According to a study done by Asurion, a global tech company, the typical American checks their phone on average once every 12 minutes. The study revealed that of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 actually check their phones on average once every four minutes which is quite an alarming statistic. The New York Times published an article in 2017 that summarized the results of this study to illustrate the point that we are an addicted society when it comes to dependency on our devices. Although this study was done in the United States, I am sure the statistics would be similar in other developed nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom or other European countries.
Setting an intention to put aside our devices or resist the urge to habitually pull them out of our pockets, handbags, or backpacks can be a challenging task for all of us, but an interesting one to try out, especially when trying to improve on our ability to be more ‘present’ in our every day life. Being more present and observant of our surroundings and being more present when engaged in discussions with others is a very mindful act that requires us to focus our energy and pay attention with a specific purpose. Again, not an easy thing to do for anyone!
When trying to genuinely practice being present, a very mindful act indeed, our devices can often times get in the way of being able to do this. Being aware of this can help us to make a conscious effort to set intentions to be more present in our every day life. You just never know what you will notice and observe around you when you strive to be more present.
A few weeks ago, my wife, Neila Steele, set an intention to practice mindfulness throughout the day. As part of this intention, she also chose to keep her device in her handbag during her morning and afternoon breaks, as well as during her hour off at lunch.
She was attending a 2-day workshop that we being held for teachers and administrators at the school that we work at. During her lunch break, she went to the very busy cafeteria at the university where the training was being held. As she waited in a long line up to order her sandwich, she found herself getting a wee bit impatient. However, in holding true to the intention that she set for herself at the start of the day, she was aware that she did not want to mindlessly pull out her phone to check it.
It was one of those moments when habit can kick in and it can be so easy to grab our device to help ease the boredom, frustration, or to help pass the time. As she waited in line she began to become more aware of her breath and reminded herself to be present, to observe her surroundings and take in all of the sounds and sights of the lunch time rush.
It was right at about this moment when she noticed that she was now second in line to be served. It was also about the same time when she tuned into the harsh words that the customer ahead of her was slinging at the sandwich maker behind the counter. Apparently, the man in front of her had ordered a sandwich that was supposed to have beef in it. As the man checked his sandwich, there was no beef in it and had clearly agitated him.
He aggressively asked the sandwich maker, ‘Where’s the beef in my sandwich?”. The sandwich maker obviously didn’t speak English very well and didn’t understand what the man was asking. This angered the man even more and he then barked out, “The beef! The Beef! Where’s the fucking beef?”.
It was at this point that Neila stepped in and calmly tried to diffuse the situation by saying, ‘Hey, hey, no need to speak to the man behind the counter this way. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand you. It’s OK to be angry, but not OK to take it out on the sandwich maker who clearly doesn’t speak English well.”
Neila then noticed how stressed the customer looked. She could instantly tell that this perhaps wasn’t about the sandwich at all and that something else was going on. She calmly asked him if everything was OK. He admitted to her that he was very stressed and had received news that his student visa might not be renewed which meant he would have to leave the country the next day.
Neila acknowledged how stressful this situation must be and again asked if he was OK. She also asked what he needed to resolve the sandwich issue. In that moment, he clearly calmed down, thanked her, and said that he didn’t need anything. He then grabbed his beef-less sandwich and quietly left. Neila did not see him again.
When she got home, she told me about what had happened at lunch and how setting the intention at the start of the day to not mindlessly grab her phone allowed her to be fully present with her surroundings in the lunch time line up and to ultimately be able to calmly diffuse the very stressful situation that took place between the customer and the sandwich maker.
Practicing mindfulness while in line helped her to be able to do this. Not mindlessly checking her device allowed her to be able to this. Setting the specific intention to not touch her phone allowed her to do this.
Who knows what we will notice or observe around us when we stay in the present moment. Who knows what sounds and sights we will take in? Who knows who we might be able to connect with or to help when we stay off our devices and strive to be more present in ordinary or mundane settings in our daily lives.
How many times a day might you mindlessly or unnecessarily grab your device? Do you do this more in social situations or when you are in line ups? The next time you are in a social situation or a long line up, try leaving your device in your pocket or handbag? Are you able to do this?
Want to hear the latest episode of our '4 X Mindfulness' podcast? In this episode Neila shares the lunch time line up story and what it taught her. You can access the link to the podcast below. Hope you check it out:
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily