By Maria Haggerty
Here’s how it can improve mindfulness.
Digital devices offer many conveniences in our personal and professional lives, but being as reliant upon them as many of us are, it’s important to engage in activities that stretch other muscles.
Limiting or eliminating screen time every now and then comes with a host of benefits, most of which fall under the umbrella of mindfulness. Achieving this state can help you recharge and create a happier, more productive existence, at home and at work. In honor of National Day of Unplugging on March 6, here are four perks of taking a break from technology.
1. It Boosts Your Brainpower
A study of Google’s effects on memory found people were less likely to remember information if they believed they could access it later. The availability of the internet changes your recall process, making you more likely to remember where, rather than what, the facts are.
Using your brain rather than a search engine sounds like a simple challenge, and it should be. But the problem is that we’re addicted to the instant gratification provided by a browser search or asking Alexa or Google. But this is what humans are built for. When you’re asked a question, your brain gets excited and receives a dose of serotonin, which relaxes and primes it to find answers and solutions.
Research suggests that as the brain grows dependent on phone technology, the intellect weakens. In other words, being less reliant on digital devices can make you smarter. Flex your problem-solving muscles with a game like chess or mancala, or navigate a drive, hike, or subway trip relying only on instincts, memory, and interpersonal skills.
2. It Creates Lasting Memories
Next time you hear someone say, “Take a picture. It’ll last longer,” you might want to think twice. Linda Henkel, a human memory researcher at Fairfield University, identified a “photo-taking impairment effect,” which shows that people remember fewer details of memories after taking a photo compared with simply observing a moment.
When you take a picture, your brain receives a message that the camera will retain the information, so you don’t have to. That’s not to say the entire memory is deleted, but by focusing on taking photos, you pay less attention to what’s going on around you. And you can’t remember what you ignored in the first place. The mental exercise of recovering a memory will make it easier to find later. Putting in the effort will help you get better at remembering.
3. It Gives You a Reality Check
About 30 percent of U.S. adults report being online “almost constantly.” Social media accounts for a lot of that. Aside from sucking up time, social media has earned a reputation for being generally unhealthy for people’s well-being. A recent study corroborated this, finding that limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day can reduce loneliness and depression, and may significantly improve mood after three weeks.
Social media is often more of a virtual reality than a reflection of real life. Taking a break might curb self-comparisons, which can be unnecessarily harmful to self-esteem. Lacking confidence can have a negative impact, personally and professionally, causing doubt in your abilities and judgment, preventing you from taking risks, and hampering your ambition to set and achieve goals.
4. It Optimizes Restfulness
You’ve probably heard something about the negative physiological effects of blue lights from screens, and for good reason. It’s particularly problematic the closer you get to bedtime, as the light impacts your brain’s production of melatonin, hindering your ability to fall asleep. A study of 4,188 U.S. workers estimated a $1,967 loss in productivity per worker because of poor sleep.
Keeping digital devices within arm’s reach prompts quick checks that can inadvertently lead to much longer chunks of time spent using them. Texts, calls, and other notifications can keep you awake or interrupt your sleep, preventing you from restful slumber. Consider too that the content of these communications can elicit stress, excitement, sadness, and other emotions, further disrupting sleep. Experts typically agree that the closer you get to bedtime, the more you should avoid screens.
Extend the courtesy of unplugging to your employees by providing them with ways to maximize time “off the grid.” At my company, we offer weekly yoga and meditation classes, and encourage employees to use the “zen zone,” a lounge with a small collection of books they can read away from the commotion of work, or simply sit and decompress. It’s been great for morale and general wellness.
Find what works for you. I’ve discovered a compromise that increases my productivity is using the GoodNotes app while in airplane mode, which lets me write without digital interruptions. Try unplugging for one day, or even one hour. Think of it as a spring-cleaning for your brain. If things improve, cycle it into your schedule as frequently as it makes sense for you.
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