What percentage of your waking hours are you “plugged in” (i.e. checking things on the internet, doing email, texting, playing with your wireless device, watching TV, posting to Facebook or Twitter, and more)? If you’re anything like me and most of the people I know and work with, probably more than you’d like to admit.
Recently I began to confront my own obsession (borderline addiction) to being plugged in. For many years I’ve justified my somewhat obsessive nature about email and internet use by the fact that I run my own business and have to stay connected in order to make sure I’m taking care of my clients, generating new business, and not missing out on important opportunities.
However “true” this may seem, in the past few years (especially with the addition of social networking, texting, and other forms of “instant” communication and information sharing), it has become clear to me that my desire to stay connected has gotten a bit out of control and has had a negative impact on my life, my well being, and my relationships.
From entrepreneurs to sales people to managers to stay-at-home moms – just about everyone I know and work with seems to have some form of electronic obsession impacting their lives in a negative way.
About a month ago, I woke up on a Sunday morning and said to my wife Michelle, “I’m going to have a media free day today – no email, iPhone, internet, TV, or anything else. Today, I’m going to be totally unplugged.” She looked at me with a bit of amazement and disbelief – I think both because I was actually saying this and because she wasn’t convinced I could do it.
I had my own doubts and a few weak moments early in the day where I almost fell off the wagon and checked my phone. However, I was able to do it and by the end of that day, I felt great. I was able to relax and be present in a way that felt grounded and peaceful. The past four Sundays I’ve been “unplugged” and I’m loving it.
What if we unplugged more often? What if we gave ourselves permission to disconnect from technology and the “important” world of uber-communication? While for some of us this is easier than others, most of us could benefit from a little more unplugging and a little less emailing/texting/web or channel surfing in our lives.
What’s funny to me is how hypocritical we often are about it. When our spouse, co-worker, or friend is busy on their phone, checking email, or being “obnoxiously” plugged in, we often get annoyed. However, when we’re the one doing it, it’s almost always “necessary.”
Here are a few things you can do to start unplugging yourself in a healthy way.
1) Take inventory of the negative impact of technology in your life. How much stress, frustration, and difficulty does being constantly “plugged in” cause for you? Think about this on a physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual level. Admittedly, this is a bigger issue for some of us than others. However, the more honest you can be with yourself about it – both the impact it has on you and any underlying fears that may be associated with it, the more able you’ll be to alter your habits.
2) Challenge yourself to take conscious breaks. See if you can schedule a full day to be “unplugged.” If that seems to scary at first, try a morning or a few hours. And, if doing a full day seems easy – try a full weekend, a work day, or something else that will be a stretch. I’m working up to doing a full weekend myself and entertaining the idea of week day (although that seems scarier to me at the moment). Push yourself, but go easy on yourself at the same time – baby steps are important and perfectly acceptable with this.
3) Unplug together. See if you can get other people in your house, your family, or those you work with to unplug with you. Doing this with the support of other people can be fun and make it easier. It will also create accountability for you and those around you.
Our issues and challenges with technology and our obsession with being connected and online 24/7 don’t seem to be going away or getting better culturally. In fact, if we just take a look at our own lives and habits in the past few years – for most of us, things are getting worse. It is up to us to interrupt this pattern and to disengage from our electronic obsession in a conscious way.
While unplugging may not always easy or encouraged in the environments we find ourselves in, it’s crucial to our success and well being in life. When we’re able to disconnect ourselves, we can regain some of the passion, energy, creativity, and perspective that often gets diminshed or lost when we allow ourselves to get sucked into our phones, computers, TVs and other devices.