The Conscious Consultant: Live with Nancy Colier

Interview with Sam Leibowitz, the Conscious Consultant. How to live a mindful life in a virtual world: The Power of Off:   https://www.facebook.com/samwyz

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GOOD MORNING AMERICA: Cellphones and Anxiety

Spending too much time on your phone may be causing you to feel stress and anxiety, experts are warning.  All of ths attention to technology, and the mind, and thoughts is coming at a great expense to the other aspects of what human beings need to feel well

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Why Happiness Doesn’t Last, and Why That’s Okay–Part 1

Happiness is an addiction and we are hooked.  Happiness is an addiction because our monkey mind convinces us that we are not okay if we don’t get our fix of it.  It is an addiction because it provides relief for short periods of time and then fails us over and over again.  It is an addiction because we are consumed with the need to be happy.  We spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to make happiness happen, and yet we often remain not happy, that is, not liking our life situation.

There is a belief in this culture that life is supposed to be happy; happiness is part of our definition of a good life.  In the face of the suffering that everyone’s life contains, we hold tight to our belief that life’s basic nature is pleasurable and fun.  The media presents life as some kind of amusement park ride with ice cream, laughter and prizes.  Our conception of what we are supposed to feel is based on a life that is not in alignment with what’s real.  Certainly, a part of life is joy.  Life is also challenging and painful at times.  All of these experiences are part of the ride.  We have to do things that we don’t want to do, we have to interact with people who hurt us, we have to live inside a body that gets sick, and eventually we have to let go of everything and everyone we love.  Expecting a joy ride is a recipe for disappointment.  And yet, remarkably, the cultural mythology persists: life is supposed to look good, and we are supposed to be having fun all the time.

In this society, when we are not happy, not only are we failures for not being able to create a happy life, but worse, we are missing out on the myth.  We are not getting what we deserve—what everyone else undoubtedly gets, the life that appears so convincing in our Instagram feed.  With such a cultural mythology, we spend much of our time feeling depressed about not getting to have something that doesn’t actually exist, thereby fueling the un-happiness that we so dread.

I was one who suffered with this belief system in my younger years.  A friend and fellow sufferer called it her “Kennedy” life.  We are convinced that for other people, life is one long series of touch football games held on large glorious lawns with large glorious extended families, and golden retrievers joyously chasing blond toddlers in playful tackle.  When we are reminded that the Kennedy family has also endured tragedy—violence and loss—we take the information in, but only on an intellectual level.  We know that the Kennedys have suffered, but still our touch football expectation of life endures.  In fact, we struggle to retain this fantasy.  It makes us un-happy, but at the same time, we are afraid to stop trying to get happy.

We make strong judgments about the person who achieves happiness and the one who doesn’t.  Happiness is our flag of success.  Not being able to accomplish it means that there is something wrong with us.

As a result of these beliefs, we are left in a desperate state.  We must be vigilant in controlling our experience, making sure that life feels good and that others know it’s going well.  But making the present moment feel good is a lot of work.  Happiness is a narrow destination at which to aim our life with an even narrower selection of paths for getting there.  We have balanced our okay-ness on something as ephemeral and uncontrollable as situational pleasure, and bet our wellbeing on our ability to keep it—with no net below if we fall or fail.  We dedicate the majority of our energy to achieving something that we cannot consistently achieve.  From a purely logical perspective, it seems that it would be wise to re-examine our goal.

Our attempts to be happy are not the problem.  The problem is that we are not aware of a workable alternative to happiness.  As we see it, the only alternative to happiness is misery or emptiness.  We do not know how to be without happiness and still be okay, whole, present, or even that it is possible.

Not happy is not a place where we know how to console ourselves, and not a place where we can be peaceful or feel good about ourselves.  We are given no training in how to ease our discomfort, soothe our sadness, simply be with discomfort, as if these states were not a part of a regular life, a good life.  We are instructed to keep our chin up, make lemons out of lemonade, get on with it.  Or put another way; get away from it—whatever is making us not happy, and get out of our state of not-happiness.  We have not been taught how to take care of ourselves and be in and with our not-happiness in a way that can still leave us feeling well.

We are trained to believe that not-happiness is a scary thing, not only because we do not know how to manage it, but also because it makes us unlovable. We are scary to others when we are not happy; it is not just that we are afraid of ourselves but others are afraid of us as well.  We believe that not-happiness leaves us helpless and abandoned, and therefore it must be avoided at all costs.

We have designed a system that demands that we stay happy; it is a system that relies upon our control over something that ultimately cannot be controlled.  And the alternative, not happiness, is dreadful, frightening and riddled with self-loathing.  Despite the consistently transient, challenging and uncontrollable nature of life, we continue to insist that life can be and indeed is ceaselessly pleasing; we continue to demand and expect happiness.

