The Shocking Truth of Gadget Usage

Their heads were bowed. Their eyes were lowered. For a moment, I thought Manhattanites were in mourning again. Only it wasn’t 2001. It was 2008. And everyone I saw on the street was looking at their smartphones.

I haven’t lived in the United States since 2003, but every time I visit my family there, I am amazed at the changes I see. The Digital Revolution hit the streets of New York well before it hit any part of Germany, or so it seemed at the time as I cruised through Times Square in my airport shuttle bus.

Just a few years later, our gadget usage has become so extreme that we multitask constantly.

At the end of November 2014, Discovery Communications reported that 82% of its viewers checked their smartphones while watching television. I see my kids doing it. Sometimes I am tempted to do it too.

Split-screen living is nothing new. Maggie Jackson lamented about the pull of our gadgets in her book Distracted in 2008. On a rainy spring day in New York City, I met with her after her book came out. She helped me formulate some of my thoughts on our digital gadget usage that later became part of The Power of Slow.

And now this: According to a recent Nielson study, Americans use electronic media more than 11 hours a day. If you sleep for eight hours, that is only 5 hours without electronic input.

Yikes.

If I am to believe my eyes (and not this study), people use their smartphones for more than 1.25 hours a day. We use them for everything — for entertainment, business, personal messaging and even for getting up in time in the morning. I am as guilty as the next, checking emails while waiting in line, updating my status on nature walks and life-caching when the mood strikes.

We are living in a Brave New World. Maggie Jackson was right. Our attention is eroding. Mindful living is at risk.

 

Infographic: Americans Use Electronic Media 11+ Hours A Day | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

If you think it is any different in Germany, well, it is not. More than half the population uses a smartphone now.

So what can we do?

  • Leave your phone the next time you head for the hills (or the woods).
  • Conduct a digital diet. Turn your phone off (all the way — airplane modus doesn’t count) for at least an hour each day.
  • Free yourself from Facebook. A few months ago I spent seven days Facebook-free and was amazed at how much leisure time I suddenly had.
  • Read. Don’t know a good book? If you like a good love story, pick up a copy of  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes or The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
  • Exercise (sex counts!).

Life is about more than ‘likes’ and texts. It is about personal connection and affection. Put down your phone and look your kid in the eye the next time he asks you a question.

Get offline and into life. Every day.

It is the Journey, Not its Destination

Computers get tired. Smartphones too. Every once in a while they get sluggish after all the work they’ve done. They need to be switched off, left alone for a little while and given a chance to reorganize all the information we have put into them.

The human mind is no different. On occasion we too need time to reboot.

It is uncomfortable to move outside of the familiar. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. “What if’s” crop up in our heads like dandelions on a lawn. We grip the ledge of our dreams, hoping we never, ever make a mistake. But missteps and errors are every part of the process. The most painful part is not in taking action, but in our own judgements about those actions.

Take time off? Fire a major client? Rethink what’s next without a safety net?

Major life changes don’t usually happen in an instant. They are typically the product of years of thinking, dreaming and wishing things were different. Then one day you wake up and discover they can be. Sometimes all it takes then is one decision that will turn your life around forever.

The cool thing is that one decision then leads to another and another and another. And before you know it, you are a decision-making machine. You suddenly find yourself in flow, cruising down the River of Life, riding the white waters with ease and grace. Those scary rapids don’t seem so scary after all when you come face to face with them. In fact, the roar of the water gives you great courage to move forward – for what other chance do you have but to bring them into your fold?

Have you ever tried resisting a river current or an ocean wave? Most of the time Nature has its way. It is the same in life.

As my wise thirteen-year-old son recently said, “You have freedom of choice and can decide which path to take, but the truth is you will end up where you are meant to be either way. It is the journey you determine, not its destination.”

I’m in for the ride. Are you?

The Bud Before the Bloom

The light hit my face with an intensity I hadn’t felt in months as the sky filled the world with a new kind of preciousness.

Spring had finally come.

Do you know the feeling that you are about to burst with something completely new, utterly surprising, absolutely amazing, like a bud before the bloom? You have no evidence that something incredible is about to happen, but you just know it will? It lies deep within your inner knowing and it makes you smile as you take a peek at the potential before you.

magic of springWhen we live with the anticipation of wonderfulness, it is as if that wonderful thing has already happened. We then attract even more wonderfulness and pretty soon our entire lives have shifted because of that one decision to believe that our dreams will come true.

