Some thoughts on the complexity of our minds, by Gideon Killion, MA, LPC, counselor and coach in Denver, Colorado.
Not long ago, a client said to me, “Sometimes it feels like I’m more than one person inside. I worry that maybe I have a little bit of that split personality thing.”
“That’s actually really normal,” I told him. “I often feel that way myself. I think most people do.”
There is a rare, but real, and very serious psychiatric condition called disassociative identity disorder, more commonly known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder. This client had none of the symptoms of that condition. More on that, at this end of this post.
I went on to tell my client that, at least in this culture, we often believe that a mind is, or should be, a single, unified, coherent thing. Sometimes people talk about “figuring out what I really want” or “finding my true self.” It may be an innate way to perceive ourselves, or it may be a holdover from religions and philosophies which have taught us to view the person in terms of body, spirit, soul, and so on.
This view can create a lot of stress when you have thoughts and feelings that don’t fit how you see yourself or the person you want to be.
Yet at other times, we appear to be intuitively aware that there is more going on between our ears. It’s very common to hear someone say something like, “Part of me wants this, but another part of me wants that.” And this awareness is closer to reality.
I recently read a fantastic book by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. The author reveals that our brains are collections of systems that work somewhat independently to process data from our senses and from other parts of the brain.
Most of these systems operate outside of our awareness, have different priorities, and often do not agree with each other. These parts make their votes known to our conscious selves through instincts, intuitions, emotions, and unbidden thoughts. When we have the experience of being stuck, unable to act, or of going back and forth between different attitudes and behaviors, it reflects a real conflict between these systems.
Understanding this can help you. First, it gives you permission to accept parts of yourself that are inconvenient, embarrassing, or dark, because you know that everyone has their own. You can focus on meeting the needs of these different parts in healthy ways, rather than ignoring or disowning them and having these unmet needs make life more difficult.
Of course, as I said at the beginning, “disassociative identity disorder,” aka multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder, is a real thing. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, a person with this condition has more than one personality state that can involve distinct behaviors, emotions, memories, and so on. If you are concerned that you, or someone you care about, might actually have this condition, please contact a professional mental healthcare provider.
You may already know that counseling is different from any other kind of professional or personal relationship. But it’s pretty easy to be confused about what counseling looks like in real life, thanks to a lot of unrealistic Hollywood portrayals of counselors and therapists.
I’d like to offer some insight into what counseling means and how it can help people address problems or reach their personal goals. Here are my responses to some of the most common questions about what therapy is like.
What exactly does a counselor do? Are you going to just listen to me talk about feelings or give me advice about my problems?
That all depends on your preference and what type of issues you’re focusing on, but I generally try to take an active role in helping my clients. This usually means that I ask a lot of questions and encourage people to talk about their entire experience, including thoughts, emotions, sensations, beliefs, ideas, and so on. I offer interpretations, information, and suggestions. If someone really wants advice, I am happy to try to provide specific guidance in decision-making, but I make it clear whether the advice is coming from personal experience or professional expertise.
Is a counseling session like what I see on TV or in the movies? Will I have to tell you about my childhood?
Most media portrayals of counselors, therapists, or psychologists show either someone who is reserved and formal, or someone who is very emotionally intense. Personally, I tend to be casual and easy to connect with. I try to balance emotional intensity with a lot of humor and jokes. People often expect counselors to just nod their heads, look concerned, and say things like “And how does that make you feel?” or “Tell me more about that.” I certainly say those things sometimes, but I’m also very active in the session, asking pointed questions, exploring ideas, and offering my insights. I also provide information about how the mind works and teach mindfulness techniques that clients can use in their lives outside of the therapy office. You won’t necessarily have to talk about your childhood or past relationships, although it can be helpful to look at those experiences to notice patterns.
How is counseling different from just confiding in a friend? Why should I pay someone to listen to me talk?
