Why smartphones are making us less smart

Smartphones: Millions of people may be suffering from ‘digital dementia’ 

Using our smartphones is often an addiction … and like most addicts, we don’t realise just how dependent we’ve become on our technological fix.

Of course, they are useful but there is also a darker – perhaps we’ll call it grey instead so it doesn’t sound too sinister – side to our mobile phones which are having a lasting impact on our brains.

And it’s this … our smartphones are, in some ways, making us stupid. I’ll give you an example and I doubt many of you will say you don’t do this. Someone wants to give you their phone number. Quick as a flash, the fingers and thumbs will be at work keying it into your phone. Gone are the days where we’d write it down or, God forbid, actually remember it. This means we are eroding our memory skills. If I was talking to a group during a presentation and I gave them a random seven-figure number now – say 6497234 – and then asked them five minutes later to recall the number and say it out loud how many do you think would remember it? Very few. Perhaps, ironically, only the technophobes.

You could even try it at home with your family’s smartphone users. Give them the number twice, tell them it’s important, and then ask them to recall it five minutes later.

If they can’t then they could be suffering from Digital Dementia, a brilliant phrase introduced to the world by neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer to describe an overuse of digital technology resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities. He believes that short term memory pathways start to deteriorate from underuse if we overuse technology and once this sets in then it will be with you for life.

Look at the world around us. Sit in a café and see how many people there are on their mobile phones, how many people walking past are on phones, how many people travelling past on buses or in taxis are on phones. Our phones are taking over our lives and, although some of us realise it, we are unlikely to change and the reason for this is because we’ve become addicts and we don’t know it.

It’s said that alcoholics are the last to realise they are alcoholics when everyone around them – their friends and relatives – are all too powerfully aware. They often change when they reach some kind of crossroads in their lives – usually a crisis such as a serious health scare – and then they try to do something about it.

A force for good

The big problem with smartphones is that they are ultimately such a force for good – our window to the world and a massive help in our daily lives – that the detrimental impact they’re having on our minds goes way under our conscious radars. We won’t see the potential pitfalls and how they are eroding our mental dexterity. A great example is 10 friends who went out for an evening meal. The bill came to £360 – it was a particularly good meal – and 3 of the diners had to get their Smartphones out to work out their part of the bill which was quite simply £360 divided by 10. By the way, the answer’s £36 for those scrabbling around for their mobile phones.

This addiction and its impact on our minds will only get worse. How many parents are totally exasperated by their children on their phones day and night?

The time has come to make a stand – ban smartphones from the bedroom, mealtimes and at school. And how many parents will now roll their eyes while reading this fearing that trying to bring in these bans is a lost cause.

There is a new generation of young people now entering the world of work who will have their smartphones between their hands and their keyboards their addiction is so strong and that surely is a serious distraction from what they should be doing. Even at a gym, you’ll see people staring at their phones while exercising and it makes you wonder if that means they’re automatically putting less effort in as their concentration is being diluted by their smartphones.

If you’re chatting to someone and they have their phone in their hand or even on the table do you, perhaps even subconsciously, feel threatened by it and that you are somehow not as important as that small yet smart device.

So beware and also be aware that digital dementia is costing us basic mind and memory skills. In short, we are outsourcing our brains to our Smart devices and losing the ability do some things that we used to take for granted.

And once those skills have gone, they’ve gone for good.

The Mindfulness Craze: The Benefits & Getting Started

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a process of purposefully cultivating non-judgemental attention to experiences in the present moment which can be achieved through many different practices including meditation. 

Professor Mark Williams from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says that “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’.” Living ‘in our heads’ can often lead to rumination and worries about the future – a common factor in the onset of mental health problems. As such, mindfulness techniques are commonly used in areas of mental health treatment (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to detract people’s attention away from the future, instead, bringing their attention firmly into the present (NHS, 2019).  It is time to get started, our minds are phenomenal parts of us. You keep your body fit, so let’s get our minds fit too.

Awareness of this kind helps us spot signs of anxiety and stress earlier on and deal with them more effectively. Uncertainty about the future and the lack of control that comes with it can often provoke a great deal of anxiety, especially in young people whose brains are still underdeveloped in many areas of emotion regulation. As such, focusing on the present has a wide range of benefits and an increasing number of applications, beyond mental wellbeing.