It takes:

  • Complete acceptance of the moment. Live it fully. Know that you are exactly where you should be. Right now.
  • A full release of any expectation that things should be different,  but a knowing that you can change things any time you want.
  • An embrace of your personal responsibility. You are the master of your ship. Where do you want it to go?
  • A deep listening to your inner voice. You can only hear it in stillness. So be still. Often.
  • An unshakable belief in yourself and in the fulfillment of dreams.

Waiting for wonders isn’t a bad thing. In fact, you experience them every day if you have the eyes to see them. It isn’t the big ones that deserve our attention, but the tiny miracles that unfold with every breath we take.

 

The Naked Turtle

Sometimes it takes a good long while for things to sink in. You go days, weeks, months, struggling with an issue that just won’t let you go. You wrestle with it this way and that. You wake up suddenly at 2 a.m., thoughts holding your mind hostage until the wee dawn light.

Then, a sliver of realization slits your brain wide open. It filters through you like light piercing through a room gone dark too long.

“What if I were to simply let this entire thing go? Walk away. Say goodbye. Turn a corner. Never look back. Move forward. Take a whole new path?”

It’s a frightening notion indeed.

But then you see you really have no choice. The realization is there, standing in front of you like a war-weary soldier. You cannot ignore it. In fact, you cannot look away. You feel the shudder of truth ring through you.

In that moment, vulnerability enters the room. You are stripped of every mask, every reason why it should not be so. You are a naked turtle without its shell, completely exposed to That Which Is.

It is a moment of liberation from your hibernation. And it takes courage to see that moment through to the next one, which calls for you to act on the very thing that scares you most.

When faced with difficult situations, I often get nervous. My heart starts to pound; my palms start to sweat. But then I ask myself: “What am I afraid of losing?” The answer is always the same. “The only thing I have to lose is my own fear.”

It is worth taking off that mask to reveal your true self. In fact, in calling forth that part of you, you have already emerged a little stronger than you were before. Along with such experiences comes the marvelous opportunity to show empathy for others who are struggling too.

We are in this together. Our shells may provide us protection, but they also hinder the good stuff from coming in too.

It’s time to get naked.

Now.

 

Daring Greatly or Why Perfection Sucks

I don’t blame religion for our current predicament. Our Western world is obsessed with doing more, being better and engaging in unhealthy competition, especially with ourselves.  I can’t help but wonder how we have gotten so caught up in this notion of perfection. Christianity tells us we are not perfect, but that we should attempt to be like Jesus, who is. It’s a set-up really because perfection doesn’t exist even if Jesus did. It’s a construct that makes us ill as we strive for the unattainable.

“At least you tried,” I hear a small voice say to me. It sounds like a cop-out, like a consolation prize for the just-missed opportunity to show just how perfect you can be.

Only we can’t be.

Brené Brown, an extraordinarily down-to-earth shame researcher who struggles every bit as much as everyone else, says in her recent book Daring Greatly:

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.


But oh! How we yearn to be just those things! If we are perfect, we might be seen. People might like us. We might finally be accepted. All clean and neat and fantastically ordered. If we are bulletproof, we will never, ever feel the creep of shame that rides our arteries up to our skulls and back down again.

But have you ever really liked a person you have viewed as perfect and impervious to any kind of mishap? I don’t think so. There is nothing loving and warm and wonderful about someone who tries to be immaculate. Oftentimes they are riddled with judgement, especially about themselves.

To be imperfect and vulnerable is to be human. And to be human is to be alive, making mistakes, getting upset and showing up even in the face of your greatest fear.

The very thing we run away from (the fear of getting hurt) is the very thing that, when we trust that process of opening up to the unknown, makes life worth living. It is that moment when we step on stage, knees knocking, heart pounding, palms sweating, mind whirling, and do it anyway.

Stepping on stage really means taking a risk. When you open your heart, it could get crushed. But to keep it closed means you won’t feel the flip side of fear, which is love.

And love is why we are here.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? It is as if we have to relive the birth experience over and over until we finally get it. Pain is a part of life. It is what ensures us that we get back on our path when we go astray.

And that’s what friends are for. They are the ones who hold your hand across those treacherous ravines, loving you even when you are broken. As Brené writes so beautifully, true friends are the people who love you for your vulnerability, not despite it.

Daring greatly means being in that arena, even if your prospects for success are slim. It’s not about winning, but about showing up and getting up. Time and again. Even when you fall.

I’m game. Are you?

 

The Resistance

Pedaling a bicycle with the brakes on is exhausting. The harder you try, the more you sweat. But despite all that effort, you don’t seem to be getting anywhere — fast.

