Ari Sytner

There’s no Such Thing as a Phone Addiction. Is There?

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

The traffic light turns red and the row of cars slowly crawl to a stop. It turns green and then red once again, but strangely, not a single car moves. As each driver is looking down at his or her phone, squeezing in just a few extra seconds of email or social media time, the world around them remains paused. Nobody has noticed the passing clouds, the ticking clock, the children’s laughter, or the changing traffic light.

This unfortunate reality has become the new normal. 

Yet, many ask, “so what?” If a person is sitting in their car, waiting in an airport, or standing in line at the store while looking at their phone – why does it matter? If anything, they are increasing their productivity by multitasking in real time! The truth is that in most cases being drawn into one’s phone does not directly hurt anyone. However, it causes us to miss out on life, people, and opportunities which continue to unfold whether one notices it or not.

John Bowlby is the father of psychology’s well-known Attachment Theory. The underlying idea behind this approach is that people form primary attachments in their lives, and the paradigm for that one relationship will be applied to all future relationships. When a person forms unhealthy attachments, the rest of their relationships will have the same flaws and will remain troubled or compromised.

This model need not only apply to our relationships with people, but even with objects! For those people who suffer with the painful disease we know as addiction, they live with a constant inner turmoil, which is most easily settled by giving into the addiction. That one drink for the alcoholic becomes the primary relationship in life, and breaking free from it seems insurmountable, despite repeated attempts to quit. Why would an intelligent and accomplished individual take another drink if the last one led to a fight, divorce, or D.U.I.? The answer is because the object of the addiction has become the primary relationship in the life of the addict – and that is not something one can easily walk away from.

One might say, “I can quit anytime,” but their track record may say otherwise. Being unable to put down the drink (or the phone) demonstrates the extent of one’s reliance upon it – and magnifies the unhealthy relationship one has with the object.  

Today’s cell phone usage has introduced a new relationship paradigm. No longer do people put their health, safety, or loved ones first – instead, the phone has become our first and primary attachment. While we have more connections than ever before, the quality of our relationships are being reduced dramatically, as the phone has become our go-to relationship for comfort and self-soothing.

While many are apt to quote the addicts mantra of, “I can stop at any time,” it is something easier said than done. I am fascinated when in the middle of a counseling session a client looks down to respond to text message. As they continue talking about important issues in their lives, their voice slowly trails off and stops in mid-sentence. A moment later, once the text is sent, their voice bounces back and continues talking as if nothing strange just happened. They are unaware of how their relationship with the phone is impacting what is happening in physical space they occupy.

Undoubtedly, this same scene repeats itself on dates, at business meetings and during precious family time. Yet, ironically, they sit in my office with tears flowing, trying to understand why they struggle to maintain happy and healthy relationships.

Utilizing Gestalt Therapy, I can often help clients to develop a self-awareness that enables them to identify that was is happening during our sessions is likely happening outside as well and negatively impacting their relationships. Many people will initially deny that one has anything to do with the other, much like the line of cars that are oblivious to the green light before them. But only when putting the phone down, or even better, shutting it off, can one regain their full mental and psychic energy to be fully present and aware of the world and the people around them.

Not only is the relationship with our phones robbing us of enjoying the connections with the people in our lives, but it in many cases, it prevents us from maximizing our mental abilities. Recently, I was out running errands when I noticed that I had forgotten my phone at home. It was a moment of pure panic. Shortly after, I felt a sense of calm as I realized that I was actually OK and not missing out on life. I was enjoying the scenery, the quiet, and my thoughts when I soon noticed new ideas that popped into my mind. Ordinarily, I would have immediately taken out my phone and made a note or sent an email, text or Tweet. I don’t like sitting on ideas when I can run with them. But then something happened.

The longer I sat with my ideas, unable to do anything about them but think, the more the ideas started to grow. Before long, I noticed that my previously half-baked idea was developing into something far greater.

It was that moment that I realized the importance of embracing a primary relationship, first with myself above all others. If I could only spend more time building a better relationship with me – my thoughts, ideas and dreams, only then could I work to enhance the relationships with the people in my life.

While I absolutely love my phone, there are other priorities which are truly far more important.

Thus, rather than live a beholden existence, where we are primarily attached to our phones, we should not be afraid to set ourselves free from time to time. By disconnecting from this virtual relationship, we will be able to better focus and fully embrace the truly meaningful relationships in our lives.

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The Secret to Finding Meaning in Life

Posted by in Organizations & Leadership, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

Treadmill + Shower + Coffee + Newspaper = Happiness?

Who doesn’t love their morning routine? We all love habits, as they make life comfortable and cozy. Instead of having to confront the dreadful anxiety induced by facing the unknown, we can simply find a soothing rhythm and live within the confines of that comfort zone.

Yet, there is a downside to living a robotic existence. When we settle into a life of complacency, it can quickly become stale, and at best, we will strive for mediocrity. How do we overcome that inclination and utilize our time on earth to truly live an awesome life?

The answer is to remember the power of 1.

Many people assume that the power of 1 refers to what the individual, or perhaps God, can accomplish. However, for me, the 1 represents journeying from zero to something which has a value.

