Untethered: Overcome Distraction, Build Healthy Digital Habits, and Use Tech to Create a Life You Loveby Sini Ninkovic
Have you ever tried to escape reality with your smartphone? It's highly likely that you have, as has nearly everyone else around you. The feeling of “emptiness” after spending hours mindlessly scrolling through social media is certainly a common one, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
In this practical guide to digital freedom, you will learn that what you do with technology is entirely within your control. Instead of using the digital world as a distraction or a way to procrastinate, we can use it to improve the quality of our lives overall. We can lead untethered lives.
Our Relationship With Technology
“We consume information and media every day with little awareness or regard to the consequences to our well-being.”
Many of us consume online media to a harmful extent without even realizing it. We tend to spend a significant amount of time connecting with the online world - however, this takes away from the time we spend engaging with the real world. Now, the risks of spending too much time online have not been well-characterized yet, but we are all familiar with that feeling of ‘emptiness’ after surfing the web all day.
Initial research shows that overusing technology results in similar brain chemistry and neural patterns to drug addictions. Essentially, your brain and body respond similarly to addictions whether physical or digital - the substance itself does not matter much.
This addiction to the internet works in a vicious cycle. It starts with consuming excessive amounts of technology, which leads to lower well-being. Negative feelings, such as depression and anxiety, then arise due to this lowered well-being. However, instead of signaling to us that we should stop consuming so much digital media, these negative feelings actually push us in the other direction - towards consuming even more. The cycle continues.
When it comes to all the other activities we participate in regularly, we tend to work towards forming healthy relationships with them. For example, when it comes to sleep, we invest in quality mattresses, bed frames, etc. We set our room up so it’s nice and peaceful at night, and so on.
Even when it comes to highly addictive substances such as alcohol, we’ve learned how to recognize our limits and drink responsibly. In fact, learning how to develop a good, positive relationship with alcohol is part and parcel of growing up. So, why can’t we do the same for technology?
We need to learn how to build positive, productive, and fulfilling relationships with technology and our smartphones. It is not about the quantity of time we spend using technology, but rather, the quality. Instead of using our smartphones less, we should focus on making the time we use them actually matter.
Actions to take
Taking Ownership Of Our Digital Lives
“Much of our misery might come from us either wanting more of something or trying to avoid something else.”
All of us want to avoid pain and suffering, and yet we often find ourselves trapped in negative thought cycles that just make our suffering worse. This is because we tend to crave pleasant sensations and react with an aversion to unpleasant ones. Basically, we are almost constantly dissatisfied - we either want more of something, or we are trying to avoid something else.
Our dissatisfaction can boil over into anger, bitterness, resentment, demotivation, and other negative emotions. This happens when we fall into a pattern of blame - instead of taking responsibility for our lives and working to solve our issues, we assign blame to others, ourselves, or the system.
Taking responsibility for the mistakes we have made, or the bad outcomes we experience, tends to feel like an attack on our ego and self-worth. However, with curiosity and courage, we can develop this responsibility and regain control of our lives.
Actions to take
“Boredom in itself is a sign. A sign that might nudge us to rest or to explore, but one we often mistake instead as a sign to overload our system with content.”
Exploring life brings us joy. Whether we’re learning about something, physically trying new things out, or even just stopping to smell the flowers on our way to work, we feel happier when we are engaging more with the world around us.
We create, connect, build and socialize to explore life, and when we stop doing these things, we get bored. More often than not, we use our smartphones to distract ourselves from this boredom. Instead of embracing the boredom we feel and using it for healthy activities, we see it as something that must be prevented.
The truth is, boredom is nature’s way of sparking creativity in us. Instead of trying to distract ourselves from it, we should use it as a signal to explore life.
As we explore, we become more comfortable with things that were previously uncomfortable. Take riding a bike, for example. The initial learning process will be uncomfortable, you’ll likely fall a few times. With practice, however, it will become more and more comfortable, and soon enough, it will feel like second nature.
Actions to take
Reconnecting With Yourself
“Without that present-moment awareness, we are lost in this moment, constantly doing without feeling like we are progressing.”
There are three personalities within us at all times. The ‘Past You’, the ‘Present You’ and the ‘Future You’. Each one has different wants and needs.
We need to align all three of these versions of ourselves for our well-being. If even one is poorly represented or ignored completely, we will not be able to achieve inner peace.
The instant gratification that technology provides causes us to focus all our attention on our ‘Present Self’. Our three selves then fall out of balance as our ‘Past Self’ and ‘Future Self’ become less important to us.
Being aware of the present moment can help us align these three selves. When we are deeply aware of the present moment, we are not worried about the future or upset about the past. We are experiencing the present moment in all its richness.
Digital media use certainly makes it harder for us to remain aware of the present. When we read the news, we feel uncertain about the future. As we continue to scroll through social media, YouTube, etc, our awareness fades and is replaced by mindless impulsivity. When we bring our selves back into alignment, we will feel a sense of peace and fulfilment we can’t get from anything else.
Actions to take
Using Digital Media to Improve Our Lives
“Rather than relying on big tech or the government to change their attitudes toward our well-being, we have the power to define our own happiness.”
What you do every day defines your life’s story. Instead of mindlessly scrolling on your smartphone and wasting time in the digital world, you can use it to fuel positive change in your life. Technology can help you become the person you want to be, but you must engage with it appropriately.
The apps you have on your phone define your experience and interactions with it. If most of your apps are games, you will spend most of your time gaming.
Getting rid of bad habits is definitely hard. We often develop them as a response to stress, boredom, and unmet needs. It’s therefore difficult to eliminate them entirely. What we can do is replace a bad habit with a good one - and the good habit will stick as long as it meets the needs that drove us to the bad habit.
However, to understand what is “good” and “bad”, or “right” and “wrong”, we need to first think about our goals. We need to identify whether a certain action will help or hinder us in achieving our goals.
We often tend to take “wrong” actions, but feel like they are the “right” ones because we execute them efficiently. For example, let’s say you have some challenging - but important - work to complete. You may procrastinate by going on your Instagram and posting something that gets a ton of engagement. Although it may feel right - after all, you are successfully publishing content - it only hinders you from achieving your goal of completing your work.