With a counselor, unlike with a friend, you don’t have to worry about “being too needy” or being judged. You don’t have to worry about whether you’re hogging the conversation or not being a good friend. You don’t have to worry about whether your secrets are going to become gossip—a counselor is required by law to protect confidentiality. Counselors also have advanced training and clinical experience in identifying what is healthy vs. unhealthy, “normal” vs. abnormal. As a counselor, I have years of practice in specific ways of listening, empathizing, and caring, and I can teach you concrete tools that you can use to relieve suffering and create lasting change in your life. I may also give you something to work on between sessions, whether it’s a book to read, a new behavior to try, or just something to think about.
Am I required to be really motivated and have it all together before I can be in counseling?
I really enjoy working with clients who are highly motivated and ready to do the work that their goals require. I have some clients who are like that, and we make good progress together. But not all my clients are in that position right away, and that’s okay. As long as you’re willing to be honest with yourself and with me, I can help you. Part of my role is to help you find what motivates you to make progress on your goals. I help my clients understand themselves and their challenges more clearly by seeing the fears, needs, and unacknowledged desires that hold them back. I help them see the choices they have to make and the sacrifices those choices involve. When they’re ready, I have tools and techniques to help them get through the hard parts of those changes. But it all depends on their readiness and willingness to do the work.
Who decides what the therapeutic goals are, me or you? How soon will I start to see improvement in my problems?
Counseling is always collaborative with me. I’m happy to work with clients toward almost any goal. When I make suggestions, it is always based on what the client has already told me about what they want. How long it takes to achieve goals depends entirely on the goals themselves and your readiness for change to happen. I’ve had clients show improvement or noticeable progress almost immediately, and I’ve had clients for whom it takes months to begin moving toward their goal. But almost everyone feels better in some way within the first couple of sessions. When you are with someone who listens well and truly cares about your concerns, you will feel more confident and less alone.
Do I have to tell you my entire life story the first time I meet you? What should I do to prepare for the first counseling session?
You will be in control of what you share during our first meeting, keeping in mind that it’s helpful for me to understand the context of your concerns. I want to know about your motivations, your hopes, your needs, and the things that have so far been holding you back. I’ll also be asking questions about your fears and concerns related to the counseling process, and about things that might make it difficult for us to make progress together. To prepare for the first meeting, I encourage you to think about what you want to get out of our work together. When the work is finished, how will you be different? How will life feel different? What are you hoping that our work together will accomplish that you haven’t been able to achieve on your own? What is motivating you to make these changes now?
Will I be able to tell right away if you’re the right counselor for me? What happens if one of us thinks it isn’t a good fit?
Yes, you’ll know very quickly if I am the right counselor to work with you. It’s almost always obvious during the initial consult whether it’s a good fit, at least in terms of the relationship itself. On occasion it becomes clear after a few sessions that the client needs a practitioner with different skills or tools, and if happens, I try to help them find the right person to meet that need.
Will I have to do a ton of paperwork before we meet the first time?
I do a free consultation the first time I meet with a prospective client, and I will use this time to do a basic assessment of your needs and goals. During this first visit, I will also offer you a sense of who I am and how I’m going to approach your goal or problem. Between the consult and the first real session, I will ask you to fill out some paperwork that includes an intake questionnaire. The questionnaire gathers information about different parts of your life and helps me have a better sense of your general health, habits, relationships, interests, and other significant aspects of your life.
What would I gain from working with you specifically instead of another therapist? How are you different from other counselors in Denver?
I have an unusually varied background and life experience that enables me to build a relationship with my clients easily and quickly. Research shows that this relationship between the client and the therapist is the most important factor in making counseling effective. I’ve lived in a lot of different places, including overseas as a child, and interacted with people from many different cultures. I’ve also done a number of different things professionally over the course of my life. I adapt myself to my clients so that they feel comfortable, understood, and respected, regardless of whether they’re a CEO, a musician, or a plumber. I believe in the effectiveness of insight-based, motivational counseling that offers real tools for change.
