research out of university of virginia this past summer found that a majority of individuals asked to spend between six and fifteen minutes in a room alone with no stimuli chose to administer a light electrical shock to themselves over having no stimulation at all. this may seem extreme but it really doesn’t surprise me at all.
as a person who has become hyper-aware of our cultural dependence upon technology, media, and digital devices, i notice this phenomenon all the time. from where i sit it seems as though we are increasingly uncomfortable when we find ourselves alone, still, quiet, or in any other number of what we might consider to be under-stimulated states. notice any group of people standing in line, waiting for their table at a restaurant, or sitting just about anywhere alone and you will likely see a phone or two (or ten). as a people we would rather do just about anything other than wait in an open and receptive posture. so, instead, we surf, search, read, comment, post, and tweet.
the conundrum we’ve created for ourselves is profound. we are uncomfortable with stillness of mind/heart/body so we don’t require it of ourselves. consequently, the less we practice being bored, quiet, and still the less capacity we have to handle these states of being. in no time, we have developed the habit of distracting ourselves and any ability we did have to tolerate boredom (otherwise known as “open and receptive states of mind and body”) has atrophied due to under-use.
this cycle will not stop itself.
neither will it be easy to reverse.
it is, however, worth it to try.
ten minutes a day is all it takes to double the grey matter in the regions of your brain related to emotional regulation and self control. while the participants in the research that brought us this finding were engaged in mindfulness meditation (much like contemplative prayer) for those ten minutes, i am convinced that even letting our minds wander in non-judgmental ways, or being still and quiet while soaking in the surroundings, or any number of other self directed experiences might have similar effects.
there is an immense amount of freedom in finding ourselves able to entertain, stimulate, soothe, and regulate. being dependent upon a device for these things leaves us, well, dependent. finding ten minutes to do so could, quite literally, change our lives. it could increase our creativity, lead to greater cardiac health, open doors to calmness and internal peace, grow our capacity for empathic, authentic connection to others and more.
finding our ten minutes need not be a challenge. here are some places to grab them back from:
time spent waiting in line.
time spent mindlessly surfing facebook, youtube, twitter (or any other number of sites).
time spent watching the binge watching the third (or tenth) episode of that favorite show.
time spent at red lights or stuck in traffic (turn off the radio and leave your phone in the trunk).
time spent waiting for your coffee/to go/meal order to be prepared.
time spent waiting for a friend.
at a meal (or coffee date) you take yourself out to...alone. with no book or phone.
on a walk where you leave your phone behind.
on a silent sit where you sit someplace in public for 10 minutes and do nothing but look up and around.
at a library or museum where you can be quietly with others.
time spent in the bathroom. (a very creative university administrative staff person (yes, that’s you chett!!) recently suggested, after hearing that students tweet from the toilet at one of my talks, that we start “sh*t still: a contemplative movement of people committed to quiet potty time.” i could not agree with him more!!!)
time spent lying in bed before or after sleep. (i recently saw an art print that said something like “you’re the person i want to lie next to and look at my phone.” ugh...)
phone free time can change us. it can empower us to know ourselves and our abilities to live in the world. it can make us squirm and make us grow. it is worth the effort and it is possible. it will feel odd at first. and we might fumble and look foolish and feel even more strange than we look. anything worth doing is worth doing awkwardly and this is worth doing.
so, i challenge you, find your ten minutes and fumble through it with awkward empowering strange and fulfilling confidence. the pay off just might astound you.