Let’s just accept that the situation sucks

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I just completed my third week of social isolation and my second week of online teaching. Everything is closed except for essential businesses like grocery stores, and every day brings a new flood of stories about COVID-19. I have a long list of self-care hacks memorized:

  • Limit news consumption, especially right before bed.
  • Get outside for a walk everyday even when it is cold and rainy.
  • Exercise
  • Eat real food
  • Maintain mindfulness practice
  • Connect with friends and help each other

It’s good advice and I’m doing a decent job following it. And I’ve been reading a ton of self-care stuff about how to turn the current lemon-y situation into refreshing lemonade. Apparently, sheltering in place allows valuable time for introspection, for spring cleaning, and for reading all those books that one had always meant to read. …

Technology creep had disrupted my alone time so it no longer provided true solitude.

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Photo by John St. John

Being an introvert, I’ve always spent a lot of time alone, and I’ve known since I was a kid that it was necessary. Time alone lets me reflect on myself and on others, processing all those inputs and impressions I get from interacting with the world. I also need time alone to notice how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking, and to think thoughts and feel feelings from beginning to end.

And of course, I need time alone to rest and recover from social interactions! If I don’t get enough of it, I feel stressed and drained.

Over the past few years, I gradually started feeling more and more stressed and drained even though I was spending plenty of time alone. It took a 30-day digital declutter for me to figure out what had happened: Technology creep had disrupted my alone time so it no longer provided true solitude. I was still spending time without other people around, but I wasn’t getting a break from their constant input and interruptions. …

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Switching attention between different tasks uses up lots of energy and attention. You have to work harder to catch up. The switching and the extra work makes your brain tired, and then focusing becomes even harder.

You are good students. Most of the time, you come to class with the best of intentions, willing to listen, think, and engage (or so I believe). But like the rest of us, you carry a device that’s perfectly designed to distract you, pulling your attention away from our conversations in class.

We often pick up our phones with the best of intentions: “I’m just going to send one quick text!” But once we pick up our phones, they grab our attention and we don’t put them back down. I see this happen to colleagues in meetings, and I see it happen to students in class. …

Thrive Global

I completed Cal Newport’s 30-day digital declutter a few months ago, and it made me cut my screen time way back. It also helped me rediscover solitude, an increasingly rare state in our hyperconnected age. I loved it — I feel both calmer and more rested.

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Photo from Pixabay

In the distant past, being alone guaranteed solitude. If no one was with you, there was no input from other minds (solitude). Technology changed that. Books, telephones, television, and then smartphones allowed input from other minds to reach us even when we were alone.

Before the smartphone, that input couldn’t always reach us. Television sets and desktop computers were too large to carry around so their reach was limited to a particular room in our house. We sometimes carried books around with us, for sure, but we closed them and put them away when we were done reading, and they didn’t disrupt us after that. But we keep our smartphones turned on and within easy reach. And they allow a virtually infinite amount of input from others to reach us. Texts and news flashes arrive constantly, and the world’s accumulated store of distractions is at our fingertips. And so, what used to be a solitary endeavor like a walk is now filled with arguments, words, music, and electronic beeps. …

Rediscovering better ways of staying friends

My excuse for using social media is that it helps me stay in touch with friends who live far away. Clicking ‘like’ is the busy introvert’s dream. Alone with our screens, we can still interact with friends, letting one know that we admired her vacation pictures, expressing sympathy for another’s crisis, and celebrating the professional success of the third. We can keep up with both current friends and people from our distant past. Social media makes it easy: Click, click, click, done.

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Photo by Max Pixel

Really? Meh. Likes are cheap and we get what we pay for.

The reality is that social media doesn’t do what I pretend it does. I click ‘like’ and tell myself that I’m connecting with my old friend. But I’m not. Bringing the number of likes on her post from 35 to 36 doesn’t connect me to her in any significant way. It just lets me think that I’ve connected with her. But social media doesn’t give us the deep social interactions that we need. …

Overcoming our digital addiction and making space for what matters

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Photo from Pixabay

I knew I was watching too much Netflix when I realized that I didn’t want my husband to know just how much. I felt a bit like an alcoholic hiding wine bottles. And I was vaguely aware that I didn’t actually enjoy being glued to a screen. It just seemed to — happen.

I’m not alone. Companies are getting better and better at keeping us glued to our screens, watching and clicking. We slide into passive consumption of content, mindlessly drifting from one shiny thing to another. I don’t decide to watch cat videos, binge on Netflix, or spend hours catching up on celebrity gossip. …

A better way of doing empathy

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Vietnam nurses, photo by Bill Cecil

Like most women, I was socialized to be empathic. When others are sad, I notice it immediately, it upsets me, and I try to help. And of course, helping is good. But it’s also exhausting and I know very well that it’s putting me on the path to burnout. And I’m not alone. Some researchers believe that our higher empathy explains why women are more prone to anxiety and depression.

So it looks like we have to choose: Care less or burn out.

Both options suck.

A combination of neuroscience and ancient Buddhist teachings points to a promising solution: Find a less exhausting way of caring. The key insight is that empathy has three distinct…

And how I broke the habit of checking email first

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My favorite quote from last year about how to stay organized and sane is from Ashton Kutcher, which amazes me since I can’t stop thinking of him as Kelso on That 70s show:

Email is everyone else’s to do list for you.

For years, I started my workdays by checking email. It seemed like an easy way to start, but it’s not. Like most people’s, my email box is always filled with things that others want me to do — preferably immediately. It leaves me feeling torn in many different directions. …

And why that’s a good thing

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A soldier with the 160th Signal Brigade meditates before duty at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Margaret Taylor)

Meditation has been sold to employees and companies as a tool that improves motivation and job performance. But does it work? In some recent studies, meditation had the opposite effect (see below); it made employees less interested in the routine task that the researchers assigned to them. The researchers concluded that there is “strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.” And if we are less motivated, we’ll be less productive.

The studies have problems, but they point to something important:

Meditation isn’t a neutral productivity tool.

Meditation teaches us to slow down and become aware of our feelings and thoughts. Once we notice them, these feelings and thoughts are likely to trigger introspection and self-examination. …

How to tune out that perfectionist inner voice

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My inner voice is a demanding drill sergeant who barks commands at me. She expects perfection. My garden must be weeded and deadheaded, meals need to be healthy and cooked from scratch, all work tasks must be done quickly and perfectly, and the living room must be dust free.

In the past, I’ve been a good and obedient soldier, and I’ve tried hard to follow every order.

Rolling their eyes at me, friends suggested yoga because they thought it’d help me chill. It backfired because I turned yoga into a new challenge, working hard to get more flexible. The drill sergeant came up with a new set of orders: Get your heels closer to the floor! Lengthen those hamstrings! …


Anna Lannstrom, Ph.D.

Professor of philosophy at Stonehill College

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