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Dumb and Dumber

Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the Web... at the same time, we feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history... -- Palmer Joss, Contact by Carl Sagan

We've all heard about the studies that reveal the closer we are in proximity to our smart phones, the dumber we get. Our cognitive capacity and overall brain power are significantly reduced if our smartphone is within glancing distance -- regardless of whether it is turned off or face down. Not really a surprise, is it? The surprising part is why our cognitive capacity is diminished. The brain drain is a result of us TRYING NOT TO THINK about our dumb phone.

So, even when they are not distracting us, our smartphones are distracting us.

A typical smartphone user interacts with his or her phone an average of... wait for it...85 times a day. It is the ultimate, grand mama of distraction. The thief of clarity. With a single ding or flash it hijacks your attention.

Many, if not most, smartphone users have developed the joy-robbing, mindless habit of constantly checking their phone. Have you?

Not sure? Here's a simple test: Turn off your phone off for one hour during the day. Just one. Notice how often your thoughts turn to the phone, your hands reach for it, or you mentally check to see how much time has passed. Can I look now? The results of the test may lead you to implement different practices -- ones that pull for something mindful vs. mindless.

What else could you do 85 times a day (or even once a day!) that enriches your relationships or advances things truly important to you? How much more productive would you be if you turned your phone off routinely to focus on important tasks?

Other studies show simply placing a smartphone on the table near two people talking changes the conversation into a more trivial and less engaging one. Anticipating interruption, people gravitate to frivolous topics. Wow. Let that one sink in. That little tidbit was enough for me. Who needs more meaningless conversations?

Here are tips from productivity experts on how to reduce distraction and squeeze the most value from this potentially productivity-boosting-if-intentionally-used device:

  • Turn the sound cues off on your phone. No more dings, pings, pulses, or vibrations when a text, email or message arrives. These cues trigger the addictive dopamine-seeking behaviors that make the poor smartphone habits more difficult to break.

  • To focus on completing an important task, learn how to use the Do Not Disturb feature to silence your phone for a specified period of time, knowing the settings you defined will allow important or emergency communications to come through. (No excuses!)

  • Put your phone away while driving, during meetings, or talking with others.

  • Other than deactivating your wakeup alarm, don't touch your phone/laptop/other wired devices until you have created your intention and plan for the day. Write or respond to only those communications identified as important in your plan.

  • Schedule time on your calendar each day to respond to other non-critical communications and stick to your schedule.

Which, of any of these, do you do habitually? Give yourself one point for each bullet. What is your score? Zero? One? Something to think about!

Remember, a habit limits growth; a practice fosters it. Asleep vs. Awake. One is by default, the other intentional. One serves you. The other undermines you.

Excerpt from Journey Back to Me

I look closer. Some trees have no fruit whatsoever. Others bear only small, hard fruit that never ripened, either rotting on the tree or dropping to the ground green and inedible. My eyes dart to the eyes for an explanation.

“Often times we distract ourselves from what we really should be doing with our lives. We idle doing things that make us feel good about ourselves but do little to forward our growth.

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