Unplugging

Multitask Much? 5 Ways to Give Yourself a Break!

Posted on: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
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Multitasking is a myth. Duh. This we now know for a real, true fact, thanks to an onslaught of studies that inspired a barrage of media. Nonetheless, you can’t step outside of your mudroom without running into people driving while texting (and applying makeup), jogging while phoning (and walking the dog), and boarding the bus while sexting (while listening to Prince).

It’s not just youth. As local columnist Gail Rosenblum recently confessed, “We can bemoan our kids’ insistence on doing homework while wearing earbuds, watching TV, and Snapchatting. But we’re worse.” Rare is the person in this great nation who has not been sucked into this multitasking milieu.

So please remind yourself: It’s a myth. Our brains and attention habits may be gradually changing, but humans still can really only focus on one thing at time.

  • One. Thing. At. A. Time.

MIT neuropsychology professor Earl K. Miller has done massive studies, and concludes, “Multi-tasking, it turns out, is actually not multi-tasking at all. It is doing many similar things, switching back and forth between them.”

Maybe we should redub it hypertasking?

We need to fight back, people. We need to resist our own un-basic instincts that have us believing we’re most productive and impressive when we may really be just frazzled, stressed, and rude. Yes, rude. When did it become okay to duck in and out of conversations because you can’t stop simultaneously playing with your digitalia?

We need a break. We need to do one life-affirming thing at a time, one worthwhile chore at a time, one relaxing pastime at a time. Maybe these things—if pursued mindfully—will help us refocus our brains and realize that the beauty of life still rests in the little things. In the 3D moment. And in rest itself.

So please read these Five Ways to Give Yourself a Break! And try digesting it in one bite, start to finish. If you can’t, worry not. I still love you. Maybe.

  • 1. Meditate

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Most anyone who’s been exposed to meditation discovers its value and pledges to make it part of their daily routine. And that promise often lasts about as long as the New Year’s diet. After all, who has time? Who has that 20-40 minutes every day to sit and focus on…nothing? We all do. We all have exactly 1,440 minutes per day. What you do with them is entirely your choice. And may determine your destiny.

  • 2. Fish

Fish? Really? Sure—if you can. On my lake, fisherpeople have become, for me, a symbol for patience, persistence, and silence. If fishing is inconvenient for you, find some equally passive pastime, like doodling, searching for four-leaf clovers, or finding animal shapes in the clouds.

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  • 3. Play music

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The Mozart effect has confirmed the genius of making music a part of life. Simple attentive listening can increase brain function. But try playing, even if you ain’t Paul McCartney. Pound on that dusty keyboard or pull out that old guitar. You’ll notice a form of focus that feels great. Avoid using the metronome app on your phone.

  • 4. Rest, Yes, Rest

We’re sleep-deprived to the point of health risks—including hypertension, diabetes, and dangerous driving. So sleep. And take naps. Get a hammock. Use the hammock. Put your head down on soft grass, your partner’s belly, and your chaise lounge. Fight with your family over who gets the recliner. Then get another one.

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  • 5. Take a break

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This site preaches the gospel of Sabbatical. And if you ever get the chance to take, say, three months to sail away to a dream destination, please, please don’t spend that precious experience on the phone, the computer, or hidden away in some media fantasy. Chat up every neighbor; study every sandcastle; taste every vino locale.

Cool. Thanks. You made it. You can go back to multitasking now.

And by the way, good luck with that.

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Screen (Ab)Use: Are We Near a Breaking Point?

Posted on: Friday, December 11th, 2015
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment

Teaching a writing course at an arts college and raising a family introduces me to creative, diverse youth—including Millennials. Their views about devices/SM/screen-living may be shifting: More and more of them have had enough. They can’t exactly turn it all off (who can?). But they now suspect that less is more.

Too much Facebook can make you feel like this.

Too much Facebook can make you feel like this.

  • Try the itsy-bitsy sabbatical

Work, communication, and entertainment (and, of course, shopping) continue to become evermore screen-centered. So if you’ve got a, like, life, you have little choice but to stay plugged-in. That’s where much of your life lives these days.

Like my students, though, more voices are questioning that focus. This article by career coach Joyce Russell promoting 60-second breaks acknowledges that most folks are working longer hours (on-screen), but then asserts that the brain just can’t keep going and going like the Eveready bunny—without recharging.

