Can You Switch Off?

Does being away from your computer or smart phone leave you feeling anxious and a little out of control?  Like an itch we have to scratch, it seems over the last decade our growing dependence on technology and the steady stream of information it makes available at the click of button has become a form of addiction that many of struggle to switch off.  But is it making us any happier?

“Technology has the potential to change every aspect of our lives,” said Amy Blankson one of the founders of Goodthink Inc, and author of The Future of Happiness when I interviewed her recently.  “From how we pursue happiness, to how we connect with others and even how long we live.”

Amy  suggests that the current pace of change, makes technology one of the biggest possible disruptors of happiness of all times.   For example, studies have found that constantly checking and responding to notifications as they come through on your mobile, can increase your levels of anxiety and undermine your performance.

And while you may think that a quick glance at your phone doesn’t matter much, it’s surprising how much these moments can add up throughout your day.  In fact, research has found the average smart phone user checks their phone one hundred and fifty times a day – around an astounding two and half hours a day, or thirty-eight days a year.

Just in case that isn’t enough to stop you in your tracks, studies have also found that being distracted from a task for just a minute can disrupt your short-term memory, causing you to forget whatever ideas or intentions you had in mind. After a mere 2.8-second interruption (the time it might take to read a text message), you can make twice as many errors on a complex task; and after 4.4 seconds (the time it might take to write one), your errors can triple.  This can leave you with a shorter attention span than goldfish.

Can you put your technology down?

Whilst turning off our technology entirely would be challenging for most of us, researchers have found that just limiting the checking of your emails to three times a day can lower your daily stress levels.  And even briefly stepping away from your technology, has been found to increase your collaboration by fifty-seven percent, your learning effectiveness by eighty-eight percent, improve the effectiveness of your interactions with others by forty-two percent, and re-energize you.

“Technology and happiness don’t have to be polar opposites of each other,” explained Amy.  “With the right intentionally they can actually work together to help you create a happier life.”

By mindfully choosing when and where you’re going to engage with technology you can combine the opportunities it offers with how you want to invest your energy and live a purposeful life.   Amy suggests you can think of this as a third prong approach, to help ground your energy when you plug into technology. This third prong could be your values, priorities or a set of rules that guide you in life. Without this you could be like a live wire, with energy firing off in all directions – undermining your efforts and putting others at risk.

You can also use the benefits of technological advances to find a device or app to help you develop greater self-awareness, track your progress on wellbeing, learning or achievement goals, and make better decisions.  For example, studies have found that employees who sported wearable devices became 8.5 percent more productive and 3.5 percent more satisfied with their jobs—perhaps because they learned to move around more, improved their posture, and focus whilst looking after their wellbeing at the same time.

How can you harness the advantages of technology to improve your happiness?

Amy suggested five ways you can engage with technology more thoughtfully:

  • Hit the pause button – we all want a balance in our life where we’re not working 24/7. This means having some firm boundaries about when you turn off your technology or respond to notifications.  For example, instead of having constant emails interrupt your work flow, using an application such as Boomerang to help you only check incoming emails every two hours, can give you a sense of relief, and allow you to catch up on the mountain of emails you may already have in front of you.
  • Share your boundaries –rather than setting up others expectations that you’ll always get back to them immediately, let them know that you’ve made yourself unavailable to respond to messages moment to moment. When others know when to expect your response they can feel calmer about waiting to hear back from you.  Try tailoring your auto responder to reflect your situation. For example you may want to let others know that “I’m focusing on some great new content, so please be patient,” or, “I’m currently committing to some quality family time. So please forgive my lack of response.  I’ll get back to you when I can.”
  • Check your phone usage – get a good snapshot of how often you’re checking your phone, how long you’re on it each time you open, and what you’re doing during this time, by downloading either RealizD for iphones, or Quality Time for androids. This can help you decide if you might need to change some priorities in your life.
  • Leverage wellbeing technology – boost your wellbeing by using some of the great apps available. For example the Calm, Headspace or Simple Habit apps can be helpful to help you develop a regular mindfulness practice.  Amy features a number of other apps on her website that can be used to help you stay on track with your wellbeing goals.
  • Model digital citizenship – being wiser and smarter about what you send online, can actually start with how you interact with others offline. By showing others genuine recognition, praise, gratitude, acts of kindness, and by meditating so that you’re calmer in your connections all can be important building blocks for being a good digital citizen.

What can you do to mindfully engage with your technology?