At the end of our potentially alarming post on Wednesday, we promised to give you some ideas for avoiding the clutches of distraction in the Age of Distraction. Here are some thoughts that may help you get started imagining ways to take the breaks you need to enjoy all aspects of your life fully and without interruption.

First of all, it’s important to mention that the following strategies for combating chronic distraction are untenable without the determination to step away from the internet entirely for the time that you’ve decided to commit. In short, none of the activities below are possible without completely relinquishing your grip on the cyber world for some time.

But where am I supposed to find the time? I’m really, really busy!

That’s difficult. Time is hard to find. We have no magical solution or time-turner, but we do know this truth: there is no finding of time. There is only making time. This takes us back to the question of priorities. If our last blog post convinced you of the danger that Digital Age distractibility poses for your relationship and the rest of your life, we simply offer you a chance to consider the following list of ideas for fighting its unwelcome effects. The rest is up to you!

Note: A great way to make time to put these ideas into action (and to reap the maximum benefit from the undertaking) is to make these activities a regular part of your schedule (for example, if you meditate to clear your mind of distraction, setting aside a regular time to do so once a day or once a week – say, an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings). Alternately, if you take a yoga class or an art class, your schedule is already in place! We would like to be clear – the activities below do not have to take up countless hours of your life! You are free to  pick and choose and modify the ones that appeal to you in ways that will allow you to benefit from them while working within your schedule. We do not recommend attempting so many stress-relief strategies as to achieve the opposite effect!!

Without further ado, here is a list of strategies for taking time off which, if used wisely and regularly, can be used to systematically improve your life:

Strategies for Staying Sane:

  • Read a book. Think some interesting thoughts. If you’d like, discuss these thoughts with your partner – you can find an area that interests the two of you and explore it together! Getting off the computer can create opportunities to share something wonderful, and reading books is a great way to exercise and develop networks of new neural pathways in your brain. According to Nicholas Carr of The Shallows, this growth can aid in building neural circuits to “crisscross” the cortex, traveling between areas of the brain devoted to memory, visual and conceptual processing, and decision making.
  • Go on a date. Take yourself or yourself and a special someone or your whole family out to lunch or dinner or tea and take some time to escape from the unabating demands of your beeping pagers.
  • Go on a walk, meditate, or find a way that works for you to take yourself into a quieter head-space (we recommend at least 15 minutes per day). Use this time to clear your mind and you’ll be surprised at how a brief foray into tranquility can carry peace and clarity into all parts in your life.  According to a study run by researchers at UC Santa Barbara, “mindfulness improves reading ability, working memory, and task-focus.” See the research here.
  • Devote time to your hobbies – whether you write, knit, play board games, cook, drink coffee, dance, run, sing, bird-watch, star-gaze, or whittle tiny figurines for pleasure. Many of these activities can enhance your visualization skills, which, according to research by Tracy Alloway, can support visual-spatial and verbal working memory. Whether you seek serenity or release of energy and whether you do this in your me-time or your we-time is up to you – both can make lasting, powerful changes in your relationship with yourself and with your partner. 
  • Go into nature – alone or together. It’s probably the most direct and effective way to take a break from cyberspace and reconnect deeply and profoundly with the living, breathing world, yourself, and your partner. Nature has been demonstrated to have a regenerative effect on our ability to exercise our working memory and directed attention. 
  • If you have limits in time or mobility, try a walk in the park, a trip to the beach, a jaunt into the woods! You don’t have to travel far from home to go on an adventure in the great outdoors. If you’re lucky and can get away for the weekend, consider making that happen! Chances are that you (and your partner, if this is a joint venture) will benefit enormously from the trip. Get out of town and explore somewhere beautiful. If you’d like, bring the kids! We highly recommend that you leave your laptop, smart-phone, and all of your other pocket-computers behind. If you take a break from the tiny virtual world that usually lives in your pocket, we promise that you will be able to more fully enjoy the world in all of its glory. Tromp around in a field, look at some old tree stumps, skip some rocks, and celebrate your ability to enjoy this beautiful planet.

Whatever you do, try to find some peace. Finding balance and developing your attunement to the world around you can allow you to bring harmony into many areas in your life. Your mind, your body, and your partner will very likely thank you for it. 

A final thought: We do not consider the internet to be some kind of evil. We all use it. It’s useful and can be a wonderful tool for work and for play. You are obviously reading this because the internet exists. You can even use the internet to your advantage in pursuing and researching ways to disconnect from it! This is a part of its strange beauty.

You can also use virtual communication tools to contact friends, family, and coworkers in your network with whom you would like to share some coffee or an invitation to an event (a party, a friend-date, etc.). In our next Weekend Homework Assignment on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will provide you with a short and sweet (yet detailed and comprehensive!) master plan for doing just that!


More in The Digital Age
The Digital Age: Life, Uninterrupted

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.