strongly as distraction does, but it has far more to offer.

By letting go of distraction, we discover that a content-free moment is something to savor, not something to fear. When we drop the exhausting effort to fill every moment, we don't tumble into some hideous void.

Photo via iStock.

Instead, we might find simple contentment waiting under all the noise: a sense of being fundamentally OK.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the pandemic, you'd think people would have the basics figured out. Sure, there was some confusion in the beginning as to whether or not masks were going to help, but that was months ago (which might as well be years in pandemic time). Plenty of studies have shown that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of the virus and public health officials say universal masking is one of the keys to being able to safely resume some normal activities.

Normal activities include things like getting a coffee at Starbucks, but a viral video of a barista's encounter with an anti-masker shows why the U.S. will likely be living in the worst of both worlds—massive spread and economic woe—for the foreseeable future.

Alex Beckom works at a Starbucks in Santee, California and shared a video taken after a woman pulled down her "Trump 2020" mask to ask the 19-year-old barista a question, pulled it back up when the barista asked her to, then pulled it down again.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana keeps trending on social media for his incredibly eloquent explanations of issues—so much so that L.A. Times columnist Mary McNamara has dubbed him "Slayer Pete," who excels in "the five-minute, remote-feed evisceration." From his old-but-newly-viral explanation of late-term abortion to his calm calling out of Mike Pence's hypocrisy, Buttigieg is making a name for himself as Biden's "secret weapon" and "rhetorical assassin."

And now he's done it again, this time taking on the 'originalist' view of the Constitution.

Constitutional originalists contend that the original meaning of the words the drafters of the Constitution used and their intention at the time they wrote it are what should guide interpretation of the law. On the flip side are people who see the Constitution as a living document, meant to adapt to the times. These are certainly not the only two interpretive options and there is much debate to be had as to the merits of various approaches, but since SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett is an originalist, that view is currently part of the public discourse.

Buttigieg explained the problem with originalism in a segment on MSNBC, speaking from what McNamara jokingly called his "irritatingly immaculate kitchen." And in his usual fashion, he totally nails it. After explaining that he sees "a pathway to judicial activism cloaked in judicial humility" in Coney Barrett's descriptions of herself, he followed up with:

Keep Reading Show less

When you picture a ballerina, you may not picture someone who looks like Lizzy Howell. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Howell is busting stereotypes and challenging people's ideas of what a dancer should look like just by being herself and doing her thing in her own body. The now-19-year-old from Delaware has been dancing since she was five and has performed in venues around the world, including Eurovision 2019. She has won scholarships and trains up to four hours a day to perfect her skills in various styles of dance.

Jordan Matter Photography shared a documentary video about Howell on Facebook—part of his "Unstoppable" series—that has inspired thousands. In it, we get to see Howell's impressive moves and clear love of the art form. Howell shares parts of her life story, including the loss of her mother in a car accident when she was little and how she was raised by a supportive aunt who helped her pursue her dance ambitions. She also explained how she's had to deal with hate comments and bullying from people who judge her based on her appearance.

"I don't think it's right for people to judge off of one thing," Howell says in the video. And she's right—her size is just one thing.

Keep Reading Show less