  • It’s your brain, stupid

Ms. Russell is on to something. She recommends you don’t just jump from one screen chore to another, but,

Substitute restorative activities such as listening to music, enjoying nature, meditating, engaging in social interactions, daydreaming, phoning your children or partner, reading a fun book, drawing or doodling.”

I’ll second that motion—and suggest adding some motion. As in movement. I work a lot at home, FBOW, but it DOES allow me to garden, kayak, and tend to the property in bits and pieces. Oh sure, I sometimes get sidetracked and lose myself to menial (or epic) chores. But often, raking leaves becomes quite refreshing when compared to managing more emails.

BreakAway from your screens and feel like this!

BreakAway from your screens and feel like this!

  • Quitting FB = 😊

The old joke goes, Q: What’s the best part about not being on Facebook? A: Not being on Facebook!

Now there’s a stream of research finding that the joke isn’t just funny, it may be true. “Quitting Facebook makes you happier,” states a recent story with a sub that shouts, “Other studies have shown a link between Facebook and symptoms of depression.”

The study comes from the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, and found that participants who maintained ongoing use of FB were 55% more likely to feel stressed than those who took a one-week break. One week!

Apparently, the perky, gloating trend of FB posts invites self-comparison. And who can possibly win against that nonstop Pollyanna, check-me-out! barrage? The study summarizes:

Social media is a nonstop great news channel, a constant flow of edited lives which distorts our perception of reality.”

As a fledgling humorist, I’ve tried to be funny, ironic, and maybe even snide on FB. How’d those posts do? Not well. I’ve gotten serious replies (as if people didn’t get the joke). I’ve received resistance. But mostly, I’ve gotten ignored. If there were a “dislike” button, I’d probably have a collection.

That, too, was depressing. So I, too, stick mostly to sunrises, kid pics, and the occasional look-at-this-cool-thing-I’m doing! post. FB aficionados “like” those.

Real life shows up in many colors and moods. Except for on Facebook, they all have their place. The richest and most complex are right on front of you. And no, not on that screen.

Are we reaching a breaking point?

Can you BreakAway?

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Reflections on Reflecting, Unplugging, and Healing

Posted on: Thursday, July 30th, 2015
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IMG_8314Well, hi there!

Last time we gathered, the topic du jour (which became flavor of the month) was the notion of over-booking summer activities for kids. I defended it, and now that summer is two-thirds over, I still would. With any luck, summer has a riddim of its own that settles into a feel-good groove regardless of commitments. Or even crises.

  • While you’re busy making other plans…

I also know that in summer—or anytime—the fates can throw curveballs that hit you in the face with seams that imprint SURVIVAL MODE NOW. This happened last Friday, when my son had a sudden medical emergency that resulted in major surgery 12 hours after the onslaught. (He’s recovering well now.)

One leaves such a crisis feeling dizzied, humbled, and grateful. After all, he was off the grid in the Boundary Waters just last month; had this happened then and there, he’d have never made it home. And in a strange way, the many emergencies I’ve endured thus far in my life (horrible and life-changing) have schooled me in how the system works and trained me for this one.

Summer and the future look different, downright hazy, since his surgery. But we’re home, and the focus simplifies to nourishment, resting, and healing. His cliff–jumping, wake-boarding, and hardcore workouts prepping for the Princeton football team will have to wait. Thus the patient learns patience—and that we’re never really in charge.

And the dad learns that parenting doesn’t end at 18 or the final days before college. Sometimes the job only gets harder.

  • Healing happens…

“Healing” is a billion-dollar word these days, with enough experts and gurus and research to make a Ph.D. in the topic implausible. So, instead, we each go through our own perpetual education. The older you get and the more scars you earn, the more healing becomes a state of mind. A challenge. A process that feels more like Zen than physical therapy.

  • When unplugging takes on its own power

Unplugging—also a state of mind—comes naturally to me (FBOW). This summer, that has meant keeping work in check. Resisting blog writing. Finding the garden, kayak, and hanging with friends more fun than Facebook. And sometimes twitching in alarm when I’m practicing R&R and the cell phone rings or dings with texts.

