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Self-Discipline and Self-Control: It’s Important

Posted Jun 16 2011 7:09am

Last night I was standing in the parking lot of a grocery store and I notice that every person who came out of the store was reading their phone. Not one of them noticed much of anything else. Which is fine if you want to be the person with his or her head in the sand, but the inability to delay this auto behavior is damaging. I’m sure they’ll figure that out in 20 years, but for now, I’ll say it.

Regular readers of the blog know two things about me. 1) That I’m a techie from way back and 2) I endorse regular and consistent “unpluggedness.” I would also add that delayed gratification, no matter what it is, your phone/shopping/checking the ex’s FB page, getting a piece of cake that you really want to have, is the hallmark of a healthy individual.

Self-control is paramount for emotional and mental health and well-being. The inability to resist urges is a problem. Too many people are of the “I want what I want when I want it…” including yakking on cell phones within earshot of a lot of people who are sitting there thinking your life is stupid and you are a loud ignoramus.

If you can’t be polite and civil, and if you can’t go 5 minutes without looking at your phone, self-control is not evident. The ability to resist urges is not evident. Being a self-willed run riot is a by-product of addiction. And all addicts say, “I can stop any time I want.” So if you just said that…there ya go.

Unplugging for a time each day and learning how to NOT go right to the phone when you’re waiting or walking or whenever is NECESSARY for your emotional, mental and creative health.

My views on unplugging are not popular with my readers but research seems to suggest that not unplugging is making us stupider and crankier and being plugged in while doing other things such as driving is DOWNRIGHT DANGEROUS.

Someone who admits to texting while driving said to me, “It’s our generation. We KNOW how to text and drive.” This from an otherwise rational and mature individual. Newsflash: No you don’t. I had a young man almost swerve into me the other night and when he pulled back beside me I could see he was texting. Yesterday in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel there were about 6 lanes merging into 3 which normally goes fairly well as people move over. I was being squeezed by a truck on my left and the car on my right was not moving over as she was supposed to be. I looked at her and guess what? Texting.

And if you think you can do it safely, you are wrong. And the attitude that you don’t have to stop, is appalling. And if you can’t stop it, you have a problem. But don’t visit that problem on the rest of us with distracted driving.

Lots of people think they can drink and drive and then someone gets killed. People have NO idea when their driving is impacted. So make a rule. I don’t drink and drive, I don’t text and drive, I don’t cell phone and drive. Or if I can’t help doing any of those, I don’t drive. HELLO. It’s THAT simple. Unless you’re an addict and, in that case, you need help.

I have been on the internet longer than most people I know. I was on the internet in 1984 and have had an email account, continuously, since 1986.

I did internet dating in 1988 and I posted one of the first commercial websites when the world wide web came into being. I had a laptop with a 386 processor and built my own 486 machine.

I know DOS and 3 or 4 programming languages. I remember when you needed to know a programming language to get usenet groups (before the world wide web came into being). If my computer breaks, I can pretty much fix it and most of the peripherals.

I own a desktop, a laptop, a work lap top and an Android Blackberry 8800. I run my own home network and have about 11 peripherals working off the router. I am the queen of my virtual reality. :)

I have long been addicted to email (about 20 years now) and in the early days of the world wide web, I did not sleep for days at a time (no exaggeration). I was the first person I know with an MP3 players (before Ipods) and remember when Napster was free. I’ve read important issues of many tech magazines including the last issue of Byte and the first issue of Wired.

All of this to say, I am not a Luddite or a technophobe. I am not someone who wants to go back to the past. I LOVE technology. I’m a freak about technology.

So when I advise people to unplug, I understand the pain that doing so can bring. However, I’ve done it so much and am in such a regular pattern with it for SO MANY YEARS that I can tell you that it is a habit to be developed.

I am much more emotionally and mentally healthy when I consistently unplug than when I am not. I have advocated this for years even though I’m a complete techie geekette.

But I’ve been down the foggy path of email addiction. I know what it’s like to be surfing mindlessly at 3 am…and I know that if it’s out of whack, your life is also out of whack.

I have found it necessary to consistently unplug over the years. and I recommend it HIGHLY. Take some time each day (at least one hour) to be COMPLETELY out of touch with everyone and everything. I know I need it for my mental health and I’m convinced that everyone needs it.

