Digital Wellness and Self-care: My Complicated Relationship with Tech



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interstories


Digital Wellness and Self-care: My Complicated Relationship with Tech


by Elizabeth Graff

3 June 2019



Image

When it comes to my relationship with technology, the classic Facebook idiom “it’s complicated” probably describes it best. And I say that 100% unironically.

I mean, we’re definitely “in a relationship,” technology and I. And it’s gotten pretty serious. That much is clear. We spend most of our time together — we wake up together, we work together, we exercise together, we learn together, we Netflix and chill together. Sometimes, I feel like we’re married. Or at least in an open relationship. After all, we both see other people. My husband doesn’t seem to mind. He’s in a relationship with tech too.

Like most relationships, technology and I have had our ups and downs. Over the years, we’ve gone through brief periods of separation, and I will even admit to having fantasized about divorce, packing a bag and fleeing to some idyllic commune off the grid where tech can’t find me. And if we’re being brutally honest here, in my darker moments, I daydream about being widowed. (Please don’t tell.) But like it or not, I don’t think our relationship is going to end. It’s til death do us part. And I have a sinking feeling I’m going to die first.



...Some soul searching later.

As a learning designer / educational technologist (and a remote worker to boot), digital technology is both the tool I use to work and the subject of my work. I can’t cut it out of my life, and I don’t actually want to. I definitely don’t want to run off to some verdant farm in rural Ireland with cob houses and composting toilets where we grow what we eat and bathe in recycled rainwater. Where children play with handmade toys and we all read books by candlelight after the sun goes down and sing folk songs late into the night. Sigh. That sounds… terrible.

But, I digress. Realistically, it’s not a question of whether or when we use technology, but rather, how. How can we use digital tech mindfully? How can we use it intentionally, as individuals and on a communal level? And what does it even mean to use technology with intention?

My colleagues and I have been discussing these questions for a while now. Given that digital technology is here to stay, we’re asking ourselves how we might work with technology to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing project of human development. How might we use tech to support others (and ourselves) in living fulfilling lives, connecting with one another and growing what matters? What would a technology like that look like? How would it work? (Hint: Our answer is called interstory. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on that.)

In short, we’ve been thinking about how to move the conversation about digital wellness beyond one that merely focuses on reducing screen-time, because — as much as I joke about absconding into the night — let’s get real. Our goal shouldn’t be zero minutes using our devices. Not only would that be unrealistic, but, in my heart of hearts, I don’t actually think a screen-free world would be ideal. Without my phone, how would I, say, keep in touch with my friends and family who live halfway across the country? Carrier pigeon? Singing telegraph? An admittedly fun, if pithy form of communication.


Well now it's personal.

Recently, I’ve been reexamining (and, in the process, redesigning) the role that digital tech plays in my own life. I started by asking myself two simple questions, which I’m sharing below in case you would like to engage in a similar exploration for yourself:

  1. What is truly important to me?
  2. In what ways is tech helping me actualize what’s important to me?

The first question was relatively easy to answer. In no particular order, my list includes: Staying informed, curious and engaged; staying active and healthy — physically and emotionally; contributing meaningfully to the world; and finally, connecting with others and continually deepening my relationships.

However, in order to answer the second question (“In what ways is tech helping me actualize what’s important to me?”), I needed to get a better sense of how I actually use my devices. So, I installed an app on my phone. It’s called Moment, and it tracks my phone usage. I’ve had it on my phone for about a week, and as any physicist worth her salt could have told me, its mere presence has already changed my behavior. Just knowing that I’m tracking my phone usage has made me more mindful about it. Now, before picking up my phone I ask myself, “Why am I turning to my phone? Are my reasons aligned with what really matters to me?” In other words, am I about to check the weather because I need to know what to wear for my run? (Great!) Or is it to check my email out of boredom? (Less great.)


Image

And while I don’t have anything similar installed on my computer, I’m finding that this meta-awareness is transferring over to my other digital habits. Am I opening my internet browser to do some research for work? (Cool.) Follow along to a yoga video? (Nice!) Catch up on last night’s late night comedy clips while I eat my lunch? (Not the worst thing in the world…) Mindlessly zone out on YouTube for five 20 47!? minutes? (Eeep.)


Tech for life.

Having a better sense of my technology habits, I was able to return to my second question: In what ways is tech helping me actualize what’s important to me? (And, of course, the corollary: Where is it getting in the way?)

When it comes to staying informed, curious and engaged, I’m pretty satisfied with how I use technology. I subscribe to several news outlets’ daily briefing newsletters and listen to lots of podcasts. But when it comes to the other three areas that I identified, I turned to my team for ideas.