Modern applications of mindfulness and its benefits

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 to treat the chronically ill. Since then, the application of similar mindfulness programs has extended into medicine, schools, prisons, hospitals and other government and business environments. Evidence from numerous meta-analyses indicates that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can have a significantly positive impact on reducing stress, anxiety and depressive symptomology (Kabat-Zinn, University of Sussex, 2003). 

Some of the best athletes in the world turn to meditation to increase their focus, calm their nerves and reduce distractions, including NBA basketball players LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Meditation can generate “flow” or a state of total focus on the current task (Aherne, Moran, & Lonsdale, 2011; Kee & Wang, 2008) and often enhance performance. You don’t have to be a pro-athlete to reap the benefits of mindfulness; these techniques are widely applicable to your business world; key business leaders and advocates of mindfulness include Bill Ford, the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company and Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has aggregated some empirically supported benefits of mindfulness including improved stress management, emotional intelligence (EQ), improved working memory, greater emotional control and higher relationship satisfaction. Sound interested? Here’s how you can get started with mindfulness:

How can we more mindful? 

  • Sitting peacefully and breathing through the nose and out of the mouth to regulate breathing. If you feel your mind drifting, touch the floor or look at the room around you to bring yourself back into the present moment.
  • Try mindful colouring or mindful exercises such as walking and running.
  • We would recommend downloading the Headspace app or visiting their website which will help guide you through mindful meditation and help you get started.

Trying these techniques for just 10 minutes a day for a month or so, to vastly improve your wellbeing, mood and performance, for your work life, staying fit and well and for your relationships – helping you feel your best and perform your best!

Do please share, and get in touch with us at www.7milesaminute.com for further support, executive coaching @7milesaminute. Good luck!

Your inner voice

Why your ‘inner voice’ can be such a powerful force in your search for success in life

We all have it … and it yells at us every day although no-one else can hear what it’s saying.

Having the courage to follow your intuition

In this blog we are talking about your inner voice – also known as your intuition or gut instinct. Call it what you will, but listen to it.

It’s your inner sense urging you to do something – or perhaps even urging you to hold back from doing something – but how often do we ignore it, letting our logical thought processes take over instead to make that decision?

Yet how often has your inner voice been right even though at the time it surfaced in your consciousness you had no real reason to think that was the case?

One of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time was always insistent that you listen to your inner voice above your own thought processes and the arguments of others. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Most importantly, have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

To help you understand what this is all about let me give you the example of a man preparing for a triathlon who woke up one weekend knowing he needed to train but had a bad feeling about it. There was no logical reason why he shouldn’t go out for a long cycle ride, just something within him warning him against it.

Gut Instinct

He ignored his gut instinct, went out on his bike and within a couple of hours was lying in the middle of the road with a badly broken leg.

So what is this inner voice when it comes to making quick decisions in life? Well, the dictionary defines it as “the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning.”

Some would dismiss it as no more than a hunch. But how many times have you had a hunch that’s been right? I’ll bet it’s way more times than it was wrong.

Here’s a fact that will surprise you – 95% of our brain activity happens at an unconscious level? Studies indicate that a mere 5% of our cognitive activity – including decisions, emotions, actions and behaviour – comes from our conscious mind.

So your inner voice is shouting out from somewhere among that other 95% and from a  thought process that’s not being consciously processed. It may be it conflicts with your rational voice – the one that’s weighing up the pros and cons of doing something. The inner voice tends to say “just do it.”

Intuition

How does your inner voice shout out to you? Be aware that it’s not always a voice in your head. It may simply be a feeling that’s had an impact on your body ranging from a sensation – a shiver when, on the face of it, there’s no need to shiver – through to an emotion. Your gut feeling will emanate from your central nervous system. If you have a crush on someone it hits you in the pit of your stomach. If you know you’ve made a serious error – such as pulling out of a junction and causing a car crash – and knowing you’ll have to face the consequences it’s more than likely you’ll get a sickly feeling in your stomach first before your rational mind takes over, trying to quickly work out what to do next to sort the problem out.

There is a battle going on inside everyone – instinct versus logic – and the more you think about it and analyse it the stronger the chance of logic winning the day.

