The founder of Living Unplugged gives his five top tips for living a more intentional life
Words Marc Curtis
Have you ever considered that you’re living your life to a template that you’ve never questioned? A template that nudges you to look at certain content, buy certain things, do a certain sort of work, live where you do?
We all embark on adult life armed with a set of templates that have been handed down from our parents’ generation. Work hard, buy a house. Work harder, buy a bigger house. Buy a new car. Buy a second car. Foreign holiday. Buy a bigger house…
And all the while we’re dealing with a set of challenges our parents and grandparents never had to deal with. Distraction and dissatisfaction.
Distraction, because over the last 10 years or so, we’ve embraced a whole suite of devices whose function is to fill every available minute with… well, something. When was the last time you stood in a lift and didn’t get your phone out? In his book, The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction, Matthew Crawford describes distractibility as the mental equivalent of obesity. According to Crawford, capturing and holding our attention has become central to contemporary capitalism.
How can we possibly compete with the perfection of the Instagram cake-makers and the Pinterest mothers with their perfect children surrounded by beautiful wooden toys
Companies, app makers and technology providers are invested in grabbing as much of this finite resource as they can. They employ tried and tested methods to present us with images and activities that can produce those little puffs of dopamine that give us the feeling of achievement or reward. Like a facebook post? Puff. Swipe a tinder profile? Puff. Someone shares your tweet? Puff puff….
And then we have dissatisfaction – because the distractions we cram into every second of our daily lives are rooted in consuming a fake version of the lives of others. How can we possibly compete with the perfection of the Instagram cake-makers and the Pinterest mothers with their perfect children surrounded by beautiful wooden toys?
It is these platforms which have led us to become passive in our own sense of happiness or wholeness. We rely on technology to supply our sense of wonder or accomplishment. We are experiencing life vicariously through the lens of someone else’s curated social media feed.
But I’m not bashing technology here. I’m no luddite. I run an innovation lab for a well-known marketing agency; embracing new technology is literally my day job. But our phones are tools, and we need to learn when to put them away. A carpenter doesn’t walk around all day with a saw in his hand. He doesn’t place it on the table at dinner, constantly checking it for changes. When he’s finished sawing bits of wood, it goes into his tool box until the next time he needs it.
So how can we access the analogue, rejoice in real experience and be truly intentional in our choices – without opting out of twenty-first century life? Here are my top five catalysts that could help you live a more intentional, satisfying life.
Give food the attention it deserves
We have become separated from the idea that the gathering of ingredients and preparation of food is somehow linked to eating. More than that, many of us see preparing food, and even eating, as a chore. We sit at our desks stuffing shop-bought sandwiches in our mouths whilst scrolling through Facebook without any thought for the food going in.
When you become interested in food, and the manner in which you eat it, good things start to happen. Over time you can begin to change your eating and food preparation habits, making sure that your body is getting what it needs. When you begin giving food this level of attention, the quality of it becomes important, eating it becomes a joy, and the satisfaction we get from it increases.
Cook, sit at a table without distractions, and taste.
Understand that movement is a basic human need
When you think of exercise, does your heart sink? Our bodies love to be active, so try things out. A long walk in nature, running, surfing, yoga, parkour… anything that involves intentional movement is brilliant for your life satisfaction. But set your expectations low. It’s not about pain, it’s about the joy of movement. Try and build some simple, happy movement into your routine. Sundays in the park. Sunrise yoga. A quick pre-dinner stretch. What best fits your physical talents, your personality, your schedule? Identify what your mind loves and your body will thank you for it.
Part of the reason our attention is so eagerly sought by companies is because they want us to buy their stuff. The template many of us live by insists that we have the big car, that we should get the biggest mortgage we can afford and then fill our big house with all the possessions it can fit. When you question this template, you begin to question everything. Asking a simple question of “why” do I follow this template and “what are my possessions really doing for me?” can be incredibly eye opening. I would highly recommend watching a film called The Minimalists on Netflix, it changed my approach to spending and has helped me and my wife to create lighter space in our own home – both physically and emotionally.
Lose the devices
This is at the heart of many of the changes we are trying to make in our lives. Keep phones out of the bedroom (especially overnight – invest in an alarm clock instead). Move phones out of the living room and away from the table at meal times. Implementing device-free spaces can be an easy starting point to being more intentional. Rather than reaching for your phone out of habit you will have to stand up, walk to the room it’s in and pick up, all with intention rather than reflex. Try it out… it’s a habit that can be broken.
Kill the notifications
There will be times, especially during the day, when you’ll need your phone. That’s fine – we need our devices to participate in modern society. However, do we need all the distractions? If you have Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc installed – try turning off the notifications. Better yet, remove the icon from your home screen or even delete them from your phone. You can always check them on your computer. Start thinking of the phone as a tool, not a pacifier. Are those updates really more important than the person or place currently before your eyes?
None of these suggestions provide an instant fix. Finding joy in real experiences and reconnecting with more analogue ways of living is an exciting and wonderful journey – but a long one too. And that’s how it should be, of course. Who wants a short life?
Marc is a technologist and writer working for TMW Unlimited, and together with Laura Curtis runs Living Unplugged, helping people to live a more intentional life.
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