If you had string of 6 consecutive zeros, the number would still be worthless. However, if you simply added a 1 before them, you would suddenly have a million! If we could add a 1 before every action in life, it would be tantamount to infusing purpose and meaning into everything we do.

Suppose your existence were reduced to spending each day turning a wheel. Yomoneyu would probably find it to be a painfully torturous chore. However, what if you knew that the wheel was powering a generator that sustained a person on life support? Sure, the task would still be painful and boring, but having that knowledge ignites a new perspective which adds purpose and transforms empty zeros into millions.

It is specifically through a purpose-filled perspective that we unlock strength, joy and untapped potential that lies within each of us.

When we know what we are living for, it motivates us to do more with our time and to live a greater and more meaningful life. The greatest way to fuel our daily existence is to think about others. By looking for ways to uplift our spouse, children, neighbors, friends and coworkers, we are placing 1’s everywhere we go.

When we can find opportunities to uplift the lives of others, it shifts the focus from our many zeros and adds value to everything we do. Even when we do something as mundane as going to work, the gym or watching TV, having a reason and a purpose (such as for family, or to be more productive) makes those tasks purposeful.

Life has many forms of currency that people value, such as money, clothing, cars, food, movies, trinkets or video games. All of these “things” are placeholders. They are mere zeroes that occupy time and space and will ultimately craft the epitaph that is our legacy.

Thus, even if we were to amass an abundance of all these “things”, at the end of life, of what value are they really?

Therefore, instead of only amassing zeros, and filling our lives with routines that are cozy, let's think bigger.  Imagine what life could be like if we were to pause each day to think about the needs of others and work to break free from our own little comfort zones and routines. By searching for the 1’s, we can learn to put the needs of the world ahead of ours, and add purpose, meaning, joy and goals to everything we do. 

So, what's your "1"?  Please inspire others below by sharing yours in the comment section.

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Are there too Many Choices for Communication?

Posted by in Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

It seems today we are bombarded with more options than ever before, and the truth is, we crave them. When I buy a car, I want to make sure I can get the most number of options available, so that I have the choice to not use any of them!

When it comes to dating, there are so many avenues that one can take, that it only adds to the confusion. In some cases, it even prevents people from taking that important step forward, as they are more obsessed with considering alternatives, than committing to the one person they love.

When I was a child, I recall a sign hanging in many kitchens which read:

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Having many choices feels great, but it often gets in our way. I have found the same phenomenon when it comes to digital communication. Whenever I schedule a meeting online with someone, we find ourselves in this awkward dance. Should we call, Skype, FaceTime, Blab, email, Periscope, Google Hangout Webex, Viber, G-Chat or Facebook?! It can be so overwhelming, especially in light of so many new options being added each week. In the end, while we like having choices, too many does not really help anyone.

I have found that most people are just technologically not on the same page. If you’re like me, you prefer to keep your Skype and FaceTime address books for only friends and relatives. Some people don’t mind giving out their cell numbers, and others prefer to only speak from their office phone. As some of us only use Mac and others Windows, some on iPhone and others on Android - this chaotic world of communication options only discourages direct and meaningful contact. As I conduct a great deal of online trainings and communications, I have been searching to find a way to go back to basics and communicate without going through that awkward dance of asking people what platforms they are on, or suggesting that they first download software, apps, plugins and updates.

Thankfully, I am back to basics! While I always prefer face-to-face communication, I have been pleasantly surprised by how simple it is to just use a free web-based service like www.freeconference.com. For starters, what I like is that nobody has to download software! You can just have a regular call or conference call, or even a video chat with multiple participants that can see each other. (Personally, I use lots of slides and demonstrations, so I enjoy the screen-sharing and recording).

My biggest pet peeve, however, on conference calls, is when multiple people speak at the same time, then apologize for interrupting and awkwardly remain quiet. Inevitably, after that uncomfortable silence, they all chime in again at the exact same time (and you know exactly who you are, because we’ve all done it)!

This type of simple platform gives me the ability to visually see who is on a call, allow for a real-time chat box, and even allow participants to “raise their hand” in order to speak.  Plus, I can mute that one person who has screaming kids, or the TV playing in the background.

The bottom line is that communication is easier today than during any prior generation in history, and it really should be more convenient for people to just connect. However, while we have more options than ever (and the technology is quite awesome) we should not take it for granted, nor let it inhibit our connections. The best solution is to choose a universal platform and stick with it.

Remember, communicating effectively is about connecting with other people. We should, therefore, try to take whatever steps possible to remove any barriers that slow us down, and instead, jump at the opportunity to enjoy a fluid and meaningful exchange of ideas.

For a Free Guide on how to Overcome Digital Distraction Click here4 tips

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Self-Improvement 101: How to Fill the Negative Spaces

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

Change is hard. Who doesn’t enjoy settling into a comfortable routine? However, when a person is finally motivated to break their mold and strive for self-improvement, the shackles of our habits can be debilitating.

It is for that reason that I look forward to the Jewish High Holidays, which give me an opportunity to look at my habits – both good and bad take a personal inventory of how I can improve.

