Checking in, not checking out

For the longest time I’ve had the same New Years’ resolution: to floss daily. The fact that it’s playing on repeat, says something about how well I’m going with that. This year though, I’m changing it up. I’m still hoping to floss more often than I currently do, but this year instead of focusing on a habit of action, I’m pushing to shift a habit of mind.

Instead of checking out, I want to check in.

I’m writing this post from the Kaikōura peninsula a couple of days after New Years. The wifi is nonexistent, and mobile data is sparse and unreliable. That’s helped to break my digital addiction, but first of all it’s highlighted how strong it is. Again and again I’ve found myself thoughtlessly picking up my phone to check something, anything, before I realise it’s pointless here, AND that the habit was pointless anyway. I didn’t really need anything in internet-land and it didn’t need me. 

And yes, yes, we all know we should be looking at our phones less. If you’re not convinced, here’s a recent podcast I listened to that spurred me again. And if you’re keen for more, you can’t go past Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism.

There’s a human compulsion for novelty and connection that our phones and Big Media have (ab)used to hijack our attention for their own nefarious ends. But underneath that there’s something else that I know I need to address. Something a little closer to my heart

It’s the repeating narrative that “I need a break, I deserve a break, I just gotta check out for a bit”. It holds out the hope of a quiet 10 minutes on my phone (even if it’s just while on the loo) like it’s some balm for my soul.

Now there’s some truth in that. I’m an introvert, I have four kids—enough said. So I do need to carve out time away for myself if I want to stay sane. But these little moments of checking out… they don’t provide that. Maybe they give me a moment for the feelings to subside a little, for patience to resurface a little, but this little isn’t enough. And when it’s time glued to my phone it is such a very little boost that it gives.

So what’s the better option? The realities of life mean that often we can’t squeeze in extended periods of quiet and “self-care”, when you’ve only got 10 minutes, you’ve only got 10 minutes.

It’s what we do with it.

How about instead of checking out with digital escapism, you…

  • check in to your own body? Become aware of your breath, where you’re holding tension, and practice calm within your body. Maybe all you can manage is a readjustment of your posture and some deeper breathing, but that’s still doing you good.
  • check in with your feelings? Now some of you never left your feelings, but some of us are often oblivious to what we’re actually feeling, we’re just thinking and doing our way through things. If you’re in the gut or head triad on the Enneagram, then learning to connect with your feelings is important… but hard.
  • check in with the Spirit? It doesn’t need to be as formal a spiritual practice as opening your bible, perhaps a breath prayer is more what you need. I’ll often have a quick chat with God while I’m at the washing line (no one ever wants to join me there!), and I always come away with clarity and calm.
  • check in with a friend? It amazes me how just the act of shooting off a message to a friend – maybe it’s a vent, maybe it’s a prayer request, maybe it’s an encouragement or a friendly hi – does my heart good. A chat would be better (you know like actual person to person communication, of the kind that phones were designed for: PHONE calls). But even just reaching out to connect with a person is better than nothing. Scrolling past a friends Insta post and ❤️ing it is not real connection, it’s a cheap facsimile that makes you feel connected while still leaving your heart starving for the real thing.
  • check in with your kids? This is the major point I want to see change this year. I have this rubbish narrative whispering away that the best time is time where I can escape my kids… Ooh that sounds ugly when I type it out loud. But there it is. It’s lies like this that have me scrolling through social media while I’m in the car with the kids, waiting to pick someone up from some after school activity somewhere. Sometimes those waiting kids just want to disappear into a book of their own, but sometimes there’s an opportunity for a hear-to-heart connection, and I’ve missed it. Yes kids are draining, but connection often gives me more energy that it takes.

This resolution is going to take some work for me. I’ll be going at it year after year, much like flossing. But, much like flossing, it’s going to do me good in the long-term.

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