the

blog

an epic life

Posts Tagged ‘sherry turkle’

Dear iPhone & Facebook:
I Love You Too Much

February 27th, 2017

Hi. My name is Shelli Johnson, and I love my iPhone and Facebook too much.

Howdy!

Sometimes I long for a “bag phone.” Do you remember those? I think they came out in 1993, and they worked terribly. They were not compact and did not have a beautiful design. They were so big and bulky that they took up almost the entire front passenger seat of the car, and were not very reliable. On a good day, you might be able to successfully make a phone call. Having one made you feel like you had a method of communication in case of an emergency, but that was the extent of a bag phone’s value.

I just returned from a Byron Katie workshop and Silent Retreat. For 5 days in Ojai, CA, I didn’t say a single word, despite being amidst 115 other people and living in a community. As part of the Silence, I had no use of my iPhone or social media, and had no contact with family or friends. (I also semi-fasted, and was in a “hungry” state.)

While I was very eager to see Byron Katie in action, and to learn from her, and from my experience in Silence, it was the “no connectivity to devices” that I was most yearning for.

Unlike the bag phones of yesterday, today’s “smartphones” are beautifully-designed devices that not only work in emergencies, but provide all of my social networking, camera, audio books, music, shopping, level of physical activity, navigation, movies, not to mention a number of ways to communicate with people all over the world, with ease and immediacy.

Before I get to the shortcomings, which, by the way, are my shortcomings, not the iPhone’s or Facebook’s, I want to emphasize all there is to love about my iPhone and Facebook. (Please bear with me and continue reading; I promise I’ve tried to make it worth your while, and you’ll even get to read about a “covered wagon holdup.”)

Thanks to Facebook, I can keep in touch with my sisters, brother, parents, my Grandma, aunts, in-laws, uncles and cousins. I have some amazing friends that I would not have come to meet without Facebook. And, I have enriched many of my existing friendships. You’re a good friend on Facebook the same way you’re a good friend in real life. You do not only talk (post). You are interested in your friends’ lives so you listen and take interest in what they share, too. Being a good friend takes time and effort, and friendships are among my life’s greatest of blessings. Most of my relatives, friends, and clients are not local, yet I can keep in touch with all of them regardless of where they live. I can share in their celebrations and see photos from their lives. I can learn about the things that interest or matter to them, and find out if they’re suffering or in need of help or support.

Word of mouth has always been the most valuable form of marketing, and social media is word of mouth on steroids.I have “met” many coaching, Epic Adventure, and keynote presenting clients thanks to Facebook. Many – most – of my Epic Women, and other adventure clients have discovered me by way of Facebook. I am blessed by these meaningful relationships, and the times we’ve shared on the trail. I wouldn’t have these relationships without Facebook. 

I love that Facebook tells me when my friends are having birthdays. I love being introduced to books, movies, blog posts, podcasts, articles, music, poetry, comedians, bacon recipes, travel destinations and other things that inspire me that I would not have been made aware of had it not been for my friends on Facebook.

I love sharing. This is just part of who I am. From 1994-2008, when I was operating Yellowstone Journal and YellowstonePark.com, I used to write 100,000 words of original content every year, including stories about wolves, grizzly bears, geysers in Yellowstone, and about various adventures throughout the greater Yellowstone region. And while I loved reporting on and writing the stories, I loved sharing them even more. I’ve written and published 300 posts on my adventure blog because I love writing, and I love sharing. I’m a voracious reader, so I love sharing about books or anything that inspires me. Facebook, with just a click of a button, allows me a way to share all of these things, and more, with my friends, and their friends, and with the world.

My iPhone has a great camera and makes it easy for me to capture a great photo of a special moment, and with just a click, I can upload it to Facebook for sharing and “keeping.” Speaking of keeping, I have used Facebook as our family’s “life streaming” record and timeline since 2009. I value photos and memory-making moments. I love that a photo stops time and captures a moment. I can look back at a photo, and be transported back to that very moment and remember things about it that I otherwise wouldn’t remember if not for the photo. For me, these photos and videos are priceless. All of the major events and celebrations in my family’s life have been posted, and the result is we have these memories and milestones on record in a rich and chronological format that I wouldn’t have without Facebook.

I love my iPhone because I can be reliably reached by my family and friends, or in case of an emergency. I love the connection it enables with family and friends. Texting during travel to notify someone you’ve safely arrived to your destination, to line up a cab, check flights, etc. makes our iPhone invaluable. I experience great joy when I get texts and meaningful notes and “pings” from people who mean a lot to me. These short, unexpected messages can make my day. I love that my iPhone is a camera and a way for me to listen to music, audiobooks and podcasts. I love that my iPhone lets me share most of my stuff with family, friends, and Facebook.

