“I’m very concerned that our society is much more interested in information, than in wonder. In noise, rather than silence or reflection” – Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)
As humans, we find meaning in overcoming difficult things. When you’re faced with difficult challenges and overcome them, you become a stronger, happier person in the process. Overcoming the difficult times of the pandemic has by and large made us more resilient. However, it has also left us feeling more anxious and uncertain about the future and about stepping out into the world and engaging in life. We have increasingly become more dependent on our digital devices, which reduces our time in the real world and the opportunity to have meaningful relationships and experiences. Excessive screen time and especially the mindless and addictive nature of online shopping and gaming or scrolling news feeds and social media posts can strain our mental health, leading to a greater risk of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Technology has also co-opted our sense for adventure and wonder; GPS has made navigation easier but has also undermined our innate ability to navigate and explore our surroundings. Being able to solve the puzzle of getting lost or finding your car in a large parking lot keeps the brain healthy; wilderness survival shows and shared adventures through social media have made it too easy to live vicariously through our screens, replacing the reality of real adventures. Why would anyone ever want to go outside to risk being uncomfortable or take chances in the real world when they can do it virtually in the comfort of their house?
One of my favorite TED Talks is by polar explorer Ben Saunders, titled Why Bother Leaving the House. At the beginning of his talk, Saunders presents a question to his tech-savvy, information-hungry audience. “Does the constant supply of information steal our ability to imagine, or replace our dreams of achieving? After all, if it’s being done somewhere by someone and we can participate virtually, then why bother leaving your house?” He goes on to argue that we can spend our lives being passive spectators in front of our computer and TV screens, rather than actively participating in life. Saunders says that, “True inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and challenge. From stepping away from what’s comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown.” Saunders isn’t trying to encourage us to become polar explorers or mountaineers. Far from it. Rather, he just wants us to “sum up the courage” to put down our digital devices, step out of the comfortable confines of our houses, and engage with life more.
The stress and uncertainty of the pandemic and other worldly concerns has continued to keep many homebound, making us more reliant on our digital devices. The benefits of Zoom technology have lasted well beyond the pandemic. It’s allowed us to work remotely, connect with colleagues, friends, and family from long distances and participate in online fitness classes. I’ve expressed how Zoom has been vital in keeping my business afloat while helping us maintain our fitness and stay connected during the pandemic.
The convenience of Zoom is apparent and will be utilized for the unforeseen future. However, it does have drawbacks. It’s very easy to tune-in but check-out, as I’ve observed as your Zoom fitness instructor. Zoom participants have also informed me that it’s easier to be distracted while you’re in your home. With the option of turning your camera off you can juggle household chores or just sit and watch during a more challenging part of the class. Zoom also doesn’t fully replace in-person socialization. You don’t have the same sense of comfort, intimacy, and social interaction when viewing people on a screen in little boxes. In-person classes hold you more accountable and allow for better coaching guidance and social interactions from fellow participants. In-person coaching can also keep you more focused on the exercise being demonstrated which can lead to improved skill, performance, and ultimately better health outcomes.
Living a meaningful life while being more present in day-to-day activities is a challenge in today’s tech-dependent world. Even though the widespread safety mandates have been lifted and the risk of being infected has lessened, the fallout of the pandemic remains ever present. For many, the social isolation that people endured has affected social skills and the ability to feel comfortable in social situations. Plus, our motivation and desire to experience new things, take chances, or have new adventures also suffered during the pandemic.
If you’re someone who still feels uncomfortable meeting people in public or who feels anxious about seeking new experiences and embracing uncertainty, there are time-tested ways to help. Modern science and ancient wisdom tell us that “genuine happiness, peak experiences, and coveted flow states all emerge when we are in-sync with whatever it is we are doing.” Being in-sync with your experiences inherently means that we are curious and not judging it. In his recent book, The Practice of Groundedness, Brad Stulberg says the key to living a good life is to lose yourself in something: “The more you forget about yourself, the better you’ll feel, the better you’ll do, and the better you’ll be.” In a previous blog post I focused on three ways that have helped me become less dependent on my smartphone and more present and engaged in life: developing or learning a new skill, helping others or volunteering, and getting outdoors and into nature. Choosing to explore the unknown rather than avoid it can lead to a rich, meaningful life.
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