D A Y e l e v e n
Let that question soak in and marinate for a minute.
How well do you wait?
Take a moment to ponder all the times during the day when you find yourself in between, times when waiting is part of getting some place or some thing. Like when you’re in line waiting to buy something. Or when you’re at a stoplight waiting to get to work or the store. Or at the doctor’s office waiting to be seen. Or when you’re waiting for your kids to finish up their breakfast so you can wait for them to get ready for school. Or when you’re waiting to pick them up from school when the day is almost over. Or when waiting for water to boil when making supper. Or when…you get the point. We wait a lot as human beings. On the rare days a handful of minutes, but most days, a bucket of hours if you were brave enough to tally them up.
My question for you: What do you do to fill that time? Odds are high, that without even really realizing it, you grab your phone and do something on a screen. I know because when I was on social media, that’s what I’d do. I check in, sometimes just for a minute, sometimes more, and scroll to see what’s happening. I’d read several captions, like some photos, comment on ones that tugged at my heart, and used that time to get inspired. Completely harmless, right?
And I know others do the same when they are waiting because I’ve been doing this sneaky little experiment for the past week. You see, I’ve been secretly paying close attention during the 10 or so odd minutes before my morning workout at the gym, seeing what it is people do when they have 10 minutes on their hands to do nothing before class. Guess what they choose? Yep. Almost everyone waiting around, unless actively stretching, stands in the same corridor phone in hand, eyes on screen, no talking, waiting for class to begin. It’s the thing people do when waiting, and it’s not just at the gym, but everywhere.
And I get that it’s an early morning class so who really wants to make conversation with a stranger, but what about the people grabbing their phones when stopped at a red light? Or when waiting whist driving! I’ve seen them, too. Or what about those who scroll when waiting on a table when out to eat with their family? Or when waiting to get called back by the dentist? What then? Eyes. Screen. Lock. Everyone seems to be habitually grabbing their phones during any period of wait time to look at something, to do something. But what? Maybe it’s something important? Perhaps they are just responding to an urgent text from their boss or babysitter? Or maybe they are paying a bill that’s due? Because we can now do almost everything under the sun through our phones, which is indeed handy at time, so any of those are apt to be true. But probably not.
If I had to bet, I’d bet they were on social media checking in and taking in whatever new information that realm holds. I’d bet they were on Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or Twitter, being “productive” as not to waste time. And if they’re not on one of those, I bet they are on email and working away from work – something that is now insanely possible as the boundary line from work and home and the rest of world blurrier than its ever been in the history of humanity.
I don’t write this post from a place of judgement whatsoever. I write this post because scrolling whilst waiting is exactly what I had grown accustomed to doing just a few weeks ago when the tiny social media was a pocket and a finger tap away, all too ready to fill my blank canvas of time with something more exciting than sitting in my chair alone waiting on an appointment or in line for ten minutes before working out if I got there early. I also know because Andrew, someone who doesn’t even have a social media account (how is he even a millennial???) grabs his phone during most wait times to do the very same thing checking his constant flow of email or getting caught up on work away from work. I know because it’s what our culture is programming itself to do whilst waiting, because I see it everywhere, because our tech devices are really and truly addictive. Sound familiar?
Beyond the additive qualities of our smart phones, an important topic we will absolutely get into just as we did last year, what else could be a reason for why we feel the urgent need to fill our wait time with scroll time? I think it has a lot to do with productivity. Or at least, what we consider to be “productive” on the surface level and what is actually is more or less a giant fib we feed our egos to continue this distracting and often times mindless habit. I think what happens is that we find ourselves in a situation full of empty space, and in our doing culture we’ve grown familiar with filling that void with something to help us “get ahead” to be “successful”. Who defines those terms anyways? We tell ourselves over and over again that we have very little time, so why would we waist it doing nothing when we could be using the ease of technology to help us achieve something?
On paper, this all makes sense. The problem though, is that what we are actually doing with our wait time, is flooding our brain and bombarding our nervous system with information and noise it cannot possibly digest without really doing anything productive at all. We are putting an absurd amount of information in front of our eyes to read and absorb in flashes of a second, scrolling and scrolling some more. It’s how we get caught up on the news, chat with friends, and get ideas for supper. And in moderation, I think it can be really useful. However, constantly filling wait time with more than we can fully digest can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, left out, and behind. What we were doing to “get ahead” simply switched gears and can leave us feeling exhausted even if we’ve had a great night’s rest. What we are really doing when scrolling all day, I believe, is weakening our all too important ability to pay attention, which ironically, is the main thing we need to fuel meaninggul productivity in the first place!