It is also a fact that without the wonders of technology, I would not have the blessed life that I live today. It is not a stretch to say this. We started our first company, Yellowstone Journal Corporation, in 1994. We were operating out on the Frontier of Wyoming and with limited financial resources. It was a struggle to say the least. But then the internet arrived and we developed our first website, YellowstonePark.com, in 1995, and we could suddenly market Yellowstone’s wonders to, literally, the world. For the next 14 years we embraced the technology,  innovating and expanding the company, before selling it in 2008 to Active Interest Media.  Without technology, that story would have been a shorter and less successful one, and almost certainly would not have had that great ending, which enabled me to reinvent myself and create Epic Life in 2011. Without technology, I would not be able to do the work I do while living where I do. So technology is not the bad guy. Hardly.

The issue is I love Facebook and my iPhone too much. I already have quite a few boundaries in place. (I don’t have my cell phone when in the kitchen or at the table for dinner, anytime I’m with my family (unless taking photos of them, which can be excessive and I’m working on this), in the bedroom, during lunch or coffee dates, before kids are off to school, etc.) Still, I feel too tethered. For better or worse, I am self aware, and I know that I’m too tethered. It is a reality that I’m looking down, at my iPhone, too often, and that, as a result, I’m often missing out on what’s happening in the present moment. David Brooks, in a conversation with Krista Tippett and E. J. Dionne, mentioned the idea of “disordered loves.” That describes my relationship with my iPhone and Facebook – it’s a love, but it feels out of order…

The current (March 2017) edition of Prevention magazine includes a feature article about me, and it is about a depressive slump I experienced from 2006-2009, and how, among other things, I used hiking to get myself out of it. Part of that slump was the result of being too tethered to my devices when my sons were younger. Back then, my tethered-ness was mostly due to work demands. The point is, I know firsthand that tethered-ness to technology is a slippery slope for me, and I’m sensing trouble.

Management guru Peter Drucker once said something that I’m going to paraphrase: Tell me what your values are, and I might believe you. But show me your calendar (and use of time) and I’ll tell you what you really value. This resonates. I say I value experience and time with family and loved ones, first and foremost, more than my technology, but the truth is I feel my actions are often not measuring up, and it can be confusing since it’s often family and friends the devices are connecting me to.

Unfortunately, I’m not the only one with a problem. Just last year (2016), the business consultancy, Deloitte, found that Americans are looking at their phones more than 8 billion times a day. I think this works out to be a staggering, 150 times/day, on average. And, it’s not to answer a call or talk on the phone because research indicates that we only use our cell phones as phones about 10% of the time. The majority of our time on the phone is using social media, texting, watching videos, playing games, looking stuff up, Netflix binging, etc. Some 67% of Americans admit to checking their status updates in the middle of the night, during sex, and before attending to basic biological needs, like going to the bathroom, sleeping, or eating breakfast. (For the record, as tethered as I am, I am, thankfully, not in this 67%.)

I recently read a fantastic book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALS, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing The Way We Live and Work. The book is not about overusing Facebook. It’s about a revolution. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They’re harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition. What does this have to do with loving the iPhone and Facebook too much, you ask? That is a great question and the answer is, Nothing. 🙂

However, there is an excerpt in it that is very relevant to this post. The book’s authors, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, of the Flow Genome Project, report that the reason online distractions, particularly social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), are so sticky is because effectively they prime our brains for reward, mainly the feel-good neurochemical, dopamine. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky calls this priming “the magic of Maybe.” According to Kotler and Wheal: When we check our email or Facebook or Twitter and sometimes we find a response, and sometimes we don’t, the next time a friend connects, Sapolsky discovered that we enjoy a 400% spike in dopamine. Excuse my language, but holy crap. When we get a contact or like or love from a friend we enjoy a 400% spike/”reward” that is a rush of happiness and contentment. Perhaps it’s no wonder that social media and related distractions lead to tethered-ness that can eventually become an addiction. This research also raises the question: What is the emotional experience/cost when you get no response(s)?

And here we are back to my main reason for this long-form blog post:  I am concerned that my tethered-ness, if I don’t make some changes, could turn into an addiction. Whew. I said it. 

I arrived to Ojai, CA, checked into the Silent Retreat, and then eagerly addressed the powering off of my iPhone. (Note: Before powering off the iPhone, I did two significant things: First, I deleted my Facebook app, which was huge, since that’s one of the reasons my iPhone is so valuable to me and why I’m so tethered – the ease with which I can check in with my network of friends, and post and share stuff with them – and second, I turned off “Notifications” for my numerous apps. That way when I did “re-enter” and power on the device, I wouldn’t be immediately alerted, and sucked into the red circle with the probably-huge number of pending notifications on particular apps on my home screen.) Then, I powered off my iPhone, and tucked it deep into my suitcase, where I would not see it for 5 days.

