The Importance of Disconnecting to Reconnect

By Jennifer Curleigh

A few years ago, I attended an event where Hiroko Demichelis, a clinical psychologist, addressed our immediate need to connect to the outside world on waking. She painted a grim picture of how our brains jump into overdrive upon waking when we immediately expose them to social media, emails or texts.

I sat in the audience, guilty as charged.

Awakening to Anxiety

Demichelis shared that by immediately plugging into our world, we are setting ourselves up for a reactionary day, one in which we feel and act like we’re chasing our tails all day long. For some, plugging in upon waking can lead to instant feelings of anxiety and FOMO (fear of missing out).

As someone who loves being physically active, I thought about how I would never roll out of bed, into my running shoes and hit the trails before waking up my body. So why was I doing that to my brain? I am not alone in this. A study conducted by Morgan Stanley in 2007 found that 91 percent of adults have their smartphones within reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’d wager that percentage has grown.

Re-forming From Morning Onwards

I decided to reform my bad habit, starting with my morning ritual. In James Clear’s book, The Atomic Habit, he outlines how habits are formed and how they can be re-formed:

  1. Set a clear intention: Make sure the goal is SMART, and start with small and achievable goals to set yourself up for success. The two-minute rule applies here. If you can do something for two minutes, you are off to a great start. For me, I began with a “coffee before phone” rule.
  2. Make it easy: Increase friction to shift away from old habits. In my case, my phone was no longer in reach of my bed. Reduce friction for new habits by changing your surroundings to make the new change accessible. For me, I prepared my coffee the night before. All I needed to do in the morning was flick a switch. Over time, my morning ritual has evolved to a daily meditation practice. I created a space where I can comfortably meditate each morning.
  3. Use “habit-stacking”: For me, coffee first, followed by meditation. It may be 60 minutes before I look at my phone now. This has been an investment in myself that has paid dividends to others. People are getting a better version of me. I can honestly say I no longer chase my tail. When I feel myself going into scramble mode, I am able to pause, think and proceed calmly.

A Calculation of Costs

Recently, despite all of the above, I noticed that I had fallen into a deep well of daily distraction, this time caused by my incessant use of social media on my smartphone—chiefly, Instagram. Here’s an interesting formula for calculating your daily distractions:

  • Estimate how many times you are distracted during an average work day;
  • Multiply that number by 25; and
  • Be amazed—that’s how many minutes of concentration you’re losing.

According to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine, it takes an average of 25 minutes (23 minutes and 15 seconds to be exact) to return to your original task after an interruption.

A Devil’s Triangle of Distraction

With this in mind, I decided to make an intentional effort to put Instagram on ice for a while. It took seven days to break the physical habit of opening the app. It was so challenging that I referred to text messages, email and Instagram as my “Devil’s Triangle.”

I was amazed by how often my fingers were doing the walking. I realized that I might open Instagram one minute, only to open it again two minutes later. Trust me, nothing earth shattering had occurred in those two minutes, but I needed to know.

Seven days into my hiatus, I gave myself permission to “peek.” I was instantly flooded with fear-based emotions, most prominently the feeling of being left out. This was such a violation of psychological safety for me. As time progressed, two weeks turned into one month, and my absence from Instagram started to feel “OK.”

The Impact of Healthy Tech Habits

Moreover, I was noticing some pretty incredible impacts:

  • First things first, I was getting stuff done;
  • My creative output was flourishing;
  • My head felt clear. Decluttering my soul meant decluttering my brain;
  • Taking a pause in the day has become easier. As a chronic doer, I realize that pausing and allowing myself to just “be” has lent itself to greater output; and
  • My personal relationships have an acute sense of authenticity.

Human moments are created with two essential ingredients: physical presence coupled with emotional and intellectual attention. No longer distracted by Instagram, I am experiencing care and connection on a greater level.

Six Steps to Healthier Habits With Tech

Re-forming habits takes baby steps and patience. Here are a few ideas to consider if you’d like to re-form some of your habits around technology:

Reflect: Where are you at now? On a scale of 1-10, (1: you find it challenging, 10: you feel like a rock-star), how good are you at giving yourself permission to take a break from tech during your work day? In your personal life?

Walk the Talk: As a leader, put your phone away during one-on-ones and group meetings, and encourage your team to disconnect after hours and on holidays. This starts with you. Show them it’s okay to do so.

Show Appreciation: Taking the time to express appreciation and recognition shows that you are fully present with another human being. It is yet another vehicle to rewiring those pathways in our brain to be present.

Take Walks without Your Phone: This is an exercise in grounding yourself. It feels really sticky at first, especially if you’re used to listening to music or a podcast. Try a few 10-minute walks without your phone. Take note of what you notice and how you feel. Even better, bring a buddy from work to keep you company. Conversation is true connection.

Unplug to unwind before bed: Take time to restore and nourish your body, mind and soul. Electronics mess up your sleep cycles. Try to turn off your phone an hour before before bed or simply put your phone away so that it’s not visible or near your bed.

Self-reflect at the end of your day: To learn and grow, take a moment to reflect on your use of technology for the day. Then set an intention for the following day applying one thing to improve your interaction with technology.

Life is about making choices that align with our hearts. What will work for you may be different for someone else. The key to living our best life is to continuously check in with our bodies, what feels good and what doesn’t, and choosing a new approach that brings us more joy. Make every choice, every habit, and every human moment count.

Jennifer Curleigh is a Culture Creator with SPARK Creations.

Originally posted in the Summer 2019 Issue of PeopleTalk Magazine Real-time HR: The Future is Present

Sharon Brown-John