Over the next few weeks I will be examining the ways in which we attempt to create a constant state of happiness, and how that impacts the quality of our lives.  And also, I will be presenting a more reliable and satisfying approach to genuine wellbeing.  Stay tuned…

Text excerpted from Nancy Colier’s “Inviting A  Monkey To Tea: Befriending Your Mind And Discovering Lasting Contentment” (Hohm Press, 2012)

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Should I Answer Every Text My Child Sends? How Constant Communication is Disabling Our Children

I spend a lot of time with teenagers, because I have one.  As an observer of this unique species, I am noticing that teenagers are changing in fundamental ways as a result of their relationship with technology.

Teenagers are frequently out and about in the world on their own and with their peers, particularly in the summer.  They’re taking a crack at independence, living new situations and challenges without their parents’ supervision and guidance.  Adolescence is a time to start figuring things out for themselves, to problem solve, and to be creative with whatever challenges life is presenting.  It’s a time to build self-reliance and maturity, as they attempt to navigate the world on their own.  It’s a crucial and transformative period in the development of our children, one in which they lay the groundwork for confidence and capability that will support them for the rest of their lives.

Unsplash
Source: Unsplash

It used to be that when teenagers went away in the summer, they went away.  These days, with smartphones in their hands, there’s no break in the communication.  Many teens stay in constant contact, in a continual conversation with their parents throughout the day.  If something upsets or delights them, or a practical problem arises, they’re quick to text out for help, validation, and feedback.  And they usually receive that understanding, empathy, guidance, solution, or whatever else is needed, immediately.  Technology is removing the need for our kids to figure things out for themselves. It’s robbing our children of the opportunity to experience their lives on their own, to live through challenges and joys inside their own company, and to learn how to effectively meet life’s ups and downs in their own unique ways. With a smartphone in hand, nothing needs to be figured out or experienced alone.  Living happens by consensus, inside a shared and safe zone of continual communication and handholding. Previous generations, in contrast, had to let go of the big people’s hands at some point, to jump into the waters of independence, because there simply was no alternative, and we grew into actual adults as a result.

The result of all this communicating is that we are unintentionally growing a generation of helpless, infantilized, and unable people—children who don’t feel and are in fact not equipped to handle life’s challenges. Technology is depriving our youth of the true self-confidence, grit and resilience that can only come from and through practicing independence. Just because our kids can now do without cutting the cord, and can effectively rely on us to babysit them around the clock, doesn’t mean that they, or we, should.

What then is the solution to this new digital dilemma, the disempowerment and disabling of our children as a result of their dependence on constant communication through technology, and our parental collusion in this dependence under the guise of attentive parenting?  The solution begins with awareness. That is, becoming conscious of the long-term effects of perpetually interacting with and attending to every text your child sends. While it may feel good to be helpful, needed, and wanted, to be the person that your child wants to share everything with, in fact, providing moment to moment validation, support, and guidance, eventually will create a not self-reliant and not self-confident human being. When we literally accompany our children through every step of life, they stop (or never start) knowing how to walk for themselves.

Although counterintuitive perhaps, stepping away from your child’s texts can be the wiser and more loving choice.  Explain to them why you are not immediately responding to their every communication, what the larger intention is behind your silence, that it’s in service to their true independence (so that they can’t accuse you of neglecting or forgetting them!).  When you allow your son or daughter the opportunity to start experiencing life on their own, to figure it out, generate solutions, self-soothe, cope… you are, in the long run, being a good parent.  You are offering a gift to your child that is far more valuable than solving the problem of the moment.

This is of course not to suggest that we should never be available to our children’s communications, but rather that we should become mindful of what we are actually doing in a larger sense when we are forever and immediately available to our kids every experience. If we truly desire what’s best for our children, namely, for them to become capable and to know that they can trust themselves, then we as parents need to stop holding up the other end of the constant conversation.  It’s up to us; we who are older and wiser need to take the higher road and create some space and silence, turn off the conversation, be a little bit unavailable, and let them discover that they can indeed fly on their own.

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How to Be a Good Parent in a Digitally-Addicted World

I write and speak a lot on digital life, what it’s doing to us psychologically, spiritually, socially and as a society. What we can do to create a sense of wellbeing and freedom in the midst of what often feels like a world gone mad.  Regardless of where I am or to whom I’m speaking however, the question I get most from my audiences is this: How do we raise healthy kids in this tech-addicted society, when we’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid and we’re all in on this condoned addiction?