In the remainder of this blog post, I’ve compiled a list of the digital apps, products and platforms that members of our team use for some of the most important areas of our lives: our health, our work and our relationships. These are the ones that really make a difference for us.


Health: The tech that helps us stay active and healthy -- physically and emotionally.

1. Glo

This yoga, meditation and Pilates app provides users with an ever-expanding library of classes. Practices range in length from five to 90 minutes and are offered for all levels from beginner to advanced. Members of our team love Glo because it allows users to practice yoga from amazing teachers at home or while they’re on the road. Members of our team have used it everywhere from Taipei to Perth to Stockholm. If you’re looking to deepen your at-home yoga or Pilates practice, check out Glo.

2. Nike Running Club

This app features on-demand running workouts with world-class coaches. Members of our team love the app’s guided recovery runs, learning how athletes think and receiving tips for improving their runs. Our co-founder Anna’s favorite guided runs are with Headspace Founder Andy Puddicombe and Nike Run Club Coach Blue. It’s like having your own personal running coach right there alongside you wherever you go. Pretty cool.

3, 4, 5 and 6. Headspace, Calm, Simple Habit and Ten Percent Happier

Our team has also been experimenting with different mindfulness apps. Though the apps we’ve tried share certain features, we each have our own favorites. Picking an app for you boils down to price point and personal preference for interface, aesthetics and the narrator’s voice. I’ll describe all four below and let you decide which sounds like the most natural fit for you.

Headspace has a friendly and approachable cartoon-y aesthetic. It features helpful instructional animations and guided meditations that are easy to use. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can toggle the meditations to last for longer or shorter periods of time. All the meditations are narrated by former monk Andy Puddicombe. Puddicombe’s down-to-earth recordings are grounded in experience and his soothing British voice makes users feel like they’re in good hands. The app also features meditations for kids.

Calm’s interface features beautiful, full-screen videos of natural settings. The app offers new daily meditations each day; a library of bedtime stories to help users fall asleep; “masterclasses” taught by experts on topics like happiness, parenting, gratitude and mindful eating; calming music; and meditations for kids as young as three. Most of the meditations are narrated by peppy, American mindfulness instructor Tamara Levitt.

With a large selection of five-minute meditations created by more than 75 different teachers, Simple Habit was specifically designed for busy people who want an easy way to squeeze meditations into a packed schedule. The app includes many different playlists and topics to choose from (e.g., happiness, family and kids, health, couples and fitness).

Ten Percent Happier is a meditation app built, in its own words, for “fidgety skeptics.” Users get access to highly polished video courses led by respected meditation teachers. Most courses feature interviews with the experts conducted by TV news anchor Dan Harris who first became interested in meditation after experiencing a panic attack on national television. His no-nonsense personality sets the smart, practical tone of the app. Ten Percent Happier also includes audio meditations on a range of topics and provides users with the ability to send questions to meditation coaches who typically reply within a day.

7. Momentum

Momentum straddles the line between mindfulness and productivity tech — in a good way. When you add the Chrome extension to your browser, magical things start to happen. At the beginning of the day, you input your intention in your own words. It can be as simple as “breathe” or as action-oriented as “submit grant proposal.” You can also add items to a collapsable to-do list. After that, each time you open a new tab, you’re greeted with a reminder of your intention, your to-do items, the time, the weather and an inspiring quote, all set against a beautiful backdrop. In a subtle but powerful way, being reminded of your intention helps you stay on track. Try it out for yourself. It only takes a few seconds to set up, and it just might keep you from wasting time on YouTube.


Work: The tech that helps us with productivity, deep work and time management.


8. Asana

Our team uses Asana to manage our workflow. It’s so useful that we’ve actually stopped sending emails internally (for the most part). Instead, we simply use Asana to assign tasks to one another (and ourselves). And because Asana integrates with Dropbox and Google Drive, we can attach related files directly into tasks, which makes collaboration so much easier. We’ve also started experimenting with other ways of using Asana. So, in addition to creating tasks lists for our projects, we now use it to create meeting agendas and compile ideas from asynchronous brainstorming sessions. To learn the ins and outs of Asana, check out the “She Did It Her Way” podcast episode 10 Ways on How to Streamline Your Business and Life Using Asana.

9. OneTab

Do you ever find yourself with too many tabs open in your computer browser? I certainly do. Or, at least, I did before I started using OneTab. OneTab is a browser extension that helps you organize your tabs.

After installing the extension, a little blue icon will appear at the top of your browser. When you click it, the extension converts all of your tabs into a list of links, which you can later restore. You can give lists titles, combine lists and even share lists as web pages. I find this extension insanely useful and recommend whenever I can.