This is a great article, by Dr. Carl Erik Fisher, that should be relevant to anyone who has struggled to make changes in life.
Here’s a quote from near the end:
By focusing on the bigger picture—managing his stress and anxiety and interrogating his expectations of himself—he was finally able to cut back, without such a sense of struggle.
Denver counselor Gideon Killion explains why men should view their emotions as useful tools.
If it’s difficult for you to talk about feelings, you’re not alone.
In working with male clients in my Denver counseling practice, I’ve noticed a pattern around how men interact with their emotions. In short, we tend to think of feelings as inconvenient. We often try to minimize or ignore them.
I’ve seen this pattern with my male friends as well. At times, I’ve even seen it in myself.
The world tells men that we need to get better at understanding our feelings so that we can be more open to our loved ones. But that’s not the only reason.
In my experience, ignoring our emotions means we can miss out on important information about what’s working well (or not working) in our lives.
Why Is This Emotion Stuff So Hard?
It’s not surprising that most men find it difficult to navigate emotional terrain. In fact, there are lots of reasons why it can be really tricky.
- Some emotions are nuanced and complex. We can have conflicting emotions that come from different parts of ourselves. Sometimes these mixed emotions are hard to untangle, and all we know for sure is that strong feelings are painful. So we look for a way to distract or numb ourselves.
- We’ve been trained to hide emotional reactions. Society teaches us that showing emotion is weak, especially vulnerable feelings like sadness. As kids, we may have been bullied for showing our feelings. Or maybe we were told that we should “toughen up” or “be strong.” So we learned to turn those emotions into anger or other acceptable responses.
- We judge emotions as positive or negative. No one wants to experience “negative” emotions. The name implies that we’re bad if we feel them. But negative emotions can lead us toward needed change.
- Some emotions show up as sensations, not words. It can be tricky to identify emotions when they show up in the form of body sensations. For example, if you have a lump in your throat, you may not realize that this could indicate sorrow or regret. A recurring physical pain, such as a headache or backache, may also be related to emotions. Some men develop physical pain through unexpressed feelings of hurt, anger, fear, or sadness.
Why Wrestling with Emotions is Worth It
Even when emotions are messy and uncomfortable, it’s usually worth it to sort through them. That’s because there is often useful information waiting there. Emotions are messages from the parts of our brains that we don’t directly control. These messages tell us what matters most to us so we can prioritize what’s important. When we crack the code of our emotions, we can make choices that are in line with our needs and wants.
For example, we often feel a tension between duty and desire. This can leave us feeling as if we’re trapped in an unsolvable equation. The trapped feeling shows up as anger, sadness, anxiety, or shame. These emotions are clues that we need to resolve the tension by making a change.
It’s okay to take a step back from overwhelming emotions. You can give yourself the space to sort through what you’re feeling. It’s only harmful if you choose to stay disconnected or distracted as a long-term tactic.
The bottom line
Emotions are useful data that can lead us toward more fulfilling lives. If you’re interested in making your emotions work for you, I can help you do that through counseling or coaching at one of my Denver offices. Get in touch and we’ll set up a free consultation.
Denver counselor Gideon Killion shares some insights about the impact of anxiety.
We all have moments of anxiety in certain situations, whether it’s a performance review at work or waiting to hear the results of a medical test. But for some of us, it goes beyond that, with anxiety showing up much more often and in more ordinary situations. When it does, this kind of anxiety can have a real impact on your relationships and work (not to mention your ability to enjoy life). If this sounds like it might be you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 18% of Americans over 18 have experienced the effects of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something that I have struggled with, so I know what it’s like. I’d to share with you some of the signs of anxiety to watch out for, as well as what you can do to get a handle on it.
