Do you ever feel like you need a magical block of time to focus on a relationship or a specific project?
At one time, I believed extra time was reserved for retirees and that I’d have to wait until I was 60 to work on projects that I loved. Thanks to a lot of reading and reflection over the past few years I realized that’s not the case. We all have the power to create a magical block of time, whether that moment is for 5 minutes, a week, or a month. And in a world that's constantly connected and on the go, it’s become increasingly important to take time out to reflect. And for me that meant stepping away from the Internet to write and to focus on relationships.
Below are a few things I learned about myself during my digital sabbatical. I hope my experience will inspire you to try something similar.
1. Remember to reflect.
During the past week, I noticed when my writing projects got difficult or I started to feel insecure I had an urge to check my email or twitter. In some ways I think this behavior is a little like watching TV.
You turn the TV on to distract yourself and to "zone out" and the Internet can be used for a similar purpose. If you constantly distract yourself you'll never find the time to reflect on what’s important in your life.
Williams Powers talks about this concept in Hamlet’s BlackBerry. Powers argues that it's impossible to reflect on life or examine difficult problems if the crowd is constantly in the background. You have the power to reconnect with the present moment to evaluate what you’re doing and how you’re feeling.
2. Checking email once a day is sufficient.
After doing a lot of thinking this week, I decided to only check my email once a day. Why? Rather than focusing on creative work, I have a tendency to get sucked into my inbox and procrastinate on creative projects.
I still plan on helping people via email. But it will take me a little longer to respond to requests. And I don't think that's a bad thing. Before hitting the send button, it's important to be thoughtful when writing a response.
3. Engaging in flow doesn't require an Internet connection.
Studies show that humans are the happiest when they engage in flow. Flow can occur when you're engrossed in any type of activity. So how do you know when you’re in the flow?
- You lose awareness of time.
- You aren’t thinking about yourself.
- You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts.
- You work effortlessly.
- You are active.
- And you would like to repeat the experience.
While you go about your daily activities you can use a number of strategies to get into flow. For example, chose activities that can provide you with new feelings, experiences and insights. And remember: pay attention to how you’re feeling and try not to worry about making a mistake.
4. Focusing on relationships is the key to happiness.
Focusing on building strong relationships is one of the key elements to living a happy life. Humans are social beings and without a strong social network, we become very unhappy.
The Internet is an amazing way to meet new people and a way to develop strong relationships. But I think many of us (including myself) underestimate the power of face-time. Taking a break from the Internet gave me the opportunity to focus on spending quality time with my parents and Logan and that made me incredibly happy.
5. The future you imagine won't be what you expect.
Humans are the only animal that can think about the future and imagine what our future selves will like or dislike. Daniel Gilbert, a leading happiness researcher, calls this affective forecasting. Affective forecasting allows us to imagine our future selves and what we think may or may not bring us increased happiness.
Over the past week, I've thought a lot about my prior affective forecasting failures. For example, in college I decided to major in Economics because I enjoyed the subject, found it incredibly challenging, and thought it might give me the opportunity to work on public policy. However, it turned out my affective forecasts were wrong. I ended up in the investment management industry; it wasn’t until years later that I ended up working on policy issues. I also wound up deep in debt because of student loans. The future I was living wasn't the same kind of future I had dreamed up for myself.
While the frontal lobe of our brain allows us to imagine the future, I think it's important to take a step back and engage in the present moment. Thinking about your future self and writing down goals is a healthy exercise. It's essential to remember the future you imagine won't be what you expect.
6. Happiness is in the small details.
Sometimes I get so caught up in rushing from activity to activity, I forget to look around and observe my surroundings. And more importantly, I forget that happiness can be found in the small, quiet details of life. For example, slowing down to savor a cup of coffee or taking the time to read a book. Over that past week, I had a lot of time to slow down and savor life’s small details.
7. Practice mindfulness on the Internet.
"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole world revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life." ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Taking a break from the Internet gave me the opportunity to think about practicing mindfulness online. I don't know about you, but I tend to click around a lot on the Internet and get very distracted. So one of my goals over the next few months is to be more mindful and thoughtful when I engage online, whether that's reading an article, leaving a comment, or posting a tweet.
And it turns out practicing mindfulness will make you very happy.
In “The How of Happiness,” Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky points out that “those who are prone to be mindfully attentive to the here and know are keenly aware of their surroundings. It turns out that such individuals are models of flourishing and positive mental health.” And relative to the average person, they are more likely to be happy, optimistic and satisfied with their lives.
Less is more, even on the Internet.