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  • The Digital Aikido of Intentional Attention

    As a clinician who spends much of their days treating the overuse of technology, people tend to assume I’m a luddite.  After all, if I’m so focused on the negative impacts of the digital world, it stands to reason I would never encourage the use of tech to address one’s difficulties.

    .However, my goal is not to vilify technology but to help individuals find a healthy balance and practice digital wellness. Aikido is a great metaphor for this, as the martial art teaches how to use an opponent’s strength and weight against them, much like learning digital wellness from overuse of technology.

    In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s a given that at some point we will succumb to the allure of digital distractions. Multitasking is one of the most common offenders as it makes us believe we are making our work less boring when really we’re just less productive. The consequences of such distractions range from self-care sacrifices (e.g. skipping lunch or not going to bed on time) to feelings of shame that push us towards other destructive habits. Being honest about what is truly a distraction, both with ourselves and those in our support system, is the first step toward embracing mindful technology use.

     Apps like Freedom, SelfControl or Cold Turkey can be valuable tools in fostering mindfulness, correcting harmful digital habits, and boosting efficiency. In turn, this allows us to reclaim control over our digital experiences and make ‘fun’ digital time not only more intentional but also feel impactful or valuable.

      For this post, I’m going to focus (ha!) on Freedom in particular for no other reason than it is one of many excellent apps that I am also familiar enough with to recommend. To be clear, I have never even contacted the developer, let alone received any form of compensation or sponsorship from them or any other company.  

    Freedom is not about abandoning technology but about using it wisely. This app empowers users to take charge of their digital lives by temporarily blocking distracting websites and apps during focused work or study sessions. By setting specific schedules and creating dedicated periods for undisturbed concentration, the app supports a daily practice of ‘intentional attention’ and harnesses the power of mindfulness.

    Bad digital habits can be hard to break without the right support. Freedom acts as a gentle reminder to resist the urge to indulge in distractions, nudging us to stay on track and committed to our goals. Breaking the cycle of constant interruptions allows us to foster better focus and enhances our efficiency in all areas of life.

    By using apps like Freedom, individuals can create intentional work routines that prioritize undistracted focus. With fewer interruptions, they can delve into a state of flow, where productivity and creativity flourish, leading to more meaningful outcomes. Similarly, users can designate specific breaks for relaxation and digital indulgence without shame or guilt. This balance allows for a renewed sense of enjoyment during leisure time and avoids the pitfalls of excessive screen time

    The key is not to eliminate leisure and ‘fun’ digital time, but to make it more intentional and well-earned. Think about it this way: If you had your favorite dessert every night for a month, we might expect the satisfaction and novelty impacts of this dessert would decrease. I may have done something like this during the COVID lockdown, and so am also speaking from first hand experience…

    As a clinician dedicated to addressing the overuse of technology, embracing apps like Freedom may seem contradictory to some. However, it’s essential to recognize that technology can be both a problem and a solution. If we can accept the help this tech offers and permit some of our needs take up (harddrive) space, we’ll be better equipped to navigate the digital world with purpose and mindfulness, ultimately leading to a more fulfilled and balanced life.