Can you remember back to a time when you didn’t wake up and reach for a 3x6 inch plastic and glass life partner who demanded you swipe or press to quiet its specially chosen good morning wake up cry? And then, well, it’s in your hand already---may as well check the weather, the news or social media. Surely someone has done something you cannot start your day without knowing! Or maybe you’re one of the smart one who still awakens to the blaring vintage sound of a digital clock or radio music or a good old fashioned wind up bell alarm. Ahh! Those were the days!
According to research from IDC, 4 of every 5 smartphone users (SPUs) make a connection with their phones to the outside world within 15 minutes of waking up and 80% have done so before even getting out of bed. These numbers are significantly higher among 18-24 year olds. And so far, we’ve only touched upon the morning routine because that’s where it all begins. There is substantial evidence that shows that when we start out day feeding the habit of immersion into the world of endless information our very efficient, easily habituated brains crave more and more.
So why should it matter? Isn’t this just the new way to start the day? Really, what’s the harm? Well, for starters, the information we wake up to isn’t always gentle to the nervous system. It doesn’t have us floating out of bed to open the blinds and welcome in the new day with a light heart and open mind for whatever may come. Most SPUs have instead chosen to fill their heads with the weight of their personal to-do list, work tasks, the most recent political outrage or what shade of eyeshadow the latest, greatest influencer has chosen today. Whether you check your work email, open your favorite news bite app, or check social media, it all has the same affect on your brain.
This kind of dependence on cell phones can become an addiction, just like the addictions we can more readily understand to alcohol, food, drugs and gambling. Put simply, cell phone addiction creates an impulse that wants to be fed and the struggle to resist is real. We know that addiction is the great destroyer. When lack of resistance and habitual behaviors interfere with our own self care, our relationship and work life, it is likely that a pattern of addiction has formed and the aspects of our lives that should matter become neglected.
To be clear, addiction is not a choice or a battle easily won over the brain’s complex neurological mechanisms. This is where words like dopamine, amygdala, feedback loop, synapses and hippocampus come in, but those can be found in the great research studies and articles written about addiction hows and whys and whats. Just know that SPUs who have addictive behaviors around information consumption are at risk of having increased anxiety and poor stress management, losing hours of time for more productive and healthy activities and having poor sleep hygiene.
Albert Einstein wisely said of scientific advancements, ““The human spirit must prevail over technology.” I’m here only to offer my non-judging support of this wisdom. There are behaviors SPUs can implement that can help to embrace a better way to start and move through the day. Consider leaving your cell phone in another room or across the room before going to bed and using a different alarm. You could also put your cell phone on airplane mode to help resist the urge to answer notifications or create one additional, albeit insignificant, small step to have to perform before catapulting into the abyss. It is also helpful to replace an unhealthy habit with a meaningful or beneficial activity and a positive way to replace the void that may be left behind. A morning ritual may include reading a passage from a favorite book; writing in a journal; having a long stretch before getting out of bed; meditating; exercising; enjoying a cup of coffee or tea outdoors while making plans for the day. Try challenging yourself by setting times throughout the day to use your phone for social media or news or casual texting and limit yourself to a certain number of minutes each time. In times when you feel the impulse to mindlessly pick up the phone, have a plan to distract yourself with a mantra or statement like “my time is valuable” or “this is my time to be productive” or by taking a few deep breaths and continuing what it is you’re doing or shift gears and move on to a new task if you’ve become bored.
What sounds simple may prove to be a challenge, but one that is well worth the effort to help you stay focused, productive, efficient and disciplined in the use of your smartphone. One final option to consider would be to choose one full day a week to gift yourself with an information fast or detox or reprieve or moratorium--whatever you want to call it--and paint that seascape, plant your winter garden, crochet that throw, start your holiday shopping list or whatever it is you’ve been meaning to find the time to do! Above all, be gentle with yourself and know that whatever you put your mind to is where there will be change and remember that change is hard. Reach out for support from a close friend or loved one if you need encouragement and accountability. And since so many SPUs are reported to be affected by the addictive nature of information immersion, they just may surprise you and ask the same of you.
A dear friend of mine recently posted a meme of a silhouetted tree rising into an evening sky. In the foreground is a sea of colorful lights, while floating above the tree in the night sky are these words:
“The best way to avoid disappointment is not to expect anything from anyone.”
