When I realised my phone had been stolen in Barcelona, I thought ok, it’s just a material item, nothing sentimental, I’ll just replace my trusty iPhone. Then the sinking feeling sets in. You forget how much you rely on that slimline, rectangle piece of technology and how it sometimes is your third hand. It’s my alarm clock, my maps, my translator, my travel guide, my camera, my music, my exercise log and generally the device you can turn to if you’re bored or alone. So after an eye opening trip to a Spanish police station at 3am on a Friday night, it was goodbye phone and RIP to my Snapchat streaks and recently snapped travel photos.
Waking up phone free on Saturday morning was quite unusual. No first thing scrolls through Instagram, no checking Facebook notifications, no emails, basically no contact with the outside world. As the day progressed, my instinct was to reach for my phone in my bag to snap my food for Instagram stories (sad I know, you all do it), before realising that without a phone it could be quite problematic. Leaving Barcelona that evening and knowing I had a two hour plane journey ahead without any form of technology was also quite a strange sensation, would I have to actually read on the plane? And how would I let my boyfriend know we were leaving on time or order an Uber when we returned to Manchester? The fact I still didn’t have a phone didn’t set in until Sunday night when I went to set an alarm for Monday morning. I, like many, don’t own an old school alarm clock, instead relying on my phone alarm and the trusty Sleep Cycle app, how would I know how my sleep quality was now and most importantly how would I wake up in the morning? Thankfully my boyfriend set one on his, although he wasn’t best pleased, when at 6.30am the alarm was blaring on his side of the bed. Monday morning arrives and I wonder how I’ll make it to work without my music firmly plugged in, blocking the outside world out and with nothing to mindlessly scroll through on the train.
And there we have it folks. A lot of the things I do on my phone are completely mindless.
When you’re travelling somewhere be it to work or further afield, how often do you actually appreciate the surroundings or natural sounds? How often do you sit down to watch a film only to pick up your phone and end up having to Google the plot half way through? How often do you just sit in silence and read a book with no distractions, be that on a train or at home? How often do you eat a meal, whilst glued to your phone, not realising what you’re eating and still feeling hungry afterwards?
Mindfulness seems to be the word on everyone’s lips at the moment. The term fills our Instagram feed, it’s all we see online and it feels like if we aren’t practicing mindfulness (or at least talking about it) we are doing something wrong. I’ll hold my hand up, I wasn’t aware of what mindfulness really was and didn’t understand what all the hype was about. I assumed it was another fad, something that would come and go over the course of 2017. Something that no one really had time for, unless you were a full time yoga teacher living in Bali.
However, according to an actual professor on the topic, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Professor Mark Williams says, “Mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.” He also notes, “It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” and says, “It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
That is exactly what I did when I didn’t have my phone. I became aware of my surroundings. Walking to work music free allowed me to enjoy the sound of silence. On the train, I started a new book (aptly named Quiet) something I haven’t done since I was on holiday back in September last year. When I got to work, I concentrated on the job at hand without being distracted by notifications constantly popping up on my phone (I’m not that popular, I just have notifications set for every app I own). Lunch is usually sat at my desk, on my phone, or popping outside, but still on my phone making calls. So going outside for lunch on a lovely spring day, phone free was a really treat. That evening, I went to the gym and concentrated on my workout, without resorting to my phone pretending there was some something important I needed to take a break for. I even put on a film and actually watched it, without having to Google the plot line (a very rare occurrence for me).
What I Learnt About Mindfulness
My replacement phone arrived on Tuesday night, after a total of four days phone free. I’m not going to lie, I loved having it back in my life, but during my time without the trusty device, I learnt some important lessons about mindfulness.
- Not everything needs to be documented on social media. I didn’t need to post a photo of every meal whilst on holiday, nor did I need to share an image of every pretty building I saw, chances are most people have seen them all before. You can enjoy food and architecture with your eyes, not through a lens.
- Being social with strangers isn’t scary. Getting in a lift at work and you notice everyone glued to their phone, but without mine I actually struck up a conversation with someone, shocking I know. This also happened on the train, as I wasn’t plugged into my music I had a lovely chat with a lady, whilst enjoying the scenery.
- Food is appreciated much more. Without being distracted by my phone I was conscious about what I was eating and enjoyed my food much more, along with actually feeling full at the end of the meal, as I literally watched what I ate.
- Without being on Instagram all the time I wasn’t comparing myself to others (like Victoria Secret models). I therefore felt marginally more confident without consuming images of their ‘picture perfect lives’ throughout the day.
In all honesty, having a phone again does make life a little easier, as in, it gets me up in the morning to start my now mindful day. However, being without it helped me realise I could survive using it a lot less than I usually would, giving me a much clearer understanding of mindfulness and the small benefits it can bring to everyday life. Who knows I might try a digital detox more often, just intentionally next time.
Have you been without a phone before? How did you cope? Did you become more mindful? Let me know in the comments.