Go On, Embrace Boredom (How To Overcome Digital Addiction)

One interesting observation I made during the month-long silent meditation retreat was how long it took before the phantom vibration went away. I’d constantly catch myself reaching for my iPhone because I felt it vibrate — except that the phone wasn’t on me. It was miles away, resting comfortably with my husband (who unfortunately had to pull double duty, managing not only his digital device but mine as well).

I think the next frontier in human evolution will be to figure out how to live, how to co-exist with our digital technology. One interesting thing about these technology is that it is intentionally designed to be highly addictive.

We’re quickly losing the ability to engage in deep work, to focus for sustained periods of time, to pay attention to a singular activity. We’re also losing the ability to be with boredom. 

There are many benefits to boredom, including:

  • Spurring creativity
  • Make new, innovative connections
  • Deliberate actions

According to Marina Abramovic, a performance artist, “Technology is great but it’s also a dangerous thing. We have to learn how we can gain free time back for ourselves. The only way to emerge is with some long durational activities, such as Counting the Rice.” That’s right. Counting grains of rice in order to allow boredom to arise.

Two years ago, on Note to Self podcast, there was a 6-week challenge called, Bored and Brilliant. Each week, you were assigned different tasks such as keeping your smartphone in your pocket (or in a bag), not taking pictures, deleting apps, and perhaps, my favorite, watching a pot of water come to boil.

Surprisingly, watching a pot of water come to boil was rather relaxing. At times, I also found it infuriatingly boring. But that’s the point. To allow yourself to experience the wide ranges of emotions that can arise in doing something as mundane as counting grains of rice or watching a pot of water come to boil.

I’ve found daily meditation to be incredibly useful for cultivating a healthier relationship with digital technology. I am much better able to observe and notice that sensation of feeling hung over after spending way too much time staring at the screen.

If you feel as though your relationship to digital technology has become unhealthy or perhaps, just unsustainable, I encourage you to check out the Bored and Brilliant challenge.

In addition, here are some apps that I use on a regular basis to keep my digital technology use in check.

  • freedom.to — This app allows you to block certain apps (and websites) and put it on a schedule. For example, you can block Twitter for 30 minutes while you’re cranking out that last minute memo
  • inthemoment.io — This app keeps track of the number of times you pick up your iPhone, how long you use it for and keeps track of the worst offender apps
  • Pomodoro Keeper — A focus app, it allows you to set a timer for a fixed period of time, followed by a rest period
  • Boomerang for Gmail — Allows you to pause your Inbox so that no new emails can come in. Helpful for breaking the constantly-checking-email habit

A book on this topic I highly recommend is Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. He offers some practical suggestions for training the mind to focus on deep work.

If you’d like to learn tools for working with the anxious lawyer brain, please join me for a 1-hour online workshop on August 14th. Learn more here.