I was on a ‘digital detox’ and personal retreat in December, and I watched the time slowly pass, purposely with not a lot to do. I was spending 12 days on a self-retreat in the heart of the English countryside... in the middle of winter.
I wanted to see what happens if I don’t have access to a screen for that period of time.
I had little possessions: a few clothes, a toothbrush and a few paperbacks...oh, and a credit card to pay the bill! No smartphone. No laptop. No audiobooks. No music. Nothing digital at all.
I was uncontactable.
That’s the longest time I haven't had absolutely no access to a phone since they were invented.
I spent time doing nothing, going for long walks, eating food, being silent, meditating and laughing with new friends.
Was it fun? Not always. I also got bored, felt tired, heard all sorts of crazy thoughts pass through my head and was a little frustrated when I couldn’t listen to my favourite talks when I couldn’t sleep at night. That last one is my usual habit - I like podcasts.
But I also had a wonderful time and learnt so much! I had to work through my feelings to enjoy the benefits of the time off.
Here’s the things I discovered. You may like to implement some of these into your life too, if they resonate:
Tip 1: Have A Screen-Free Day...or Week
Without my phone I noticed two great things that happened: I got lost a lot, and didn’t take a single photo. And they were both joyful.
Getting Lost = More Adventures
I literally got lost much more often on my walks.
Luckily, that wasn’t a problem. If you’re goal orientated, the destination is more important than the journey. And so getting lost is frustrating.
But if the journey is more important than the destination, then getting lost isn’t really a problem. A cliche, but so true. It’s a pleasure and privilege to explore what you discover.
No Photos = Just Looking
Several times I saw a beautiful sunset or stunning view of the rolling hills and atmospheric sky, and reached into my pocket to take a picture. Alas, no phone.
So, I spent more time just looking. And through just looking, I can still clearly recall the lonely tree on the horizon surrounded by acres of fields, whilst the sun was setting behind me on a crisp, winter’s afternoon.
Most of us nowadays spend so much time looking at screens. I think I do too much too, and I’m a so-called mindfulness expert!
Do you find yourself stare at screens all day at work, spend lunchtimes and your journey home sending emails from your phone, and spend evenings on social media or watching videos on multiple screens?
The average American spends almost 11 hours looking at screens according to a CNN report.
If that’s you, that’s over half your waking day. What effect do you think that’s having?
There’s growing research on the impact on both children and adults.
Tip 2: Try Spending Some Time in a TOTALLY Silent Space
The place I stayed at was quiet. Very quiet. In fact, at night, it was totally silent. So much so, I couldn’t even sleep on the first night!
I live in London, and there’s always a quiet background noise that I hadn’t noticed until I’d visited this centre. As I write this blog, back in the suburbs of north London, I can hear a car alarm in the distance, television or radio on and conversations. And this is a quiet suburb.
I know that our own minds are far noisier than any external sound. But if you can organise it, spend time in a quiet room, or a place far enough from a city to enjoy some quiet.
If you have children, try arranging a night or two away from them, if they’re old enough. If you can, save up some money and take a trip, especially if you feel you need the silence.
The combination of no screens and the silent vibe meant I ended up sleeping for 10 hours on one of my first nights! I obviously needed it.
Tip 3: Read More Real Books!
Since the advent of the internet, I’ve spent more and more time reading blogs, watching videos, listening to podcasts and checking emails. I also now spend quite a bit of time writing on my computer too.
I’ve found my time to read books almost totally squeezed out. I’ve ended up reading book summaries and watching short TED talks, summarising ideas.
This is part of the drive to consume more information in a short time, rather than discover the pleasure of reading for its own sake.
I wasn’t on a silent retreat. I spoke with others, mainly at mealtimes. And I had books! So I rediscovered my love of reading.
I purposely didn’t take any books directly related to business or ‘success’. I wanted a break. I’m mostly a fan of non-fiction, so the books I read were:
The Checklist Manifesto
The Book of Joy
The Compassionate Instinct
The Compassionate Mind
The books helped motivate me to be more mindful and kindful, and helped me to reflect on how I wish to spend my year.
I’ll be sharing with you some of the findings I discovered from reading these books in one of my next blogs, so look out for that. If you want to get my blog by email, you can sign up here.
Books do not directly grow your mindfulness, but they are a nice break from our usually busy activities.
Tip 4: Make Mental Space To Help You Focus on What’s Most Important
Quiet time teaches you what’s MOST important.
And I realised something new this time.
Compassion and kindness isn’t just a value that some people choose to cultivate and others don’t.
Compassion is hard-wired in humanity - and all mammals actually. Sharing is essential for our wellbeing and survival as a species.
Here’s one insight I got from The Compassionate Mind:
As far as I know, we didn’t choose to be born. We didn’t choose our looks, our genetic make-up, the place we were born or our early childhood upbringing. We find ourselves in the ‘flow of life’. So we don’t have to blame ourselves for our past mistakes or challenges. The difficulties we experience are not unique to us. We are born with this brain with its tendencies to feel fear and anxiety. We are both with this emotional heart that can carry hurt and pain. And we are born with this body, that can feel both acute and chronic pain.
There’s many others thinking those dark thoughts that you’ve had. Those deep emotional pains you’ve felt are not just felt by you, but probably millions of others. You are not alone. And it’s not your fault.
This way of thinking leads to greater kindness and compassion to yourself. And importantly, a greater willingness to forgive and care for others. It’s less about blaming and more about understanding how to survive and thrive in life.
Tip 5: Let Nature Be Your Greatest Teacher. And be Weird.
I went for long walks. A few hours at a time. Well, that’s a lot for me!
I loved enjoying the birds, especially the robins. So cute. :) And took a closer look at the trees and redwoods. Amazing how they combine the stillness of their trunk with the flexibility of their branches to stand tall for hundreds of years.
Here’s a weird but effective tip. Talk to trees. And the birds. Chat to the sky. Ask questions. You can even ask questions to your own body which is part of nature.
How are you doing body? How are you keeping, mind? How can I care for you, dear heart?
Go ahead and give it a try. You may be surprised at how well it works when you sense a response!
This is the reality of the situation we are in, as I see it:
There is more digital technology, cheaper than ever, and more people than ever are on phones and tablets and computers and talking to things like Alexa and Google Home.
As more people use phones and computers, humans are spending more time in front of screens rather than anything else. Much more time than they spend looking at nature, food, family or friends.
This has an impact on your human brain. Probably some positive and some negative.
It takes mindfulness to notice what’s happening and to question the status quo. And it takes courage to switch off, just to see what happens.
If you do use screens a lot, I invite you to switch off for a while...an hour, an afternoon, a day or a weekend. See what happens. Experiment on yourself. The world will keep going if you don’t use your dumb-phone…ooops, I mean smart-phone. :)
Happy New Year everyone! Thank you so much for following my blog. Do let me know what you’d like me to write about, and how I can best serve you to overcome your challenges.
May you enjoy the peace of just being yourself, just the way you are!