do less

Unreal InstaLife

Following up on my last two blog posts regarding social and electronic media, My Better Half shared this video with me:

The way this video represents a range of social media behaviors feels raw and real by focusing on the actions and nonverbal forms of communication in the physical presence of each person. I thought this was worth sharing in so far as it's evocative and can help facilitate a discussion. 

I have a few guidelines I've implemented in my daily life - and recommended to clients - that I think could be helpful to incorporate into everyone's daily routines:

Zero tolerance for technology during meals.

This can be delimited and brief (even 5 to 10 minutes) with no one looking at their phone. The ritual of breaking bread with others is so valuable for a variety of reasons, and I think that is a routine worth establishing as often and as early as possible with children and families.

Now, what I would encourage people to do is to have a fairly elastic definition of meal times. I get to meet with a number of children and adolescent clients who are working on skills like sitting during meals or eating a variety of food. It's not cheating if you change the definition. A meal could be a snack your kid likes to eat after school. Or meal planning time when you pick out what you're going to eat for breakfast or pack lunches for the next day together.

Keep the phone out of the bed. Literally.

Don't bring your phone in bed when reading stories to your children, talking with your partner, or transitioning to sleep. Even if you're a medical provider who needs to be on call at night, the psychological distance of putting it on a night stand that is a few feet away can be very real.

Be intentional about how & when you use your phone.

Rather than mindlessly and passively scrolling into the oblivion of your Facebook feed, go on a mission to find something or connect with someone through direct messaging. Messaging with intent is very different than just liking the buh-Jesus out of every witty or contrarian thought.

Reward yourself and your children for setting and sticking to technology limits.

If your 7-year-old child can go from 5 to 7 PM with a focus on playing outdoors or building something with their hands or their imagination, praise them like they're walking on the water. It's a big damn deal in this day and age to occupy ones self without the aid of technology. Pay attention to what you want to see more of and bring on the parade when you see the good behavior in action.

Take your teen's access to technology seriously.

A paper I read yesterday highlights the complexity of adolescents' access to social media and how it impacts their well-being. The catalytic effect of one post or accidental share can alter the trajectory of a child's academic year or self-concept without caregivers' even knowing.

This line in particular rung most true for me and ties in nicely with the video above:

...the social exclusion and comparison resulting from vast amounts of time reading large social media feeds and seeing friends doing things without you and comparing your inner emotional experience to everyone else’s highly groomed depictions of their seemingly marvelous lives.

While this run-on sentence may seem a far cry from the reality of parent- or adult-hood, I'd bet the farm that the so-called average adolescent could speak to the truth of this point of view. The world is both bigger and more constrained than it's ever been, making the boundaries harder to find and more difficult to delineate during times like these...

More Do Less, Well

The March 2017 edition of the Monitor on Psychology included an article on how " smartphones are affecting our health and well-being..." I thought this piece dovetailed nicely with my recent post on Doing Less, Well and wanted to share it with you here in hopes of generating future discussion around this topic. I hope you find it useful and interesting to read.

The key points of the article that jumped out to me (as illustrated ecard):

Smart devices can wreak havoc on sleep routines and rhythms.

My recommendation: Initialize parental controls or Do Not Disturb at a specific time.

FOMO is real

My recommendation: Keep your account, but delete the Facebook app from your phone. Try it. I did and I've been mobile-Facebook-free for two months. It has really changed my perspective.

How we use social media (actively vs. passively) impacts how it affects us personally.

My recommendation: Limit your scrolling and commit to initiating conversations with others.


Call someone instead of texting them. I'll bet you enjoy it and wish you had done it more often.

A habit I started over the last few weeks (and miss when I don't do it) is calling my mother on the way home from work. It reminds me of when I was in high school, and we could give each other a hard time every morning on the car ride to school and still say "I love you" at the end of the conversation.

I always feel more connected after hearing her voice.

Do Less, Well

I've been thinking about how to say this for the last few weeks, and nothing I've thought has sat well enough that I felt fully comfortable writing and sharing it widely. I'm trying to avoid devolving into a know-it-all advice column, so I've been perseverating on how to say this.

