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.
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Completing our first Whole30 was really just a gateway last fall to examining our overall lifestyle. In our efforts to go more Whole9, we just recently turned off our cable service. I can’t say how much I love this! We can still watch movies, but it’s more like an active choice, rather than just a sit down and suddenly 3 hours of your life is gone.
We also have a no-screen policy we’re working on after 9 pm. Last night, my husband said our new “bedtime” ritual is his favorite part of the day. It’s less stressful. We get the house closed up for the night and the pets shut in their rooms. We turn the heat down to 60. We get ready for bed and spend at least a half hour reading, talking or cuddling in bed before lights out. I wake up a much happier person now.
I’m working on a poor work-day habit, of using my iPhone/social media too frequently throughout the day. It’s a distraction. And not a truly relaxing distraction.
I deleted my Facebook about seven months ago and I LOVE IT. It is so refreshing to run into an old friend and truly “catch up” with them rather than them know everything current in my life from my Facebook page. I have found that my social interactions have been truly enriched and I think it’s wonderful.
I agree that when I have to wait in the line at the grocery store or something similar, I turn to my safety blanket- my phone. I’ll mindlessly scan my emails or busy myself with a game. Sometimes I have to tell myself that it’s okay to just be.
I liked the part about focusing on one thing at a time, some thing we stopped doing with so much of technology around us. No television is some thing I have been trying but has not been able to successfully implement. I miss my child hood days, when there was no or little television, computers were some thing I had only heard about and not even seen. We had more time on our hands for our family and friends.
Almost every day we visited somebody’s home and some body visited us, life was so simple and lot more fun.
Melissa @Whole9 says
@Gin: One thing at a time. We haven’t had cable coming into the house in many years, but we do find we’re on our phones a lot more than I am comfortable with. It’s so easy to justify when it’s “business,” too! But we’re taking steps to unplug and disconnect a bit more with each month, and it gets easier.
@Katelyn: I just killed my old FB account (with 4,500+ “friends”) and opened a joint account with Dallas, where we only allow close personal friends and family. We can now share stories of our lives or see what’s going on in others’ lives without feeling like we’re broadcasting to the world – or keeping up with the whole world, either. And I totally understand your “five minutes of down time = pull out the phone.” I’m practicing stillness – waiting in lines, or sitting at the table while Dallas goes to the bathroom and just SITTING. No phone, no making notes in my notebook… just sitting. It’s not as bad (or anxiety-inducing) as I thought it would be.
Vinnie: These South Pacific folks are smart cookies. This is a hard one for so many people – we have so many distractions at our fingertips, we never need to entertain ourselves or just be still, quiet, and introspective. Maybe part of the answer is just “go outside and play” like our Moms used to tell us!
We turned our cable off, as part of incorporating the Whole9 into our entire life. I resisted getting a smart phone for a long time, but now after having mine just over a year, I’m hooked. I kept my data package small so that I have to think about surfing the net when away from my WiFi. This also keeps me from randomly hopping online during those times of waiting. Sometimes, it feels awkward because it feels like all of the people around me are on their phones/devices, avoiding human contact. So some things I’m trying: leave my phone at home-gasp! I know. If I’m meeting friends and need my phone to keep in touch with them or find where I’m going (I’m directionaly challenged) I have started leaving it, out of sight, in my car. I have also started instituting a number limit on how many times I can check FB. I do use it to network animals, but I then persuse and get caught up. Work allows us to log on to the general internet, and that can be a problem for me, I get sucked in so easily, and some days, there is literally nothing to do work wise. So, if I “need” something to do, I’m hopping on to NPR instead of Yahoo. Whole9 ( :) ) instead of FB or Google. Daily baby steps, and continual mindfulness.
And, as always, what a timely, terrific post! This weekend I just realized how truly plugged in I was. Embarrased to say, I was texting/playing a game on my phone, had a movie in the background And my laptop was on for email/general searching/puttering. Ugh, when it hit me I got so mad at myself. Turned everything off and went outside with the dogs I was sitting.
Technology can be such a huge robber of sleep too which can cause a chain reaction! I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted when I get into bed, and think’ “Let me just check my iPad real quick.” Before I know it it’s 2am, which means too little sleep, groggy day, poor food choices etc… It’s a slippery slope as we all know.
Funny that I saw this post today since just yesterday I finally decided to take the plunge and get rid of my TV. I haven’t had cable, but you’d be amazed at how many hours can pass in front of the TV with just a few channels available. Not to mention my TV is one of those big box TVs and is very ugly. I think the overall aesthetic of my apartment will improve and will become a more comfortable place to be :)
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Excellent post. As parents we instituted some rules when our children were young – about 8 years or so ago. Rules which we adhere to ourselves, to set the example. Our kids at that time watched TV every night, and we noticed at lot of copy cat behaviour from the US children’s sitcoms and programmes, sassy smart mouthed kid behaviour. At the same time my husband was researching the Dunedin study, which found that a young persons achievement was linked the amount of TV watching they did as a young child. That for us was the decider. We immediately stopped weekday TV. And restricted it to 3 evenings a week, 5.00pm until 8.00pm. The change in behaviour was dramatic and instant. We have never gone back. They are now 15 and 17 and the rule is still in place. We are not going to ever get rid of our TV, but we restrict viewing to a handful of programmes we like, spread out over the week its only 3- 4 hours.
For children now computers have become more of an issue as homework is all done online. We use “Kidswatch” a computer programme that monitors facebook chat, filters websites, allows you to limit access to whatever website you choose, and limit separately internet or computer access. I highly recommend any parent uses this – particularly with teens. The online world and conversations that happen between “sweet as pie” teens is horrifying. Most of it is hidden from adults in their lives with amazing cunning.
We have always had dinner together every night, and never allowed phones or TV at the dinner table or any family get together or party, for that matter. What has been eye opening for us is having some of the childrens friends come for a meal, and clearly this is a whole new experience. One asked in amazement “Do you have dinner like this every night or just because of a visitor?” when we said every night he said “Wow this is so cool, I wish we did this at our house!”
Melissa @Whole9 says
Some of the studies on these “educational” TV shows for kids are fascinating. The average 22 minute TV show depicts 19 minutes of conflict, and only 3 minutes of resolution. That gives kids the idea that life is about, as you said, “sassing” and smart-mouthing and fighting, yet they learn very little about how to resolve those issues in a healthy way.
I’ve also read some interesting studies on dinners together as a family and incidents of drug and alcohol use later in life – the more family dinners you have together, the less likely your kids are to grow up and engage in those behaviors.
I like the idea of limiting TV or movie viewing spread out over the week. We are already talking about how we are going to manage viewing with Atticus, and he’s only 6 months! Thanks for the good ideas.