PROTECTED TIME – TIME TO “JUST BE”
As my first item on this blog, I would like to discuss an important concept that may profoundly change your life for the better. Let’s begin with the concept of Protected Time. Protected time is a pre-determined period during your day or week that you protect from distraction and intrusion. A time when you are in the moment, fully conscious, and committed to a particular task that involves aspects in your life that are often neglected. Ideally commitment to this time period involves making a “contract” with yourself that you will adhere to.
Protected time is a way to help you focus on the most important activities and relationships that are often taken for granted. This includes what we often think as discretionary time after work, family time, and special time with children or parents, as well as alone time such as meditation time, journaling time, exercise time, or spiritual time.
Why Protected Time? Mindfulness
1) Protected Time from Superficial Connections.
Over the last hundred years, humanity has moved from a village-based existence with connections facilitated by technology. Rather than experiencing the richness and intimacy of face-to-face interactions we how have moved into the realm of technological connections. As a result, while the actual number of our interactions is greater than ever, the quality of each connection has been diluted and depersonalized.
When the telephone was initially invented, it was a miracle: At first, people would schedule times to make calls and communicate once every few weeks or months with far-off business contacts and friends. Somehow, people survived and were satisfied not knowing every intricate detail of the lives of distant associations; People were nourished by their in-depth, face-to-face relationships with family and a few close friends.
Nowadays, however, people find they are expected to answer the phone immediately and because of that expectation, they panic when they can’t reach someone instantly, rushing to text, rushing to email…anything to make sure they have immediately made contact. Such self-imposed urgencies are intrusive and destructive to our most basic life rhythms; They distract us from our families, our close friends, our abilities to enjoy a simple meal, a book, our own thoughts and peace of mind. They interfere with our ability to be in the moment and develop mindfulness skills.
2) Protected Time from Information Overload.
Up until 70 years ago humanity received most of the news it needed from newspapers, without the play-by-play overload of every detail repetitively broadcast over television and social media. This information overload, if unchecked, can be numbing and distracting, preventing people from mindfulness, or living conscious and authentic lives. Think about it: What percent of time spent watching the TV news involves information that is actually necessary for your daily life? What percent of it is useless information that is simply distracting you from more important aspects of your life? Moreover, excessive exposure to digital news media often heightens our sense that the world is a more dangerous place than it actually is, unnecessarily increasing anxiety and affecting our abilities to cope.
THE COSTS OF UNPROTECTED TIME
There are costs for unrestrained access to everyone and anyone in the world:
Unnecessary demands on our time
Focus on quantity of relationships and products rather than authenticity and depth. A lack of mindfulness or awareness/appreciation for the here and now.
More superficial existence focusing on “doing” rather than “being.” Our society has become more goal-focused than process-oriented, with a subsequent imbalance of priorities. Anxiety and fear of missing out drives our compulsive checking and rechecking of email, texts, Faxes, voicemails, and office work.
THE NEUROBIOLOGY BEHIND EXCESSIVE TECHNOLOGY USE
Pleasurable experiences, such as winning a game, sex, food, social interactions, as well as the experience of certain psychoactive drugs such as nicotine, cocaine and alcohol can all – to various extents — trigger the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain, reinforcing our desire to repeat certain behaviors. Unfortunately, it is quite common to mistake our virtual relationships on-line for deep and rich connections; Our brains experience emails and social networking in vast numbers as more rewarding than their consequences deserve, and as a result, we often shut out the less frequent but more meaningful face-to-face, authentic life experiences. Interestingly, the more intermittent and inconsistent the reward, such as receiving a worthwhile email, text, news blast, or cell-phone call, the more compulsively we will check for them with the anticipation that our “gamble” will pay off – we will experience the high of a worthy connection; For so many of us, even if the media reward pays off only a fraction of the time, we are wired to forgo too much of our authentic lives. The bottom line is that many of us are no longer present in real-life and are intoxicated by our virtual relationships. Mindfulness is an approach to counter this societal problem.
The human mind is simply not wired to multi-task the way the world is expecting us to nowadays. We actually will perform better if we disconnect more from superficial relationships and distractions and re-connect with a smaller community of people we live with and see face-to-face every day. We need to return to authenticity.
HOW TO RETURN TO AUTHENTICITY
The good news is that there are ways to inhibit the addictive neuro-circuitry of the mesolimbic reward system: We need to start using the frontal parts of our brains (the frontal cortex). The conscious brain can combat our media addiction tendencies in order to attain a balanced and authentic existence.
Article content, © Kira Stein, MD, APC. | West Coast Life Center
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