“I was physically shaking, “ he told me.  “It was worse than when I quit smoking.  I felt panicked the entire time.”

If I had overheard that tiny piece of a conversation with a client, my curiosity would have been piqued.   What had happened to this confident professional to send him into a panic?  What was worse than the withdrawal symptoms cause by quitting after decade of smoking?

The answer: he left his Blackberry on his desk when he went out to lunch.

When I had initially suggested that very thing – leaving the Blackberry behind during lunch for a week – he had gasped. HOW, he had wondered, could he possibly disconnect from the world for a whole hour every day?

I certainly understood his reaction. After all, I’ve suffered from the same addiction, and there was a time in my life when I was too available.  My clients knew they could reach me any time.  I answered my phone no matter where I was or what I was doing. Texts were always returned within minutes.  My Twitter feed was being constantly refreshed, my email watched obsessively, and answered from the moment my eyes opened at 5 AM to when I went to bed at Midnight. Sometimes (pre-JB) I would even sneak off to the restroom during dates just to peek at my phone.

That version of me – that old, uptight, desperate-to-conform-to-society’s-expectations me – no longer exists. Instead, I’ve re-connected with my real self. The REAL me knows that I don’t always have to be available, that turning off the computer is healthy, that texts or email can be answered in a couple of hours – or even the next morning. The REAL me knows that technology exists to serve me, and not the other way around. The REAL me understands that the world won’t stop spinning if I unplug for a while.

How do you know if a digital break is in order? Ask yourself a few questions:  Has the need to check email, Facebook, or Twitter become a compulsion? Are you doing it to excess? Are you doing it without thought or purpose, but mindlessly killing time? Do you feel people might stop following you if you posted less? Are you actually afraid of not being connected?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m going to give you the same challenge I gave my client:  regularly unplug.

Unplugging from the digital world is a great way to reclaim your time and create the space to do what matters.

What other advantages are there?

  • More connection with flesh-and-blood people
  • the opportunity to experience the freedom of not caring about what’s going on online
  • the freedom to stop following your impulses
  • a renewed sense of your own truth outside of the virtual collective
  • feeling more grounded
  • feeling more in touch with what makes you feel more joyful
  • more awareness
  • more creative expression
  • becoming more mindful

Giving yourself the gift of a digital sabbatical – no matter how small – is a wonderful gift for your soul.

You can start slowly.  Turn off your smart phone, laptop and IPad an hour before bed.  Choose an evening of your weekend to have dinner with friends or your honey without the distraction of connection.   Set yourself up for success by having a list of things to do to replace your time online.  Things like reading, writing, spending time with family, exercising, playing chess or planting some flowers.   Remember, that there is no failure if you find yourself unable to go for long stretches without checking Facebook or email.  Just notice what triggers you.

I know from experience that when you first begin to unplug, you may feel challenged. As with any new habit, be gentle with yourself.  And be forgiving of yourself if you slip up.  I know that with regular practice, you can become the master of unplugging – even if it’s just for your lunch break or an hour before bed each evening.

Personally, I find time unplugged as refreshing.  So, what about you?  Do you regularly unplug?  Or are you in need of a digital sabbatical?

(Image is: What’s Up by Gil Elvgren)

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