Signs of anxiety to watch out for
Here are some of the most common signs that anxiety is interfering with your optimal functioning. One or two of these experiences could be due to other factors, but if you find that multiple items are relevant to you right now, anxiety could be the culprit.
Things to watch for at work:
- You have intrusive thoughts about your own shortcomings, in which any mistake becomes a catastrophe.
- You avoid normal interactions with people, such as by procrastinating on returning voicemails.
- You feel overwhelmed, “out of control,” or like you can’t cope with job expectations.
- You are extremely nervous about meetings, presentations, etc., to the point of having physical symptoms (such as nausea) or being unable to participate.
- You find yourself arriving late or leaving early in order to minimize the time spent at work.
Things to watch for in your close relationships:
- You feel annoyed by or suspicious of the other person with no particular trigger, or your reaction seems out of proportion to what the other person has done.
- You make excuses to be alone rather than with the other person (for example, saying that you don’t feel well or have to work late).
- You are rarely able to relax with your partner or have fun together.
- You are so focused on your own thoughts or worries that you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner.
- You have feelings of dread or pessimism about the relationship, even though it has previously felt stable and supportive.
If several of these descriptions apply to your experience in a relationship or at work, you may be seeing the side effects of anxiety.
Things that Don’t Help When You’re Anxious
It may be hard to know what to do when anxious feelings come up. These are a few of the most common — but also least effective— responses to anxiety.
Ignoring it: For many people, the natural tendency in trying to cope with anxious feelings is to minimize or deny the problem. You may find yourself hoping that anxiety symptoms will just go away on their own. What often happens, though, is that trying to ignore anxiety can make it worse—either more frequent or more intense.
Isolating: A common side effect of anxiety is self-consciousness. You may worry that you’re acting strangely around others (or that they will guess how anxious you’re feeling). Although trying to stay away from others provides a short-term solution to this problem, isolating yourself can make coping with anxiety more difficult in the long term.
Self-medicating: It’s tempting to use alcohol or drugs to take the edge off your anxiety symptoms, but they come with their own problems, like dependency. There are healthier ways to address the problem.
Handling anxiety on your own
If mild anxiety is having a negative effect on relationships or causing problems at work, you may be able to counter it simply by providing yourself with in-the-moment techniques to reduce anxiety right away. Here are a few things that can be immediately useful at times when you notice you are feeling anxious:
Count blue things. It sounds ridiculous, but this simple trick can be very effective in calming your nervous system. Look around the room and silently identify each thing you see that’s blue: “the spine of a blue book, a blue highlighter, two people wearing blue shirts.” This technique works because it tricks your brain into shifting gears and focusing on a cognitive task.
Listen to the ticking of a clock or analog watch. This has a soothing effect for most people because a clock ticks at about the same speed as your own normal resting heart rate. You don’t even need an actual clock or watch—a virtual one will do. Search for “ticking clock” on YouTube, or download an app like G Clock that replicates the sound of the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Engage in proprioceptive actions. Proprioception refers to your own physical sense of your body in relation to the things around it. Thus, any action that involves proprioceptive input can help to calm your nervous system. This can be as simple as chewing gum, or as complex as playing a ball game like basketball or football in which your body comes in contact with the ball. Other simple proprioceptive techniques include squeezing a stress ball, pushing your palms against a wall, or eating a crunchy food like pretzels.
Getting help with your anxiety
When your anxious feelings don’t respond to the simple techniques listed above, or if you feel so anxious most of the time that you’re having difficulty functioning in your normal work and home routines, it’s a good idea to get professional help. Anxiety can be treated through counseling as well as through medication, or both.
A medical doctor, like your primary care physician, or a psychiatrist, can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe medication. It can take a few tries to get the right medication and the right dose, and all medications can have side-effects, so it’s important to stay in contact with your doctor during this process.
