Updated: Oct 28
Practicing mindfulness means purposefully focusing our attention on the present moment, without judgment (Jennings, 2015). This sounds easier than it is. Our minds are constantly running on automatic: creating thought patterns, judging the inside and outside world, and making up stories about the past and/or future. It’s not enough that our minds are active, but our devices are constantly pulling for our attention too. As Tristan Harris, Co-Founder of Center for Humane Technology, says it “[our devices] want one thing: your attention.” (YouTube, 2017)
We’re conditioned to do, do, do. If we have one moment free, we mindlessly pick up our phones to message someone, check email, and/or scroll social media. Additionally, tech and social media companies are deliberately working to maximize the amount of attention they get from us (YouTube, 2017).
The result? We feel stressed, disconnected, discontent…the list goes on. We miss the present moment. A longitudinal cohort study of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 15 “found that adolescents who spent more than 3 hours per day on social media faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes including symptoms of depression and anxiety.” (The U.S. Surgeon General Advisory, 2023).
Our active minds and the demands of our devices makes practicing mindfulness—even for a moment—seem (1) nearly impossible and (2) almost dreadful. But, regularly practicing meditation can positively affect the brain’s structure, function, and thinking patterns. Studies also suggest that mindfulness improves human functioning, interpersonal relationships, quality of attention, and the capacity to be empathetic and compassionate. It improves cognition, emotions, physiology, and behavior (Riopel, 2019).
So what can we do to reduce technology use and focus more attention on the present moment? Here are a few simple things we can do:
Make a plan - It’s helpful to write down the small changes you’d like to make, and set realistic goals for what that looks like in your life. Here are a few ideas…
Reduce iPhone pickups — During a class I took on Mindfulness, I discovered that the iPhone displays how many times you’ve picked up your phone in one day. By 6:00pm that day, I had picked up my phone eighty times! That’s six times per hour! That’s once every ten minutes! That is not okay! I was stunned and very disappointed. To reduce iPhone pickups, we can delay looking at our phones each day. For example, if you wake up at 6:00am, delay using your phone until 7:00am or 8:00am. Instead of reaching for our devices first thing in the morning, we can substitute the behavior with a mindfulness activity (taking 3 deep breaths, thinking of 3 things you’re grateful for, noticing your surroundings, etc.).
Spend time away from our devices each day — Deliberately set aside “tech free” time each day and place your devices where you cannot see them. We have to remember that they’re designed to draw us in. If we put them away, we’re less likely to be distracted and tempted to pick them up. Again, we can substitute this time with mindfulness activities like taking a walk, having a coffee with a friend, journaling in the morning, etc. This allows for more time to be fully present for life and the people we love.
Commit to a daily 5 minute meditation practice - But, I’m bad at meditation! I can’t stop thinking! “Practicing mindfulness is like this. When your mind has wandered into disruptive thoughts about the future or the past and you’re no longer present to the here and now, you recognize it and consciously bring your attention back to the present moment.” (Jennings, 2015) The inevitably of becoming distracted, the act of becoming aware of it, and deliberately coming back to the present moment without judgment is the practice of mindfulness. Overtime, it gets easier and mindfulness becomes the habit of the mind (Jennings, 2015).
Making small changes related to our technology can feel daunting—I’ll just speak for myself. Oftentimes, I find myself wanting to do it, and then days go by and I haven’t implemented anything I’ve set out to do. It reminds me of the essence of a mindfulness practice: despite inevitable setbacks, we come back to our intention over and over again. We acknowledge the present moment without judgment, and continue on. With time, it becomes the working part of our minds and life.
Jennings, P. A. (2015, March 20). Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom.
Riopel, Leslie. (2019, April 16). Mindfulness and the Brain: What Does Neuroscience Say? Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-brain-research- neuroscience/
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory (2023). Social Media and Youth Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/sg-youth-mental-health-social-media- advisory.pdf
YouTube, (2017, April 10). Silicon Valley insider on why smartphones are "slot machines”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvQxtotEX-M. Accessed 11 Aug. 2023.
Written by Catherine Juliano, LMSW