From Jamie Scott and Dr. Anastasia Boulais, Whole9 South Pacific
During our last visit to the 9 Blog, we talked to you about the importance of connecting to your tribe: a group of like-minded people online and in the real world. Today we shall look at the flip side of the coin: disconnecting.
Messages From Nature
The human body is an amazing machine, crafted over millions of years to interact with the world around us. Our five senses serve as a gateway between our environment and our mind. Everything you see, hear, taste, touch, smell is converted into chemical, hormonal, and electrical messages which elicit a reaction in our cells and set off this wonderful complicated machinery to work.
Not too long ago, these senses were sharply attuned to our survival. A sudden rustle of leaves in the woods, an unfamiliar smell, a bitter taste of an unripe fruit, an unfriendly facial expression of a stranger—these were all powerful messages which send a red-hot alert signal to initiate our “fight-or-flight” response. Breathing in the familiar smells of nature around us, hearing the sounds of the forest uninterrupted by a predator, seeing the calm movement of the ocean, and being in the circle of close family signify peace and safety.
Now take a look around at the environment surrounding you right now. It is hard to appreciate the sensory overload to which we subject ourselves daily. The brightness of sunshine has been matched by the blue light of a tiny smartphone screen. A cry of a startled bird is nothing to loud car horns, sirens, and screeching brakes of an average metropolis. Artificial colours and supernormally stimulating tastes of food-like products are unlike anything we would find in nature. All these stimuli are coming at us at once—and our mind dutifully tries to interpret each one of them. Friend or foe? Danger or safety?
Today’s Modern World
We have taught ourselves to function with a diary full of tasks on the go, cellphone in hand, computer screen in front of our eyes, TV blaring in the background while we mindlessly shove lunch into our mouths. (By the way, what was your lunch today? Did you even notice?) Being bored is an anxiety-inducing prospect for the technology-savvy generation. Five minutes till the next bus? Quick, check your work emails on your Smartphone. Half an hour until your favourite TV program starts? Just enough time to scroll through the last four hrs on Twitter. Fourteen hours on a trans-Pacific flight? Oh no! They only have a choice of 35 movies on board!
Those of you who have read It Starts With Food are very familiar with the concept of the “Las Vegas Strip in your mouth”: food items that provide supernormal stimuli in the absence of good nutrition. Hopefully you have now chucked those to the curb. But are you still surrounded by supernormal stimuli? Do you live in a state of constant information overload? Do you wish you could find an OFF button?
We already know that our bodies do not like being overloaded: too much sugar, refined carbs, and toxic non-foods will put a strain on your hormonal and immune systems. But food is not the only input your body receives. The stress hormone your body produces as a result of a multitude of overwhelming environmental stimuli is exactly the same. You may even not realise that your gauges are in the amber zone, going on red.
The only way to know if your system is in overload is to shut down and DISCONNECT.
Unplugging In Your Own Way
“Hmmph,” we hear you say. But I have a job, a career, family, mortgage, a promotion on the horizon. I cannot just take off my suit, drown my phone, and go meditate in a sunflower field surrounded by butterflies.
Erm, sorry. Neither can we. But you can still recharge your batteries by unplugging in your own way.
Bring it into focus
Concentrate on one input at a time, especially when it comes to technology. Attempt to avoid endlessly flicking between tabs in your Internet browser. Turn off your TV if you are typing a report. Disable the notification function on your social media when you are focusing on reading an article (or, disable them permanently and prepare to be amazed at how your focus improves). Apart from diluting your concentration and affecting your productivity, distractions create a low level anxiety, a constant feeling that you have forgotten something.
Phones off, kids
Set limits to use of technology during your and your family’s time of rest and relaxation. We always encourage having meals together as a way to nurture the ancient bonds around good food as well as promoting digestion. But there is nothing more disheartening than a family dinner with no eye contact or conversation because everybody is catching up with their online friends while ignoring the people across the table. Blanket rule in our house: no smartphones, laptops, books or newspapers during dinner.
Kill your TV
Seriously. Some people tell us that TV helps them relax after a hard day at work, but we would challenge that notion. Television is a passive mode of input, both mentally and physically. Unless you are watching a documentary on ancient Roman philosophers and taking notes in the process, your brain can go into a lazy autopilot mode for hours. However, this is not how our mind recovers. It needs either a good night sleep (pretty hard to ensure that after 2+hrs of blue light before bedtime) or some calm introspective time to help process the events of the day.
If you are not ready to say goodbye to your favourite soap just yet, draw up some limits here, and see your television time as a focused activity. This means no TV with dinner, no TV in the background, turning the ads on mute, reading the guide to only watch the programs you want, and using what you saw as a possible topic of a discussion with your partner or children.
Click here for more advice on how to Kill Your TV—and why you should take our 30 day challenge.
Be with yourself
Do you ever get a feeling that we are incapable of being with OURSELVES? Here is a novel idea: instead of pulling out your smartphone the second you get on a train, have a look around. Take an interest in fellow passengers (just don’t look too creepy doing it), watch the world flicker across the window, or just let your mind wander off into a daydream. If you think this is a tremendous time waste and you could be doing something more productive (and no, Angry Birds doesn’t count) think of it as a challenge: can you actually spend time with your own thoughts?
Take a hike
We do this daily. Sometimes it’s a 15 minute walk before breakfast because this is all we can afford. Sometimes, it’s a half-hour of hopping on beach rocks after dinner, or a 2-3 hour bushwalk on free weekends. We never used to have time for this… but then we moved our personal mental health up the list of our priorities. We turn off the phones (but for the occasional awesome wildlife or scenery shot) and prepare for an adventure. Sometimes we chat non-stop, sometimes we don’t talk at all and just walk absorbing the surroundings. It has been shown that even a 5 minute stroll in a natural environment boosts your concentration and cognitive abilities. We see it as an investment in our physical and mental health.
Find the Balance
We realise the irony of these recommendations, since you are now reading them on your electronic device (probably brought to you via social media). But recognising the place the technology has in our lives is what makes us aware of its massive impact. You may not feel that you need to unplug—but much like you didn’t realize you needed to ditch the bread until you tried it, you may just find that developing a practice of unplugging brings about a whole new level of peace, happiness, and good health.
Do you make an effort to unplug? What are the challenges you face? Share your best strategies to disconnect.