I remember – with an admittedly nostalgic reflection – those days of my childhood when digital distractions were not present in my life. Many probably see this developing habit of saying how great the past was as a sign that I am getting older, but I have serious reasons to believe this is not yet the case!
The days in the “carefree past of my youth” are somehow an index of how today’s digital and multimedia technology has affected our ability to be focused, or mindful or conscious or alert, with a clear mind and thought processes; choose the term you wish, it’s all the same problem really.
So, back in those “carefree” days, a person had more time to contemplate, simply because she wasn’t so easily tempted by the digital world that exists today. No tablets, smartphones, video games, internet games, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, chatrooms, online streaming movies, you name it. Back in those days, a child had to employ her/his creativity in order to play with simple toys, like dolls, or cars, or water colours, or even read a book.
In the summers, the afternoon siesta was almost a law, and children knew that even if they stayed awake, they had to be extra quiet in order to respect the other family members’ sleep. During these silent afternoons, children were developing strategies to pass the time, until the moment they would play again. They would read, draw or invent stories using the shadows on the walls created by the sunny rays inside the closed curtains. They would observe the foraging of an ant in search for food, or they would play with their sticker, stamp or coin collection.
These hours of peace and quiet were a great way to allow not only children, but people of all ages to unleash their imagination and their innovative spirit. These moments strengthened their ability for patience, focus on a mental project, their discipline and their ability to pass big moments of the day without the unnecessary excitation that a digital amusement provides.
Today, we have quite naively relied on all these “gifts” which technology bore to us and have stopped using a very vital property of our human behaviour, the one that really justifies our “humanness”. This is our ability to be conscious, or as the trend lately terms it, to be mindful.
All of our daily life is strongly intertwined with the digital gadgets of modern technology, most of which carry a SCREEN that entirely absorbs – or even more accurately devours – our attention, particularly our visual attention. TV sets, computers, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches, you name it, are here to demand from us most of our attention and override our procedure of thinking and reasoning with an overabundance of information and noise. As a result, modern humans are used to a new way of life, where at any moment they are conditioned to automatically search for a noisy thought to preoccupy their mind. Such “brain noise”, as I call it, comes from a variety of sources, everything from music, news and TV shows to YouTube, Facebook and so on. Furthermore the urban environments, where the majority of the population lives, contain numerous additional noises, which are the products of technology. Big avenues and little streets full of moaning cars, klaxons, industrial sites, machines of all kinds, construction sites, alarms, ambulance or police sirens – all of these work to create a constant condition of environmental noises that more or less attract the humans’ mind and partly – at least – contribute to the absent-mindedness that people living in big cities experience.
Little by little, following this way of behaviour, we forget to be mindful during our daily activities. This brain noise, which we are constantly exposed to, has led us to alter some of our more innate behaviours and has forced us to follow a new non-conscious lifestyle.
Some may wonder why this bothers me and why, if this noise is so much a part of our world today, is it worth mentioning? A shift in human behaviour is my answer. I can’t help but notice the devastating side effects noise brings about in human behaviour. Most of these behaviours are so well embedded into our daily culture that we don’t even realise they are not a natural part of who we are as humans. But the truth is, these distractions are not promoting the best possible condition of human life and thus they are counterproductive for us.
Let’s take a look at some of these imperceptibly present, “mind-less” habits we have subconsciously adopted and some simple solutions to overcome them.
We have developed very sloppy eating habits since technology has become a part of our world. We eat in front of the TV or the laptop or the smart phone, and thus we don’t even realise the quality and quantity of the food we consume.
Most of us live in an environment where food exists in abundance; culinary temptations surround us every moment of the day, and very often we succumb to their callings with negative results for our health. Surrounded by the distractions of technology, we have lost the ability to mindfully eat. Oftentimes, we don’t even take the time to enjoy our food. Many food disorders derive from this attitude. Obesity, anorexia, bulimia, diabetes mellitus, cholesterol, hypertension, and diseases linked with malnutrition are often correlated with mindless eating.
A mindful solution: Let’s adopt some of the old habits of eating together (at least during the weekend), as a family or with our friends, in a “screen-less” environment, with peace and calmness and an openness to those around us. When we eat it is important to give all of our senses to this culinary experience; our vision processing the image of the food, the olfaction processing the smell of the food, the tactile senses processing the texture of the food, the taste buds processing the flavours of the food. It has been proven that when we mindfully eat, we tend to eat without excess and we enjoy our food more. Keeping mindful about the quantity of food we eat allows us to listen to our bodies and not eat more than our system necessitates. Also, we are more careful about the quality of food we choose, and we avoid the unhealthy and processed ingredients.
More and more individuals complain today about sleep problems. The modern ways of life force us to stay awake more hours of the day on a daily basis. Before the introduction of electricity into human life, humans used to sleep more than eight hours, and they were in bed around 9 o’clock every night. Ever since the introduction of electricity into modern societies, we tend to go to sleep later, even after midnight on working days. Though the urban legend used to defend the idea that 8 hours of sleep is enough for the human body, new evidence shows that this is not the case. Even so, a large majority of modern humans don’t even get to sleep this “ideal” 8-hours. Many people are so busy with work and commuting they are forced to sleep less than 6 hours daily.
Furthermore, we tend to bring into bed all the new technological gadgets that keep our brains awake, from TV to laptops, smartphones and tablets. More and more people spend the last hour before sleep using these devices. Neuroscientists claim that their use causes serious interferences in the brain that evoke symptoms such as hyperactivity, insomnia, lack of concentration, memory loss, and general irritation.
