zen habits : breathe

A Simple Guide for a Mindful Digital Life

‘Two thoughts cannot coexist at once: if the clear light of mindfulness is present, there is no room for mental twilight.’ ~ Nyanaponika There

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology.

Ever feel like you’re two different people?

You get up in the morning, eat your breakfast, and go to work. You go out with your friends and hang out with your family. Maybe you read a book before going to bed. On the weekends, you try to get out of the house – go for a hike in the woods or visit some relatives. This is the physical you.

Of course, between all these experiences, you also exist online writing emails, browsing the web, updating your blog, and ordering pizza. This is the digital you. Fifteen years ago, the two almost never collided, but today, the digital world has expanded far beyond what we ever thought it would. The digital connects us instantaneously to the physical via maps, apps, and GPS devices. We even manipulate our physical world now to better interface with the digital.

Two worlds that once existed exclusively have serendipitously collided. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

But what about the spaces and gaps? There are still plenty of opportunities online to hide who you really are in the physical world and vice versa. The two worlds are merging, but only because we’re striving to merge them.

So how do we, as mindful humans, bridge these gaps? How do we:

I say the simplest answer is to find the bonds that already exist and focus on them until they define us, ignoring the rest. Here’s how I do that. Take what works for you and leave the rest.

Step 1: Pick Your Avatar

In the quest to bring my own physical and digital worlds together more harmoniously, the first question I have to answer is, “Who do I want to be?”

There’s the argument that you simply are who you are, but I reject that idea. Yes, you are a product of your environment, but as a free being, you get to change your environment if you choose. In the physical world, this is often impossible to do. As a child, you don’t get a choice in where you grow up. For many, this is still the case, even as adults, due to social and economic injustice.

But, in the digital world, you get to decide exactly who to be, where to go, and how to behave. This can be problematic if you try to create an entirely new persona (it’s a dishonest and unsustainable representation of yourself), but when wielded skillfully, it can propel the real you to new heights. Rather than create a whole new you, create the best you. Choose the traits you like about yourself, and exemplify them online. Let the less attractive qualities fall by the wayside. Place yourself in a digital environment that will allow you to flourish.

When I focus on creating an improved digital version of me, I find those qualities actually start to carry over into my physical self.

This is so important for relationships, too. The people you surround yourself with online and offline are who you will end up like. Don’t leave this to chance; be mindful of the friends you keep.

Step 2: Construct Your Digital Home

When I decided that I’m going to convey my best self to the digital world, I needed a place to do it from. I needed a digital home – my own little spot on the web that I own.

There are dozens of places like Facebook, About.me, and others that offer a simple way to do this, but I don’t think they’re the best choices for a mindful digital persona because services like this come and go and often have limitations that don’t serve you well. Instead, set up your own very simple website that tells the story of you. Use your real name for the domain or a variation of it if that’s not available. Here are a few people who’ve done this well:

You wouldn’t set up your home in someone else’s space or send people to your neighbors to find out about you in the physical world, so why do it in the digital world? Part of leading a mindful life is understanding that the digital and physical worlds may be different places, but they operate the same way because they’re both run by us.

If you ask, “Why do I need a website if I have no aspirations online?,” my answer is that, if you have aspirations at all, then you have aspirations online. Even if you opt-out of participating in the digital world, your online identity still exists in parallel, you’re just not in charge of it.

Be mindful of the digital world and proactive about creating the best you possible.

Step 3: Set Up Essential Embassies

The digital world is fast paced. I see new trends come, go, develop, and evolve at a frightening speed, and if I try to follow everything, I get overwhelmed. To keep up with something new, I have to clear space by eliminating something else. A good practice, but if I don’t do it intentionally, I end up abandoning great resources for sure failures. On the other hand, if I dig my heels in and refuse to develop my digital self, I’ll end up old and isolated, frightened by technology.

What we need is a mindful approach to developing our online presence. If my personal website is my digital home, then my social networking profiles on Facebook and Twitter, etc. are my embassies. Embassies exist to maintain relationships with “distant lands” and to act as an outpost for people who want to connect outside my home base, not rule my life by commanding my attention.

Focus on the essential. Cultivate your ties in social networks where it makes sense and is beneficial, but don’t let them become second homes. Having many homes adds clutter to your digital world just as it does in your physical world. Remember: it’s Facebook’s job to serve you, not the other way around.

Step 4: Sever Ties to Destructive Societies

Just like life in the physical world, digital life is a process, and it’s hard to move forward if I’m being weighed down by things from my past that no longer serve me.

If my house gets too full, I have to get rid of things in order to live comfortably again. If I make too many appointments or double-book myself (I do this more often than I like to admit), I have to kindly cancel a few. These rules are just as true online.

Get comfortable with shedding your past lives and evolving into new ones. Reinvent yourself on a regular basis and watch your digital and physical worlds collide in a way that only a deliberate and mindful approach could orchestrate.

If you want to go even deeper, here are a few tools I like to use to integrate my physical and digital lives in the simplest ways possible:

Read more from Tyler at his digital home, Advanced Riskology.

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