Counseling is also an effective treatment for anxiety, for most people. Simply talking to a counselor on a regular basis can be helpful for some people, but the treatment can also include things like uncovering subconscious thoughts and feelings, challenging or defusing intrusive thoughts, or practicing mindfulness and relaxation skills. If you are wondering whether counseling might be able to help you with your anxiety, I would be honored to talk to you. Please contact me and we’ll set up a free, 30-minute consultation at one of my Denver counseling locations.
Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers reasons for America’s deep political divisions in this fascinating TED Talk.
This past election — which feels like it’s still going on — seems different to me than others I remember. I’ve found it harder than usual to understand how the other side could see things so differently. I don’t think I’m alone. Most of the people I’ve talked to, regardless of their political leanings, seem to be struggling with this same question.
I really like this TED Talk. Jonathan Haidt uses ideas from the field of moral psychology to try to explain why and how the US is so divided, and how we recover from this. He touches on a wide range of themes that I’m personally curious about like tribalism, globalism, authoritarianism, empathy, and cognitive bias.
You may or may not be comfortable with all of his conclusions, but it should be fascinating none the less.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas for getting out there and meeting people.
Making friends and building community can seem daunting when you don’t know where to start. There’s a lot of abstract advice out there about expanding your social circle, but sometimes it’s easier to work from a list of concrete actions.
With that in mind, here are some specific ideas for ways to make new friends in Denver.
1. Find a Church (or Something) That’s Right for You
Regardless of your religious or spiritual persuasion, the Denver area almost certainly has a gathering to suit your needs. I thought of including some links, but there are just too many and I don’t want to favor any one in particular. Start by plugging keywords into Google to find your options. If you’re not sure which religion might be the right fit for you, you can take BeliefNet’s Belief-O-Matic quiz.
What if you don’t consider yourself religious or spiritual? You might want to investigate First Universalist Church of Denver, which honors all paths including atheism and operates from a set of guiding principles rather than a religious creed. Or you could check out Denver Sunday Assembly, a gathering for freethinkers and atheists that describes itself as “a place to go to listen to great music, learn from intelligent speakers (like TED talks), and meet other people in your community.”
2. Get Involved in Politics or a Worthy Cause
A great way to meet like-minded people is to donate your time to a worthy organization, whether that means getting involved in local politics or supporting a cause whose mission you value. If you’re interested in politics, a good starting point would be the Democratic Party of Denver or the Denver GOP.
Looking for a meaningful way to volunteer? Maybe you’d like to help veterans transition back to civilian life through the Helping Veterans program, or lend a hand at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. Or you could join Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, which offers opportunities for taking part in outdoor stewardship projects—everything from trail maintenance to fire and flood restoration. If none of those options sound right, try looking for other types of volunteer opportunities in Denver by searching the Volunteer Match database.
3. Join a Sports League
If you enjoying tossing a ball around, you may find that a sports league is the ideal way to connect with others. Denver offers a ton of options, including bowling, pool, softball, and volleyball. In the warmer months, you can play volleyball at Wash Park (here’s a map). There are leagues and pick-up games happening most weekends when the weather is nice. There’s also a meet-up group called Sports Monster that organizes volleyball leagues, outings, and open court events.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something more low-key, how about kickball? The Denver Kickball Club organizes league play, pick-up games and day-long tournaments throughout the city.
4. Become a Regular
Here’s another way to make friends: be a regular at a bar frequented by the kind of people you want to meet. (It doesn’t have to be near where you live.) Naturally, there are plenty of bar options in Denver, so you can narrow it down by type. Soccer fan? Try the Three Lions. Want to hang out with a cool eclectic group of regulars? Check out the Thin Man Tavern.
5. Connect through Meet-Ups
No matter what activity you enjoy the most, you’re guaranteed to find a Meetup.com group in the Denver metro area for people who are into the same thing. Here are a few random examples:
- The Fun Young Adults meet-up group arranges game nights, dancing, and other activities for people in their 20s and 30s.
- The Colorado Relaxed Philosophy and Movie Club gets together for a movie and discussion. Their next get-together is on March 4.
