Live Better retreat leader Ryland Hormel riding the waves in El Salvador.

Finding Healthy Connection in a Digital Age

Let’s admit it — we’re addicted to our technology.

Honestly, we’re not sure how we got anywhere looking at printed MapQuest directions or navigating by the stars (maybe that’s a hint we should all be in outdoor survival classes…). How did we stay in touch with friends before DMs, text message, and even voicemail? How did we date before the ability to swipe right?

From start to finish, our phones own our schedule. Our alarm clock is our phone, our calendar is digital, and our connections (phone, text, and email) start on our phone. Our phones control our music, entertainment, digital notebook, news, weather…you name it.

What is missing from all this time our heads are buried in our screens?

Human connection, in physical form. We miss the oxytocin released from a good hug. We miss life going on around us in the elevator, on the train, and waiting in lines. We miss the opportunity to practice and learn social cues (which I can guarantee you’ll need at some point), and we miss the opportunity to interact with people simply walking around in our day to day life.

It is not sad that we have to try to have more (real life) human connection; digital consumption is inevitable and is what it is. However, it is what it is because we created it to be that way. We’ve accepted the necessity (and benefits) of technology, but have failed to realize many positive boundaries; it’s all consuming. We’re addicted to our computer, iPad, smart watch, and phone, especially.

Apps are no longer what they were intended to be used for (a utility) but now are in control of our attention (a distraction).

Please raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like a training session or workout was a “failure” because your watch didn’t track your calories burned properly or your Garmin failed to record your run?

Guess what? You still did the workout!

Another important realization we must come to is that kids are growing up alongside technology as we know it. By “technology” we could be referencing any number of innovations that help make our lives easier, but here we’ll refer to those digital ones, specifically the ones from our phones (because they’re portable and the most accessible), that hold our sense of presence captive.

We must find ways to healthily integrate digital technology into our lives to make sure we don’t lose our sense of positive human connection. Your fun experiences are still fun even if they don’t make your Instagram story. You can enjoy vacation without the need to post for FOMO-driven likes on your feed. We should be encouraging kids to get outside and play instead of greasing their attention span with YouTube videos.

Life is best lived in front of the screen…not seeing it second hand.

Our goal with Live Better Retreats is to create an experience away from digital technology, and to cultivate an environment of positive shared experience. We feel there will be a regression away from app-driven activity, especially in the health world. Home workouts are convenient, but there is a reason people need social accountability. There is a reason why group classes (in person) are so effective. We crave human connection, support, and physical encouragement.

Digital technology cannot replace authentic interaction, but should simply assist in its process (e.g. you can book a flight via an app, but the actual travel itself is done in real life instead of scrolling a travel website).

Here are a few simple ways to create better decision defaults away from digital distraction:

1) Put your phone down for ALL meals. Pay attention to your company (by making eye contact), read, or write. And yes, enjoy those moments of downtime and silence. Practice better listening.

2) Say hello to people in the elevator. We believe this is a missed encounter to get to know your co-workers, your neighbors, or simply smile at someone to change the course of their day. You never know what someone is hiding behind by looking at their phone; help them by smiling.

3) Make dinner plans one night a week with friends. This can also mean hosting a dinner party — if you don’t have the time or resources to host each week, form a rotation with a group.

4) Write more letters, send less texts. The power of a handwritten letter does not go unnoticed, and it will also serve to give you a digital detox from your blue light rolodex.

5) Create “digital consumption rules.” For example, “I will read 15 pages from my book before I watch Netflix each night.” Take a quick review of your default decisions; do you normally sit down to TV or social media at night? What’s the first thing you do in the morning (…email)? Create rules around your digital consumption.

The purpose of all of this is to evaluate your relationship with technology. Is technology a utility, as it was intended, or is technology a distraction from pursuing what you want? Inherently, it’s addictive, and we all fall prey to its frivolity at times. Entertainment is not without its merit and benefit, however, are we being honest about how we spend time with our technology?

If you complain you “don’t have time,” we’d first suggest looking at your Screen Time; how much of that can you subtract? Can you save TV for the weekends? Can you create better routines in the morning and evening to wake up and fall asleep more efficiently? What can a little discipline do to enhance your relationship with technology even further?

As we become even more consumed with staying connected, it’s a must-do to evaluate our relationship with the way it affects our lives. Use the holiday season as a time to disconnect, and the turn of the New Year to evaluate the way in which we want to interact with tech in 2020.

How can you better connect with the people and world around you?

Have the best day ever.

-Jason Loebig

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