Your instinct may tell you to apply for a new job but then logic takes over and could come up with a whole host of reasons why not to – it’s a longer commute, the hours may not suit your family lifestyle, the extra money’s probably not worth it. So you don’t bother applying.

Yet if you had followed your instinct and applied you may have discovered the employer is ultra flexible, your pay banding will rapidly increase once you’ve been through your probationary period and you can work two days a week from home.

Making time to listen

So how can you listen to your inner voice and give time to listen to what it’s saying before your rational self takes over and crushes it?

Give it a chance at least to communicate with you and that’s by trying to a find a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of normal daily life. Easier said than done but there will be that opportunity if you look hard enough. Get up a few minutes earlier when everyone else is asleep, perhaps go for a walk and, if you can get the house at a really quiet time, meditate.

You’ll find there is a time when you’re more in tune with your inner voice. For some people it could be in the shower, the bath or on the toilet. It’s a time when your mind momentarily stops thinking or racing and then that unconscious part gets its chance.

Life’s full of tricky decisions. Say you’re buying a house and you decide to go for it despite having reservations. If you’ve made the right choice those reservations will be overcome, fade away or become less important. But if your inner self still has deep reservations you’ll feel uneasy about the whole move and start to resist it.

There are very few certainties in life. Your inner voice may not always be right but, on the balance of probabilities, it probably is because it’s your whole being that’s trying to tell you something rather than just one part of it … your brain. 

If you walk around talking to yourself isn’t that simply your inner voice finding its way out and expressing itself? It can be a powerful tool to psyche you up. How many times have you seen professional sports stars yell ‘come on’ with their fist punching the air. They’re talking to themselves, not the crowd, reinforcing their self-motivation which has got them this far in their highly competitive lives. If you’re going into an exam or for an interview how many people talk to themselves, perhaps saying they know they are the right person for the job, now go in there and prove it. Psychotherapists sometimes try to teach people how to use their inner voice to overcome their fears. 

Psychotherapists will also tell you there us a powerful link between negative self-talk and depression with people who ‘talk themselves down’ suffering more stress and poorer health, both physically and mentally. The way to control these thoughts is to stop and evaluate them. So if you fear you can’t do something then think back to similar situations where you have overcome such doubts and ultimately succeeded. It will replace that ‘can’t do’ mentality with a ‘can do’ one. If you do something and it’s ultimately unsuccessful use your inner voice to evaluate why so you learn an important lesson for next time. See it as a first attempt in the learning process and focus your thoughts on how you can improve in the future.

In these ways your inner voice can boost your positive mindset, enhancing your mental health. If you can feel it making a difference in your outlook on life just think how powerful it can be in helping to defeat your negative thoughts.

Take some more time

If you need to make a decision and something is gnawing at you inside and making you feel uncomfortable then just put the decision on pause and say you’ll get back to the person. Very few decisions in life really need to be snap ones. Take time to explore the reasons to work out exactly what it was that made you feel uncomfortable and why. Your body may be telling you intuitively that something is wrong by perhaps feeling sick, anxious or being unable to sleep. The better you get at recognising these kind of reactions and why they are happening will lead you to think that your instincts can be trusted. The more you validate your instincts and show them to be correct, the more you’ll both trust and listen to them and the better you’ll feel within yourself.

In conclusion, you have a strong ally within yourself … and that’s your inner voice so make sure you use it to your advantage and this blog has shown how you can do that. It can enhance your performance and keep your mental attitude in tune with your body.

It will help you to reflect within yourself which may well lead to positive changes and can boost your self-motivation to help you achieve your targets and ambitions.

In short, when your inner voice speaks to you make sure you listen.

Thank you for reading, do get in touch would love to support you in your quest.

Let’s support one another – wellbeing is ours for creating

I have made time to focus and write this short 4 minute piece, have been struck again personally by this important issue.  After a colleague who had battled with his mental well-being, and lost, and left us all reeling in disbelief and shock, when he took his own life.  A gifted father, husband, a talented human being, and friend. Gone.  Why had none of us reached out? Just phoned to say “Hello mate! How’s tricks?”.  Upon reflection, we have now learned we all could have done so much better.  Give this some serious thought to your colleagues, and do better than I did please.

Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health problems are now the leading cause of disability in the UK, affecting 1 in 4 of us throughout the lifespan (World Health Organisation [WHO], 2017 https://www.who.int/). It is important to recognise that mental “health” extends beyond the absence of mental health disorders; it is a state of well-being in which an individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and is able to work productively.

Your mental health is determined by a range of environmental, socioeconomic and biological factors; poor mental health is often associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, physical ill-health and human rights violations. As such, we all have a responsibility in the workplace to create an environment where employees feel safe to be themselves and feel comfortable speaking to someone if they are having a bad day.

The World’s Most Common Mental Health Disorders

In recent years, we have opened up the conversation about the world’s most common mental health disorders.

Depression

The most common mental health disorder, depression, affects around 320 million people worldwide (WHO, 2017) and is characterised by ongoing depressed mood or “feeling low” and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. Other symptoms include changes in appetite, sleep disturbance, difficulty with concentration and memory and reduced self-esteem.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD)

OCD is often misunderstood and is an incredibly debilitating disorder. It is characterised by obsessive, almost constant thoughts, images or impulses that are difficult to ignore (called obsessions), and a strong feeling that the person must repeat certain physical acts or mental processes (called compulsions) to help overcome such thoughts.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive and disproportionate worries and difficulties controlling them. Other symptoms include restlessness, fatigue and sleep and concentration disturbance.

Other common mental health disorder include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Bipolar Disorder and Panic Disorders. 

Actionable Strategies for Advancing Workplace Mental Health

Wellness Committee

Forming an employee wellness committee in your business not only allows your team to learn more about mental health but also provides a point of contact for those who may need to discuss and receive support for mental health difficulties. A Wellness Committee could also extend its efforts beyond the office and engage in or host panel discussions and events that promote mental wellbeing. De-stigmatising mental health in this way will encourage employees to speak up when they need help – an initiative that has already seen great success in large companies such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car https://careersblog.enterprise.co.uk/now-is-the-time-to-talk-about-mental-health/ .

Communications (Chat, speak face to face, get to know one another)

It is important to establish communication processes that educate employees on stigma, psychological illness and safety relating to mental health. A useful method to ensure the mental well-being of your employees is to provide annual or quarterly confidential surveys that monitor the mental well-being of your team. For more information on this, visit the mental health report by the American Heart Association who propose some useful workplace strategies. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/03/05/top-ceos-offer-strategies-to-improve-workplace-mental-health

Community Partnerships

Identify ways to align with local organisations to improve mental health within your community. This is also a good way to evaluate and discuss other companies’ mental health practises to see if they will be a good fit for your company. Recent research has demonstrated the importance of physical activity and mindfulness-based practises in mental health and has been particularly effective in treating depressive symptoms. A range of UK businesses are now engaging with local yoga studios https://londonlovesbusiness.com/why-wellness-in-the-workplace-matters/ to promote work-life balance. This not only helps with stress management but also enables employees’ remain motivated and productive.

Leadership

Ensure leaders demonstrate visible and proactive actions to build an inclusive culture that supports a mental-health-friendly workplace (e.g. incorporating a health and well-being section into monthly employee one-to-ones is a good initiative to demonstrate support for your teams). Providing external annual training with experts in workplace wellbeing and mental health coaching is incredibly useful in helping them lead wellbeing conversations with your team. Mental Health at Work https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/ is a particularly useful site for smaller organisations that may not have the resources to offer comprehensive mental health support in-house. Businesses can find advice on everything from training in mental health awareness to structuring a full program of support. Senior leaders can also ensure that employees are made aware of the services and support the company offers for mental well-being.

7 Miles a Minute Ltd

Here at 7 Miles a Minute, we are a team of expert executive leadership performance coaches, keynote speakers and accredited Miro psychometric and Performance Climate System practitioners. We support businesses across the UK and US develop long-lasting mental wellbeing and develop action plans to help your team perform to the best of their ability. We help you identify your workplace climate and ways to ensure your people are happy at work, in turn, fuelling your team’s appetite to grow as a unit. 

Some of our clients include the Bank of England, FlyBy Technology, VISTAGE, and the NHS. If you wish to learn more about 7 Miles a Minute and what we can do to enhance your workplace health and well-being practises, get in touch today by emailing mw@7milesaminute.com

(+44) 7903 849 262

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