A key Mindset concept that we teach at Tignum is purposefulness. Of course this is tied first to awareness of your behaviors and then purposefully choosing your behaviors to get the end results you want. Last week, while leading a workshop with a client, I was surprised at how often the participants had their smartphones in their hand and were checking their email, surfing the internet, or the reading the latest news.
At first it didn’t register as odd (this in itself speaks volumes of the state of the business world today), but then I noticed that at every break the intensity of this habit went up. I thought for sure there must be a crisis going on within the company and everyone was connecting to urgently solve it. Curious now, I asked the leader whether there was an emergency back in the office and she replied, “No - not that I know of.” Then she habitually turned her attention back to her phone.
On my way home, curious now from my observations, I tried to put a bit more attention on this phenomenon and observed people at red lights in traffic, in the airport, in the lounge, and on the bus to the plane. As you might already expect, I saw the same hooked-to-the-screen behaviour.
In a study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, knowledge workers spend roughly one third of their work week either writing, reading, or responding to email. For the majority of these workers, this could lead to 8 hours in front of a screen during a normal day (smartphones, computers, iPads, TV). Reflecting on my own behaviour, I was just wondering whether this is just our habitual way of dealing with the daily load or actually a mindless over-consumption?
Linda Stone - a researcher and writer on continuous and partial attention - coined a term called “Screen Apnea”. Linda researches the behaviours described above and the costs these habits incur. An interesting finding was that the majority of mobile device and computer users were holding their breath or breathing very shallowly - especially when responding to email. She also found that their posture was compromised which additionally had a negative impact on breathing.
Holding your breath kicks in some complicated processes in the your body which throw off your biochemistry (the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide balance is undermined). This makes total sense since breathing is a necessary part of life and anything that interrupts this core need will create some version of panic (even if it is subtle, unconscious, and unnoticed). This negatively impacts your immune system, leads to inflammation processes in your body, decreases your memory and learning, and even negatively impacts your sleep. Shallow breathing and breath holding activates the sympathetic nervous system which puts your system under constant alert. This has a profound impact on your sustainability and performance. Research from the Life and Health Science Research Institute found that parts of our brain linked to decision making and goal orientation shrink, and brain regions linked to habit formation grow, when we are under constant alert.
This all comes back to what we always tell our clients. We need a high level of awareness of our habits and their impact on our brain, our body, our performance, and our sustainability. We also need the right tools and strategies (e.g., diaphragmatic breathing, ratio breathing) to off-set the negative implication of some of our behaviours - especially when they are part of our lifestyle and not easy to change.
While you read this, you are sitting at a screen. Check your posture. Check your breathing. Impact your brain. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.