(Deep sigh.) While these words may well hold truth, they have never resonated positively in my system and now I feel a need to explore the discomfort. Here's what I've learned about the source of the quote. (No. It's not from the Bible.) In the 18th Century, there lived a poet named Alexander Pope who famously wrote this line in a letter to his friend John Gay:
“I have many years magnify’d in my own mind, and repeated to you a ninth Beatitude, added to the eight in the Scripture: Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
Words from someone who's clearly been disappointed, right? I should mention that Alexander Pope was also a satirist. I learned that much of his work was inspired by human weakness and vices and failings. With this in mind, and his choice to frame this thought as a Beatitude, I can imagine the sarcasm washing over his words as they were first constructed in his mind then spoken aloud. Without the benefit of the actual context of Pope’s words, interpretation is wide open. I maintain that the words arose by way of disappointment. In other words, he expected something from someone and was disappointed. Hence, the tongue-in-cheek, scorn-filled message to never expect anything from anyone ever. Try saying it outloud a little saucy and scorned. Think 18th century war-torn, dirty, overcrowded Britain, likely rife with disappointment! "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed!”
There is absolutely nothing sacred or serious about this statement when put into that context, and it doesn't quite have the quality of hopefulness found in the Biblical Beatitudes. Quite the opposite! Clearly Pope had just been disappointed and was able to express his disdain in the inverse form of the original eight. Think about it. We all use sarcasm sometimes. It's a great anecdote to the sting of disappointment. If Alexander Pope could have time traveled and had written the Beatitudes they may have sounded something like this:
“Blessed are the pushy for they will never inherit the Earth.”
“ Blessed are the dark in heart, for they will never see God.”
"Blessed are the sad, for they will never be joyful."
Pretty negative, right? Written like the Biblical Beatitudes, the "Expectation Beatitude" might read, “Blessed are they who have high expectations, for they shall find all that they seek in life.” See what I’m saying there?
On the subject of expectations, here are some further thoughts: Why would one not have expectations? There may be a good answer, but I cannot think of one. Except this: Many people simply do not have the skills to consciously set and maintain expectations that reflect their values. If you're someone who does set boundaries and expectations, imagine for a moment what your world would be like without them. To do this, consider common expectations we have everyday. In relationships we expect honesty; in the workplace we expect to be paid for the job we do; when driving, we expect other drivers to follow the rules of the road; and even when we're speaking, we expect to be heard. People who do have expectations will likely have more satisfying relationships, be more successful in their careers and carry the air of confidence of someone who will be heard. None of this is to say that disappointment won’t show up in some area of your life--everyone experiences disappointment--but when we frame our desires with expectations, we minimize the risk and optimize a positive outcome. Those without expectations around these and other life experiences probably won't often be disappointed, but they probably won't have a very interesting life either.
In relationships, when we consciously expect a certain quality or outcome, we attract the quality or outcome that matches our own energetic expression. But what about those people we’ve attracted who seemed perfect for us and then became the very opposite of the partner we desired. How does that happen? I suppose there could be a lot said here about red flags and the denial of same--after all, we don't want to believe we can make such errors in judgement. (Another conversation all together.) So why do we attract someone who we think is right for us who at some point becomes the evil Hyde to kind-hearted Jekyll. Very generally put, in these instances, there are most likely lessons left for us to learn and we have been given an opportunity to find clarity and discernment that will make us better judges of character. It give us a chance to see ourselves reflected in someone else, especially those qualities we haven’t fully developed. I find it true that what I lack in myself, I see clearly in others. Another person can be the mirror to our own lack of growth or maturity or insight and, should we choose to look into it, from it, direction, correction and self compassion can evolve.
And so what of Jesus and His Beatitudes? The eight attributes--poor in spirit, mournful, meek, passionate, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, and martyrdom--lead us to the dangling rewards mentioned at the end of each message. I appreciate the perspective that the Beatitudes refer to people who innately inhabit these selfless qualities, but what of those of us who are lacking? We must have expectations of ourselves, otherwise, what guides us to develop any of these qualities? According to the teachings of Jesus, if I want to inherit the earth, I have to move my ego aside to become meek. Likewise, if want mercy, I must strive to be forgiving. The good qualities then must first become a mission and ultimately an accomplishment that requires growth and change and having expectations of ourselves should we desire the glorious rewards.
So, I say go forth! Have expectations and have disappointments! Learn, live, grow, gain insight and perspective from all you do. Know that the silver lining of all disappointment is that it brings with it the realization of what we don’t want or what we don't want to be. It narrows the focus on what we do want and gives us discernment and direction. Disappointment can come from our own actions, and when it does, it gives us an opportunity to gain valuable insight, self compassion and a chance to change.
Finally, shouldn't we resist passing on these familiar, outdated, misunderstood adages to our children? And instead of instilling them the belief that they should "never expect anything from anyone," let's empower them to know that life can be full of goodness and wonder and that having conscious expectations of ourselves and others--and the occasional disappointment-- just may be the secret! (Cue the sea of colorful lights.)
Patti Iwer works as an occupational therapist in Johns Island, South Carolina, and holds additional certifications in somatic therapy, LSVT and Reiki. She is the owner of Wellness Rising Integrative Healthcare and co-owner of Island Pediatric Therapy. Patti specializes in dementia care, pain management, rehabilitation and normal development throughout the lifespan.