However, beware the trap of the negative space!

When a person digs deeper and deeper, chiseling away at the parts of themselves they wish to change, they will eventually be left with a gaping hole. For example, if a person decides to reduce their laziness and increase productivity, they may find themselves successfully cutting out TV, movies, Facebook and other distractions. However, if they are not filling that extra time by focusing on meaningful tasks and goals, they will likely fail altogether when the boredom takes hold and catapults them back to their previous ways.

To illustrate this phenomenon, imagine your dentist discovers a pretty nasty cavity in your molar. After drilling, scraping and hollowing out the tooth, the dentist proudly reports that the cavity is gone. However, let’s be honest, until the hole in your tooth is properly filled, you’re just not out of the woods.

The same idea applies to self-improvement. It is insufficient to simply cut out the negative behaviors if we do not replace them with positive ones.

Consider how many intelligent and determined people have failed at diets for this reason. They decided it was time to get healthy, banished all fried foods, butter, trans fats, red meat, eggs, salt, sugar, mayo and of course, ice cream. Yes, they had the right idea, “cut out all of the bad stuff”. However, if there is no an alternate plan to substitute healthy menus for every meal, they will likely crash and burn when hunger gets the best of them.

Research on addiction has pointed to the same conclusion. People who wish to quit smoking, drinking, gambling, gaming, shopping, pornography, overeating – all have the same challenge. They will put 90% of their self-control and energies towards NOT engaging in a particular behavior. However, instead of only focusing on the negative, if they were to also expend a great deal of energy pursuing positive behaviors, they would more likely succeed simply because they are busy chasing their dreams and ambitions.

It is for this reason that Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step programs, put such an emphasis on the many levels of personal growth beyond just the value of “quitting”. By discovering and pursuing one’s spiritual self, a person is more likely to engage in meaningful relationships and seek life-goals that are inherently motivating, fulfilling and rewarding.

Sure, becoming a better person can be a huge undertaking! However, if overcoming my challenges compel me to focus positively on my dreams, then my weaknesses actually become the greatest of life's gifts! (Think about it).

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Technology Overload: What is Real Anymore?

Posted by in Addiction, Parenting, Relationships & Marriage

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It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend and I decided to take my children fishing. As I stood with them at the water’s edge, I tried to let go of all of my responsibilities, work and social media connections. I proudly watched my children as they were trolling for sunfish and feeding the geese. It was truly a beautiful moment in time.

Then it happened!!

I heard the chirp. That high pitched tweeting sound that pulled me right back into the world of social media. For a moment, I felt angry. It was that stupid app, which was now robbing me of the opportunity to enjoy life, family and nature. No longer could I appreciate the sites of the children, birds and the water. I suddenly found myself traveling down a technology black hole, as I was eager to check my phone. I tried to resist the urge to take out my phone and look to see who tweeting. However, before I knew it I heard the tweeting sound again and could not resist.

As feelings of guilt took hold of me, I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. Surprisingly, the screen was blank. I checked again, only to realize that there were no tweets, messages or alerts. I was baffled.

We’ve all experienced phantom vibrations from our phones, where we can practically feel the phone vibrating and we often jump up to answer it, only to realize that it's actually plugged in to the wall in a different room!

But who has ever heard of phantom tweet sounds?

Was I losing my mind!? Was I so addicted to technology that my brain was imagining it? Then I heard it again and I looked up.

I saw a magnificent nest in a tree just a few feet away from me. It was filled with the most beautiful family of birds, all chirping and whistling away. It was at that moment, that I realized how terribly skewed my reality had become. Instead of hearing a chirp and thinking of the obvious, my mind was in a far-off place. I had become disconnected from the present moment and part of my mind was living in an alter digital reality.

In the medical profession, there is a diagnostic concept, framed by Dr. Theodore Woodward, known as “The Zebra”. In other words, if you hear hoof-beats, think horse, not zebra. Thus, when a patient presents with obvious symptoms, consider the obvious diagnosis, rather than the exotic. Yet, in today’s world of technology-overload, the distracting zebra has now replaced the ordinary horse. It is both funny and quite sad that, when I hear chirping today, I think Twitter and not birds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for technology! I even yearn to one day call myself by the esteemed title of Geek. However, this particular incident was a wake up call. It reminded me of just how aware I must be to separate between my digital world and my actual reality which is filled with countless amazing moments with my wife and children.

How often are couples, coworkers or parents guilty of being drawn into their devices at the expense of enjoying and interacting with one another? Psychological research has demonstrated that even when a phone is nearby, a portion of our minds are distracted by their presence. Consequently, our cognitive abilities become compromised. The research shows that the closer the phone is to us, the greater the cognitive impairment. The only solution is to give oneself the gift of powering down from time to time and recalibrating.

By disconnecting our devices, even just for dinnertime, or while on a date, it frees up more cognitive ability to allow us to enjoy each moment and really make our life experiences into more meaningful ones.

Hopefully, the next time you hear the sound of a birds chirping, think life, nature and real birds – not @Twitter.

For a Free Guide on how to Overcome Digital Distraction Click here4 tips

 

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