I’ve long been a fan of mindfulness but have only recently realised how mindful attention can actually change my brain and help mould my identity. The effectiveness of my social media use and the satisfaction I derive from it have been enhanced as a result. By mindfully paying attention to my breath, body, emotions, attitudes, and attention I have become more aware of the social media choices I make and have come to make better choices as a result. While social media can cause my monkey mind to get distracted, I know I can take control of my attention through the intentional deployment of my most precious ally – my mind.
Mindful attention not only makes my social media experience more satisfying and effective, but I am gradually reshaping my habits, the neural patterning of my brain, and my identity in the process. Through practising some of the techniques I outline below I am an improved version of my former self, who curates better content and am more able to achieve what I want out of social media.
This article I posted by Linda Stone entitled Fine Dining with Mobile Devices explores how mindfulness, and how we deploy our attention both online and off, can shape our identity.
Stay mindful folks “The way we use our attention controls and shapes our reality. The way we use it defines who we are, what we’re blind to, and what we see. Direct it? Give it away? The choice is ours. Every moment of every day”. #alm101 https://t.co/YgKriqocxh pic.twitter.com/3cjcSYTMBm
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) April 4, 2018
While living in an always-on world can bring many benefits, we also need to use social media intelligently, humanely, and mindfully if we are not to lose ourselves in the information stream. Adults today check their phones on average 85 times per day (Damico and Krutka, 2018), and two out of every ten of us have reported mindlessly walking into something while using our phones (Rheingold, 2012). The pull of participatory media which is part of the fabric of our lives can have negative consequences. Consider the following studies Damico and Krutka, (2018) cite that support this claim:
- media companies are designing algorithms and platforms that draw on neurological impulses to capture users attention (Harris, 2017)
- social media is pulling users’ attention away from tasks and people we want to connect with (Twenge, 2015)
- frequent social media users have lower levels of mindfulness and experience more exhaustion (Sriwilai & Charoensukmongkol, 2016).
- social media use can lead to depression, suicide and other mental health issues (Twenge, 2017)
The ways we deploy attention, however, can mitigate harmful effects, and allow us to participate in the abundant pro-social opportunities social media offers.
Professor Howard Rheingold asserts in Net smart: how to thrive online, “mindfulness is what connects your attention to the skills of digital participation” and “deliberately exercised, continually strengthened, and judiciously applied mindfulness is the most important practice for anyone who is trying to swim through the info stream without getting swept away’ (2012 p35). Jumping from link to link is fine, but by doing it for an intentional purpose you are less likely to get lost, dissatisfied, and distracted by the always-on info stream.
Here is Rheingold speaking on his own Youtube channel about mindful attention with a few helpful tips.
He cites metacognitive and neuroscience research which shows sensory mindfulness techniques when used in the social media setting can rewire the brain for positive outcomes including improved cognition and executive decision making. You learn to thrive online by recrafting your identity with the resilience and skills required to prosper online.
I posted a Linda Stone article entitled Our Powerful and Fragile Attention, which also explores the idea of tuning in to our attention instead of switching off changes the game.
“If we want to harness the superpower that is our attention, instead of talking about distraction and a need to unplug and disconnect, let’s talk about what it is we choose to connect to. Let’s change the conversation.” agreed #alm101https://t.co/8EhIkuNk8Npic.twitter.com/rPAW2we2z0
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) April 9, 2018
I find instead of ever planning, narrating, remembering or fretting about what happens in the always-on mode, which seems my default setting, I spend more time in a state of flow. How I deploy my attention is my foundational social media skill and how I perform my identity online.
Mindful attention brings more awareness of my emotions. I know I am reacting out of jealousy, or fear of missing out (FOMO), or if others are having a negative effect on my wellbeing. This Improved emotional intelligence means I am more able to build bridges through peaceful interactions which can broaden my worldview.
Resultingly, I come up with better answers to these questions:
- What link to click on or not to?
- Who to follow or not?
- When to curate links and when not to?
- Whether to shut down my computer and have a break or not?
- When is the best time to surf social media making friends and when it is time to write?
Mindfulness means I activate the mindful sensory state, in which I am more able to connect other aspects of my self-identity both past and present, and with others.I see more opportunities to show generosity and get more shares in return. I now get my work done more efficiently, broaden my interests and enjoy socialising more.
Mindfulness Tips created by myself in Canva
These days, I spend my days managing my attention instead of my time. This starts with a list of my intentions for the day, and a list of the things I will not do. I know I can’t capture everything in the information stream and don’t try. I also give myself an achievable workload, and large chunks of time for it, instead of multi-tasking. During the day, I might take a break for a meditative practice, or a walk on the beach, or simply remember to breathe and refocus on my intentions. I give myself rewards for achievements and allow downtime for planned boredom and reflection. I find mindfulness brings freedom from comparing myself to others, who are on their own journey, and allows that I perform my own unique journey on social media in a state of flow.
When you develop your own practices, keep in mind the solutions I present may not work for you. We are all different and practices need to vary accordingly. It’s not about abstaining from social media or battling against your impulses but about finding your own state of flow.
If you find yourself interested this mindfulness training course is 100% free and replicates Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Have you read my article on performing the self?