Anyway, that cell phone doesn’t work like it used to. I mean, so many people are too overwhelmed to answer or reply—so your query sits like a mystery until…whenever. Too, the dang things often run out of power or just won’t function. That was true during the medical emergency when my wife was at a family gathering way up Lake Superior and I needed to inform her. Neither AT&T nor Verizon nor the magical Northern Lights could create a connection.

And we think these little things are the best and coolest thing since drive-in movies? I’ll take the drive-in, with popcorn and Jr. Mints, please. I’ll keep my land line too; one would have been priceless in this situation.

I wish more people chose to unplug, though I know it’s become difficult to ignore the attraction (addiction?) of a bestie sending you an emoji or an “LOL.” Unplugging is a discipline worth the…effort. And I swear it can lead to a more balanced, peaceful place.

  • Balance and peace

Funny. These things may be within reach even when possibly life-threatening emergencies bring breathless fear, cancel my best-week-of-the-year vacation, and leave a guy feeling about as in-control as the loon parents and their baby who float and fish on my lake every day.

They dodge countless boats nonstop; the line between life and death for them is more thin and invisible than fishing monofilament. They’ll soon fly far away into only more perils and threats, including their dangerously BP-polluted winter home in the gulf of Mexico.

They will survive, I hope. We’ll all survive, I hope. But there are no guarantees. And I just watched my son spontaneously come closer to blowing out the candles than he ever has.

So we’ll enjoy this unexpected gift of time together. We’ll watch and listen to the Twins, sip beverages on the patio, and catch up on our cribbage.

And I’ll go back to unplugging, reflecting, and soaking in this gorgeous summer—while I can, wherever I may be. In spite of—or maybe thanks to—omnipresent uncertainty, I know that all we have is today.

And so far, today is just about perfect.

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What’s So Smart About Smartphones?

Posted on: Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Posted in: Unplugging, Blog | Leave a comment

P1010749They may be the most mind-blowing invention ever. But are smartphones as amazing as we think they are?

They have never: Cooked a delicious meal; hoisted the sails; shoveled snow.

What’s more, they can be troublemakers, as an ever-growing body of research and press suggests…

  • Smartphones can ruin vacations.

Our regal friends at Princess Cruises did some research and found that 67% of Americans would feel completely relaxed if they were entirely “off the grid.” 52% said that having a smartphone “makes it harder to relax.” Yet a cruise without wifi would be like a cruise without booze.

  • Smartphones screw up your love life.

NYT and a boatload of researchers report that devices (not the bedroom kind) are making partners feel ignored, insecure, disconnected, abandoned, and just plain bummed. What happens when the shunned partner finally says, “You don’t turn me on anymore?”

  • Smartphones cause “tech neck.”

Fact: Bodies age. Fact: Smartphones speed up that pain in the neck. Way back in 2011, 83% of cell phone users reported some neck and hand pain from texting. More recently, a local chiropractor says 80% of her cases are likely be related to phones. Not familiar with tech neck? Take a selfie next time you’re staring at your smartphone.

  • Smartphones make kids slow and fat.

I’ve been sitting on this research for a while, but that keeps me in the theme. In short, the WHO believes that 80% of kids worldwide are not getting enough exercise. It takes youth (9-17), on average, 90 seconds longer to run a mile than it took their parents. There’s plenty of blame (and munchies?) to go around. But techno devices increasingly keep butts stuck in seats.

  • Smartphones kill conversations. 

What’s better than sitting around chewing the fat with friends and fam? Checking your smartphone, apparently. Thus deteriorates thousands of years of progress in communicating via body language, expressions, and eye contact (remember that?). Run your own test: Ask some gathering, “Which ________ song said ______” See how many phones flip out. See how many memories die.

Not to worry. I got me an iPhone 6 now. The whole wide world is at my fingertips, right?

LOL.

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Can’t Relax? Turn off Your Phone!

Posted on: Monday, November 3rd, 2014
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DSC_0028Our obsession with smartphones festers on. Go to a social spot like a bar or a rock concert and most everyone is focused on their phone. Students list “no wifi” as a reason they won’t attend U of MN football games. And the chatter about the latest & greatest phones (and the challenges of obtaining one) remains shrill.