As I did this, it felt like “help is on the way.” The last time I felt such important relief was when I went to a doctor in 2006, and said for the first time, out loud, that I was feeling depressed, and sinking deeper and deeper, and that I needed help. I left with a antidepressant prescription in my pocket and the feeling that help was on the way. I felt this relief not from the antidepressant prescription but rather from the fact that I had come clean – I had been honest with someone about my state. That’s sort of how I feel about my tethered-ness to my iPhone. To be clear, no one in my life is complaining about my iPhone and Facebook use. But I feel as if it’s becoming a problem. During the aforementioned depressive slump that lasted from 2006-2009, I was drinking wine on too many weeknights. It wasn’t a problem, but it could sure have become one. That’s how I am with my tethered-ness to my iPhone right now. I want to make some changes.

The 5-day “detox” would be a good start.

For the record, this wasn’t the first time I went technology-free. Two years ago, our family did an experiment where, for 7 days, we didn’t use any technology (no phones, television, computer –- no screens of any kind). Also, when I lead Epic Life adventures in the wilderness, or when I’m on a personal wilderness trip, they are “unplugged” experiences, and I’m disconnected from my devices. So I knew what it was like to be disconnected, and last week, in Ojai, CA, I was yearning for it.

Here’s what I noticed, gained and/or missed with no connectivity to my iPhone or Facebook:

There was a full moon on the first day of my no technology. I went to Meditation Mount, above Ojai, to meditate and take in both the sunset, and the full moon, which was rising over the mountains right as the sun was setting behind different mountains. I found comfort in knowing that I was looking at the same moon as my family and friends, and felt “connected” to them in a particularly meaningful way.

Full moon rising, at Meditation Mount, in Ojai, CA.

I love to capture photos of things that I see that are pretty, inspiring, peculiar or funny. Not having my iPhone –and being limited to my “regular” camera that has no connectivity or “sharing” ability – freed me up from quite a bit of capturing (and often sharing to Facebook or Instagram) that I would normally have done. I did take some photos of things I couldn’t resist capturing, but not very many, and as a result of my limited camera use, I think I actually saw more.

This sunrise moved me to tears. It marked the start of my Silence.

I thought about my family and friends even more than I normally would. Sure, it probably didn’t hurt that I was in Silence, and meditating and in contemplation often, but I found that without my tethered-ness to my iPhone and the resulting lack of “connection” to my loved ones, I thought about them more frequently than when I have in my pocket quick and easy potential connectivity to them.

I slept better. This could have had to do with the absence of Jerry’s snoring (haha), but I think it had more to do with my state of mind. My life was much simpler. Looking at our devices’ screens, and the blue light they emit, affects the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This is bad news because melatonin is what signals to the body that we’re ready for sleep. Without use of technology, I fell to sleep more easily, and reached deeper sleep. I know I slept well because each night I very obviously reached the dream sleep stage. I had vivid dreams, including one where I was driving a covered wagon and got “held up” in front of the Farmer and the Cook shop and restaurant by a cowboy (someone I’d see in my home state of Wyoming), who wanted to take one of my wagon wheels. I was stressed out not being able to talk to him (due to the vow of Silence) so I was motioning with my finger, zipping it across my lips, etc., and he was so confused. The saga went on seemingly forever, before he just took one of my wheels and all I could do was use hand signals and frantically wave my arms to passersby trying to communicate the hold up/crime that had just occurred. Stressful during it, but hilarious upon waking up from it.

Saw these hearts embedded in the trail on one of my morning hikes.

Another night I dreamt I wore my flannel pajamas to the workshop and couldn’t apologize for them and no one could say anything to me or tease me because of the Silence. A third dream I had was that I ran into a family from my hometown of Lander, WY, at the local market, and couldn’t talk to them and they were so confused that I wouldn’t respond to their questions, act exuberant, etc. The dream was not stressful, but humorous!

During the five days, the whites of my eyes were more white than I can ever remember them. Just that I’m noting the white of my eyes is noteworthy. It’s not like I’m always checking out how white the whites of my eyes are. I don’t even notice them normally. But they were noticeably white, clear of any bloodshot. I think this was because I didn’t look at any screens at all. I did not read any books – normally I read several times a day. Perhaps with the reduced eye strain from not reading and looking at screens made my eyes less red. Also, I had my eyes closed a lot as I spent a lot of time sitting in Silence, at the retreat, and during the day, and on my own time during the evenings and early mornings. So maybe the increased “resting time” of my eyes also helped.

I felt more vulnerable during my hikes. On 4 days, I got up and left to go hiking when it was still dark. I do this so that I can be on the trail when the sun rises. Normally I have a cell phone or my InReach just in case of an emergency. Jerry, or someone, always knows my whereabouts and my estimated schedule. Without my iPhone or InReach, I was hiking in an unfamiliar place, before first light and no one knew where I was or what I was doing. What this meant is I was more aware of people and my surroundings than normal. I was more vigilant.

I wanted to look up information (terms or words or people that were referenced in the workshop), and couldn’t use my iPhone to search Google or ask Siri for the quick answer or definition. (So, I wrote a list of things to look up later when I could. #oldschool)

I wanted to check the weather, and couldn’t. (I know, Woe is me… I realize as I write this these are such First World problems.)

I wondered about the news, but then quickly felt relief at my not having any of it.

Without my iPhone or the internet available, I felt more free to focus on one thing at a time, and, without my usual devices, it wasn’t nearly as difficult for me to do so. One of my three words for 2017 is One. I want to do one thing at a time. If I’m eating, I’m eating (not reading and eating). If I’m talking to Jerry or the boys, I’m only doing that; I’m not also on my laptop. If I’m folding laundry, I’m only folding laundry. The reason this is important to me is I want to do more deep and focused work, such as writing. I was incredibly focused during these five days with no technology or connectivity to my networks.

I thought of each of my coaching clients. Normally I check in on a pretty regular basis, usually via text, Facebook message or email. I was unable to do that and missed being able to offer my support, although I had informed them in advance of my temporary unavailability.

Despite that the average American adult reaches for his/her phone 150 times a day, and certainly I’m probably up there with the best of these users, I didn’t catch myself reaching, or looking for my iPhone. Normally I’m always checking my purse or my pocket for it when getting out of the car or leaving the house, etc. But I did this not once during the last five days. (This is encouraging for me because it suggests that if it’s out of sight, I won’t necessarily be looking for it to check it.)

Poppies, popping.

Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out in her important book, Reclaiming Conversation, that if we have our cell phone on the table, or anywhere in sight, even if it’s powered off, the phone’s presence has a negative effect on the quality and depth of the conversation that will occur with the people who are together. So, you may want to keep your phone tucked away in your purse or briefcase, or leave it in the car when you go to a dinner party, or a business luncheon, at a round table, etc. – unless you want to limit the quality and depth of conversation to small talk and surface chatter.

Turkle’s books, including Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together, ought to serve as cautionary tales. Turkle writes, “When children grow up with time alone with their thoughts, they feel a certain ground under their feet. Their imaginations bring them comfort. If children always have something outside of themselves to respond to, they don’t build up this resource. So it is not surprising that today’s young people become anxious if they are alone without a device. They are likely to say they are bored. From the youngest ages they have been diverted by structured play and the shiny objects of digital culture.”

Without my iPhone and connectivity, I wasn’t looking for that occasional and regular hit of dopamine/good vibes I get when I post something on Facebook and get likes and loves, and/or positive comments. As social animals, our human nature is to look to others for approval. I’ve worked hard to get to a place in my life where I don’t expend a lot of energy worrying about what others think. However, I am human, and networks like Facebook, with its acknowledgement mechanisms (likes and loves, etc.) makes it easy to get caught up in the social approval psychology – even if offline you do pretty well to not be concerned with it.

Joe Hollier is coming out with a product called the Light Phone, “your phone away from phone.” I will be glad to have one. The phone is a way to give people temporary breaks from their smart phones yet still enable particular people to reach you via phone call. It is brilliant. And ironic that some of us need technology’s help to disconnect from it. I remember Arianna Huffington suggesting this would be the case back in 2007 when we were at the Webby Awards to win an honor for YellowstonePark.com, and during her keynote she said as much. That was almost 10 years ago, and I remember not really believing what she predicted. But she was right. In addition to the Light Phone, there are numerous apps that lock you out of connectivity (Freedom app) for periods of time, apps (Moment) to measure how many times you reach for your phone, and how much time you’re spending looking at its screen, etc.

As Light Phone’s manifesto so aptly suggests, “Our phones have become our nervous habit, our invisible crutch. We love their illusion of productivity and stimulation that is socially acceptable to abuse. Multitasking is a myth, it is addictive and exhausting. It is glorified procrastination. When we consume so fast, there is no way for us to appreciate anything, and appreciation gives our lives meaning and purpose.” It goes further to suggest that we are so tethered to our iPhones that in today’s times, if you’re in a public place and you’re not staring down at your screen, but rather looking around – and God forbid – at people, some may think you’re a weirdo. 

There were many times like this during my 5 days of Silence – while standing in line at a busy restaurant, or at a grocery store – and it was very noticeable that I didn’t have my iPhone to bail me out of the “just waiting” in line without something to occupy my attention. I didn’t mind so much as I love to connect with people and love opportunities for serendipity to happen, which are more likely to happen if not looking down at your phone screen, but most people who are tethered to their devices go a little crazy without them in these social situations when so many others are looking down at their phones.

I remember what artist Amanda Palmer shared in a conversation with Tim Ferriss about eye contact, and how powerful it is to look at someone, and for the other person to be seen. “I think eye contact is very hard for a lot of us because it’s so threatening. And the more disconnected we are and the more time we spend looking into our devices and barely looking into each other, the more threatening it is to keep and hold somebody’s gaze. But God, is it powerful. Looking someone in the eye … I often feel it’s the antidote for what is ailing us.” She added, “We do not connect with each other at nearly the level we could, and though we live in close proximity, and though we sit on the subway with each other, and though we have a wide variety of things connecting us, a lot of us are really alone.” I couldn’t say it better, and it is tethered-ness to our devices that is mostly to blame for this lost opportunity for meaningful human connection.

I wrote a lot. Thanks to an earlier challenge, I have been writing daily since Jan. 18. With no devices and contact with others, I “found” a lot more time, and was even more inspired to write. Josh Waitzkin, an American chess player, martial arts competitor, and author of a book I highly recommend, called The Art of Learning, is a proponent of distraction-free time – something he calls empty space. One way he limits distractions is by not using social media and seldom using email. “I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process,” he explains. With no tethered-ness to devices, I had a bounty of empty space, and I felt inspired and imaginative. I filled more than one journal, and something about the content being hand-written makes it feel more authentic. Unlike our online posts, it is “un-edited,” and the writing is a “first take.”

I did feel like I had more time. Take away the iPhone, music, books and entertainment, not to mention talking or engaging in any interactions with others, and you have a lot more time, and energy, available. For many, I’m sure a digital detox like mine would result in significantly increased productivity. While I have no problems with being productive, I do want longer periods of uninterrupted time for purposes of doing deep, more focused work. Being completely disconnected from my devices and all forms of communication and entertainment provided more time.

As adults we often say, “Where did the time go?” We always wish for the time to slow down. I’ve found the way to do it: Reduce distractions. Hours stretched during my five days. While young people may not find this attractive, for me, and most adults I know, we’re willing to try anything if it promises time will (at least seemingly) slow down.

I missed my husband’s texts wishing me a great day, which he sends me every morning on weekdays.

I missed contact with Jerry and the boys each evening, and hearing how their days went. I missed being able to wish Hayden good luck at his basketball game that was Saturday, and Wolf good luck at his ski meet, which was Friday and Saturday. (Note: I was surprised and so touched when I returned to my AirBnB – an enchanting guesthouse on an organic farm – to find a bouquet of flowers and a card from Jerry and the boys.)

I also missed the random texts I get from Wolf or Hayden when they text to ask me what’s for dinner, or to ask for a ride home from school or practice. I was lucky to find that the boys and Jerry had each written me notes on the pages at the back of my journal, so I read those every day, and that was a meaningful gesture! I do love hand-written notes and letters, and technology has led to a reduction in this (lost) art.

A note from my youngest son in the back of my journal. (He always calls me “Little Mommy,” and I always call him “Big Fin.”)

I missed random texting to/from friends, and to/from my parents and siblings.

I missed having navigation – and this also made me realize how lazy we have become as a result of it. Without Google Maps’ voice guiding me or telling me where to turn, how far to go before reaching my destination, etc., I had to pay attention to street signs and landmarks to find and remember my way. And, as if that wasn’t challenging enough for me, I had to use a (gasp) paper map handout to find my way to local trailheads. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that!

I missed listening to music. Not often, but on a few occasions, when I was writing, or driving to/from from my AirBnB to the workshop each day. I missed it for the energy it provides and the contemplations that particular music inspires in me. But I also came to realize that often I listen to music to perhaps “hide” from some of my thoughts, or to escape from some of the thoughts I’m having that I am not ready to confront, or that are uncomfortable. It was interesting to realize that listening to music can be a crutch for me sometimes. I will be more intentional when I listen to it now.

Interestingly, I wrote many of these insights during the last night of my technology ban. Just thinking about re-connecting to my iPhone and Facebook caused me some anxiety. I could actually feel tension in my shoulders and neck as I thought about it. I really wanted to be intentional about how I “re-entered” with my connectivity. I didn’t want to go from nothing to blowing it wide open again so suddenly. I was certain about not wanting to be as tethered to it as I was before the Silent retreat experience.  

Upon re-entry, when I did log in to Facebook on my laptop, there were 82 notifications awaiting my attention.

It’s been almost two weeks since I re-connected with my iPhone and Facebook. I’m happy to report that I’m doing better. Not having the Facebook app on my iPhone has helped me limit the amount of time I’m on Facebook, and has made me more intentional (and “miserly”) about what I capture to eventually share. I am trying out a new strategy that involves batching and boundaries, and I feel hopeful!

Two things I want to close with that are related, and I am inspired to share with you…

When at LAX, waiting for my flight, and return to the Frontier of Wyoming, I had an hour to kill so I walked about 6,000 steps (thanks FitBit app) around the terminal. As I walked, I paid close attention to all of the people. I would about 8 or 9 out of 10 people, had cell phones and were looking down at their screens. (I did have a brainstorm during this observation: Think about how much fun it might be for you and your travel companion(s) to disperse in the airport and not be able to use your phone, and then try to find each other. Sort of like looking for Easter eggs only looking for travel partners in an airport without the use of cell phones)

Another idea: If you want to be different – to be a nonconformist – dare to not carry your phone around. You will definitely stand out! 

