Practise Mindfulness and Reduce Your Phone Bill! (. . . and Build Confidence)

Social media has made social commentators or us all

Living in the modern world is not necessarily living in the present moment. I went out with a group of people recently and one person periodically reached for his phone to post a series of updates, a running commentary on the night’s proceedings. It begs the question of whether he was really there at all.  Observing people on their mobile phones and hearing about their astronomical phone bills has made me think about needs, motives and mindfulness. Can being more aware of life make you happier, more confident and save you money?

Experiencing the moment rather than observing

I ran an experiential team building course as part of a university’s management development programme. Part of assessment for the course required the students to keep a reflective diary. The whole aim of the course was to experience team building rather than sitting and listening to theories in a ‘chalk and talk’ format. So there were lots of group activities. One person just hung around at the edge of the activities writing things for her reflective diary. Despite being encouraged to join in she kept gravitating back to her diary which had really become an observation of other people since she contributed nothing. She successfully avoiding being in the room so what could she really reflect? She was just a passenger. It reminds me of the time when I was a passenger in a car, travelling back from a night out in another city  (in the early hours of the morning). The other passengers took the opportunity to go to sleep leaving the driver ‘alone’. I also started to fall asleep until the car swerved. It seems that the driver had the same idea too. I suddenly became pretty mindful and participated in the journey. Despite being tired, being in the present moment was infinitely preferable to the alternative!

Do we text so we don’t have to talk or just to fill time?

Routinely I see people alone on buses who spend most of the fifteen minute journey phoning anyone and everyone but not really saying anything. Much of the conversation, at best, involves a running commentary of the bus journey.

I’m often amazed when some people tell me how much they spend on their mobile phones. Even with staggering allowances they still manage to pay double their monthly tariff. Most of the money goes on SMS (text) messages. Every month they seem genuinely surprised by their phone bills. One of the biggest ‘culprits’ is the text conversation in which numerous texts are exchanged, one for each line of the conversation. Sometimes a text will just say ‘yes’ or ‘lol’ or a smiley face emoticon. Actually calling the person would be easier, more efficient and cheaper. Texting has become a way to keep in touch without really communicating. It’s seen as more convenient because you don’t want to spend too much time talking to someone. Ironically, there is no time saved as lives are put on hold waiting for the next line in the ongoing text saga. Time is not saved. Money is just wasted. It just creates the illusion of connecting. Often it’s just a way of pimping someone else’s time.

People run up huge phone bills because they aren’t really paying attention to the world around them. They are either trying to alleviate boredom by killing time, alleviating loneliness or blocking unpleasant emotions. Practicing mindfulness can help to deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Present Moment Awareness

To be surprised by a huge phone bill means you haven’t been mindful of what you have been doing.  A pivotal moment in my own personal development was going on holiday alone. It was before mobile phones had become an integral part of our lives. I carried a paperback book and a notepad around with me. I’d guessed that sitting alone having a coffee might be awkward so I could read a book or pretend to read a page then gaze of into the distance thinking about the page I’d just ‘read’. Alternatively, I could scribble things in my note pad. Effectively I was keeping a reflective diary without actually having done anything to reflect about. After a while, I got a bit tired of getting the books out and just decided to sit there and enjoy the present moment. After all, I was sitting over looking a beautiful harbour. I credit this moment as the discovery of my confidence, my true inner confidence. I wasn’t concerned about other people and what I imagined they might be thinking. I just looked out to sea, the boats, the sky, the sounds and so on. That was enough. I realized that doing this I’d become totally comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t occur to me that the experience would be heightened by ‘sharing it’ with someone back home. That would have taken me out of the moment.

