Internal & External Tools To Honor Your Attention: 3 Techniques For Maintaining Awareness In A Media Rich World

More than two decades since Google organized information according to its popularity, we've seen social media change our experiences online from an information gathering exercise to social entertainment. Now that many of us carry smartphones, we have 24/7 access to that entertainment. Here are three steps to take if you are struggling to pull yourself away from the latest funny video or disturbing news-bite.
Pete Dunlap is the Founder of Digital Detangler and helps to improve digital productivity and mental health through transformed digital environments.
Pete Dunlap is the Founder of Digital Detangler and helps to improve digital productivity and mental health through transformed digital environments.

This article explores three strategies to become more aware of your own browsing behavior and to pull yourself out of the social entertainment tunnel.

You might also want to read about phone-induced anxiety.

Be Aware: How To Rewire Your Browsing Behavior

1. Focus On Time Spent With Technology

We now spend more time with our technology that we spend sleeping, so if you want to become more…well, anything, looking at where your time goes when you are connected to the Internet is an obvious starting point.

Internal Practice

Grab a pen and pad the next time you go online. Before you start browsing, write out what you’re about to do, for example, buying a new sweater or searching for a new job. As you complete that intention, mark through it on your pad, and write out your next intention. In the same way that we often pull our minds back to our meditation practice, you may see a similar pattern in your browsing behavior. With time and awareness, you should start to see some improvement.

External Practice

Install a time-tracking digital tool to keep tabs on where your time goes when you log on. While these kinds of tools works on most platforms, be sure to look at your Digital Wellbeing (Android) or Screentime (iOS) data as well. It may make sense to start setting daily limits on (or even removing) apps that are distracting you during your day.

Practice mindfulness with this guided meditation by Pete Dunlap. During the meditation, there will be disruptive technology sounds. These disruptions allow you to practice responding mindfully to situations that regularly arise and cause you to hit the panic button.

  1. Digital Wellness: Calmness is Strength Pete Dunlap 9:15

2. Consume Less Content

Our brains process imagery 60,000 times faster than we process text, so you’ll be forgiven for clicking another junk link to enlarge something or shrink something else. By consciously taking in less content, particularly low-quality content, we make more space for our best selves to emerge.

Internal Practice

Press the internal pause button throughout your day anytime you feel a strong emotional reaction to some content. Very often we start reacting before we’ve fully digested the entirety of a complicated situation. The more slowly we can react to stimuli, the more opportunities we have to alter our present course and the wider our choice of responses.

External Practice

If you use Chrome for your browsing try installing two extensions: ScrollStopper and Wizmage Image Hider.

ScrollStopper truncates the news feed on popular social media sites so that you can still experience social media without getting lost down the rabbit hole.

Wizmage Image Hider drastically reduces your image intake by removing all images from the sites you visit. It’s settings allow users the flexibility to add images back on a case by case basis.

Read more: If we’re not careful, the way we use our phones, laptops, and social media, can also have a negative impact on our wellbeing. Read how mindfulness can combat smartphone addiction and improve our awareness when using our phones.

3. Redefine Connection

Despite all of your likes and text messages, chances are you feel lonely from time to time. Paradoxically, you’re not alone. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 40% of us experience chronic loneliness. To claw our way back to a socially rich world, we’re going to have to foster quality connections, which take our time and attention.

Internal Practice

Connection comes in many forms. Search your day for large and small connections. While speaking to a clerk building your sandwich may feel forced, almost everyone responds to a genuine expression of caring. Make sure to balance the time you spend reaching out to those at the edge of your social world with quality time with those in your inner circle. Do you know what they are basking in or struggling through today? If not, it’s probably time to ask deeper questions and pause to listen.

Read more: You’ve engaged in a comment war online and suddenly you’ve said things you now regret. Do you know this scene all too well, too? Explore ways of mindful and compassionate online communication.

External Practice

A 2012 study from the University of Wisconsin found that we experience connection differently depending on the medium through which it arrives. After a stressful event, a phone call appears to be just as stress relieving as being there in person. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, sending text-based messages was the equivalent of doing nothing to comfort someone who’s overwhelmed. So, if you are feeling disconnected, close your favorite messenger service and place an old-fashioned phone call.

Don’t Forget To Be Self-Compassionate

Trying to stay focused can feel insurmountable at times. That’s expected. Practicing self-compassion is of utmost importance as we work on these vulnerable and thorny parts of our confused, distracted selves. With time, attention, and a few tech tweaks, our capacity to engage with the world in meaningful ways will expand.

Discover hundreds of guided meditations for self-compassion for responding to yourself with kindness, love, and acceptance.

Meditation. Free.