And yet, survey sez:

  • 67% of Americans reported they would feel completely relaxed if they were entirely “off the grid” (without any electronics or Internet access).
  • 52% say that having a smartphone makes it harder to relax.

Source: Princess Cruises

You can’t crack a newspaper these days without reading about youth anxiety, depression, and disorders. Could there be a connection here? Are we forgetting how to talk out our problems—and our dreams? Reducing life to texts and emoticons seems so … simple. Yet depending on a “smart” phone is, apparently, stressful.

People still flock to Mindfulness training, a Westernized version of Buddhism lite. In those sessions, you learn to sit. Just sit. Relaxation is the goal; meditation provides the path. And after several weeks of practice and quiet coaching, you discover some equanimity and quiet your mind.

There’s not an app for that (actually there are, but that’s another rant altogether). In fact, the best app for relaxation these days is to turn off and away from the several screens that now run your life.

Rest assured, there is life—and calm—beyond your devices. Rest assured.

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Vacation FUNdamentals for the iPhone Era

Posted on: Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
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I recently returned from my annual two-week retreat to Lake Okoboji, a favorite (and sometimes decadent) hideaway since childhood. This journey included a high-school reunion, a family reunion, and a dreamy wedding on a farm: People, hugs, fresh air!

I return to reality with minor depression and stacks of chores, as is typical after even a modest BreakAway, so must remind myself (and you) that it’s so worthwhile.

People hardly vacation any more, as we’ve ranted about herein 555 times. Folks blame work, commitments, kids’ events, and money. My take? Lame excuses. I wonder if they punt R&R time out of fear, inertia, and screen-life addiction. But who wants to play shrink about all that? Rather, let’s focus on why we “get away” in the first place: Vacation FUNdamentals.

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  • Vacation FUNdamental 1: FAMILY!

Today’s parents are way (too?) into their kids—at least those fortunate offspring whose parents got the memo and have the jingle to enroll them year-round…in everything. But my gut says about 99% of these kids know they ain’t gonna go pro, get sick of lessons and practice, and would love some time with loving rellies who take them to the lake, the farm, and the drive-in.

Yet let’s be real: Time with kinfolk can be tricky. Family gatherings can serve up strong emotions alongside gooey cole slaw. But isn’t that a reason to gather anyway? Would you rather leave ill winds to blow or clear the air? And who knows? Auntie’s cookies and Grandmas’ hugs may become treasured memories when grizzled coaches can no longer criticize your defensive stance.

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  • Vacation FUNdamental 2: FRIENDS!

For many, friends are the new family. That’s great; you can’t have too many friends or enough support. Yet moving and mobility often means that BFFs now live all over, from San Diego to Buffalo. So reconnecting may mean more logistics, but also more adventure.

Why not fly to that that faraway “family” now in Boston? Who says the kids wouldn’t love a road trip to someone’s cabin Up North? As time goes by, we all realize that the most important things are not things: They’re friends you can count on, extraordinary experiences you create, and memories you make. That’s what friends are for. Take time and take pics.

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  • Vacation FUNdamental 3: FUN!

FUN! Maybe it’s become a trite word. Well, so what. It still means something. To this sometimes coach (and too-often sport critic), FUN is #1 for most any team in any sport—if you want to build loyalty and longevity (and wins!). FUN is #1 motivator to get us off our device and into a movie, festival, or boat. FUN is the #1 incentive to leave town.

Oh sure, the packing, schlepping, work- and house- and dog- arranging can be a buzzkill. But once you’re on the road or in the air? Nice! Once you’re landing in Cali or landing a walleye? Sweet. Once you’re on the hiking trail or on a high that does not include your high-rise office or getting rebounds in 99-degree gyms? Bliss.

It’s not that difficult. It’s pretty simple, really, and essential to well-being; that’s why employers give vacation time away. Please don’t deny yourself (or your family and friends!) some free time for some fun.

You love family, friends, and fun more than work, right? RIGHT!?!

You’ll thank yourself later. So will your loved ones. And know what? You’ll probably be a more productive worker, too.

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The Sounds (& Sights) of Silence

Posted on: Friday, April 18th, 2014
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photoThis morning, I woke up too early. The wind had been whistling and whirring for hours. And when I headed down the hallway, the cold breeze that sneaks through lake-facing windows chilled me. Then I saw snow. And when I went outside and walked down to the lake: Ice. Chunks slowly crashed and stacked up like a giant cocktail.

When winter has already dragged on for six months, these are not happy sights. “Sh*t,” I heard myself say out loud. Then the ice started moving, creaking; the wind rustled dead grasses and blew leaves through the air. And the scene struck me as brilliant, if unwelcome. So I sat down and stared.

My cell phone bulged in my pocket, and I thought of pulling it out and pulling up a weather forecast. Then I thought better of it—and had a brief fantasy of chucking the thing onto an ice chunk and watch it shatter and set me free.

My kids? And half the people around us? They’d have their headphones in, thus missing the sounds of nature. They’d also likely pull that phone out and start tapping away at something. Would they even see the bizarre ice blocks? Would they even know that, just yesterday, the ice blew away the other way and gave us a mile-long strip of water—a gift for early kayaking?

In my house, the screens and charging cords keep multiplying like spring rabbits. Indeed, one must hop like a bunny to avoid stepping on them—and constantly move them to find room for a meal or project. The “screen-free zones” idea didn’t work, along with a dozen other guidelines.

So screens go into the bathroom. Keyboards keep clicking alongside roasted chicken. Homework means one minute in the books, then two on the iPhone: book, phone, back, forth. Phones go to bed and become the first touch in the morning. Apps tell you how you slept—because allowing yourself to surmise that (or not) would be Too Little Information (TLI).

Is it any wonder meditation and yoga are booming? Sure, their benefits stand on their own. But maybe the trend also suggests that, on some level, people are realizing they’re frying their senses and longing for simple stillness and silence. (My yoga and meditation teachers would NEVER play music during a session, though many do. Whatever.)

I’m a music junkie; it rarely goes off. So quiet ain’t my normal groove. Still, sometimes when the house is empty, I go a whole day (or however many hours I have) with no music, no TV, and as little screen time as possible. It’s hard to describe the calm and peace that often arises. I’m not that familiar with it, but would like to be.

Who can, though, when everywhere you go, everyone you observe, is absorbed in digitalia and media? You see it all these days: Truck drivers with earplugs; old ladies texting while driving; fine diners with computers next to their fois gras; dog-walkers yapping at invisible people; soccer moms staring at their screen (not their son) while yelling at their phone (not the ref). Heck, I saw a blind man yesterday crossing a downtown intersection while conversing via headphones.

Winters are long here and can make us cantankerous. Some may over-think things. Who knew?

But if given the choice of screen or ice? Give me ice. Give me silence. And above all, give me hope that my family still sees the frozen sheets, hears the howling wind, and doesn’t choke on the MacBook Air.

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2 Hours Plugged-in Is Enough!

Posted on: Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
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DSC_0075I enjoyed lunch with a friend today—the mother of three young children. Their family may be the only one I know that has managed to keep their kids internet-free. Oh sure, there’s some TV. But that’s it. Can you imagine? Could most kids survive?

“Oh, they’re so busy. They wouldn’t have time for all that,” my friend humbly reflected. But isn’t everybody busy any more? Isn’t “I’m so busy!” the mantra of our era? And yet…

The average American kid spends 7+ hours per day on entertainment media.

I’m concerned—about my own family, naturally, but even moreso about the long-term effects of generations of humans evolving this way. Doctors are officially worried too:  A recent article in Pediatrics magazine recommends a max of two hours. The problems associated with media over-consumption include:

  • Violence
  • School difficulties
  • Obesity
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Social dysfunction
  • Cyberbullying (which has now been linked to several suicides)

“It’s their world,” has become my cop-out surrender over the years. After all, my folks didn’t stop me from buying big stereos, playing in a rock-&-roll band, and watching Gilligan’s Island. And many parents resort to,

You know, as long as they’re doing well in school and playing sports and seem well-adjusted…”

But maybe the crisis is not so simple. It’s NOT their world; it’s ours. And it’s our responsbility to keep our progeny from turning into sick and tired cyber-zombies.

This tug-of-war is far from over. I’m getting back into fighting shape.

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Leisure Studies 3: Playing Music

Posted on: Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
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P1070517A son’s friend asked me the other day, “Do you think I could learn to play guitar?”