The last thing I want to share is something wonderful and magical – and why it will be hard to convince myself ever to completely quit Facebook and social media.

Last Tuesday, on my drive from Ojai to Los Angeles, I stopped on the Pacific Crest Highway, to do a quick hike up to the top of Mugu Peak. At about 10:45am, right after starting, I asked a woman, who was coming down the trail, which trail I was on, and how to get to Mugu Peak. She was friendly and helpful, and told me about the two trails I could choose from, and she gave me approximate distances for each. That was it, no other information was exchanged, and no discussion ensued, and we were off in our opposite directions.

Then, I posted a photo the following Friday on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) of the U.S. flag waving on the summit of Mugu Peak. Soon after, I received a comment on the photo from someone who indicated she was there about the same time that day because she recognized the misty, dramatic clouds that were obscuring the mountain in the background of the flag. I then responded and showed her another photo I had posted from the same hike of the orange poppies. She responded, asking where those were, saying she didn’t see those. I told her I captured the poppies photo on the alternative trail I took on the way down from the peak.

I then took a long shot and asked her if she was by chance the woman I stopped to ask about the trails leading to the mountain at about 10:45, and lo and behold, it was. Now, that’s crazy –and it is social media at its best and most magical. And it’s one of the reasons I’m in love with it.

I will be getting more clear on my next steps in confronting my tethered-ness and how to best continue my relationship with social media and my iPhone while not being as attached and tethered to them. 

I have come to the conclusion that the iPhone and Facebook are not only not bad for me, they bring me great enrichment and joy for all of the reasons stated near the top of this blog post. Rather, my attachment and tethered-ness to them are. 

As you can hopefully appreciate, this here is a tall mountain for me to climb. So tall that I cannot see the top. Articulating it here is a good first step, and at least, my journey is under way.

Thank you for reading, and for your support. I hope you’ll check back here often, or subscribe to this blog. 

Related posts:

What I Learned In Silence

Falling in love with Ojai, California

——————————————————————————————————————————–

I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.

Solitude – We All Need It, and Most of Us Do Not Get Enough Of It

October 31st, 2016

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.” -Henry David Thoreau

Howdy!

Howdy!

One day in Alaska’s Brooks Range, on my NOLS course in 2011, we got turned around and we weren’t sure of our location. After some hours of backpacking, we were feeling a little demoralized and uncertain so we took off our heavy packs, and got our big topographical maps out before going about trying to figure out where we were.

The Brooks Range is a 700-mile-long mountain range that stretches from West to East in the far north of Alaska. The country is remote and vast and wild. There are no roads and no trails in the Brooks Range. So, in order to determine your location, you have to try to match the land formations around you with features on the map. It can be laborious. After a while of not figuring out where we were, a couple of us grew impatient, myself included. I just wanted to move, in any direction. I was tired of not going anywhere, and tired of not figuring out the answer to our question. One of my course-mates said to me, “With all due respect, I don’t think it’s a waste of time to figure out where we are, so we can figure out where we’re going.”

I’ve never forgotten those words. Such wisdom! And not only in our Brooks Range situation, but even more importantly, when it comes to life. We cannot expect to realize our dreams, or achieve our goals, without first having a very good understanding of who we are, and where we’re at. Self awareness is the single most important, and first step, to not only living our best (epic) life, but to being our best version.

By design, I do a lot of things for work. Mostly, I’m a life and leadership coach, keynote presenter, leadership developer and adventure guide. People hire me when they want to take stock of their life or leadership, or both, and to help them make changes.

In order to be content and self aware, we must have some regular intervals of time each week when we’re available only to ourselves in order to listen to our thoughts, including the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m not a coach for everyone. Anyone who works with me can expect to do a deep dive into Self. It’s that important to a fulfilled life, and it’s not easy work.

As an Emotional Intelligence consultant, but more importantly, as someone who likes people, and who values relationships, I feel strongly that listening is the most important skill we ought to develop. (Unfortunately we are not taught to listen, which in my humble opinion, is a tragedy, and a lost opportunity.) Most of us are not very good listeners. Right now, take a second to think about all of the people you know and are in relationship with. Can you think of one or two who are really good listeners? These are people who listen to you so closely that you feel as if you’re the only person in the world when you’re with them, and they’re listening to you. It’s so uncommon to find these great listeners, and when you do, it’s a real gift. If you have any of them in your life, cherish and thank them. Seeing and hearing a person is one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone.

But we also need to be great listeners of ourselves. 

