This last week we were exposed to a considerable amount of uncertainty as we waited for the election results to be posted and confirm our future president of the United States. This week, I became significantly more aware of the time I was spending watching the news and scrolling through my news feed, appreciating the humor of memes for the occasional laugh. Later in the week, I looked around my house and saw a neglected house, children craving attention, and feeling regret from all the food I mindlessly ate.
After my son went to bed Friday night, I took advantage of the time to watch the Social Dilemma, which was the fire I needed to reality check my life and realize how much my phone, the news, email, and social media were pulling for my attention. These digital distractions were pulling me away from being present with my husband, my children, and keeping up with my personal goals. A constant demand for our attention versus being a tool to make us more effective and productive.
Our Thoughts and Mental Clarity
I love Facebook. It has allowed me to reconnect with family in the UK, and helps me maintain close relationships with family and friends who live all around the United States. However, Facebook needs to make money somehow, and it is through their advertising. As I watched the Social Dilemma, it was interesting to hear about how they purposely design algorithms to predict the content you are most likely to engage with to hook you in and keep you scrolling and keep the advertisements coming.
Unfortunately, every time you look at your phone and feel that need to check your notifications, you’re brain is chasing the same high as an addict. Have you ever stopped at a stop light and felt the urge to check your phone quick? I’m guilty of it and it scares me to acknowledge why. Meanwhile, every time you chase that high, it is constantly filling every spare moment of our thoughts, preventing our abilities to be creative and let our minds wander. We are allowing advertisers and algorithms to decide what content we want to see next and ultimately controlling what our next thoughts will be.
What is the impact of the content we are looking at? As we are scrolling, we are constantly seeing and comparing ourselves to others and what they have while simultaneously being flooded with products to buy, 100% catered uniquely to us. Depression rates have increased, divorce rates have increased, and plastic surgeons are seeing increased requests to try and achieve the filtered selfie look. Among young teenagers, suicide rates have skyrocketed compared to previous generations.
Our Children and Relationships
Not only are suicide rates climbing with our children because of their use of social media, but our relationships with them can be hindered because of our own use. As I acknowledge how often I reach for my phone, I become more aware of the message I send to my son who will break down if I don’t let him play a game on my phone. I make a conscious effort to keep the TV and tablets away, but sometimes he will still wake up immediately craving his TV or YouTube fix. It breaks my heart when I hear it from the mouth of a two year old, and even more so when I know I’m the one responsible for that behavior.
It is normal after a long day to crave social interaction, and I frequently find myself reaching for my phone during my downtime. Initially, it starts as innocently reaching out to a few close friends to see how they are doing while we patiently wait to visit each other again after the pandemic has passed. Twenty minutes later I realize that not only did I forget what I initially picked up my phone to do, but I have spent that time reading posts from people I sometimes don’t even remember meeting, and will probably never see again.
That time could have easily been redirected towards my children or my husband, showing them how much I appreciate and love them. Instead, when my child expresses a basic need they have, I find us being short with him, only to redirect our attention back to our phones once he has what he needs. An eye opening realization for our family was acknowledging how easy it is to ignore bad behavior when we are in our own digital world, instead of investing that time to help them learn how to control their own emotions.
Our Work and Personal Goals
When I take the time to write our my personal goals for the next three months, there is a reason why I frequently try to regulate my cell phone use. Except it isn’t just the cell phone. It’s the email, the meetings, the instant messages, and so much more. In today’s society, we have so many ways to communicate and have high expectations for that immediate response, which can pull us away from our time to focus on important tasks or reduce the efficiency of our work.
It is often said, if you don’t set your own agenda and goals in life, someone else will. This is even more exaggerated now that we are expected to be constantly available and ready to answer someone else’s questions. Personally, I am a helper and I want to help others learn. Unfortunately, that means that I can frequently find myself redirecting all my available time in a day to help someone else achieve their goals. This is who I am, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, until after so many days I find myself falling behind in my own goals and questioning why I have not achieved more.
How are you spending your mornings? Are you waking up and being intentional about minimizing the digital distractions? Do you knock out your biggest and most challenging task first, or do you reach for the phone on your nightstand and immediately start engaging and responding to the world around you? Do you take the time to identify your passions and opportunities, or do you wait for someone else to tell you?
How do you spend your down time at work? Do you have a planned list of actionable items to address, or do you mindlessly check for new email, open the news, or open up your phone for personal notifications? How many times do you go to write an email to someone, and once you see your inbox, you immediately forget what you were doing? Taking the time up front to plan for these moments can help you use them to their full potential versus quickly jumping to a distraction to fill the time to your next meeting.
Our attention is constantly helping someone else live their agenda. Whether we are the product of a social media platform that intentionally hooks us in to engage with advertisements, or someone is demanding of our time to support their own needs and opportunities. While both are not necessarily bad, they can quickly have a negative affect on our mental clarity, our relationships, and our productivity to pursue our passions if not controlled.
Comment below, I’d love to hear what digital distractions you face and whether you think intentionally minimizing them can help you.