GUEST POST WITH MANJULA KHANNA
Our lives are techno-infused: the air is pregnant with possibility in an environment of constant connectivity and ever changing information.
We use technology for almost every aspect of our lives: work (laptops, Google), relationships (Facebook, JDate), entertainment (iTunes, iPod, YouTube), sustenance (Epicurious, Yelp, FreshDirect), communication (Skype, iPhone) to name just a few ways in which technology is spreading its net on our lives. Technology can be a wonderful tool for us to enhance and deepen our daily experiences. But it is also dangerous because it changes very fast, which leaves us frenzied. You had friends before, but you didn’t know all the details of their live everyday; you read magazines but you didn’t have to go through hundreds of articles a day; you worked hard, but the possibilities and challenges of starting a new business or excelling at work with more information were never greater. Infinite possibilities in a changing environment make us hyper-aware, hyper-tense and hyper-excited.
Spirituality — that ability to stay calm, focused and compassionate in a constant sea of change — is therefore more important than ever. Why? Because being focused is the key to being productive, and a productive day makes us happy. Productivity is not work related, it is goal related. You set some goals (like playing with your son, finishing a book, going to the gym) and you complete them at the right moment using the optimal amount of time.
Are you productive? Or do you find that things on your to-do-list tend to drop off. You can read self-help books and use fancy apps on your smart phone to help you get organized, but what you really need is something much deeper: restraint and discipline. We need to relearn the delayed gratification that our parents taught us when we were young children. As adults in a world of instant gratification, the discipline to be calm and focused has become very difficult for many of us. Yet for every one in a thousand people who we consider successful today (in any sphere – social, family, work, health), we’ll find that they are incredibly focused.
The road to focus begins with practicing restraint. The operative word here is “practice” because discipline is like a muscle that gets stronger each time you engage it. Here is a small habit you can practice for a week.
Pick a time in the evening when it will be possible for you to have 5 minutes alone everyday for a week. At that time, put your smart phone on mute and away in a drawer. The physical act is important, so don’t just put the phone on the table, put it in a drawer. Then go to your bedroom or another quiet corner of your house and take 6 long breaths. Count slowly in your mind as you breathe in the following way: Inhale (1,2,3,4), Hold your breath (1,2,3,4), Exhale (1,2,3,4,5,6), Hold your breath (1,2). Maintain focus. Don’t space out. Doing it 6 times should not take you much longer than a minute. And you’re done! Congratulations, you just started your practice of restraint. You are a yogi in training!
A 1-minute habit for a week: it seems almost laughably simple but we challenge you to do it everyday at around the same time. Over the next four weeks, keep increasing this time by a minute until you reach 5 minutes. You’ll be surprised at the long-term benefits of simple rituals when they are done mindfully. Next week, we’ll bring you another simple practice that will help you maintain spirituality in 21st century techno-life.
Manjula Khanna is a computer scientist and educator living in New York.
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.