We feel as though we are getting ahead and connecting with others, and we very well may be connecting from a place of genuine care and authenticity, but the problem is that tapping into this visual world outside of reality makes us automatically tap out of the very real and very present one we’re immersed in, because no matter how hard we try, we cannot fully be in both. We can be half in one and half in the other, half tapped in, half present with our family (as I presume many who are on social media are all the time) but being half present is like driving while half awake. It’s autopilot, at best. Every time you and I grab our phones when we are waiting to check social media and either comment, or like, or post something online ourselves, we are taking ourself directly out of the moment, and placing our attention on layers and layers of information at rapid speed without end. Have you ever tried to get to the end of a Pinterest scroll? Trick question. You can’t. No one can. Social media is designed to keep us active and engaged, even more so now with algorithms and playing the “game” it has designed so others can see our posts and engage with our content. It’s literally a Catch 22. You cannot become really successful on social media by popping in once a week anymore. What it demands is constant engagement in a myriad of ways to keep others invested and coming back. It’s just how it works now, and it’s probably not going to change any time soon. So, what to do?
I feel now is a good time to mention if I haven’t already: I do not dislike social media, nor do I think it should be done away with. Not one bit. I actually really love it and think it is a wonderful tool to engage with in many ways. It is a great source of inspiration for me, connection with others who I enjoy following and care about, and a good source of income through the work I collaborate on. I also enjoy it for its beauty, wisdom, clever ideas, recipes, social activism, and solidarity in motherhood. I value all of these things dearly, and have met my very best friends because of social media. I am able to stay home with my kids and create this space that feeds my soul because of social media. I have learned a lot about things I care passionately about because of social media. But life is happening right now off a screen as I raise my babies and make our home, and constantly connecting with it in lieu of being present to that reality means I am missing moments and lessons I cannot get back. That’s the hard truth and when I think about it for too long it makes my stomach hurt.
Now, what I do not care for is how easy it is to access and how addictive it is with regard to our attention. What I do not care for is how I have gotten myself into the mindless habit of being on social media during wait times as a means of being “productive” when instead I could be connecting on a deeper level with myself, others, or the natural world around me.
Here is what I urge you and I to practice for the rest of this retreat: WAIT. Let’s not grab our phones. It’s gonna be hard. We don’t need to check the weather, girl. We don’t need to respond to that text thread. We don’t need to read any articles or listen to any podcasts. Just wait. And be. And sit still. And breathe. See what transpires for you during this time, and use the stillness to pay attention to the world around you. I think what you will find is that our senses will begin to sharpen, and our focus muscle (i.e. our ability to pay attention to our paying attention!) will brighten our horizons and deepen our sunsets. I think we will find that we have so much more time than we’ve been telling ourselves. And when it does come time to invite social media back into the rhythm of our day, perhaps we’ll be more mindful about when using it, and not during wait times.
If you’re up to read and listen a little bit more, I’ve got some goodies for ya. Take your time on these, and tell me what you think. I don’t know who the heck is reading this or following along on our retreat, so sharing your takeaways with this community kind of gives me an idea. It’s your turn to give some input on the topic of information overload and wait time distractions and gosh, hopefully an optimistic message as to what the hell we can do about it! Yes? Okay. Good. Onward, loves.
- READ | Read a short bit about how a “wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” (words by the late economist and phsycologist Herbert Simon) right here, inspired from a quotation that was referenced in my last Rest Retreat post podcast with Daniel Goleman and Oprah during their Super Soul Conversations.
- READ | Interested in what attention is exactly? Read this article on cognitive psychology about what attention is according to psychologists, with key points about how it works.
- READ | And then because I don’t want to leave you feeling utterly hopeless, here is something to chew on about how we can pay better attention to our attention, which is of course, the essence of mindfulness. Optimism, friends!
- WATCH | Because this is a lot of reading, and I know you’re probably spent, here’s a video detailing the science of taming the wandering mind and an article articulating how attention controls perception, which is basically how we see the world, our lives, and the lives of others we are connected to. Interesting stuff.
- READ |And lastly, because I can’t not talk about attention and fail to weave Mary Oliver in here somehow, Mary Oliver on what attention really means and her moving elegy for her soul mate over on one of my very favorite sites, Brain Pickings. I love you, Mary. I could write you a thousand and one thank you notes everyday for the rest of my life, and it wouldn’t come close to expressing how much I appreciate the work you continue to put into the world. We are all better, if not more alive and aware, because of your gift. xx
And incase you’ve missed it: