Sometimes when I’m at the Tea Lounges and have a moment to myself, I like to sit at a remote corner table and pretend to be a customer. Then I just observe. I never tire of watching haggard, stressed out people plop themselves down, then slowly transform as they experience our warming teas and nourishing food. Watching their eyes get clearer and suddenly seeing – actually seeing – the person sitting across the table from them, and connecting with them for one quiet moment.
I also count how many people are twiddling away on their phones while eating, barely tasting their food or talking to their companions. I’m not against technology at all—I have as much tech as the next guy in San Francisco. The tools of today allow us this unprecedented ability to create movements and organizations and companies, and art.
But the very same tools are what keep us glued to our screens and couches, immobilized and frozen in our unhealthy habits. The medium of our devices and ever present information has become the message (as Marshall McLuhan so eloquently put it).
And the hard part is, technology is a drug and we’re predisposed to being junkies.
We’re hard-wired to become addicted to the constant stream of info on the internet. Our survival instinct wires us to notice anything new and out of the ordinary. The Harvard Business Review recently reported, “When dopamine levels increase, you’re inclined to do whatever it takes to maintain the ‘high’ they generate,” and when there isn’t a distraction, we look for something to replace it to get another hit. Another great reference on the effects of distraction is the TED talk by my friend Adam Gazzaley.
So how do you embrace this wild animal without getting eaten alive by it?
Tips for Keeping the Lion at Bay
I maintain this balance by regularly stepping back to regain strength. When I see myself succumbing to distraction, I immediately unplug. In particular I create space for awareness through the ritual of tea. And, I’m a big fan of pen and paper, analog-style. I haven’t found a better way to slow down, and get focused—and in turn to get more done while having more fun.
1. Clear out distraction.
That means silencing your cell phone, logging off of Facebook, and resisting the urge to keep going back. Don’t think you’re an addict? Try doing a technology detox for an entire day – no cell phones, TV, or Internet. It’s harder than you think and takes incredible willpower. But by creating an empty space, it’s amazing what comes in to fill the void—it can lead to intense bouts of creativity and productivity.
2. Welcome whatever comes up.
When you create that empty space, it’s not all pleasant stuff that surfaces. Everything you’ve been putting off thinking about may come rushing up, from worrying about your career path, to feeling your own mortality. Just sit with those feelings and let them flow through you, rather than running from them. And if something really big comes up, write it down on paper.
3. Face down fear.
When you stop running from your thoughts and feelings, you grow stronger. Every time you look fear in the eye and watch it shrink back, you grow a little taller. Exercise that willpower muscle and don’t back down.
4. Tackle things one at a time.
It’s easy to use the distraction of technology to pretend like you’re being productive, when in reality you are just procrastinating. Tackle the big issues first, one at a time, and don’t give in to the temptation to fritter away your time on unnecessary projects until the big ones are done.
5. Drink tea.
Drink. Focus. Breathe. Repeat. The ritual of tea is easy and cleansing. It provides us with a blank canvas for anything to arise–and that’s when magic happens. In those unobstructed moments of mental flow, sit with your pen and a blank notebook (not netbook!) and just let your thoughts run loose. Unhampered by the chains of distraction, your thoughts will take you in wondrous and surprising directions.
I’ve also found these books insightful and helpful in dealing with technology’s challenges and opportunities.
52 Changes for 2013, by Leo Babauta
Do the Work, by Stephen Pressfield
Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload, by Lucy Jo Palladino
Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore
What I’m Drinking Today
Today I’ve gone back to basics. Our Breakfast Blend from the Yunnan Province in China, with almond milk and honey, is a liquid dessert. And it has caffeine which I enjoy when I write. Malty, creamy, full bodied, and bit of lingering muscatel.
The next time you visit the Tea Lounges, I hope you’ll be the one with the phone in your pocket, focusing solely on your meal, tea, and the friends you’re with. Or, just put the tea aside and dive into email. Then put the phone aside and dive into tea. Just try it! You’ll see; in that brief moment of quietude, take the opportunity to refocus and re-center. You’ll leave better equipped to repel distraction and increase your productivity, as you dance with the wild beast one more time.
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