Have you ever noticed how pervasive resistance is? It is literally everywhere. We combat traffic, we beat the clock, we fight the crowds. Even our language reflects how much struggle we let into our lives.

But let’s back up for a moment. If we start at the very beginning, we begin to understand why we might think life is a constant battleground. The birth process itself involves a lot of resistance. We literally — for the most part — get pushed out into the world. It is no wonder, then, that we think life is a push and pull too.

What if I were to tell you it isn’t?

What if the birth process was just the first test in a series of lifelong exercises to help us come to the understanding that resisting won’t get us anywhere? That resisting is indeed like pedaling a bicycle with the brakes on? That it is pointless and fruitless and completely unnecessary?

Well, if we were to embrace That Which Is instead of demonizing our reality, the world will be a much easier place. We’d jog around the neighborhood with ease, grace, joy and love in our hearts. We would welcome the merging car in front of us instead of flashing our lights and honking our horns and raising our fists — and our blood pressure too.

Not all resistance  is bad. In fact, some of it is very healthy. It fortifies society when people demonstrate and show support for a cause. I am grateful for committed citizens who symbolize democratic values. But we must choose our battles wisely. We really only have a certain amount of strength to enter combat selectively. We must save our energy for that which truly matters to us.

Everything else is simply an exercise in futility.

So if you find yourself standing in line at the check-out counter or in a merging lane, let someone ahead of you. Smile. Release resistance, if only for a moment. You might notice how the tension you’ve been holding slips away. You might start to feel better about yourself, which leads to different choices, which leads to a different experience, which leads to a different life altogether.

All because you decided it was time to let go.

Pretty cool, huh?

 

 

Mystery Unfolding

Wouldn’t life be grand if only it would work out according to plan — I mean our plan. You know the one. All neatly folded and earmarked and tagged with colorful sticky notes that indicate the direction, timing and course of All Things.

And then Life, as it is, unfolds. Exactly as it should. But not exactly as we think it should. Kids get sick. Or angry. Or defiant. Clients move on — without you. Love gets lost. Then found again in a completely surprising, delicious and wondrous form.

I draw strength from Elizabeth Gilbert, kindred spirit of words and author of my ultimate favorite book Eat, Pray, Love. She admitted today on Facebook that she was to go to India tomorrow, a place I also want to visit some day. It had been 11 years since her last visit there. Due to a medical situation she had to change her plans. But not without a fight first.

All I was thinking about — even as the doctor was reviewing my results — was how to salvage this India trip, by any means necessary. At first, I negotiated quite hard against my doctor, trying to talk her out of her diagnosis, trying to convince her that my situation wasn’t really that big a deal, and that my treatment could wait. (Curiously, she was unmoved by my strong and completely un-medical opinion!)

Indeed I can relate to her unwillingness to surrender to her reality. How often do we fight against reality, only to lose on average, according to Byron Katie, 100% of the time?

My son admitted to me tonight that his failing grades might mean he has to repeat a grade.

“So what?” I said. “I have seen you work hard. You want to do well. And you’ve done your best. Trust the timing of things.”

Gilbert’s initial resistance to her medical reality gave way to broader insights, which I also shared with my despairing son.

1) Listen to your body. It speaks a language far smarter than any dialect we can speak.

2) Honor reality. It will win every time.

3) If something is not meant to be, then it is not meant to be — for reasons that you may never even know. You can fight against the timing of your life, or you can trust in it. The flow and the peace will only return when you learn to trust.

My son’s final shudder of relief and an exhalation of elation told me that life’s mystery is what we most honor, not the thoughts, agendas and mind maps we have in our heads.

Trust the mystery unfolding. It’s our beautiful companion. Our failure lies not in our lack of fulfilling what we think we should, but in not accepting that which is.

In a Hurry?

Have you ever watched the snow fall? It falls at its own pace.

Have you ever rushed over a patch of ice? I bet that didn’t end well for you.

Winter is here. It is a particular time of Slow. It allows us to take it down a notch. External conditions helps us tread a little lighter.

I spent the entire day yesterday on the couch. Flat out sick, I measured the speed of my day by its obtuse triangular movement from the kitchen, to the tub, to the couch again. Although I wasn’t feeling well at all, it was a marvelous experience to remain still.

Why do we only allow ourselves to move more slowly when our bodies refuse to do otherwise?

My dear friend Donald posted this statement on my Facebook page today. If you’re in a hurry today, remember these words:

“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing…. Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” – Ann Voskamp

May your hurried scurry decelerate to the speed of a snow flurry — without the fury of busy and bustle.

Happy 2015, my dear ones. Until we meet again.

