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being

You might have seen this humorous bit of wisdom in your social media feeds:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you. – Anne Lamott

There’s a lot to be said for those wise words. Give yourself breaks from the technology that seems to overtake our lives sometimes. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and for your relationships.

Doing vs. Being

We live in a culture of busyness. Nothing demonstrates that more than our connection to our devices. We always seem to be scanning for new emails, texts and social media posts – a constant stream of information and things to do.

Living this way, though, makes it difficult to thrive.

Our brains function in two modes. The first one is doing. When we’re in doing mode, we’re focused on our goals, or we’re thinking about something that’s already happened. We’re either planning the future or reflecting on the past in some way.

The other mode is being. In being mode, we’re fully present and engaged with what’s right in front of us. Perhaps that’s feeling invigorated by a morning run or having a pleasant, intimate moment with your spouse.

The Problem with being Stuck

The technology we’re surrounded by these days makes it easy to get stuck in doing mode. The brain loves new information and it’s now possible to have a constant stream of it, day or night. It can be extremely difficult to unplug from this constant stimulation.

However, one of the inevitable problems when we spend too much time in doing mode is becoming emotionally off balance. Our brains need stimulation, but also rest and restoration.

Imagine your brain is like a snow globe. Too much doing leaves your brain feeling like the snow globe has been shaken up. It’s difficult to see clearly what’s going on in your life. You’ll make worse decisions, be emotionally more reactive, and be much harder to connect with.

We need to spend time in being mode to bring our brains back into balance. But a lot of us have the tendency to just keep pushing harder and harder, doing one thing after another. And our ever-present technology makes that even easier. Times we might have been forced to take a break in the past (for example, commuting or standing in line) we now fill with even more doing.

This just isn’t a sustainable way to live.

Shift Modes

We have to fight our tendency to think that things will be better if we can just do more. In fact, the opposite is true. If your life is feeling out of whack right now, I’m willing to bet it’s not because of the things you need to do. Instead, you’re probably craving more time just to be.

Make a list of things that pull you into the state of feeling present and engaged. Some common activities that can get us back into being mode are listening to music, exercising or moving in other ways, praying, meditating or deep breathing. Art, engaging a loved hobby, or being in nature can also help bring us into the present.

But if the thought of adding one more activity (even beneficial ones like these) to your day makes your head spin, you can turn anything you already do into one that mentally restores you. When you’re eating, put down your phone, pull yourself into the present, and actually taste your food. When you’re walking from your car to your office, refrain from checking your email, take a deep breath, and just notice the world around you.

Experiment some with unplugging this week. As you spend more time in being mode, you should feel emotionally steadier and less stressed. And you’ll probably also notice that you’re more present for the important people in your life.