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My tech sabbatical and what I learned

Jan 26, 2022

What happens when you switch off every device you own for an entire month?

Simplicity and bliss (and a few disgruntled individuals), that’s what happens.

As of 1st December 2021, I embarked on my very first ‘tech sabbatical’. I switched everything off, and the kids even locked my cell phone in the safe, that’s how excited they were.

Running an online business that allows me to pursue my purpose and be a stay-at-home wife, mom, and homeschool teacher have many perks. It also has many negatives, my devices are always on and I was always plugged into ‘the matrix’. Availability and connectivity, 24/7.

A few rough edges started to show over the past two years and I was feeling less and less like myself and more and more disconnected from the aspects of my life that were most important. Hence the decision to unplug it all. Disconnect, to reconnect.

It was daunting switching my phone off on the evening of the 30th November, I won’t lie. The first day was incredibly eye-opening and a complete shock to my system as to how conditioned I had become. My husband’s phone makes the same noises as mine, and each message that came through for him had me jumping up and looking for a device. “Who needed me?’, ‘What was wrong?’, ‘Is there an urgent message I needed to respond to?’. So it went for the entire first day, to my horror. I had become like one of Pavlov’s classically conditioned dogs, responding to every bell and sound. This was not on! I am no slave!

Day 2 onwards became utter bliss. The simplicity, as mentioned earlier on, of waking up to my hubby and kids and spending the entire day just doing activities centered around family life was so refreshing. So necessary and long overdue. Suddenly so aware of my surroundings and the little things that sometimes slip past while we glare at our screens mindlessly.

We decorated the house for Christmas, we built puzzles, we baked, lay in the sun and read books, laughed, and absorbed one another. The kids kept telling people we saw, that ‘mommy is in our faces every day.’ Which was 100% my goal.

As the days rolled on I settled into a rhythm of just pure contentment. No negativity from social media, no articles popping up that make me sad to be associated with the human race. No devastation and darkness to get sucked into. Utter positivity and focus on what is most important to me.

I have been asked so many times whether I was tempted to get my phone out and sneak a peak and with every fibre of my being, I can honestly say I wasn’t. I had been plugged in for over 2 decades (20 years!), I was saturated. It is an addiction, whether we want to admit it or not (scientifically proven to trigger and feed our dopamine receptors). We get a kick out of seeing those notifications, we are curious and concerned that we are missing out on new developments on social media or just what our acquaintances are up to.  FOMO!

For that entire month, I can honestly say I missed my camera. I am sorry if that sounds hurtful or rude to those I love but that just shows you how saturated I was.

I was incredibly strict on myself and even avoided touching any devices, so I would ask my hubby or my folks to take a certain pic with their phone or to send a reply to a family member.

It paid off, a few days in I started to realize that my energy levels and state of mind were constantly the same. No dips in energy, no loss of focus, and clarity of mind that was so efficient and effective. No monkey mind to deal with. And no ‘heaviness’, I find social media and the news very sad and avoid it as far as possible. No good comes out of hearing negativity all day long. It permeates your being and seeps into you, if you allow it, it becomes you.

During the month, I noticed a few things that became tricky to navigate (note: not impossible, just tricky), things like online banking (living 2 hours from town, online banking is essential). You can’t bank without your phone! You can’t track and trace orders you made, because the tracking numbers are on your emails and phone!

Going to town alone had its own set of challenges, I couldn’t communicate with anyone, so I always went with a family member and if we needed to split up for a reason, we decided on a time and place to meet back up (just like we used to do when I was younger and friends met up at malls or flea markets, etc. A date and a rendezvous point). I had to wear a watch. Recipes that I’ve made and saved, were on my devices. I couldn’t access them. Tricky, but not impossible. We have just become spoilt with everything we need at our fingertips. I suddenly started looking through old recipe books. Miraculous. We have allowed ourselves to become dependent on these tiny little devices.