I had just tuned up my Yamaha full body from the 70s—and took the opportunity to make a little joyful noise.

“Well sure,” I replied, “anybody can. It’s the singing that’s the hard part!”

  • Practice, practice, practice

Doesn’t really matter what you want to do: If you want to be good at it, you must practice—even if you’re born with a gift. Sometimes, that stinks. In outdoor sports, that can mean playing through mud, storms, and grizzled coaches. In music, it can mean years of lessons, drills, and dedication. “No one enjoys practicing!” a professional musician once told me with a laugh.

  • Play, play, play

But at some point, practice becomes play. And those scales that once made you scream might skate from your fingertips. You become one with the strings and music happens without a thought. (In fact, thinking only gets in the way.) Worries can’t compete. The world melts away and you get lost in good vibrations, as if in meditation.

Happy is the home that keeps messy with musical instruments around.

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Kids at Camp: Just Say Yes!

Posted on: Saturday, August 10th, 2013
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IMG_4375I just picked up my kids (ages 10 and 16), along with seven other Rosevillians, after their week at Camp Foster at Lake Okoboji, Iowa. (Yes, Iowa.) While camp isn’t for every kid and is unfortunately unaffordable for some, this Summer Guy bursts with gusto in support. The reasons stack high as 555 pancakes, but here are a Top 11…

  • No adults, hardly. In this helicopter era, kids need a break from the ever-loving (over-loving?) Units that may take too many pics, ask too many questions, and expect too much.
  • Screams and shouts. The voices you pick up after camp are so hoarse they sound almost sick. But the reason is clearer than the camp’s mess-hall bell: They sing, cheer, shout, and laugh all day (and sometimes, all night). THEY UNPLUG THEIR DIGITALIA and invent their own entertainment. What a joyful noise!
  • Those songs. Just about everything is covered—from today’s hits to camp classics to spontaneous compositions. But a few refreshing themes stand out: No swearing, no dissing, no lewdness. They take a vacation from Ke$ha and rap and come home singing “One Tin Soldier.”
  • Unbroken circles. The power of song manifests in many ways. But perhaps the most touching is on the last night at bonfire, when “graduates” (16-year-olds in their last year) get encircled by the counselors who sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with revamped lyrics that include, “May our friendships last forever, and the memories last a lifetime.”
  • Coming of age. As those lyrics suggest, each year at camp—and the simple patch that may be your only material souvenir—represents a symbolic step from childhood into adulthood. When you drive away from your last camp, you’re riding a rite of passage. And because you know it and feel it, you probably shed a few tears about it.
  • Extraordinary activities. Sure, kids these days get to do all kinds of things we never did, for better (more travel for many) and worse (more screen time for most). At camp, you still learn dying arts like sailing, archery, and arts and crafts.
  • Specialty sessions.  At Camp Foster (like most camps), you can stick with the lighter, looser schedule. Or you can sign up for focused opportunities like watersports, horseback riding, and watercraft safety training via the Spirit of America program.
  • Pranks. Campers play giddy, silly tricks on one another. One cabin will get up in the middle of the night to set up a practical joke on another—all in good fun. Soon comes revenge. And the game goes on and on…
  • Backwardness. Growing up these days seems filled with evermore expectations and rules. At camp, “Backwards Bridge” MUST be crossed walking backwards—or the troll below will steal your flip-flops. Breakfast may be served for dinner. And “Prom” (for the oldest ones) lets you dress in crazy garb from the prop room.
  • Improv. In any era, kids are apt to feel both awkward as baby ponies and yet too cool for school. That stuff gets shed like clothes at the pool once camp gets going—and acting out turns into acting, dancing, making silly skits, and making others laugh (while laughing at yourself). It’s a great antidote to school’s stressful hallways.
  • Summer. Around here, the warmest season seems also the shortest—yet certainly the sweetest. Camp carves out a time to worship the sun. Punctuate the years. And find a warm, relaxed groove—if only for one week—just before the back-to-school ads hit the fan.

As a hands-on parent, few experiences are as easy (I get a week break too!) yet so valuable. Yes, your child may cling and cry as you stand in line to leave them behind. But with any luck, when you pick them up, they’re bursting with stories and memories—and begging to come back next year.

Hey, why not a camp for parents, too!?!

 

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