Yogananda said that “filler” activities like checking our phones constantly, reading magazines, etc are detrimental to our concentration and spiritual lives. In this world of distraction, however, it seems almost impossible to give them up. Self-control is often not enough and we end up getting distracted despite our earnest efforts. In this article, we will explore certain tricks and tips you can use to make your devices less distractive and even use them for your spiritual growth.
There are good chances you’re reading this on your smartphone or your laptop. But if we don’t pay attention, these very devices that help us search for spiritual knowledge can become an instrument of Satanic forces that cost us our attunement and devotion.
Since these devices pervade our lives more and more, we need to learn how to use them constructively without letting their negative aspects affect us. This, however, is easier said than done.
Our generation, specifically the younger ones, are no longer interested in TV or radio. We’re instead addicted to YoutTube, Netflix and Instagram. This is even more dangerous – for these distractions, unlike TV, are with us every moment of the day, at our fingertips. They also have magical powers called “notifications” to call our attention to them even when we don’t want to.
Some of us indulge in these distractions almost unconsciously. And it’s hard to stop even if we know there’s nothing there that gives us joy.
So how can we stop these impulsive behaviours and use our devices for spiritual growth? Let’s see.
The tips in this article widely differ on the basis of how much willpower you have. But I’d argue your actual ability to avoid distractions is far less than your perceived ability. We all think we can avoid looking at our phones then they’re kept in front of us – that we’re good at self-control and don’t need to give anything up.
But our minds are smarter than that. If a cookie is placed on your table, the mind makes you eat that cookie without giving it a second thought. The mere presence of that cookie will force you to justify why eating it is not a bad idea. And before you notice it, it’s already in your mouth and all your resolutions to follow your diet take a backseat.
If you think you can have these distractions in your life and simply use your willpower to avoid them, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
And so like most people who’ve trodden the path before me, the only (effective) solution I’ve found is to go “cold turkey”. To remove these distractions as much as possible so I don’t have to rely on willpower.
Yogananda often said the environment is stronger than willpower so I don’t put myself in environments that can cause me to indulge in undesirable actions.
That being said, let’s see how I’ve structured the three major devices in my life to serve me instead of the other way round.
The laptop is the most important device to protect. Since all my work happens on the laptop, I need to remove even the slightest hint of distraction.
I’ve struggled a lot with this. There are websites and then there are apps. Every time, I block a few websites, I find myself getting attached to others. What I’ve learned from this is that we develop low-level addictions to things.
The brain is excellent when it comes to finding ways to escape reality for some time. This is how low-level distractions start. Here are a few apps and chrome extensions you can use for the same:
Cold Turkey (Mac/Windows)
This is the toughest distraction blocker I’ve used. The best part? Once you lock yourself out, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to reverse it. You can’t uninstall the app, can’t quit it, and can’t restart your laptop.
Blocking websites on my laptop gave me a sound sleep. I no longer have to fight distractions all day. It works on all browsers and if you try to remove the Cold Turkey extension from your browser, it will block the browser itself!
A Clear Desktop
All the screenshots, folders, and files remind you of something in the past or the future. You’re reminded of all the unfinished tasks that you have to do. And no matter how much you push the thought aside, it never goes away.
So keep your desktop as clean as you can.
Stay Focusd (Chrome Extension)
It’s a traditional website blocker with slight tweaks that make it useful. The best thing is it allows me to block the chrome://extensions page so I cannot disable the extension itself — something I’ve done a lot in the past! It gives you a fixed amount of time every day to visit the websites on your block list.
Block Site (Chrome Extension)
Yes, I have two website blockers. Just in case, you know! You can use the one you like the most. Block Site is not the best one on the market. But it syncs across all devices. It is an extra layer of prevention that kicks in whenever your willpower weakens to not let you give in to distractions.
Phone and iPad
I have an iPad and a Samsung Galaxy M31 which operates on Android. (It’s available here in India, not sure about other places). So the features I describe will be in line with those two devices.
Disable your browser
Disable Safari on iPhone/iPad and Chrome on Android. You don’t need the browser 99.999% of the time. Okay, maybe a lot of your work happens on the phone or the tablet. But I prefer to use my laptop to browse the Internet rather than the phone.
As for web searches, the Google app is enough. It shows me the search results but I can’t click on them to visit the website because I have no browser.