Maybe because I’ve been struggling with technology and the need for balance in my life longer than most people, I have a really clear idea of what it takes to be a balanced person and a healthy person.

It’s very simple: UNPLUG on a regular and consistent basis for an hour or more at a time. Know that people can WAIT for you to answer email and text messages. KNOW that a ringing phone is a request, NOT A DEMAND. I hear my cell phone ringing sometimes and I don’t answer it because I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT. It’s OKAY to not feel like answering. You don’t HAVE TO answer. Start cultivating that mindset. LET IT RING or shut it off if you’re too tempted to pick it up when it rings and STOP CHECKING to see who called. Cut the techno umbilical cord.

Know that the computer has an OFF switch. Know that it’s okay to go away from all forms of communication and not be REACHABLE. You have to retrain the people in your life, but you CAN do it.

People in my life know if I’m not answering, I’m off doing something. They don’t ask me why I didn’t pick up. I don’t answer that question. They do not have ME trained, I have them trained. I am not always accessible. DEAL WITH IT. And they do.

I’m pretty good at answering emails because if I don’t, I forget, but sometimes I FORCE myself to walk away from the Blackberry and every computer and just go and do and be.

Nothing special…just me with me…unplugged.

Last winter I read an article by Walter Kirn about the dangers of multitasking.

What stayed with me after reading it was that he had been in an accident looking at a picture sent via his phone while driving. I read the article in a doctor’s office and forgot what magazine it was in or who wrote it, but I remembered that it basically said that all this multitasking is making us stupider and our concentration much shorter. I saw a version reprinted in The Week (my favorite weekly) a few days ago and while I remembered the name and the gist, I can’t find my copy of it.

Multitasking is dangerous and doing anything with technology while driving is a BIG BIG MISTAKE. Teenagers are getting into more accidents because they are TEXTING WHILE DRIVING. That’s just crazy….teens are the worst drivers to begin with because of their inexperience. They don’t KNOW what they can’t handle. But anyone doing anything on a phone while driving might as well be drinking. It’s not only dangerous as Walter has found, but multitasking make us stupider AND it increases our stress levels…and it SLOWS our thinking so that even though we think we are getting more done, we’re not…think again.

Children are reporting that they now HAVE TO multitask…watch TV and talk on the phone….do homework while listening to music…some astounding percentage of youngsters reported that they can’t just do ONE thing….they don’t know how to do one thing and most don’t know how to do NOTHING.

To that I say: HORRORS! Seriously.

One of the reasons to learn to do one thing or NOTHING is because we are not driven to DO SOMETHING like text or email or call when we should be doing something else such as paying attention to the 18 wheeler bearing down on us. Another reason is that being unplugged from all things that have a plug (including video games, TVs and radios) on a daily basis, on a consistent basis, makes us HAPPIER and HEALTHIER people.

A researcher at Harvard named Adam Philips wrote several papers on how boredom in children actually promotes their creativity and inner imagination. Children being bored is NOT a bad thing. Parents need to STOP the endless parade of “let’s entertain the kids.” It’s RIDICULOUS. We’re not doing them any favors.

I allowed my children to be bored and they learned to create in the space, and/or annoy their brothers….but more often than not they created something to do and a lot of times it was to go out and throw the football around with their brother.

This past weekend the 3 of them were at a family gathering….it was a bit slow in the afternoon and the 3 of them…ages 29, 25 and 24 went out on the lawn and threw a football around. They didn’t sit there mindlessly playing with the cellphone, blackberry or ipod. They actually interacted IN PERSON. I do have a rule with my kids (yes, even the adult ones I ask this of and they respect my wishes) that at family gathering, none of those electronic things. I caught my 16 year old daughter looking at her cell phone and I said, “PUT IT AWAY.” There is no need to talk to other people when you’re visiting with family or to even CHECK on who is trying to talk to you. PUT IT AWAY. We were there for FIVE hours. She can go five hours without talking to her friends or seeing if a friend called, and if she can’t, we have a problem. I simply won’t tolerate it.

unfortunately I have friends whose kids whip out the cell phone and start talking NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE. Not only is it not good for them to NOT learn to wait but it’s rude.