I hike about 1,000 miles a year. Half of these are alone, and it’s not because I can’t find anyone to hike with. Rather, I yearn for a lot of time alone. Solitude has made all of the difference in my life. In fact, I think it probably deserves more credit for my contentment than anything else.

I know I am frequently referencing books, and I’m sorry if I overwhelm you with book recommendations, but I’m a voracious reader. I practically eat books, and they are a tremendous source of inspiration, and learning, for me. I just finished reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit (who is also the author of Wanderlust, and The Faraway Nearby.  I recommend all of these books).

First of all, what’s not to love about the title, which won my heart before I even read the description for it. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit captures it perfectly for me: 

“Summer breezes caressed me, my legs stepped forward as though possessed of their own appetites, and the mountains kept promising. I stopped before the trees were gone, not ready that day to disappear entirely into the vastness. Perhaps these spaces are the best corollary I have found to truth, to clarity, to independence.”

14

Time alone, and solitude, is not empty, but “full.” Thanks to Joel Krieger for this photo of me in my backyard, near Temple Peak and Temple Lake, in the Wind River Range.

I wish I could take the credit for falling in love with, and discovering the value of solitude, but my love for it happened by accident. When I was 21 years old, I lost my Division I basketball scholarship. It was my most spectacular failure. I wasn’t a good enough player, and there was someone else who was better and more deserving of my scholarship, so my scholarship was given to another player.

I was devastated, and a long way from home. Most of my friends were still on the basketball team, so losing my scholarship meant also losing significant time with my friends. I started spending a lot of time alone, hiking Mount Sentinel on the edge of campus. Until then, I always thought people who went to the movies alone, or who hiked, or did anything alone, were lonely people. Boy was I wrong about that. In fact, lonely and alone are not the same things. I am blessed that I was only 21 years old when I discovered the value of time spent alone, because now I am 48 years old, and the solitude I enjoy has been a blessing over the years. And, speaking of blessings, the “spectacular failure” turned out to be one of my greatest blessings.

We hear a lot about being our “Authentic Self,” and in leadership we hear a lot about being an “Authentic Leader.” Both are hard to be if we don’t even know who we are. I think how we live is how we lead, so self realization is the first step whether your motive is to live your best life or to have a positive and effective leadership impact.

We discover our authentic self during time alone, taking stock, listening to our thoughts, feeling our emotions, asking ourselves important questions and then giving ourselves time and space to answer them.

So, solitude is a gift. Most of us don’t get enough of it. As a coach, there are three excuses I hear most often for not getting enough – or any – solitude.

The first excuse is a common excuse for not doing a lot of things we want and need to do. It is the, “I don’t have time. I’m so busy, and I can’t find the time” excuse. I think it was writer Elizabeth Gilbert who said, “We don’t find the time; we make the time.” I couldn’t agree more. We all have 24 hours in a day. I often challenge people I work with and/or know to wake up 15 minutes earlier, and to simply go to a dark room and sit alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes before officially starting their day. Using this time to start a mindfulness practice is also beneficial, and is another good way to introduce yourself to solitude.

The second excuse – and one that I commonly hear from people who hire me as their coach – is, “It’s uncomfortable.” I agree. Being alone with our thoughts can be very uncomfortable. It can be difficult to listen to our thoughts because they’re not always positive. This time alone can facilitate a sort of reckoning. We are forced to confront the brutal truths of our life. It is hard to run or hide from one’s self if left alone with our thoughts. This is one of the reasons I think solitude is so valuable. How can we be a truth teller to our self if we’re not aware of the hard truths in our life?

I’m not immune. My time alone is often uncomfortable. Tears frequently come during solitude. The quiet and lack of others around help me to feel and experience and process my emotions at a deeper level. And, as someone who struggles with self criticism, I find that solitude helps me to be more self compassionate. I’m guessing this is the result of having a better understanding of myself. My work at self compassion has only just begun, and I have a long ways to go, but I do think solitude is helping.

I’ve worked with about 125 individual leaders during the last six years, and I think every one of them struggles, at least sometimes, with self criticism. We tend to be hard on ourselves, and it is my belief that time alone leads to understanding of self, which leads to more compassion for, and less judgment of, self, and others.

One question I challenge people I know and work with to ask themselves is, “What am I needing?” This is such an important question, and most of us do not give ourselves time and space to consider the question, let alone the possible answers to it. It is much easier to live in denial, and to not confront or address personal challenges, weaknesses or pains if we avoid making ourselves aware of them. But this lack of awareness also prevents us from making changes that could be significant to our life.

I’m reading a fantastic book called Journal of a Solitude, by the late May Sarton. Sarton was an American novelist, poet and memoirist who suffered from bouts of depression. Journal Of A Solitude is a book that is one year’s worth of Sarton’s journaling, which includes some pretty dark times. Here are just two of the many gems I have highlighted in my dog-eared copy of the book:

“I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my ‘real’ life again at last,” begins Sarton, in Journal of a Solitude. “That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life, unless there is time alone in which to explore what is happening or what has happened.”