We the parents of today’s kids are true pioneers.  We’re facing a situation that no other generation of parents has faced.  People often say that previous parents had to deal with the television and telephone, and that every generation struggles with some new invention that changes everything, and that the Smartphone is really no different than anything that came before it. But in fact, where we are now, with the explosion of technology into every aspect of our lives (and our children’s lives) and our complete dependence upon it, is fundamentally different than any other time in history. Technology is a revolution and not like any other previous invention.

For one thing, the television and telephone didn’t come with us everywhere we went.  We had to be in the world without them; the television and telephone were an addition to our lives, not the center of it.  In addition, the telephone and television were not used for every aspect of our lives, work, social, information, planning etc., as the Smartphone now is.  So too, we didn’t defer our authority and agency to the television, telephone or any other invention, asking it to make decisions for us.  We didn’t hand over our human skills, thinking and tasks to our televisions, rendering us helpless to its knowledge.

Furthermore, the makers of televisions and telephones were not employing neuroscientists and addiction specialists as they are now with the purpose of getting our kids (and all of us) hooked.  Addiction is good for business and our kids are the targets of very smart and strategic plans, by very informed experts, to make them dependent, so they can’t or are too anxious to live without their devices. Never before have our kids had legal access to something so addictive as the substance that is technology.  We’re giving our kids the equivalent of cocaine at a time in their lives when their front brains are not even developed, and they don’t have the skills, discernment or internal resources to be able to manage the drug of technology.

What we know from neuroscience is that using technology floods our brain with the feel-good chemical dopamine. Dopamine delivers pleasure and feeds the reward center in our brain.  This sets up a compulsion loop; we want more of this pleasure and thus want to engage in the activity more. What happens next however, is that each time we have a thought of using or hear or feel a notification come in, our adrenal glands send out a burst of the stress hormone cortisol, which sets off the fight or flight response and we become anxious.  We then opt to get back on our device to calm ourselves down.  Those who are addicted are, therefore, living in a constant state of fight or flight and saturating their bodies with cortisol, which besides causing chronic stress has also been linked to lowered immune function, increased sugar levels and weight gain.  It’s not a good thing.

Today’s moms and dads are stumbling down an untraveled path. More often than not, we don’t know what we’re doing.  How could we know, we’re in new territory, raising addicts in an addicted world.  Day by day we’re trying to understand how to maintain a loving connection with our children when the pull towards technology is so seemingly irresistible. We’re trying to figure out how to do our real job: to help them become happy, confident, grounded people in a society that feels increasingly anxious and untethered.

First, it is important that we honor our intention to help our children and families stay emotionally connected and intact.  We have to be willing to work hard at this endeavor, to be good parents, because it profoundly matters. In some ways, our society depends upon it.  When the family crumbles, all else crumbles.  But also, because we want to deeply know our children, to spend time with them without a thousand other distractions, look into their eyes without the reflection of the screen inside their pupils.  As families, we don’t want to simply brush past each other at the charging station in the kitchen.

9 Tips for Good Parenting in a Digital World

  1. Model It

Live the behavior you’re preaching.  If you’re on your device constantly then your guidance is of no value, your rules are irrelevant.  If you don’t walk the walk, your kids won’t either. Limit your time on your device, particularly when you’re with your kids and partner.  Show your kids what it looks like to be engaged in activities that don’t involve technology. And absolutely do not leave your devices on or in sight during family meals.

2. Make a Plan/Set the Rules Ahead of Time. If you want to make God laugh, make plans. If you want to make God roll on the clouds with laughter, make plans with kids and Smartphones.  And yet, we still have to set the rules ahead of time with regard to our kids’ usage. It can be a good idea to do this together as a family.  Write down specifically (and have everyone sign) what hours and under what circumstances device use (and what kind of use) will be acceptable.  For example: first half hour after school: full use including social media.  Next three hours: only computer use for homework, all social notifications off.  Half hour before bed all devices off. Whatever the rules you as parents decide on, make them specific, written down on paper, and hung up where they can be seen.  When the conflict (and screaming) begins, you will be able to point to these established rules without any hesitation or confusion.

3. Create a Context.

Don’t just tell your kids they can’t use their devices, explain to them the larger intentions behind your rules.  For example, share that you don’t want them anxious all the time, and explain the effect that cortisol has on their growing body. Express that you actually want to know them and that technology gets in the way of that happening. Tell them perhaps that you miss them, miss talking or taking walks with them, and that it’s just that simple. Whatever the larger and more loving intentions are behind your rules, share them with your child. Create an open dialogue so the conversation can go deeper and become more connective, rather than simply arguing over screen time.