10. Forest

I was introduced to Forest a few years ago by a friend of mine who (unrelatedly?) successfully defended her PhD dissertation last month. She used this Pomodoro Technique-inspired app to curb her phone addiction and gamify her productivity throughout her demanding graduate program.

For those of us who are prone to wandering down smartphone-enabled black holes (i.e., all of us), this app is a game-changer. Start by setting a timer for the duration of time that you intend to focus — anywhere from 10 to 120 minutes. Then, press the “plant” button. When you start the timer, the app “plants” a seed, which grows into a tree while you work. Longer stretches of time grow bigger trees. If you use your phone to do something else, the app will detect your activity and “kill” your tree. However, if you complete the block of time without getting distracted, you get a notification that your tree has grown, and you can plant your tree in your plot of land. At the end of the day, you can see how many trees you planted and how many trees you killed in a visual representation of how focused you were and how many times you got distracted that day.

But it’s not just about digital trees. Users also earn coins for each successfully completed focus session, which they can save up to plant realtrees for farmers in developing countries through Forest’s sponsor, Trees For The Future. As of the writing of this blog post, they’ve planted more than 400,000 trees!

11. Self-Control App

Sometimes, we need some self-imposed tough love. If you need a harsher approach than the Forest app provides, this app allows you to block your own access to distracting websites for up to 24 hours at a time. After downloading the app, simply add the offending domain names to your “Blacklist,” (e.g., “facebook.com”), decide how long you want to block the websites and click “start.” That’s it. Until your time is up, you won’t be able to access those sites — even if you restart your computer or delete the app!

Relationships: The tech that helps us connect with others.

When it comes to connecting with others and continually deepening our existing relationships, our team tends to rely on the old standbys: FaceTime, WhatsApp, texting and of course, good old-fashioned phone calls.

But we’re also launching our own online community of people who are intentional about creating lives that they love. We envision it growing into the center of human development on the web. It’s a place for engaging in conversations that matter with people all over the world. It’s called interstory.

Will you join us?

interstory is a virtual, global community for people who are passionate about growing what matters to them. Whether that means growing their careers, their relationships or some other aspect of their lives, our job is to support the members of our community in pursuing their passions by providing them with coaching, powerful tools and a community of cheerleaders. We encourage each other to make the types of changes that lead to transformation.




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Digital Wellness and Self-care: My Complicated Relationship with Tech


by Elizabeth Graff

3 June 2019



Image

When it comes to my relationship with technology, the classic Facebook idiom “it’s complicated” probably describes it best. And I say that 100% unironically.

I mean, we’re definitely “in a relationship,” technology and I. And it’s gotten pretty serious. That much is clear. We spend most of our time together — we wake up together, we work together, we exercise together, we learn together, we Netflix and chill together. Sometimes, I feel like we’re married. Or at least in an open relationship. After all, we both see other people. My husband doesn’t seem to mind. He’s in a relationship with tech too.

Like most relationships, technology and I have had our ups and downs. Over the years, we’ve gone through brief periods of separation, and I will even admit to having fantasized about divorce, packing a bag and fleeing to some idyllic commune off the grid where tech can’t find me. And if we’re being brutally honest here, in my darker moments, I daydream about being widowed. (Please don’t tell.) But like it or not, I don’t think our relationship is going to end. It’s til death do us part. And I have a sinking feeling I’m going to die first.




Some soul searching later...

As a learning designer / educational technologist (and a remote worker to boot), digital technology is both the tool I use to work and the subject of my work. I can’t cut it out of my life, and I don’t actually want to. I definitely don’t want to run off to some verdant farm in rural Ireland with cob houses and composting toilets where we grow what we eat and bathe in recycled rainwater. Where children play with handmade toys and we all read books by candlelight after the sun goes down and sing folk songs late into the night. Sigh. That sounds… terrible.

But, I digress. Realistically, it’s not a question of whether or when we use technology, but rather, how. How can we use digital tech mindfully? How can we use it intentionally, as individuals and on a communal level? And what does it even mean to use technology with intention?

My colleagues and I have been discussing these questions for a while now. Given that digital technology is here to stay, we’re asking ourselves how we might work with technology to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing project of human development. How might we use tech to support others (and ourselves) in living fulfilling lives, connecting with one another and growing what matters? What would a technology like that look like? How would it work? (Hint: Our answer is called interstory. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on that.)