Learning to BE with the people you’re WITH, is a good thing.

Having your head where your feet are IS A GOOD THING.

Learning to sit and BE with nothing to stimulate or entertain is good for kids. Life requires patience and delayed gratification. Life requires just SITTING sometimes and doing NOTHING. Kids need to learn that.

That is why my kids wouldn’t get to go in one of those car supermarket baskets or have a DVD player in the car if they were around at the time. Sure, it’s EASIER on parents to have the kiddies entertained every minute but it’s not good for the kids that they HAVE to be entertained every minute. It stunts their emotional and creative growth.

I let my kids be bored and I follow through with my grandchildren. They sit in the back seat and look OUT THE WINDOW. I let them sit in the grocery cart, facing me and talking to me, not going vroom vroom vroom in some ridiculous car attached to the shopping cart.

And my boys were EXTREMELY challenging at the grocery store but that is when I set limits and boundaries with them. that is when I said, “One more time and we’re leaving” and we left. I would leave an entire cart full of food and go home. They learned to behave after only a few times of doing that. They knew I meant it when I said it. And it extended to restaurants, movie theaters and other stores. If I said, one more time and we go home, they KNEW I meant it.

I didn’t need to put them in a stupid car attached to the grocery cart. That is a pain in the butt to the other shoppers when the store is crowded. And the kid who can’t be still for a half hour in the grocery store will soon be texting while driving because he or she is BORED and driving is, well, boring. Kids NEED to learn to be bored for many different reasons.

I believe that Philips wrote on the benefits, the emotion and mental growth from delayed gratification…and I believe that boredom is gratification delayed. In the techno world there IS no delayed gratification and that is a HUGE problem.

So for years now I have been insisting upon peace, quiet, boredom, delayed gratification and UNPLUGGEDNESS. I unplug COMPLETELY for at least one hour in the morning and one hour at night. On the weekends its several hours. Yesterday I was incommunicado for about 7 hours and that was just the way it was. Everyone I knew had to deal with it. I had an important non-techno thing to do.

If nothing is scheduled, I make myself go out for a walk with no blackberry and no cell phone. I get on a bus or train and shut them all off for HOURS at a time. I go shopping without them so I can just roam around the stores and not be interrupted.

I force myself to just BE.

Am I ever tempted to text or blackberry while driving? Of course I am! That is why I think that if someone like me who is so adamantly against cell phone use while driving can be tempted to the point of taking the thing out of its case before talking myself into putting it back, almost anyone can be lulled into thinking it’s okay to text while driving. Even CALLING is dangerous…but texting? You might as well drive on large amounts of drugs.

But unplugging everything is good to just BE. Learning to just BE is a good thing for emotional and mental growth and energy. It’s also good for you to just BE with you…and know that someone is not going to come crashing into your space with you. It’s good to have your COMPLETE focus on ONE thing or on NO thing…just hanging out by yourself, totally unplugged. Just driving along is nice and you can have the radio on and be in your own little world without having to share it with anyone. You can go for a walk and be left with JUST your own thoughts, or just mindless observation.

It’s a HEALTHY RECHARGE and you NEED to do it.

Giving yourself the time and space to experience a world, THE world, and other people without being plugged into a device is actually rather nice. Get used to it again.

Another exercise is to BE where your feet are. Instead of being on a line and looking at your phone, look around and people watch. See the sites and sounds of real-live animated things. It will amaze you.

If you feel like whipping out your phone etc. stop and wait 5 minutes and another time 10 and then 15. Then see if you can go an entire store trip or standing on a line without looking at it. It is freeing. It is taking back control.

Make time in your life for NOTHING…just you. It’s very healthy and nourishing to the mind, the body and the soul.

I can’t say it often enough…UNPLUG…let the phone ring, the Blackberry vibrate, the email notice beep….just go about your business.

If you CAN’T do it, you have a problem and you need to start, a little bit at a time.

Take it from this complete and total tech head: UNPLUG!!!!

Unplug consistently and be less available to those in your life on a REGULAR basis.

Do not be a slave to technology….UNPLUG.

Do it. It’s worth it. YOU’RE WORTH IT.

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