We inhabit a world of unprecedented information overload. Just a few decades ago, newspapers and television were the principal means for gathering information. To communicate with someone at a distance, we sent a letter – or fax. Remember fax machines? The world has changed, and we now have instant access to every song, movie, book, and article ever created – via tiny screens that we carry around in our pockets. The progress has been incredible, and the internet has successfully displaced encyclopedias, television, radio, and even medical practice. Who doesn’t check their symptoms via Google before getting a “second opinion” from a doctor IRL – in real life?
However, information overload is causing us significant distress. Research into the harmful effects of the internet reveals how technology can be both an asset and a considerable risk to our well-being. People are adapting – slowly – to new ways of work and life. Old models and conventions are no longer relevant. Younger generations are prioritizing life overwork. Yet, when we’ve become habituated to always-on technology, it can be challenging to discern the signal from the noise. Attention spans are shrinking.
Make time for what is important
If we don’t know what is important to us, we risk sliding down an infinite number of internet rabbit holes. Life passes quickly, and we might find ourselves wondering where yet another year went. Worst of all, we may find that we feel life has become meaningless or unfulfilling. A life unlived is a tragedy in an age of limitless potential. While the COVID pandemic has caused disruption and placed restrictions on our movement, the internet allows us to find our tribe, create, sell, become an entrepreneur, start a side hustle, and gain exponential growth. Or we can simply work remotely and enjoy more time with family or friends. Below we list three ways to thrive and design your own unique version of well-being in the digital age.
Create rhythms that support well-being
Every human has a clock that governs wakefulness, rest, recovery, and rejuvenation. This is called our ultradian rhythm. It runs in cycles of alertness and deep rest throughout every day and night. While we’re sleeping, we experience cycles of deep sleep and relative wakefulness – REM sleep – when we dream. During dream sleep, the brain consolidates memory, cleans out junk information, and prepares us to start a new day with fresh insights. Disrupted sleep – or lack of sleep – causes real distress. Prioritize sleep by turning off bright lights in the last 60 minutes before bedtime. If you have to look at screens, use blue-light-blocking glasses to reduce the risk of sleep disruption.
During the day, the ultradian rhythm cycles from peak alertness around 9 am through to a natural healing period 90 minutes later. This is followed by additional peaks and troughs – with the alertness level gradually declining through the day. Our recommendation is to stop resisting our natural rhythms. Instead, create a structure for each day that enables periods of high performance, whether cognitive or physical, followed by time for deep rest.
Remember, high-performance athletes, spend as much time recovering as they do, pushing themselves to the limit. Recovery should not only be passive – e.g. a bottle of wine and Netflix. Recovery should be active – breathing exercises, meditation, walking in nature. Research shows that the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku – or forest bathing – is immensely beneficial for immunity, mood, and overall health. Can you balance your busyness with deep relaxation?
Discover what is most important to you
Your personal values are the lens through which you make your decisions. Even when you don’t realize why you do the things you do, if you spend some time deconstructing your behavior, you’ll discover that you value certain activities, states or outcomes more than others. Of course, there are a set of baselines values we all share. These relate to survival: sustenance, safety, connection. When our safety is at risk, we revert to self-preservation, as most animals do. That is why we sometimes experience values conflict. I might value fairness, but because I lost my job, I take more than my share of a resource, even to the detriment of others. However, when we find ourselves in a state of homeostasis – or equilibrium – our higher values shift into action. We suddenly have space to evaluate the world based on another set of lenses. Here we might demonstrate altruism or compassion – or ambition, or innovation – there is no right or wrong. To discover your values, use a worksheet or values discovery tool and clarify your top 5. Then write these down in places that you frequent. Post-it notes on your car dashboard or beside your computer screen will do the trick.
Every time you make a decision or encounter a challenge, see if you can run your response through the lens of a core value. This will help you make micro-decisions aligned with what is most important.
Build your resilience
So, you’ve created rhythms that balance busyness with rest. You’ve identified what is most important to you and are comfortable making decisions aligned with these values. It is time to boost your willpower and learn how to embrace life with grit and determination. This is resilience. A resilient mindset requires preparation and the ability to activate resilience skills in the midst of intensity. Finding a balance between preparation and confidence is critical. Then there is the art of deliberate practice, highlighted in books such as Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson. Deliberate practice is the concerted and intentional effort required to attain mastery of any new skill. Resilience is one such skill. Think of a sports team or the military – they push themselves to the limit every practice session so that when it is time to perform, they can sink into flow state – effortless action – what the ancient Chinese called Wu Wei. They no longer have to think consciously about staying calm, persevering, or the motor skills required for their activity. Instead, they dynamically perform under pressure. The key skill of resilience is learning how to remain calm. When we’re relaxed, we make better decisions. When we’re in distress, overloaded, distracted, we tend to act out of panic. To maintain calm under pressure, we might adopt a growth mindset as a tool – or learn box breathing, reframing, or meditative techniques. The goal is to find a system you can rely on, and that resonates for you. Practice in times of relaxation (see section 1 above!), and use it in real-time whenever you want to push through adversity.
Untethered, our minds will drift towards distraction in our hyperconnected modern world. To restore balance and foster well-being, we need to create rhythms that support flourishing – what the ancient Greeks called Eudaimonia.
Align your rhythms with nature’s rhythms – your ultradian cycle – then engage your values in everything you do. Finally, activate resilience to achieve your goals.