The month went on blissfully and when it was time to switch my device on on the 4th of Jan my heart rate increased, what was waiting for me when my phone and emails went on again? Now don’t get me wrong, I love that I get to walk a wellness road with people, I do, and my devices allow me to do what I love. It’s just the management of time and boundaries that had blurred a bit and that needed refining.

As my phone booted up, it hitched through updates and as my WhatsApp messages clocked around 730 my phone blacked out, I rebooted it, the messages reloaded and another 900-something came through and my phone blacked out again, I think I blacked out somewhere in between as well. The emails loaded up and 2932 patiently (although some of them were not as patiently) awaiting me. A few emails were rather abrupt, and this made me sad initially. Like I wasn’t allowed to take a breather. Then I realized that this is where we go wrong, people-pleasing. We worry about how it will affect others when we need to take a step back from the chaos, to put ourselves back together, and as a result, we don’t take the time to step back and we chip away and chip away until the cracks start to show.

On that 4th of Jan I was completely overwhelmed and by the 4-hour mark I couldn’t anymore, my devices went off and I went outside. It was insane.   I took some time to breathe, move, absorb my kids, and then took another crack at it a few hours later in the day.

What have I learned from this? Boundaries. The devices make you their slaves, it happens to us all. We become dependent on them. It’s easier with them but it comes at a price. A device is a tool to make your life easier, it’s not supposed to become our master. And it isn’t meant to rob you of your most precious commodity, time. More importantly than what you do with that time, is who you spend that time with.

I learned that people don’t like not being able to get hold of you when they want to. People don’t like waiting either. I learned that kids beam when they know that they are your absolute first and only priority in a day, and they get sad now when they see me switch my phone on. I learned that instant gratification has become part of our ‘drive through’ culture, people want what they want when they want it! At any cost.

I realize that a full month’s sabbatical is not possible for everyone. Here is the interesting part though, you determine your day! Your day can be centered around your work, as most of our days often have to be, but what about when you get home. Your spouse doesn’t deserve to stare at your forehead while you troll Facebook instead of having a conversation. Your children don’t deserve to stare at the back of your phone while they quietly tuck themselves into bed or everyone eats in different parts of the house as opposed to at a table, device-free, and chatting.

I often get told, my phone is my time out, but I disagree, I think we fool ourselves, it’s not time out, it’s an addiction we need to fuel. We justify it with excuses. Just like any addiction, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem and implementing steps to rectifying it. Here are various ways you can manage your devices and add more balance to your day.

When your kids are home or your spouse is home, set the device aside. When you get home, switch it off. Make eye contact and absorb one another. Switch your phone off when you sleep. Or put the phone away from your bed, it agitates your blood (no jokes, I have attached photos below of live blood analysis 45minutes after using a device).

(above image taken from A happy healthy heart by Dr James Liddell and Sue Visser. Available from nature fresh.co.za)

Switch the wifi off overnight, it harms. If you work from home, schedule time over lunch break and switch your device off. Try to do the same if you work elsewhere, you need to be eating mindfully, and scrolling your device while you eat blocks your body from connecting the brain with the gut. Eating mindlessly can lead to indigestion, lack of satiety/hunger receptors kicking in, and a lack of enjoyment and gratitude for your meal. Not to mention the company you are surrounded by. If you work in the corporate world, step outside your device environment for a tea break or a lunch break. Get fresh air, eat outside if possible, sit in the park. Move away from the devices, you will not believe how calmer and energized you will feel.

This is not my own opinion only, or thumb sucking, it is evidence-based and I’ve done the experiment. Devices drain. Going forward in this year, I will be managing my devices very differently. Sundays my devices are off. Evenings my devices go off. Some things can wait till morning.

In writing this blog, I hope that you take what I’ve experienced and allow yourself to make a few changes here and there (no matter how small they seem, they will help) and avoid chipping away at the precious things, including yourself.

 

 

 

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