Being Mindful, Being Happier, Being More Confident (and saving money)

We hear a lot about the practice on mindfulness and usually it’s about taking time out to be still and just observe our breathing. If our minds wander we simply bring our attention back to our breathing. Research has shown that meditation and mindfulness can increase our sense of well-being including optimism, confidence and happiness. It also has a beneficial effect of stress levels and strengthens our immune system response. There are however other types of mindfulness. There are many types of mindfulness apart from being mindful of your breath in a mediation exercise. If you go for a walk in the park you can practice mindfulness of nature. A tree is no more or no less because someone has texted another person about it. It just is. Switching off the TV and paying attention to what you’re eating is mindfulness of food. Being ‘in the zone’ and being engrossed in a hobby is never made better by getting out of the zone. Indeed, the state of being totally immersed in a task is known as ‘being n flow’. The more time you spend ‘in flow’ the happier you are.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise taken from my book Unlock Your Confidence that I use for the basis of confidence building:

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary WoodClose your eyes, take long slow deep breaths and simply focus your attention on your breath. If intrusive thoughts pop into your mind, just acknowledge the beginning of the thought and then observe when it ends. Then bring you attention back to your breathing. That’s all. If you want you can name the thought and then let it go. You will notice that the thoughts become less frequent and the periods of stillness increase.Do it for ten to 20 minutes each day.

Ideally, commit to trying this out everyday for a month to assess the effects on your relaxation, confidence, happiness and, of course, on your phone bill. Spending more time practising being in the present moment may mean will help to still the mental chatter and intrusive thoughts so that you don’t need the distraction of endless text messages.

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders – Lao Tzu

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Is ‘addictive personality’ really just a coping style?

The concept of addiction seems to be ever-extending.  It’s all part of the tendency to view everything according to an ‘illness model’ that sees any excessive behaviour as an addiction, from drugs and alcohol, to eating, to shopping , to gambling,to computer games, to social networking, to texting, and even having sex. However, it’s clear that not all of these behaviours are physical addictions but more psychological compulsions.

Clearly, hard drugs do create a physical, biological dependency but can we really apply the same to texting, social networking or eating too much cake? Are some so-called addictions really indicators of psychological problems rather than symptoms of an underlying disease process? Does it really help to treat psychological problems as if they are physical illnesses or does it harm us by taking away the responsibility for our actions and emotions?

It’s first interesting to observe that different cultures are addicted to different things, so in part ‘addiction’ has a cultural or social component. From a social psychology perspective, what we are increasingly labelling ‘addictive personality‘ is arguably learned behaviour rather than anything biologically determined. Of course we can argue that we have inherited an ‘addictive personality’ but it is equally valid to argue that some behaviours, such as over-eating, are part of wider family and social patterns. In short, we learn our eating patterns by copying others. After all, our first models of what is normal and how to cope with the world come from our families.

Another way of viewing addictive personality is look at it in terms of coping. From an early age we are taught how to replace negative emotions with positive ones. As children, gifts of sweets of food help ‘heal’ a disappointment or offer an ‘antidote’ to sadness, and sometimes even physical hurt. Fall off your bike and a chocolate bar will make it better’. As adults we tend to use the same approach, for example with comfort eating: a nice slice of cheesecake is thought to cure all manner of emotional ills. This is known as emotion-focused coping. We focus on replacing the unpleasant emotions rather than getting to the root of the problem (control-focused coping). So if we are sad or bored; we eat. When we gain weight and feel even more sad, we eat again to get rid of the unpleasant emotion, and on it goes. It’s the same as people who go out and spend on their credit cards to cheer themselves up from the dismay of the size of their credit card bill! This approach never gets to the ‘why’!

It’s easy to see how an over-reliance on emotion-focused coping can be described as an ‘addictive personality’. Instead of dealing with the  issues  that cause the unpleasant emotions we blot them out by drinking, eating cake or having sex. Replacing negative emotions with pleasant ones is not an ‘addictive personality’ it’s a short-term fix, coping strategy. It’s a psychological problem not a physical one. For a longer term fix, we need to address the underlying issues and look take a control-focused or solution-focused approach. What can we do to change the factors that cause the negative emotions?

This is not to deny that some people experience incredibly stressful events in their lives and a little bit of emotion-focused coping can provide blessed relief for a short time. However, it’s never a long term solution, and neither is owning a label (‘addictive personality’) that prevents people from even bothering to try any more!

If we scratch the surface, all forms of addiction have a psychological component.  If we focused on long-term coping strategies instead of unhelpful labels and quick-fixes, would ‘addictive personality’ cease to exist? Can we get unhooked from our dependency on the ‘illness model’ to address the underlying psychological reactions to the root causes of our problems?

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Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It