Tag Archives: distracted

Screen Time
From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik

“Think” – Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

I sometimes joke that in a few millennia humans will have evolved into stooped beasts able only to look down at whatever glowing device they hold in one hand. But, how naïve; of course, Apple will trump Darwin and implants will preserve our posture. What though of our ability to distinguish between virtual reality and…well, reality? What of our ability to pay attention to one another and to the world around us?

Alarmist hyperbole? Walk into any restaurant, any sporting event, any school, any place at all where people are gathered, and look around. How many people do you see looking at a screen—or two? How often do you see a family of four eating together when each of them is looking at a phone? How often do you see people sitting next to one another, each on a device and never exchanging a word or a look? Exactly.

This is old news by now, so old that we barely remember the quaint days of yore when we scoffed at people bellowing pressing news into their cellphones: “I’m in the vegetable aisle at the market. Where are you?” As we’ve become increasingly inured to the beeping, pinging, quacking, barking, and ringing that intrude on our lives, we veer from grudging acknowledgement of a problem to celebrating the cleverness of the marketing geniuses who sell us so much of what we so rarely need. What we don’t do is address the problem for what it is: an addiction.

More alarmist hyperbole? Ok. How often do you check your email, texts, and social media? How often without justifying it, without thinking that you might better spend your time in other ways? Do you dare to calculate the number of hours in a day, week, or year that you spend on your devices, “connecting” with other people or, more accurately, their avatars? What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last before you go to sleep? Can you cut back? Can you stop? No, you can’t, but, really, so what? How harmful is this so-called addiction?

We’re beginning to find out, to go beyond the anecdotal and actually find out. Two recent studies provide some answers: We risk brain function; we risk our ability to engage with other people; we risk the ability to pay attention to one thing for very long. We risk our cognitive ability; our emotional equilibrium, and we risk depression. We risk altering or destroying relationships with the people we love because we don’t pay attention them. We risk friendships and, yes, we risk that vague notion of “happiness.”

Have a look at some specific findings.

“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

“Your Smartphone Reduces Your Brainpower, Even If It’s Just Sitting There”

When I showed these articles to a friend of mine, she asked me how I thought parents might best talk to their children about the problem. I think a better question is how adults and children can talk with each other about it. Two parents wielding cellphones and warning children about the dangers of too much screen time is akin to two parents wielding martinis and warning children about drinking. Besides, it is axiomatic that children have robust powers of observation. Even very young children miss little that occurs in their families; adolescents miss next to nothing. We adults aren’t fooling anyone. If it’s true that young people stand to lose the most from “screen addiction,” it’s also true that adult addiction can have an equally profound impact.

So, how do we talk with our children about all of this? We can save time and avoid the, “When I was your age” trope; and we can skip the Luddite vs. techno-savvy argument because we share the same addiction. Given those time-savers, we might consider discussing what’s important in our lives, what’s wonderful about what we share as families, what’s cool and useful about our devices and what isn’t, about what we gain and what we risk losing. Certainly, we might share some persuasive evidence, like that noted in the articles above, but hold the pontificating. This is one of those times when we are enmeshed in the same fast-moving phenomenon and we are no less vulnerable than our children. That’s an advantage, as it turns out, because it allows us to begin a collaborative conversation

And, perhaps vulnerable is a good word to consider. We are, demonstrably, every bit as vulnerable as our children and it’s good for them to see that vulnerability, to understand that this is not about “responsibility” or taking out the trash. We have no other motive than to help one another to live in the world—the real one, the off-screen world, the world of our friends and loved ones. Those are the people with whom we need to connect.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “The Truth About Success” and other articles.

Text… phone call… email…
“Oh…what were you saying?”

“FIRE” — Jarome Iginla by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

What happens to your memory when you multi-task? It turns out that texting or cell phone interruptions mingled into face-to-face conversations weakens your memory. Fragmented attention does not allow you to focus on any one thing long enough to code it into your memory well. Poor memory leads to making frustrating mistakes and wasting time. Research shows that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete a given task and will make 50% more mistakes.

More importantly, fragmented attention does not make the person you’re talking to feel valued. Plus it’s just rude!

Focused attention is essential to working memory. Neuropsychologist John Arden explains that, “if working memory is impaired, long-term memory will experience a famine of new information. If the road to long-term memory through working memory is blocked, the ‘supplies’ or memories can’t get through.”

If, for example, you are texting during dinner while conversing with your family, your focus will be fragmented and your working memory jeopardized. When you are distracted, you forget the detail of the story being told — your working memory hasn’t been encoded into your prefrontal cortex yet. So you have to ask, “What were you just talking about?” after glancing at a text.

