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.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less

Several years ago, you wouldn't have known what QAnon was unless you spent a lot of time reading through comments on Twitter or frequented internet chat rooms. Now, with prominent Q adherents making headlines for storming the U.S. Capitol and elements of the QAnon worldview spilling into mainstream politics, the conspiracy theory/doomsday cult has become a household topic of conversation.

Many of us have watched helplessly as friends and family members fall down the rabbit hole, spewing strange ideas about Democrats and celebrities being pedophiles who torture children while Donald Trump leads a behind-the-scenes roundup of these evil Deep State actors. Perfectly intelligent people can be susceptible to conspiracy theories, no matter how insane, which makes it all the more frustrating.

A person who was a true believer in QAnon mythology (which you can read more about here) recently participated in an "Ask Me Anything" thread on Reddit, and what they shared about their experiences was eye-opening. The writer's Reddit handle is "diceblue," but for simplicity's sake we'll call them "DB."

DB explained that they weren't new to conspiracy theories when QAnon came on the scene. "I had been DEEP into conspiracy for about 8 years," they wrote. "Had very recently been down the ufo paranormal rabbit hole so when Q really took off midterm for trump I 'did my research' and fell right into it."

DB says they were a true believer until a couple of years ago when they had an experience that snapped them out of it:

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

Keep Reading Show less

With 16 years of sobriety under his belt, Dax Shepard has served as a beacon of hope for people in recovery. With a reset of his sobriety clock last week after confessing to a slip with prescription painkillers, he still is.

The actor has been open about his addiction to alcohol and cocaine, and that transparency and honesty has undoubtedly helped many people through their own recovery journeys. But recovery from addiction is not always a one-way, detour-free road. Even people who have been sober for years must be diligent and self-aware or risk relapsing in ways that are easy to justify.

That's the scenario Shepard described in his recent podcast, in which he announced that he's now seven days sober. For people who struggle with addiction, it's a cautionary tale. He didn't take a drink, and he didn't touch cocaine. His slide into addiction relapse happened with prescription painkillers—Vicodin and Percocet. He started taking prescription pain pills after a motorcycle accident in 2012, moved to taking pills with his dad who was dying of cancer, and then came a gradual spiral of justifications, lying, gas lighting, and other addictive behaviors that enabled him to abuse those pills without acknowledging he was doing so.

Keep Reading Show less
Images via Canva and Unsplash

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on, it's that being in a pandemic sucks.

However, we seem to be on different pages as to what sucks most about it. Many of us are struggling with being separated from our friends and loved ones for so long. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus, while others are dealing with ongoing health effects of their own illness. Millions are struggling with job loss and financial stress due to businesses being closed. Parents are drowning, dealing with their kids' online schooling and lack of in-person social interactions on top of their own work logistics. Most of us hate wearing masks (even if we do so diligently), and the vast majority of us are just tired of having to think about and deal with everything the pandemic entails.

Much has been made of the mental health impact of the pandemic, which is a good thing. We need to have more open conversations about mental health in general, and with everything so upside down, it's more important now than ever. However, it feels like pandemic mental health conversations have been dominated by people who want to justify anti-lockdown arguments. "We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. Kids' mental health is cited as a reason to open schools, the mental health challenges of financial despair as a reason to keep businesses open, and the mental health impact of social isolation as a reason to ditch social distancing measures.

It's not that those mental health challenges aren't real. They most definitely are. But when we focus exclusively on the mental health impact of lockdowns, we miss the fact that there are also significant mental health struggles on the other side of those arguments.

Keep Reading Show less