Minimalism Life

Years after seeing the photo, the old black and white image remains ingrained in my mind. The author sits plainly in the yard with his pipe in one hand, a book in the other, and a cat affixed to his lap. The subject may have been Mark Twain (a well-known cat lover) or perhaps Ernest Hemingway, but though I cannot I place his name I clearly remember the way that he, with a twinkle in his eye and a satisfied smile, reflected a sense of contentment to the camera, as if nothing in this God given world could upset his peace.

He was lucky. And he didn’t even know it.

While many of us might enjoy this type of activity – a leisurely, uninterrupted afternoon on the lawn without things that vibrate, beep, and hold an electronic charge – we are nonetheless saddled with the notion that to own a phone is to be fully entangled with that phone. Without our mobile friend, we stand to miss a call, notification, or text. Being last to the party means that it may (gasp) unfold without us, that piece of breaking news playing out in real time, or the latest family dilemma evolving rapidly over a group text. Worse than FOMO, we might encounter some momentary pangs of boredom or low-grade anxiety and grab for a distraction fix that suddenly isn’t there. At that moment, we realize that a piece of us feels missing, and living without it feels, well, out of time. So, while we might appreciate the author’s apparent technology-free bliss – far, far away from the phone fears and incessant alerts we all get to experience – we may also admit feeling that that world is too far from us now and cannot be reconciled.

But, what if it could? What if we could experience minutes, hours, or even days of our lives without this proclaimed marvel of technology? Before the idea is laughed off, I urge you to consider the benefits of going phone-free. Turning away from technology, even for brief periods, not only helps us reset our nervous system but it also brings us more in touch with the present moment. We are no longer distracted by the sensory outputs given by our phones and are better able to focus our attention on the moment-to-moment unfolding of the now. Our capacity for greater imagination, creativity, and even independent thinking arises naturally from a phone-free environment and our sleep is improved thanks to the reduction in blue light hours.

Highlighting these advantages, however, usually isn’t enough. Most people need a pain point. A pain point drives curiosity and where that intersects with what is commonplace (as most pain points do) is when some heavy lifting is required. Challenging the status quo of something as ubiquitous as cell phones takes guts. You don’t have a circle of wagons behind you and sometimes wonder if, because everyone is doing it, you don’t have the right to question something that has completely infiltrated our lives. This is normal. It is also why real and effective change is so hard. Stating your desire for a healthier relationship with your phone, you may be told that our phones are helpful navigators, information savants, and supreme gurus of split-second connection. You won’t be told that, however innocuous they may seem, they are the reason for our addictive behavior. And a very real problem to solve.

If you feel that you owe it to your well-being to question the amount of time spent with your phone, then you have entered sacred territory. Give yourself lots of time and space to recognize that while your feelings may not be widely shared, they are nonetheless valid and worthy of your attention.
The pull I felt to my phone when I first began leaving it behind was strong. Other than my purse, I cannot think of anything that created a greater psychic “tug” in my mind and body. But, I reasoned that I could either do this harshly – like a cigarette smoker quitting cold turkey after a 30 year habit – or, I could give myself grace and lots of opportunities to try, fail, and try again. Like undertaking any big change, undoing our constant connection to our phone does a whole lot better with kindness. We can still hold ourselves accountable while refraining from beating ourselves up when we stumble.
Because I knew that Rome wasn’t built in a day, I made it a point to celebrate small wins when they happened. Like the time I took a walk without my phone, listening to nature’s music instead of the latest download playing in my earbuds. Or the time I ran to the store just a few miles from home, leaving my phone at home. When, after several weeks, these minutes stretched into hours I realized that the more time and practice I gave myself the more real and lasting change began to take effect. I saw benefits to my nervous system, along with an increased level of awareness and new insights and creative ideas that came bubbling up from my brain.

All of this began by simply putting some space between me and my phone. And, while the act itself was very simple it was my reasons for doing so that led me to these wins. My why (a desire for greater well-being) helped me overcome many moments of doubt, FOMO, and what felt like involuntary reaches to cure boredom. I knew that my pain point could not be resolved by taking the easy way out. Slowly, systematically, and with kindness I created a momentum that led to my phone and I having a very different relationship – one that looks less like two young lovers who never spend a moment apart and more like a union where freedom reigns supreme. Sure, we check in with each other each day, but I no longer feel suffocated or pulled to this device. I’ve gone from being used to being a responsible user.

This, my friends, is the hand we’ve been dealt: an electronic gadget with a world of information and communication at our fingertips that is both a blessing and a curse. With two polarities stemming from one 6-ounce device, we owe it to ourselves to discover how this technology can provide us with more benefits and fewer burdens. Many of our choices in this world, including when and how we use our cell phones, are within our control. Once we’ve determined what we want our lives to look like, we begin the process of undoing, realigning, and, finally, responsibly using.