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Rise above the Distractions

Hello, friends.

A casual conversation I had with a friend last week brought up the interesting topic of distraction. We talked about how much we are bombarded with noise, information, and, most notoriously, our attachment to our phone as we keep checking text messages, emails, YouTube, and other social media.

My friend said he is conflicted as he enjoys using his phone but doesn’t like spending much time on it. He said, “It IS fun. It is like how a hungry kid feels at a buffet. What do you do with all of these yummy foods in front of you? Just ignore them and eat moderately? With normal human willpower, a phone is designed to fail the person to have that balance point."

This conversation made me think of my trials and errors in easing my attachment to my phone. I feel I am losing a sense of direction as I depend heavily on the phone for every direction. I check my emails between my piano practice and enjoy watching my favorite YouTube channels for a break.

As much as I like the convenience of a smartphone, I am also mindful that this little thing can be a source of distraction and a zen breaker in life.

When I practice piano, I often record myself playing for constructive feedback. It is never easy, especially at an early stage of performance practice. After a while, though, by setting my feelings aside, I could eventually see myself in the video as another person. I could observe from the video which part I should work on and how to plan for my next practice session.

I tried a similar process with my phone. I used the Offscreen app, which monitors how long you use your phone, the duration of each app usage, and how many times you pick up your phone daily. I was especially surprised and embarrassed at the same time when I saw the number for the frequency of my phone pickups in a day go as high as in the 40s and 50s. Do I really pick up that often?

That is when I decided to try something new to change the course of my habit.

They say the only way to combat distraction is to have a solid plan in advance. Even if you don’t follow the plan exactly, you can at least define the task you want to focus on and what a distraction is at any given time.

I think the biggest problem with excessive phone usage is to let your phone control your time. Even though you might start with the intention of using your phone only during a short break, the phone has a genius way of keeping your attention on the things you like. One minute of cute cat or dog short videos can easily turn into 30 to 45 minutes away from what you intended to do in the first place.

Here are some of my ongoing trials and errors in this battle that have worked fairly well for me thus far.

1. Know WHY you don’t want to use your phone as much as you currently do. My reasons are, first, to avoid tiring my eyes (which I experience from using a computer screen or phone; I need a greener landscape for my overworked eyes) and (2) to train my brain to focus more deeply, as the ability to have a deep and immersive experience at any moment is important for me. And I know excessive phone usage can diminish that deep-focus ability.

2. Monitor your usage objectively. How long do you use your phone? How often do you use it? Which app is the most time-consuming?

3. Set limits to your phone usage to which you could stick. In my case, I try not to use my phone an hour after I wake up before going to bed as a bare minimum boundary. Since this was initially difficult for me to do, I used the help of an Offscreen app. I set a lock for my phone so that I could refrain from using it for certain apps at specific times. For example, I locked my email app from 9:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day. During that time, app icons appear gray, with a lock sign. You can unlock your phone anytime through the app, but that extra step discourages me from doing so. I have also heard positive reviews of the Freedom, Opal, and Jomo apps, which have similar functions. I plan to experiment with these apps in the future.

4. Check your email at a set time, or at least less often than you do now. I don’t know when we started treating emails as instant text messages. You don’t have to read each email as soon as it appears in your inbox; people can always wait a day or two for your reply.

5. Charge your phone farther away from your bed or better yet, in another room, if possible.

6. Try a phone-free dinner outing, concert, or walk. Leave your phone in another room while practicing playing the piano or when you need to focus deeply on your task. (Thankfully, this is the easiest step for me. I can always leave a phone in the car before going to the restaurant or concert.)

7. Play with a color. For example, when I want less stimulation, I make the entire screen on my iPhone appear in grayscale mode by clicking the Menu button three times consecutively. In addition, I set my phone mostly to the less bright Night Shift color mode even in the daytime to reduce the strain on my eyes.

8. Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function to your advantage. I use this for the most of the day. I never hear nor see a notification from any app, including for spam calls. I set it in such a way that I can still receive emergency calls or other important calls from people whom I had added to my Favorites list.

For a while, I have wanted to go to some kind of silent retreat, somewhere peaceful in nature. I thought it would be wonderful to disconnect and experience tranquility in that special environment. I might feel rejuvenated or enlightened. Then again, perhaps all I wanted was to disconnect myself from Wi-Fi more often to be able to focus more deeply.

Maybe the real silent retreat can happen right here in my living room whenever I wish.

I just have to turn off my phone.

Do you have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with a phone? Share your experience with me!

Have a wonderful week!


Flowers make me happy.

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