Modern-Day Angels

Doors close. Windows open. Clients leave. Clients return. Items get lost. Angels find them.

Whenever something that could be perceived as “bad” happens, I take notice. Almost immediately, after the shock wears off, I ask myself: “What is the Universe telling me?” When I take that perspective, the ‘bad thing’ turns into a learning moment and suddenly the feeling of loss is replaced with something to gain.

I have this thing about losing items during taxi rides. I once left my camera in a New York taxi. A woman from Venezuela found it, discovered an image of a blog I had taken, left a comment there and returned the camera to me two months later.

Last weekend I had a new lose-an-important-item in a taxi experience. This time it was my wallet. By the time I discovered it the next day, ten hours had passed. I panicked. Slightly. It wasn’t the cash I cared about, but my driver’s license and green card-like EU visa that I was worried about. Then my dear friend told me what to do.

Cancel all credit cards. Block your debit cards. And don’t worry. It will come back to you.

How could one feel bad after being held in such light? So I did what she said, relieved by the caring tone of each customer service representative I talked with on the phone and by the presence of my friend who stood by me as I did so.

Yesterday my phone rang. It was my car dealership. The guy sounded a little uncomfortable, as if he had to tell me my car had ten days to live.

But it wasn’t that at all.

“I have someone on the other line who says he found some of your documents.” He said the guy had found the car dealership’s business card along with a pile of my cards. He gave me the guy’s cell phone number and wished me luck, but not before I blew him a kiss into the phone.

Angel #1!

It turns out the man who contacted my dealership owns the cleaning company that cares for the main train station in Freiburg. His cleaning personnel had found all my cards in a clear plastic bag in the trash. Apart from the cash, everything was there – every credit card, every loyalty card, everything. He insisted on bringing it to my doorstep the next day.

Angel#2 (guy who called) and Angel #3 (cleaning guy who was honest enough to give it to him)!

I blessed him (and offered him a finder’s fee, which he refused). Modern-day angels are everywhere. Trust them and they will find you.

Every time.

Difficult Conversations

The year 2014 is coming to a close. In a few weeks the holidays will be upon us.

I have never been happier to say farewell to one of the hardest years of my life.

In many ways, it has been a good year. I have developed new, positive, life-sustaining relationships that have given me so much strength in a time when I’ve really needed it. I have also had to allow some relationships to change dramatically, in the form of little to no communication and a distant well-wishing to ensure a healthy, new way of being.

Change is always difficult because it brings up a lot of things we’d rather not examine. It calls up our weaknesses and our blind spots. We are confronted, challenged and greatly unsettled by the newness of it all.

And yet change is also a way of tilling the Earth to bring in new, fertile ground. It is as necessary as oxygen. In a way, change means evolution. If we aren’t changing, we aren’t growing. And if we aren’t growing, we are dying.

And no one really wants to live in a state of death.

Ironically, change also brings death, the ending of the way we used to be. We have the opportunity to alter our thoughts, actions and behaviors to become more aligned with who we truly are.

Forgiveness can help.

It seems as though 2014 has been the Year of Difficult Conversations. I have had a lot of them – as recently as last week when a client admitted to me that he was sorry the way our project failed; that he appreciated my professionalism through it all; that he is embracing the Power of Slow as his world topples too. It was a magical moment of grace as I realized he could actually hear me say, “It was frustrating to know that my best didn’t yield what you were looking for.”

It was a conversation of forgiveness – and it moved me in ways I have yet to fully realize.

What I have also learned this year is that while difficult conversations may sting like hell, they are like wildfires that burn away the debris for new life to emerge. If we don’t express what we truly think and feel, those words burn us from the inside out.

Speaking your truth takes a lot of practice. A few things have helped me along the way whenever I’ve had to have an uncomfortable conversation:

  1. Prepare your key message. Practice what you are going to say. Start from the ending. How do you want the conversation to end? Begin it with that intention in mind.
  2. In some cases, it is helpful to actually say, “No matter what I am about to say, I want you to know that I care about you/the project/our collaboration, etc. You matter to me – my telling you this is actually an act of trust that you can hear me.”
  3. Do not take anything the other person says personally. It is not about you, your worth or your position in life.
  4. Actively listen to the other person. Do not allow distractions such as your smartphone or Facebook status get in the way. It shows respect when you give the other person your full attention.

You may feel like a toddler, waddling from one piece of furniture to the next as you hang on for dear life whilst falling periodically on your butt. But I promise you it will get better, your relationships will grow stronger and the ones that end as a result of your honesty were not meant to be in your life anyway.