I know there can be times you seriously need it. There will be links you need to open. And guess what? You can re-enable it. It takes a minute if not seconds. The act of re-enabling your browser acts as a resistance between you and your impulsive habits.
All of us, no matter how mature we are, act like kids when it comes to distractions. We give in to our impulses and urges all the time. The beauty of SPIN is it blocks websites like Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, 9gag, and many more out of the box. You don’t need to install website blockers. This is why I prefer it over pre-installed browsers, even though it’s supposed to be a browser for children!
While the user interface may not be as good as Chrome/Safari, you can live with it. And so, for those occasional moments when you need to use a browser, consider using SPIN.
It does the same thing as the chrome extension but on your phone. Use it for the few websites you still need to block after using SPIN. When you try to visit a blocked website, it shows you a motivational quote as well.
Uninstall Social Media
There are hundreds of engineers trying to capture your attention by tracking how you use social media and using that data to captivate you further. Having social media on your phone makes it very easy to impulsively check it every now and then.
You can at least disable the notifications from social media apps (see next point) if you can’t uninstall them. You still can check it when you need to use your laptop.
If you can’t remove it (let’s say you need to post something), consider using software like Onlypult that help you post without being exposed to attention-grabbing feeds.
Disable Notifications, Badges, and Anything else that pulls you away
Modern apps have found plentiful ways to distract us. One of the best tricks in their toolbox is hot triggers.
Social media companies use them a lot. Notifications and little badges on your app screen are the perfect examples. They’re designed so you click on them without thinking — they’re red in colour to grab your attention and they show you the number of notifications you have.
Before the advent of notifications, if you thought about checking your Facebook feed while you were working, you just pushed that thought aside — it was a relatively cold trigger. But now, the companies try to show an overwhelming amount of hot triggers to pull you away from whatever you’re working on.
Disable the ones you don’t need. At least do it for social media apps (if you still have them), email, messaging apps, and anything similar. I’ve only let my calendar and a few work apps show me notifications because well, that’s the point of a calendar!
Note that most apps that I’ve allowed notifications to do not send a lot of notifications in the first place. For instance, the apps I use for managing bills, meditation, scanning documents, etc seldom interrupt my day. But when they do, it’s important.
Establish Whitelists on Your Phone
Not every call is equally important to attend. If you don’t dictate your own availability, you’ll be at the whim of others. Different phones have different features for this but the most common one is the “Do Not Disturb” mode.
First, the great thing is it only rings when a person calls twice in fifteen minutes. Any person with an urgent concern would call you at least two times. If not, it wasn’t that urgent in the first place.
Besides this, I’ve laid out three to five exceptions to this rule. These contacts include my mom, dad, and grandmother – I never miss their calls
You can use this mode when you only want to be contacted by a few people and not others.
Activate Grayscale Forever
The grayscale mode is my favourite trick for making the phone less attractive. One of the main reasons our screens seem attractive is the choice of colours they use. There’s a whole psychology behind using each colour that app designers use to instil a particular kind of mood.
You can disarm the effect they have on your psyche by enabling black-and-white or grayscale mode. It’s easier on the eyes and I’d definitely recommend switching it 2 hours before sleeping, if not all the time!
Clear Home Screen
Just like your desktop, keep your phone’s home screen clear. Each icon acts as a visual cue. You can place desirable apps on your screen while burying the undesirable ones deep inside folders so you don’t check them as often.
What you see when you unlock your phone dictates your behaviour.
The truth is, no matter how much self-control we think we have, we cannot handle infinity in our pockets. It’s just too much power. It’s important to regulate the device itself rather than regulating our behaviour.
The tips mentioned above may seem austere, but we all need a little bit of self-discipline and austerity to progress in every aspect of life.
80% of the effort is in removing the bad stuff from your phone. Once you do that, you can fill it with the positives that uplift you spiritually.
Install apps like Ananda’s meditation app, and Ananda radio. Keep Swamiji’s talks and music on your phone so you can listen to them whenever you’re free, taking a walk or doing chores around the house. There are hundreds of video series Swamiji has recorded that you can find on YouTube like the Essence of Bhagavad Gita, Ask Me About Truth and many more. You can find more video inspiration here.
Keep those saved on a playlist and hit play whenever you feel the need to indulge in a distraction.
I hope you found these tips practical and use some of them to make your devices less distracting. Joy to you!