- Denver Medieval Combat Sports is for people who enjoy foam weapon combat (yes, hitting other people with fake swords) and other LARP-related activities.
- Like video games? So does the Denver Gamers Association.
- There’s even a group about Dads, babies, and beer.
6. Take Part in a Support Group
If you struggle with any particular issue and want to meet others with similar challenges, you can join a support group. For example, here’s a list of Denver area AA meetings. Also, the Psychology Today website has a searchable database of Denver support groups on a range of topics.
7. Sign Up for a Class
A great way to meet people is to start taking group classes in something you’ve always wanted to try. How about…
- Mastering small talk? “Master the Fine Art of Small Talk” at Colorado Free University
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, or MMA? Kompound Training Center
- Rock guitar? School of Rock (Denver) Adult Program
8. Start Your Own Group or Cause
Of course, if you don’t find exactly the kind of group you’re looking for, you can always start your own group, cause, meet-up, etc. Who knows? Maybe there are others out there looking for the same thing.
Just remember …
Regardless of which social avenue you decide to pursue, you’ll find greater success in making lasting friends if you keep two principles in mind. First, be persistent and consistent—keep showing up and be a visible part of the group. Second, practice good relational skills, like listening more than talking and making space for conversations to happen. (For a refresher, see my previous blog post on How to Make Friends and Amp Up Your Social Life.)
And last of all, don’t feel bad if getting out there and meeting people seems a little intimidating. I would be willing to bet that most people feel the same. But if you feel so intimidated that it actually stops you, I can help. Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to talk it over with you.
Denver counselor, coach, and therapist Gideon Killion shares some thoughts on the cost of undiagnosed depression.
Are you struggling to stay motivated at work? Have you been feeling physically or mentally tired or had difficulty concentrating? Do you have trouble making decisions or keeping track of important information at your job?
Career difficulties can arise for both external and internal reasons, but it’s important to ask yourself whether a psychological condition like depression could be the root cause.
If so, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association estimates that based on 2013 data, up to 9% of adult men experience feelings of depression or anxiety on a daily basis. But depression and other mood disorders can be tricky to identify correctly on your own, given that men’s depression symptoms may not always include the “classic” elements such as sadness. Sometimes depression symptoms may also show up as physical indicators, such as digestive changes or simply feeling more tired than usual.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression in men can include some (but not necessarily all) of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, or anxiety
- Unusual anger or irritability
- Fatigue, either physical or mental
- Difficulty focusing on work or trouble with short-term memory
- Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
- Physical pain, including headaches, digestive issues, or cramps
- Reduced interest in activities that used to be pleasurable, including family life, hobbies, and sex
- Difficulty functioning in everyday life, both at work and at home
Here are some of the ways that chronic depressed mood could negatively affect your day-to-day effectiveness at work and even have long-term consequences for your career.
Impact on Productivity
No one is at their best professionally when they’re struggling with depression. A chronically depressed mood makes it difficult to concentrate on detail work or keep track of important data. It can also lead to problems with time management, thanks to depression’s way of dulling your ability to make executive decisions and stay focused on one activity at a time. In a chaotic work environment with many interruptions, the irritability associated with depression may make it difficult to avoid blowing up at others.
No Motivation to Move Ahead
If you’re barely mustering the energy to show up on time and put one foot in front of he other, it makes sense that depression can put the brakes on a promising career. One of the hallmarks of major depressive disorder is the loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed. When depression has sapped you of motivation to take on new responsibilities and seek opportunities to be promoted, it’s unlikely that you will move beyond your current rung on the career ladder. And the mental or even physical fatigue that comes with chronic depression can make small challenges seem insurmountable.
Cumulative Effects on Work Relationships
Depression can intensify some of the challenges of day-to-day work, such difficulty coping with tense co-worker dynamics or unexpected policy changes. Men who are depressed often find themselves withdrawing from peer interactions at work, leading them to feel increasingly more isolated.
