Now more than ever, we hear calls to be mindful. Dealing with work stress? Try mindfulness. Your kids driving you crazy? Ditto. Your relationship stale? You guessed it — try mindfulness. I’m on board with mindfulness, but I’m not with the “solution” offered: an app.
The Problem with Mindfulness Apps
Don’t get me wrong, I love mindfulness apps. I am a Headspace subscriber, and I try to use the app as often as I can. But since I started working from home, I can’t abide more screen time. Between my Slack feed, endless browser tabs, and hundreds of Zoom calls, I’m all screened out. Even at work, where I’m most motivated to pay attention to my screen, I struggle to stay engaged. I find my mind wandering during meetings, and my eyes blur in the solo “heads down” time I crave.
These are unique times, and they call for unique solutions. While I love mindfulness apps, they aren’t a realistic solution for everyone. Even knowing this, I struggled with what to do instead. Without my apps and with the stress of a new job, I started to disengage. I was stressed out to the max at work, struggling to fill every spare second. Podcasts and music muffled silence at all hours. Twitter numbed my frequent bouts of boredom.
On a Zoom call with friends, I recounted my struggles with mindfulness and my screen fatigue. After explaining my predicament, I asked for help. I expected to hear about extra phone reminders and “willpower.” Instead, they came up with four ways to promote mindfulness that didn’t involve yet another app.
I never put it together, but my favorite kind of learning is reflective. I love reading books, watching shows, and having conversations that flip my assumptions. There is nothing more aware than learning — finding the limits of what you once knew.
There is nothing more motivating either. In the shadow of a stay-at-home order, I struggle to stay motivated. I find it hard to wake up at a consistent time, let alone come to work “hungry.” But as the months have gone by, I’ve noticed that learning is an antidote to my apathy. When I get the chance to learn a new toolset or gobble up a book on history, I come to the day with energy.
In the past, I’d always considered learning to be a distraction. It was a time away from productivity — fun, surely, but not practical. Since my laser focus has faded as the months and days blend together, I now see it as essential to my work. If I’m not learning, I’m not aware. And if I’m not aware and present, you can bet I’m not motivated or creative either.
To promote mindfulness at work and home and to unlock our energy, we need to create time to learn. For me, that means reading a book of my choice on my breaks. For you, that might mean trying a new recipe or reading a surprising article (like this one).
Whatever it is for you, make it sure, consistent, and fun. It will bring life to your day. Best of all, by incorporating learning into our day, we show ourselves that meditation isn’t the sole path to mindfulness. We can become aware by pushing the limits of what we know.
As our group traded stories about how we maintain awareness, one man brought up friends as a great source. After some thought, I remembered the many times that friends helped me return to the moment.
I’d never considered looking out of the box of meditation-as-mindfulness. In my frantic search for the “right” meditation, I’d bought into the idea that awareness is an individual thing. This idea left me trapped, trying harder — alone — to become more aware, believing it to be the only way.
However, I’m thankful to say that’s not the case. Through our friends and family (and even our pets), we can learn to live in the moment with awareness. Oftentimes, we even find mindfulness in the most mundane of moments with our friends.
The same friend who chimed in about learning added another gem: stories. As a kid and on into adulthood, I’ve consumed stories of all kinds. I love nothing more than to lose myself in a world of wizards or different cultures or ancient history.
Nothing quite gives us perspective on our own experience like being taken out of it. The fundamental challenge of self is to take yourself out of your own experience, to see it in a new way. Research has shown that there is nothing better than a good story to do this. Immersing yourself in story not only helps you see yourself, it boosts your empathy.
To kill two birds with one stone, put down your phone (and that app whose subscription you pay for but never use) and pick up a good old book.
The final way to boost your mindfulness is to travel. While “travel” often brings to mind daring vacations and tongue-tangling languages, travel doesn’t have to be extreme. When I was a freshman in college, every morning I “traveled” to a local pond to get my mind ready for the day. Whatever problems plagued me faded away as I watched the swans chase the geese chasing the ducks. These morning trips gave me an important perspective; what was going on in my life didn’t matter here. It let me let go a bit and check in with myself.
As we hole up in our homes, I encourage you to find a place outside the house, even down the street, to get away from it all. A simple change in environment can help you slow down and settle in.
Pursuing Screen-Free Mindfulness
Whether you decide to dust off an old paperback, shoot the breeze with old friends, “travel” to a local park, or watch a TED talk, I hope you find an escape from the screens and maybe, just maybe, find yourself a little more, too.
Are you doing all the above and finding it’s not enough? Are you craving more traditional mindfulness, just minus the screen? Check out our co-CEO’s article about how to be mindful, even if you’re extremely busy.