In short, we’ve been thinking about how to move the conversation about digital wellness beyond one that merely focuses on reducing screen-time, because — as much as I joke about absconding into the night — let’s get real. Our goal shouldn’t be zero minutes using our devices. Not only would that be unrealistic, but, in my heart of hearts, I don’t actually think a screen-free world would be ideal. Without my phone, how would I, say, keep in touch with my friends and family who live halfway across the country? Carrier pigeon? Singing telegraph? An admittedly fun, if pithy form of communication.




Well now it's personal.

Recently, I’ve been reexamining (and, in the process, redesigning) the role that digital tech plays in my own life. I started by asking myself two simple questions, which I’m sharing below in case you would like to engage in a similar exploration for yourself:

  1. What is truly important to me?
  2. In what ways is tech helping me actualize what’s important to me?

The first question was relatively easy to answer. In no particular order, my list includes: Staying informed, curious and engaged; staying active and healthy — physically and emotionally; contributing meaningfully to the world; and finally, connecting with others and continually deepening my relationships.

However, in order to answer the second question (“In what ways is tech helping me actualize what’s important to me?”), I needed to get a better sense of how I actually use my devices. So, I installed an app on my phone. It’s called Moment, and it tracks my phone usage. I’ve had it on my phone for about a week, and as any physicist worth her salt could have told me, its mere presence has already changed my behavior. Just knowing that I’m tracking my phone usage has made me more mindful about it. Now, before picking up my phone I ask myself, “Why am I turning to my phone? Are my reasons aligned with what really matters to me?” In other words, am I about to check the weather because I need to know what to wear for my run? (Great!) Or is it to check my email out of boredom? (Less great.)


Image

And while I don’t have anything similar installed on my computer, I’m finding that this meta-awareness is transferring over to my other digital habits. Am I opening my internet browser to do some research for work? (Cool.) Follow along to a yoga video? (Nice!) Catch up on last night’s late night comedy clips while I eat my lunch? (Not the worst thing in the world…) Mindlessly zone out on YouTube for five 20 47!? minutes? (Eeep.)




Tech for life.

Having a better sense of my technology habits, I was able to return to my second question: In what ways is tech helping me actualize what’s important to me? (And, of course, the corollary: Where is it getting in the way?)

When it comes to staying informed, curious and engaged, I’m pretty satisfied with how I use technology. I subscribe to several news outlets’ daily briefing newsletters and listen to lots of podcasts. But when it comes to the other three areas that I identified, I turned to my team for ideas.

In the remainder of this blog post, I’ve compiled a list of the digital apps, products and platforms that members of our team use for some of the most important areas of our lives: our health, our work and our relationships. These are the ones that really make a difference for us.


Health: The tech that helps us stay active and healthy -- physically and emotionally.

1. Glo

This yoga, meditation and Pilates app provides users with an ever-expanding library of classes. Practices range in length from five to 90 minutes and are offered for all levels from beginner to advanced. Members of our team love Glo because it allows users to practice yoga from amazing teachers at home or while they’re on the road. Members of our team have used it everywhere from Taipei to Perth to Stockholm. If you’re looking to deepen your at-home yoga or Pilates practice, check out Glo.

2. Nike Running Club

This app features on-demand running workouts with world-class coaches. Members of our team love the app’s guided recovery runs, learning how athletes think and receiving tips for improving their runs. Our co-founder Anna’s favorite guided runs are with Headspace Founder Andy Puddicombe and Nike Run Club Coach Blue. It’s like having your own personal running coach right there alongside you wherever you go. Pretty cool.

3, 4, 5 and 6. Headspace, Calm, Simple Habit and Ten Percent Happier

Our team has also been experimenting with different mindfulness apps. Though the apps we’ve tried share certain features, we each have our own favorites. Picking an app for you boils down to price point and personal preference for interface, aesthetics and the narrator’s voice. I’ll describe all four below and let you decide which sounds like the most natural fit for you.

Headspace has a friendly and approachable cartoon-y aesthetic. It features helpful instructional animations and guided meditations that are easy to use. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can toggle the meditations to last for longer or shorter periods of time. All the meditations are narrated by former monk Andy Puddicombe. Puddicombe’s down-to-earth recordings are grounded in experience and his soothing British voice makes users feel like they’re in good hands. The app also features meditations for kids.

Calm’s interface features beautiful, full-screen videos of natural settings. The app offers new daily meditations each day; a library of bedtime stories to help users fall asleep; “masterclasses” taught by experts on topics like happiness, parenting, gratitude and mindful eating; calming music; and meditations for kids as young as three. Most of the meditations are narrated by peppy, American mindfulness instructor Tamara Levitt.

With a large selection of five-minute meditations created by more than 75 different teachers, Simple Habit was specifically designed for busy people who want an easy way to squeeze meditations into a packed schedule. The app includes many different playlists and topics to choose from (e.g., happiness, family and kids, health, couples and fitness).