Telling your boss—or not—is another challenge of depression in the workplace. It may feel good to be honest about your struggles and ask for specific accommodations, or you may be afraid to disclose this information to management.
Regardless of whether you decide to let your supervisor or co-workers know how being depressed has affected you at work, it can be helpful to connect with others outside the workplace who understand the struggle of coping with a mood disorder. Here in the Denver area, there are several Meetup.com groups focused on depression, including one called Freedom From Anxiety and Depression. There are also several structured support groups for people with depression in the Denver metro area; for details, see NAMI Colorado.
Sometimes chronic or severe symptoms of depression can require professional help in order to improve. If you need help with resources for counseling in Denver or specific ways to cope with depression, give me a call at (303) 952-0168, email me at email@example.com, or use my contact form.
Denver counselor, therapist, and life coach Gideon Killion shares some thoughts on making technology work for you.
If you’re like most people, you don’t go anywhere without your phone. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you have a love/hate relationship with it.
Smartphones can make our lives easier, more efficient, and more fun. They can also turn us into disengaged individuals who can’t look up from a screen to experience the world “in real life.”
For those of who struggle with this complex relationship, here’s some advice that has been effective for my coaching clients.
How to Let Your Phone Help You (Not Hurt You)
By making the most of what technology can offer you, it’s possible to turn your smartphone into a strong ally that support your values and goals. Here’s how:
- Smartphones exist primarily for communicating with others, so find ways to use it in increasing quality time with friends and family. Have phone or video calls with family members who don’t live nearby. Get in touch with a local friend via text to set up a time for coffee or dinner. Or use your phone to sustain a long-running group email or text conversation.
- Take advantage of smartphone apps that are designed to help you learn new habits, such as HabitBull, Loop Habit Tracker, or Fabulous. You can also use apps for specific types of activities, such as running, meditation, eating well, doing yoga, learning Mandarin, etc. Even the most basic reminder or timer app can be used to help you take a break from regular activities (especially sitting) to do things like taking a stretch break, drinking some water, checking in to be mindful of your current emotions, or making a call to a friend.
- Use your phone to listen to books and podcasts while doing housework or driving. These mindless tasks can be enhanced by taking the opportunity to learn something new and connect with the world outside of your daily routine.
Don’t Let Your Smartphone Become Your Enemy
As you probably know, it’s easy to become addicted to the constant stimulation and distraction that your smartphone can offer. That’s because occurrences such getting an email notification or refreshing your social media feed to check for new posts can provide a dopamine rush in the brain—a pleasurable sensation that is comparable to the use of stimulant drugs.
And the idea of being away from your phone might be uncomfortable. In a 2015 study, researchers found that people who were separated from their iPhones for a few minutes actually experienced physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased blood pressure.
If you don’t want to be dependent on your smartphone to get through your day, there are ways you can regain control:
- Adjust your settings to turn off audio alerts for most things (other than emergency or weather alerts).
- Decide which notifications are truly urgent for you, and which information you can wait to manually check at certain times during the day.
- Set aside specific times of day to manually check voicemail, email, tweets, and so on.
- Use a feed reader or news aggregator site to curate news from specific sources, then set a limit on how frequently you’ll look at it (and for how many minutes at a time).
- Make a commitment to stay engaged with the physical world instead of always focusing attention on your phone. This is particularly important when you’re driving, biking, or walking across the street, when it’s not safe to be on your phone. It’s also important in most interactions with another human, when looking at your phone can come across as rude.
Smartphones can either help or hurt us. I believe that most people are happiest when they make conscious choices about how to use their phones and when to put them away. Remember, even when you’re waiting in line, sitting on a bus, or just out walking, there’s plenty out there in the real world to interact with—including other humans. Sometimes you might even use the opportunity to take a deep breath and relax.