Paying attention is key to good memory. Arden recommends the following to cultivate memory:

1. Resist having your attention fragmented.

2. Schedule social media, text messaging, and phone calls to specific times of the day, when others are not wanting your attention.

3. Focus your attention on each task until it is completed. With better prefrontal cortex activation, your working memory will function well enough to code information into your long-term memory.

It pays off considerably to pay full attention to the work at hand and the people around you — it enhances your memory, makes you more effective, and improves your interaction and relationship with others.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference and great reading: John B. Arden’s “Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life.”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
“Since he lost his job, he doesn’t seem to care about our relationship.”

"Out of the Rough" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When people are immersed in fear, they generally don’t feel secure enough to focus on higher-level aspirations such as improving their relationships or expressing their creativity. Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs is an elegant picture of the order in which human needs are met. Generally, it is easier to focus on love and happiness when you are not worried about food and shelter.

Understanding Maslow’s hierarchy helps us deal with people in our lives who are under stress. Where someone is on the pyramid is not solely a function of external factors, but also a function of the person’s psychological tendencies. Understanding where they are helps us to relate to them more effectively.

As with most theories, the hierarchy of needs is a useful way of seeing general patterns, but it is not a rigid structure.

Living at a lower level of needs

Many people around the world live on one of the bottom two rungs of the pyramid for their entire lives because their physiological or safety needs are always under threat. When you are hungry or living in an area of civil unrest or war, you don’t have time to worry about your child’s self-esteem or your own self-actualization.

Yet, poverty and unrest do not preclude higher levels of psychological attainment, such as pursuit of friendship, community, and living up to your potential. However, the greater the external threat the more challenging it becomes to pursue those higher aspirations.

"Maslow's Pyramid of Needs"













Living at a higher level of needs

These articles are primarily read by and written for people who value personal growth and loving relationships. They are fortunate to be free from the relentless worry about basic needs and survival, and can thus focus on higher needs such as belonging, love, and life’s meaning.

Yet, in an instant, anyone can suddenly find him- or herself at the lowest level on the pyramid, if only psychologically. A person who becomes ill or loses a spouse or a job may be racked with fear as nightmarish as someone living in the middle of a wartime environment. The chemical and psychological responses may be just as severe as if there were a deadly threat.

Even when future safety is not at stake, someone who loses his or her job may react as though it were. For instance, someone whose very identity is based on being a productive career-oriented person may feel annihilated when he or she loses that job.

Psychological response

While the hierarchy of needs is greatly influenced by external circumstances, another critical factor is the psychological state you choose when the going gets rough.

Even some of the most fortunate people, who don’t need to worry about food and shelter, may live under great stress worrying about their financial deals or the stock market, finding themselves at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy psychologically. The same is true of some healthy people who live in constant fear of disease and thus have turned into hypochondriacs, or exercise fanatics, who destroy their bodies in their obsessive quest for “health.” It is low-level fear that drives them even though they have adequate health, food, and shelter.

On the opposite side, there are people whose basic needs are constantly threatened, and yet, they are able to live in a tranquil psychological state aspiring to love and self-actualization. Thus, they manage to reside at the top of the pyramid.

Anyone can find him- or herself at the bottom, and anyone can bring him- or herself to the top. Clearly, however, the worse the external circumstances, the more challenging it becomes to have the ability, strength, and support to focus on higher-level needs.

Dealing with someone on the lower level

When someone has dropped into a lower level of the pyramid, it is not the best time to discuss how to improve your relationship or your happiness. It is more effective and compassionate to meet that person on his or her current level and try to help.

Imagine your teenage child comes home from school under great stress because of a remark made by a peer. The parent should realize that the teenager has dropped into the bottom of the pyramid psychologically. While such an event may seem trivial to an adult, to a teenager it is not. Don’t expect warmth and family affiliation. Simply be there to help if help is needed.

Similarly, if your partner has lost his job, don’t expect him to work on the relationship. He just needs to know he is loved, unconditionally. This is where your own ability to remain calm and non-reactive can help him from spiraling downwards into panic.

Sometimes getting out of the circular thinking that creates panic may require a change of activities or a change of setting to evoke a different psychological state. For some people that might involve playing with the kids, going to an inspirational talk or church, or doing volunteer work. For others, it might involve playing a sport, watching a game with friends, or going on a trip.

Nobody’s life is ever totally secure. It is left up to us to seek and aspire to higher levels of meaning despite life’s uncertainty. One of the best examples is the Greek sage and philosopher Epictetus, who wrote his most inspiring work while imprisoned.

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.


There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.


by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Conversation and Active Listening: ‘It seems like I do all the talking.’”

Read “Compassion in Relationships.”

Read “Giving Advice: ‘She never listens to me.’”