Ten Percent Happier is a meditation app built, in its own words, for “fidgety skeptics.” Users get access to highly polished video courses led by respected meditation teachers. Most courses feature interviews with the experts conducted by TV news anchor Dan Harris who first became interested in meditation after experiencing a panic attack on national television. His no-nonsense personality sets the smart, practical tone of the app. Ten Percent Happier also includes audio meditations on a range of topics and provides users with the ability to send questions to meditation coaches who typically reply within a day.

7. Momentum

Momentum straddles the line between mindfulness and productivity tech — in a good way. When you add the Chrome extension to your browser, magical things start to happen. At the beginning of the day, you input your intention in your own words. It can be as simple as “breathe” or as action-oriented as “submit grant proposal.” You can also add items to a collapsable to-do list. After that, each time you open a new tab, you’re greeted with a reminder of your intention, your to-do items, the time, the weather and an inspiring quote, all set against a beautiful backdrop. In a subtle but powerful way, being reminded of your intention helps you stay on track. Try it out for yourself. It only takes a few seconds to set up, and it just might keep you from wasting time on YouTube.


Work: The tech that helps us with productivity, deep work and time management.

8. Asana

Our team uses Asana to manage our workflow. It’s so useful that we’ve actually stopped sending emails internally (for the most part). Instead, we simply use Asana to assign tasks to one another (and ourselves). And because Asana integrates with Dropbox and Google Drive, we can attach related files directly into tasks, which makes collaboration so much easier. We’ve also started experimenting with other ways of using Asana. So, in addition to creating tasks lists for our projects, we now use it to create meeting agendas and compile ideas from asynchronous brainstorming sessions. To learn the ins and outs of Asana, check out the “She Did It Her Way” podcast episode 10 Ways on How to Streamline Your Business and Life Using Asana.

9. OneTab

Do you ever find yourself with too many tabs open in your computer browser? I certainly do. Or, at least, I did before I started using OneTab. OneTab is a browser extension that helps you organize your tabs.

After installing the extension, a little blue icon will appear at the top of your browser. When you click it, the extension converts all of your tabs into a list of links, which you can later restore. You can give lists titles, combine lists and even share lists as web pages. I find this extension insanely useful and recommend whenever I can.

10. Forest

I was introduced to Forest a few years ago by a friend of mine who (unrelatedly?) successfully defended her PhD dissertation last month. She used this Pomodoro Technique-inspired app to curb her phone addiction and gamify her productivity throughout her demanding graduate program.

For those of us who are prone to wandering down smartphone-enabled black holes (i.e., all of us), this app is a game-changer. Start by setting a timer for the duration of time that you intend to focus — anywhere from 10 to 120 minutes. Then, press the “plant” button. When you start the timer, the app “plants” a seed, which grows into a tree while you work. Longer stretches of time grow bigger trees. If you use your phone to do something else, the app will detect your activity and “kill” your tree. However, if you complete the block of time without getting distracted, you get a notification that your tree has grown, and you can plant your tree in your plot of land. At the end of the day, you can see how many trees you planted and how many trees you killed in a visual representation of how focused you were and how many times you got distracted that day.

But it’s not just about digital trees. Users also earn coins for each successfully completed focus session, which they can save up to plant realtrees for farmers in developing countries through Forest’s sponsor, Trees For The Future. As of the writing of this blog post, they’ve planted more than 400,000 trees!

11. Self-Control App

Sometimes, we need some self-imposed tough love. If you need a harsher approach than the Forest app provides, this app allows you to block your own access to distracting websites for up to 24 hours at a time. After downloading the app, simply add the offending domain names to your “Blacklist,” (e.g., “facebook.com”), decide how long you want to block the websites and click “start.” That’s it. Until your time is up, you won’t be able to access those sites — even if you restart your computer or delete the app!


Relationships: The tech that helps us connect with others.

When it comes to connecting with others and continually deepening our existing relationships, our team tends to rely on the old standbys: FaceTime, WhatsApp, texting and of course, good old-fashioned phone calls.

But we’re also launching our own online community of people who are intentional about creating lives that they love. We envision it growing into the center of human development on the web. It’s a place for engaging in conversations that matter with people all over the world. It’s called interstory.

Will you join us?

interstory is a virtual, global community for people who are passionate about growing what matters to them. Whether that means growing their careers, their relationships or some other aspect of their lives, our job is to support the members of our community in pursuing their passions by providing them with coaching, powerful tools and a community of cheerleaders. We encourage each other to make the types of changes that lead to transformation.