Coffee and a Smartphone.

How to Avoid Disaster Using Mindfulness.

Here’s an important question. Do you text while driving? Your reflexive response might be, “Of course not. Around 3,000 people die each year due to texting and other distractions while driving”.

Duly noted! So, may I ask you this? Have you ever texted while walking? “Well, yes! We all have, right?”

I once watched a man walk head-on into a signpost on 2nd Ave in NYC because he was so much more interested in reading what was on his pocket-sized supercomputer than where he was going. “Ouch!” I said it out loud, as did the other woman who witnessed the episode. The man was startled, but didn’t seem miffed!

This is an example of how multi-tasking is a misnomer, a myth. The brain, instead, toggles back and forth between tasks, which exhausts our mental energy, often leading us to focus on the wrong stuff at the wrong time (Think about that signpost!)

Here’s another one: Have you ever been “caught” checking your email during a video conference? When a question is posed, the distracted person predictably asks for the question to be repeated. It’s one thing to look foolish for a quick instance; it’s another when you trip on the sidewalk in front of multiple onlookers.

These extreme examples of the misfortunes of multitasking offer a prime opportunity to be vigilant in your self-care and well-being. You see, although severe mishaps due to smartphone distraction are few and far between, they can have huge negative consequences. And besides, discipline in this area is gratuitous, like using your turn signal to help communicate with other drivers.

Why do I bring this up? Because a colleague’s story brought me back to the moment when I became vigilant with my smartphone rules. Here’s how it went down: That colleague (let’s call him Miguel) showed me his scrapped-up hand and scabbed-over arm while describing his bruised leg (and bruised ego) resulting from a “walking while smartphoning” incident.

Miguel had just left a coffee shop with his cup of coffee in one hand and his smartphone occupying the other. He decided it was top priority to check the weather report while walking and, before he knew it, he hit the ground, looking up at a sea of strap-hangers emerging from a subway station.

A kind witness offered Miguel some help up, which he declined. Mortified, he hurriedly got himself up, grabbed his (now) empty coffee cup and scurried from the scene of this humiliating event. It took a few blocks for his adrenaline to slow, and for the pain to set in.

My heart broke for Miguel as he told the story. I’ve certainly tripped dozens of times over apparently nothing and been embarrassed by the stumbles. This brought to mind a steep hiking trail years ago on my visit to Moab, Utah. For a reason I cannot recall, I felt it urgent to check my cellphone, causing me to almost fall from a high ledge!

The taste of that desert soil came flashing back to me as Miguel told his story. And my own words from that incident echoed again in my mind: “There is nothing important enough on this cellphone to cause me to put myself in danger.”

I asked Miguel what he was thinking at the moment, after recounting his tale and showing me his wounds. He wished to set an intention not to read and walk at the same time.

A coaching exchange then unfolded. Here are some takeaways for you to consider, designed to inspire an awareness of your relationship with your smartphone.

Miguel admits that he often checks his smartphone for instant gratification. He was horrified but not surprised to learn that the neurochemical reaction to email is similar to sugar and drug addiction.

For the most part, there’s NO reason Miguel could come up with to check his smartphone while traveling on foot. It’s not like he’s an on-call heart surgeon!

When Miguel does have a burning thought or question and needs to check it out right away, he will think in a binary fashion. His eyes and attention can’t be in two places at once. He will now intentionally “stop feet, use brain”.

If he is waiting for a time-sensitive message, when he receives the alert, he will stop walking. When I asked him how this will look, he said, “What it won’t look like is when a tourist stops in the middle of the sidewalk! He will “pull over” to an uncrowded spot and check his smartphone.

For you, the bonus is that this is an opportunity to practice mindfulness! I know, I know, you are in a rush. I invite you to reframe this attitude with the reality that while you CAN do some things simultaneously, walking and reading both require visual focus.

If you’re rolling your eyes right now, consider that “accidents” happen all the time. Why not employ tiny measures to potentially avoid catastrophic outcomes?

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