4. Ask Your Kids About Their Experience with Tech

Be curious about, specifically, how your kids experience their lives in the midst of this technology.  What it’s like for them to be kids in this kind of environment.  You might ask how it feels to be with a friend who’s constantly texting and snapchatting other people when they’re with them.  Or perhaps to be at a party when everyone is staring into their device and there’s no one there to really talk to. Ask what it’s like to have a boyfriend they text all day but feel incapable of talking to in real life. Whatever the issues that they’re pretending are okay, ask about them.  Turn these difficult experiences into something they question rather than just assume is normal.  Remember, there’s still a young person in there who’s probably feeling lonely, insecure, confused, anxious and overwhelmed by all of it.  Invite that young person to the table and give them your full attention.

5. Get Your Kids into Tech-Free Activities

It’s increasingly important to expose your kids to activities that don’t require technology and also allow them to connect with people and themselves in a different way. We need to show them that they can still enjoy experiences (like sports, music, nature) without their devices, and that there really is life outside their Smartphone.

6. Emphasize, Again and Again, the Importance of Hard Work and Time Invested

Kids are now growing up in an age of immediacy and ease.  We value the quickest and easiest route to wherever we’re headed.  The problem is that by accepting immediacy and ease, we’re depriving our children of the invaluable rewards of hard work and time invested.  When our child lands on the top of the mountain by helicopter, he doesn’t reap the same confidence or inner strength as when he’s walked and struggled the path to the top.  As a result, he ends up feeling like imposter.  Encourage, again and again, the importance of putting in time and effort for building a confident and strong inner self, so ultimately, they will know that they can rely on themselves.

7. Be Fierce

A lot of parents these days say that the horse is already out of the barn and it’s a losing battle this technology thing.  When these parents give their kids the device, they claim they’re just giving their kid what he wants.  This is not good parenting.  As parents, we often need to take the harder path, the one our child doesn’t want, make the choice that creates more conflict, but ultimately, is better for our kids and our family.  We need to be able to hold our ground when our child is ranting and raging.  We need to dig deep, be fierce, stand our ground, and remember why we’re choosing this harder path, what’s really at stake.

8. Teach Your Kids Basic Meditation Techniques

Every child, no matter the age, can learn basic meditation practices.  Try teaching your kids the following techniques: 1. Breathing. Notice and feel your breath. Don’t control it, just pay attention to it.  Remember to breathe deeply, particularly when you’re anxious.  2. Body scan: bring your attention into each body part, one by one, and notice the sensations inside. As you go through, invite each part to relax.  3. Run a sense loop: bring your attention to each of your senses, one at a time.  Notice what you are hearing, seeing, feeling in your body, smelling, tasting and the sixth sense, thinking.  4. Visualize an elevator ride from your head down into the bottom of your belly.  Feel yourself getting calmer as you descend, floor by floor, into the stillness of your own presence.  5. Ask yourself if you’re actually here, paying attention to where you are. Notice/Feel what your own presence/here-ness feels like.

9. Bribery

As a last resort, never underestimate the power of bribery or more scientifically, cause and effect.  For every hour, afternoon or day your child stays off their device, consider gifting them with a non-tech related reward. The pleasure or pain they associate with their behavior will affect that behavior. Sometimes it might be the only thing that works and it’s not cheating to use the oldest trick in the book.

Parenting these days is not for the faint of heart.  Although I don’t think there’s ever been a time that parenting was easy, the presence of these devices in our children’s lives makes now a particularly challenging and frustrating time to raise children. We’re living with addicts and they’re the very people we love the most and most want to be happy and well, the very thing that addiction prevents.

We parents have to be kind to ourselves too.  Sometimes we allow our child the device even when we know we shouldn’t, because we also know that it will make them stop whining or bitching (depending on their age) and because we desperately need peace and don’t have anything left in our own tank.  And that’s okay.  We also have needs and are not perfect. But what’s most important is not that we’re perfect, but that we keep trying.  And, that we stay in touch with what really matters to us, and behave in a way that’s in alignment with our deeper priorities. Our children and our families are what’s at stake here, and it doesn’t get more important than that.

 

And finally, in this distracted and addicted world, there’s something we can do in every moment, and it may be the most important piece in this whole conundrum.  When we’re with our kids, we can really be there, be with them, present. Our grounded, undistracted presence is the ultimate antidote to the anxious, untethered, disappeared world in which they are living.  Land in the moment when you’re with your children.  Give them the experience of what it’s like to be with someone who cares about them.  Remember what they tell you about their lives and ask about it.  Create continuity in a world that appears and disappears faster than memory can grasp.  Be the light in the darkness, the sanity in the insanity.  Love means presence and in that, we, blessedly, have complete control.

 

 

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