And, another gem from the book:“There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”

Sarton’s book is inspiring to me, in ways I can’t quite articulate other than to say I have my own dark pools and depressive moments, and reading of Sarton’s own struggles helps me feel not as alone in my personal struggles. Like I often do, I use a writer’s words to reference and describe my own feelings when I can’t find the words to do so on my own. I highly recommend the book, which is hard to find, probably due to Maria Popova’s recent recommendation of the book in her amazing Brain Pickings. (I also recommend subscribing to Brain Pickings. For some years now, a highlight for me every Sunday morning is receiving what Popova curates and compiles for our inspiration and benefit.)

The third excuse I hear, and hear most often is more or less, “Solitude is boring.” As a society, we have come to view boredom as a problem to solve. Think about the last time you had to wait for anything – out front of the school waiting for a son or daughter, in the waiting room of a clinic, waiting in line at the post office or grocery store, or at a stop light or stop sign, or in TSA line at the airport – or well, just about in any situation. At the first glimpse of free time, most of us reach for our smartphone. (I read somewhere recently that the average U.S. American adult reaches for his/her phone 150 times a day. This is staggering, and I believe it.)

I work with many creative people, and in my presentations to leaders, and in my coaching work with them, I like to make a case for boredom. In order for us to brainstorm new ideas – to have Aha moments and new solutions to old problems – we must allow our mind to wander. Our mind wanders only when we allow it to – when we’re bored.

Joseph Campbell, from his Power of Myth, writes about the important influence that solitude has on one’s creativity, whether toward self or a creative endeavor.

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

And another favorite, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea, a book I especially recommend to women: “Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone.”

Try to resist the temptation to reach for your phone, or fill/use up the little bits of free time the next time you are required to wait or have a moment to not do anything. It’s hard work, AND it’s worth it. Note to Self, a great podcast I listen to, did a series of challenges they called “Bored and Brilliant” a while back that were designed to “guide you to less phone time and more creativity.” Thousands of people signed up for the challenges, which included things like not reaching for your phone during public transit, not using your phone as a camera to instead “see the world through your eyes not your screen,” delete apps, and other challenges.  (I have one friend/client who is an artist, and he, like me, is wanting to create more. We are toying with an idea of disconnecting for 30 days for purposes of seeing what we could each create by putting to good use the “boredom” we would gain.)

As far as our rampant use of smartphones, which help us avoid boredom, and keep us from being alone with our thoughts, let the record show that I’m guilty as charged! Technology is a Godsend for me, and my work. It enabled our first company (Yellowstone Journal/YellowstonePark.com, NationalParkTrips) to do world-class work from the the Frontier of Wyoming, and it enables me to reach and serve clients from around the country even as I work in an RV parked by the river in the foothills of Wyoming’s Wind River Range. I think I mostly use technology for good. Facebook, in particular, has facilitated meaningful friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise made, and has enriched so many of my connections with friends and family. It is also a marketing tool for me, as well as a place for me to share things that I find inspiring, and worth sharing with the world.

But I am finding that my almost-constant tethered-ness to my phone and social media is also not always serving me. It’s addictive, and distracting, and it probably limits me at least as much as it helps and enriches me. This is a real conundrum, and something I’ve been working on addressing for some time now. (Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, and also the work of Derek Sivers, among others, are causing me to take serious stock of my use of technology, and big change could be coming for me as a result. I haven’t sorted it all out just yet, though!)

University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues have studied people when in solitude. For one experiment, people were instructed to sit alone, with only their thoughts, in an empty lab room for 15 minutes. The only thing in the room was a button they could push, and if they pushed it, it would self-administer an electrical shock. The results were startling: Even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, half of all participants shocked themselves at least once, the team reported in Science. That’s newsworthy, so I’ll be redundant: Half of us would rather shock ourselves than sit alone with our thoughts for 15 minutes. I can’t help myself – this is shocking!

Sherry Turkle is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle has been studying the psychology of online connectivity for more than 30 years, and she is the author of two books I recommend, Alone Together, and Reclaiming Conversation. The latter, which investigates how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity, is a cautionary tale for us, especially for parents and teachers. (But for the record, I think everyone ought to read the book.)

According to Turkle, “Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” So just the presence of a phone, which has become a way to “solve” boredom, prevents us from going deep with people.

One finding of Turkle’s that is a surprise, and warrants our attention, is that our capacity for solitude actually helps us be more empathetic with others.

“In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.”

Hear hear. I cannot say it better.  

If I were asked what single advice I would offer, it would be Pay Attention. And learning how to pay attention starts when we’re alone.

I hope this blog post will inspire you to carve out more time for you to be alone. 

Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it.

10496056_10203014196050104_6231324273390023972_o-2

“A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.” (Rumi) Photo: Solitude in the Cirque of the Towers.