Stress, anxiety, chronic fatigue, sleep deprivation and feeling overwhelmed are so deeply woven into our lives these days that we regularly seek meditation, yoga, exotic escapades and spa retreats and massages to decompress. On the surface, this looks like a great remedy to balance the madness and the desire for peace in our life. If we dig deeper, we’ll find that a slight shift in our lifestyle will create the space our mind and body need without oscillating between burnt out and uber-chilled.
The first step to achieving that is to regularly untether ourselves from our smartphones. In an insidious way, our cellphones came to possess such a strong grip on our attention that it literally imprisons us from connecting to ourselves and with the world. It’s no surprise that we struggle to find room for a breather when our mind is constantly hijacked by a tiny 4.5-inch screen.
Below are six simple ways I recently began practising to unplug more and the space it created in my life is so immense that I wish I had started earlier!
1. No checking of phone when out with friends, walking or commuting
Make it a point to be fully present when around company. This means not checking and getting distracted by our phones, so you can focus on bonding and connecting with the people around you. When walking, use the occasion to appreciate the beauty around you instead of burying your nose in your phone. When commuting, look up away from your smartphone and use the journey for enjoying the scenery (if not going through a tunnel), reading a book or people watching.
2. Describe instead of googling for information or showing photos during a conversation
It’s tragic how conversations suffer a premature death or become lacklustre when we rely on Google or our smartphone photos to illustrate a point we are talking about. Before smartphones became an integral part of our online and offline interactions, we were using our words to describe a situation, story, problem or image. These days, we often let Wikipedia and Facebook or Instagram photos do the talking for us and then compensate our lack of conversational skills by taking a communication class. If you absolutely have to use your phone to search for details or to show a photo, do so only after attempting to paint it with your words for at least ten minutes.
3. Get on silent mode and turn off notifications
Unless waiting for an important call, a surefire way to avoid getting disrupted throughout the day is to keep our phones on silent mode and turn off notifications. In the grand scheme of things, the odds of receiving a notification, a text message or a call that’s a matter of life and death are incredibly low. I adopted this habit from my years living in Japan where having phones on silent mode is considered good manners. This simple practice helps me stay focused on my priorities, so I continued it even after I left Tokyo.
4. Keep phone away from sight
How often do we have our phones within a metre of us? For many, myself included, the answer can be as often as from the moment we wake up to the time we close our eyes at night. Personally, the best way to unplug more is to follow the rule of ‘out of sight out of mind'. Try to either keep your phone away in our bags or away in another room. In the initial days of practicing this, you’ll be seized by FOMO (fear of missing out) and face withdrawal symptoms of missing your phone. However, if you keep at it, it will gradually become a relief to use it only when you need to rather than having it run your life.
5. Increase length of disconnect time
Regardless of how frequent (every 15 minutes or every hour) you check your phone, attempt to double the time interval you stay disconnected. Set an ultimate goal of how often you want to be checking your phone in a day and work your way towards that. For me, my goal is to check my phone once every 3-4 hours. I started off by checking once every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes and after several weeks of deliberate practice in staying disconnected, I’ve worked my way up to checking once every 90 to 120 minuteSs or even longer on good days.
6. Fix a time for social media and limit it
As with all things, moderation is the key to sustainability. Fix a time interval for you to get lost in the virtual world of your smartphone. Once the time is up, get back to real life. During the week, I give myself a 10 to 15 minutes social media / internet news reading time once in the morning and once/twice in the evening. This gives me some couch potato time without going overboard. As I don’t watch TV, my daily social media fix is often my main time-waster of the day. By capping my usage, I free up time for focusing on the things that truly matter to me.
How do you unplug and find space for yourself every day? Which of the above tips would you try?