But I'm going to say this because it's something I'm trying to live myself and help others to do. And I think it's a perspective worth sharing with you.

Everybody is doing too much, almost all of the time.

You probably already know this, but my hope is that reading what I have to say here will help you see the value of doing less, well.

I recently read an article in the September 19-October 2, 2016 edition of New York Magazine, which prompted me to get over the perfectionist parts in myself that hesitated to write this.

This piece is not the first to speak to the digital hijacking of free time and empty space, but I think it underscores the frequency, intensity, and duration of the electronic undertow many of us are caught in. I will acknowledge here the subtle irony of my writing adding to this current.

I see so many people - adults, children, adolescents, parents - racing to DO, TO GET DONE and so few folks feeling comfortable or even permitted by themselves to simply BE PRESENT. Not only present with others, but with themselves, their thoughts, their feelings, their bodies.

Now, I freely confess (to those that don't already know) that I am no Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree. I am a born, reinforced, dyed in the wool diehard DO-er of the first order. I come by it honest through my parents, gathered a lot of my worth as child by racking up accolades, and married a woman who gets stuff done all day long. I believe there is value in the dignity of work and accomplishing things daily either in the service of others, to further yourself, and ideally, both. 

However, I feel like we DO too much by trying to always fix things rather than trying to find some time to BE in order to understand and appreciate things as they are. I know there are so many, many things we want to change or be different in our lives:

How can I get my child to talk [about their feelings in general or when they are upset or AT ALL or EVER]?

How can I help them express their feelings [differently or safely or in an acceptable manner]?

These questions seem to demand a DO approach. How else could a caregiver respond to these two questions than by taking as much action as possible in order to help their child today?

But how do we know WHAT to DO until we first examine HOW we ARE right now? I'm not talking about some existential examination of consciousness or a philosophical debate on the value of neurodiversity. What I'm talking about is taking stock of ourselves, our behavior, our goals, and our dreams before we start to act on the world hoping that it will change.

There's never enough time in the day, the week, or the year to think and feel our way through things without also doing something to make those things happen. Every impulse in my rational being pushes me to get stuff done, too. I am easily seduced by the allure of getting stuff done.

What I want to sell you on is DOING LESS, WELL in order to have more time to SIMPLY BE.

Some examples:

  • Sit in a room by yourself and think for 5 minutes about your day (the one you're in)
  • Eat a snack outside or near a window and think about your dreams (any of them)
  • Read a book that you once loved as a child (it doesn't matter how young you were)
  • Turn off the radio and listen to the hum in the car (or the sounds of the road)

Now, I believe that everyone can do one of these every single day. I know I can, and I often forget or contradict myself by multitasking my way through many aspects of my daily routine.

I think part of what keeps many of us from simply being with ourselves for brief periods of time is an overwhelming sense of anxiety or guilt that we're not DOING all we can in that moment.

A continual pattern of DOING can quickly cause a cacophony of activity with no end in sight.

These are some ways I've tried to set limits on my over-DOING and increasing my BEING:

  • Set Do Not Disturb function (with professional exceptions) on my phone during dinner
  • Play video games for 15 minutes during lunch (yep, Zelda is my favorite)
  • Read the lyrics to the songs I sing to my children every night (I'm old, I know
  • Walking down our wooded driveway with my son (just trying to listen to him)

In my work with families, I try to encourage and foster this concept of BEING over DOING by inviting them to focus on 1 or 2 (tops!) things each week as part of our work together. I also try to constrain folks to focus on these 1 or 2 things really well during specific periods of time. So rather than say, "Change the way you respond to this behavior ALL DAY," I try to help families identify a time during the day when they are most likely to be successful with this strategy.

My tacit hope, which I have not until now fully articulated, is that by focusing on 1 or 2 things to DO, I can help free up more time for families to BE with their children and with themselves. Now I think this is somewhat wishful thinking on my part knowing that many families cannot rest too easily unless they feel or even know they have done all they can for their children. 

But here it is: I think most of us would be much happier and behaviorally better of if we DID LESS, WELL.