The Price of Distraction

iStock_000077900043_Small I’m sitting in a Starbuck’s in northern Virginia, an unusual (to me) soundtrack on the radio—I ‘Shazam’ the song and it’s ‘Can’t Do Without You’ by Caribou. OK. Interesting looking people walk into the coffee shop… And here’s an article in the Wall Street Journal on the Tesla X, a $125K car I’ll never own… I have a blog to write, an interview to edit, and an article to reflect on…

And I have my iPhone and iPad in front of me—with emails calling, Facebook telling me that I have new notifications, Flipboard offering me up-to-the-minute articles from Politico, Salon, NPR, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ted Talks, and a score of other media outlets…

More information than was available in the great libraries of the world is a click away to be digested with my grande latte. Used wisely, it’s a cornucopia. But without awareness we lose connection with our lives and get swept up in whatever triggers the brain’s dopamine (reward) receptors or the amygdala (the brain’s fear center) at any given moment.

Much of our suffering comes from thoughts and actions that we repeat over and over—habits that are assigned to faster-acting brain processes that operate below the ‘radar’ of our conscious intentions.

Without awareness we keep repeating these patterns, even when they are unhealthy or harmful to us. And these days one of the most common and troubling is our habit of (and sometimes, addiction to) distraction.

Recent surveys show that 40 percent of people between 19 and 39 years old say they text while they drive. Distracted driving caused over 3,300 deaths and 387,000 injuries, and was to blame for 10 percent of all crashes in 2012.

Even if distraction doesn’t kill or injure us, it can be a source of suffering. It’s very easy to have our default be to check our gadgets whenever we feel bored, uncertain, confused, or a range of other uncomfortable emotions or mind states. Once the habit of ‘checking out’ becomes established, we can spend our day—and perhaps much of our lives—disconnected from our bodies, our emotions, and awareness of our thoughts and moods.

We may not even know that we are paying a psychic, emotional, or spiritual price for being AWOL from our lives. But if we can take even a momentary pause to experience our bodies, bring awareness to our breathing, and open to our emotions, we may get a sense of what we are missing.

This present-moment awareness—mindfulness—helps us connect with what we care about most deeply and returns us back from ‘virtual reality’ to the only place and time that life can be fully lived—here and now.

It can be helpful to ask ourselves: What is my relationship to technology? Does my involvement with my phone or other devices take me away from my body and emotions, and from my loved ones? Am I paying a high psychic and spiritual price for being constantly connected?

And, if so, are there some steps I can take to make technology a helpful servant rather than a master? Here’s a great 5-minute clip from Louis CK on Conan O’Brien talking about the price we pay for not being willing to feel our feelings and being hooked on our gadgets:

And check out my book, The Here-and-Now Habit, on using mindfulness to change unhealthy habits at




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