Did you know that the average person is distracted 47% of their waking life?

Let that soak in for a moment and consider how distraction impacts the quality of our relationships, our ability to do our work, and even our capacity to be creative.

The world of apps and online platforms provide us with a buffet of options to enhance our daily lives — ranging from gaming, social media, and productivity tools, to those dedicated to supporting well-being. However, when use of technology becomes excessive, it may have a negative impact on well-being, taking a toll on both mental and physical health. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are on our devices in an increasing capacity as we live and work in a virtual-only world. Amongst many misgivings and media attention over too much screen time, and the encroachment of technology on all aspects of our lives, changing our relationship to our devices may be a key part of getting the best out of technology and having it be a force for good.

In the age of distractibility, is it possible that technology can be beneficial to our well-being? How can we use technology to support our mental health rather than harm it?

The scientific research coming out of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison points to the fact that well-being is a skill that can be trained due to neuroplasticity. The scientists at Healthy Minds Innovations, the nonprofit affiliated with the Center, have created a unique framework of well-being that features four dimensions: awareness, connection, insight, and purpose. There are technologies that can support each of these four dimensions, described below.

Awareness is the experience of being fully present and attuned to what is happening in the present moment, as opposed to being distracted or absorbed in an activity. Awareness is an important skill that helps us recognize when we are no longer present, and helps us to re-focus on the task or relationship at hand. Normally we think of our cell phones as the object of distraction, but there are several apps available to support training the mind in awareness including the Healthy Minds Program, Ten Percent Happier, and Headspace. If you are interested in trying out an awareness practice, check out this one.

Connection. Appreciation, kindness, and compassion are skills within the dimension of connection that help us feel a sense of care and kinship with others. Loneliness and isolation are risk factors for depression, anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation and unhealthy behaviors like smoking. Cultivating a skill like appreciation as an intentional practice helps us to notice the positive things around us that we generally don’t see, because we tend to be hyper-focused on the negative. For example, we can appreciate the positive qualities of those people around us, rather than focusing on their flaws and limitations. One way to use technology is a positive way is to send a text of appreciation to someone you care about. Not only does it feel good to you, but it helps another person feel good too. There are also gratitude apps that encourage you to note what you appreciate in your everyday life, like Virtual Hope Box, Happify, and 365 Gratitude

Outside of appreciation, technology platforms like Zoom, WhatsApp, and others help us to remain connected to those we care about in the absence of being able to see them in person. These tools are even more important now in the era of Covid-19, and technology can support our relationships in this time of social distancing. Check out our blog here for more ideas on using technology to stay connected during Covid-19.

Insight is the recognition of how thoughts, emotion, and perception influence our experience and sense of self in real time. Insight helps us to get to know ourselves better, to get curious, and to see ourselves more clearly. One way that technology can support insight is through tracking our emotions, and there are a number of apps to support this (e.g Daylio, Sanvello). Research shows that people who have a more specific understanding of their emotions, can regulate them better. Insight combined with awareness helps us recognize when we are emotionally triggered, allowing us to choose how to respond, rather than reacting from a place of habit or impulse. Interested in exploring how to do this? Check out this guided practice.

Purpose is our clarity concerning personally meaningful aims and values that we can apply in daily life. Often when seeking more purpose in our lives, we ask ourselves the question: How can I do more things that I find meaningful? Science suggests that we should ask ourselves a different question: How can I find more meaning in the things I already do? One way to do this is to approach our relationship with technology through the lens of our values. Here’s how–start by getting clear about your values. You can do this by following this simple guided practice.  Next, keep that value at the top of mind when you approach technology. Science tells us that clarifying our values has some important benefits – not only for our mind, but even for our body’s ability to deal with stress. Watch your relationship with technology transform.


Tips to Develop a Healthier Relationship with Technology

Beyond the other skills mentioned above, here are three simple ways we can begin to shift our relationship with technology to support our well-being.

  • Avoid starting and ending your day on your cell phone and opt for doing something more meaningful like setting an intention for the day or reflecting on 3 things you appreciate.
  • Create a ritual that represents the end of your remote work day. For example, close your computer and walk around your neighborhood for 15 minutes while doing mindful exercise meditation.
  • Set limits around how often you engage with social media or online news. Do this informally or through the use of an app like social fever or offtime.

In the midst of being engaged with technology more than ever, we can actually use technology to support our well-being–ranging from the apps we use to the ways we use our devices.

To learn more about the Healthy Minds Framework check out hminnovations.org.