A mindful solution: Let’s reinstate a sleeping ritual to our daily habits. During this ritual, let’s make sure we go to bed around 11 o’clock, (even earlier if possible). Dim the lights and make sure there are no screens on (pads, tablets, laptops, TV). In some cases, having very relaxing music on quietly in the background can be a good idea to start the bedtime ritual. Before slipping into bed, make sure the room is the right temperature (preferably cool) and that adequate blankets will provide the right amount of warmth to meet your comfort level. Position the body in a supine position with hands a bit open at each side. Let the body muscles relax in this position, with the eyes closed and the attention of the mind concentrating on the breathing procedure, simply by observing it, and letting it occur naturally. It is very essential to focus on the breath in – breath out procedure and in the gradual relaxation of the body from head to toes. If we repeat this sleeping ritual every night, in a few weeks we will have our sleep returned to normal rates and satisfactory sleeping habits will be in place to give us the restful nights we require to live more energised and focused lives.
Spending Money & Consumption Habits
From the moment paying and buying methods were “upgraded” we have become more compulsive and mindless in our consuming behaviour. In the past, we only had the cash option and we used to buy stuff we needed only when we had the money to do it and after careful thought. But then credit cards came into the world, bringing with them false joy and lots of stress. All you had to do was walk by a store, see something you liked, show your precious credit card and buy it, without even thinking about your current budget, whether you could handle the debt or even if you needed the item in the first place. Then, thanks to web-shopping, we started buying without even leaving our house. We just pick what we like from an endless list of choices around the global net and then we give our card number and voilà! We can buy whatever we like! The only problem is that all this ease leads people to compulsive and addictive consumerism. Many individuals report feeling deeply sad when they have nothing to buy for about a week. Others claim their favourite way to spend spare time is to head to the mall or the downtown market and shop till physical or credit-limit exhaustion sends them home! In light of this preoccupation with shopping, many studies have reported that the more people buy the more they feel sad or distressed.
A mindful solution: Keep a record of your monthly standard expenses and income, preferably in a traditional notebook with real paper and pen. This helps you be more mindful about the entire procedure. Check how much money you have left after calculating your balance. Be really mindful of what extras you desire to buy and bring to your consciousness the reasons why you want those items. For modestly priced items you can withdraw the money from a cash machine and buy the desired article in cash. It helps a lot to see real money exchanged for items that you want, as it makes you think more about your purchase. For internet buys, be sure to have a prepaid card charged with a moderate amount of funds and pay only with that card. Make sure you do not charge it more often than once per month. If you want to train yourself even more you can play a little mind “game”: challenge yourself to pursue extra buys only during the odd months and stay “shopping-sober” all the even months, or vice versa. Also, set aside a small amount of money each month to donate to charities. Donating has been proven to fill humans with very positive emotions and makes them feel less attached to the consuming habit.
Very often I hear people complain about their daily life, about how routine is unpleasant and that nothing they do or that “happens” to them provides them with pleasure and happiness. Furthermore, I rarely hear them praising these moments of their life that are agreeable and happy. It would be such an extreme scenario to spot not even one positive event in our daily life, so why then do people seem to be unable to find at least one thing to be happy about?
Maybe it is because we forget – or we are rarely taught – that in order to enjoy the unique experience of life, we need to raise a degree of consciousness in our actions. This calls for us to develop our awareness about everything that occurs in our lives so as to deal with each moment with serenity, peace, a visionary perspective, happiness, loving-kindness and pleasure. This is the best and most complete way to ensure we will be able to positively assess our lives.
The modern way of living encourages people more and more to live void from these principles. Especially nowadays, when almost everyone walks by with a smart-phone in hand and gets absorbed by its “virtual reality”. The moments we miss are uncountable.
Being “busy” and “hurrying-up” has unfortunately become the current “ethos” of modern lifestyle. Everything occurs in fast track, not allowing our awareness to develop and assess the moments of our lives. We rarely take the time to slowly walk in a park and enjoy the view or the beauty of a flower and feel ecstatic about it. A simple walk could be a happy moment in our life, but we disregard it. We rarely realise how great it is to spend time with our friends and appreciate the moments shared with them. We even are often mind-less about the moments we spend with close family members – only realising how much we value them when it is too late and they are gone.
A mindful solution: Start using our senses again to perceive the reality around us. Let’s take our time in order to observe the environment we interact with. See everything around us and let our focus rest on one object at a time, observe it intensively and examine its visual properties. Smell the air and detect the different odours and perfumes in a mindful way. In the springtime, for example, the smell of the trees and the flowers is so invigorating. Take time to enjoy the beautiful olfactive experiences that are a part of our every day. Sit in a quiet and pleasant place, and take a book we would like to read. Before we start reading take a good look at the cover, of what it depicts, feel the book with our hands, smell its pages and then begin our reading as mindfully as we can.
Stop receiving notifications from our smartphones. We can set a rule that we will consult our phone every hour to check for any new update. Otherwise, if we are checking them more often, we are enslaved to their function. Even to push it further, decide to have some hours or a day per month free from phones, TVs and other electronic devices and instead just take a long walk in nature.
The general key of enjoying our life in a fulfilled way is whatever we do, to be mindful doing it. That means being aware of what we do the moment we do it, while at the same time we are also aware of our emotions while we do it. Mindfulness will always play a key role in bringing us harmony and multiplying our positive emotions. Thus, we can ensure a better quality of life if we simply commit to being more mindful. As far as we know, we only get one chance at this life. Let us enjoy it, let us upgrade it, by understanding and appreciating at every given moment what this life is all about.
Last modified: July 18, 2017