Can you walk and chew gum at the same time?

Not in Singapore you can’t, as chewing gum is banned in this well-regulated and well-run city. This post, however, is not about chewing gum, but a different kind of (bad) habit –  texting while walking.  I don’t have a car in Singapore so I walk a fair amount, and the busyness which I create in my mind often has me checking my phone for Whatsapp messages and replying “on the fly” as I walk to and fro.  On the positive front, I have actually been quite cognizant lately of putting my phone away, or at least out of site, while crossing the street, but that was only after a close call with a car running a red light as I was already a few steps into the crosswalk while looking at my phone (thinking the green “walk” light would keep me safe).  But I haven’t been nearly as careful while strolling down the sidewalk to the bus stop.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine admitted over dinner that she had recently slipped and fallen off a sidewalk while walking and simply reading a “great news article” on her phone.  That should have been enough to get me to commit to a habit change, but no.

Not until a few days ago when, while reading a whatsapp alert, I tripped over a big rock and almost fell flat on my face, did I get the message (pun intended).

After that little incident I told myself that it’s time to stop using my phone, or at least the screen function, while walking.  So wait til I’m sitting on the bus or at least standing in fixed place. And while I’m walking it will be time to be present, smell the roses, blah, blah, blah. I was sincere in my wish to do this, just like many of us are sincere in our desire to eat less sugar or drink less alcohol. I’m fortunate to date to have been able to manage both of those vices pretty well at a cognitive level, but the screen addiction has been a harder one for me to conquer.

So about a week ago I made “plan” to write a blog post here and tell the world of my intention to stop texting while walking, knowing that would help keep me accountable if I had told others my intention. I didn’t get around to the post, for a variety of not-so-valid reasons, but did make a reasonable attempt at being aware of when I was back in the habit and I would at least then stop walking, finish up what I was typing or dictating, and then head back on my merry way.  But the desire and tendency to go back to the screen was still there.

What has finally, however, prompted me to write the post and put my guilt and shame out to the world is the “light-bulb” moment that came from watching a recent TED-MED talk.  If you have 9 minutes and want to learn more about how to really crack the code on breaking a habit watch this.

After that little incident I told myself that it’s time to stop using my phone, or at least the screen function, while walking.  So wait til I’m sitting on the bus or at least standing in fixed place. And while I’m walking it After watching this video it is clear to me that the pattern of my screen addiction is the same as that of a sugar or drug addiction. My brain tells me something is missing or “wrong” in my life and it looks for a hit.

For me, on a very basic level, and I would say like most of us, I want to feel useful, yet there is a nagging fear lurking in the dark places of my mind which makes me worry that maybe I’m not doing enough to warrant to being valued by family, clients or friends.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s that fear which drives me to my screen at times when my brain might simply do better with having a rest or, God forbid, engaging in some eye-to-eye contact with a fellow human being (assuming I can find one who is not looking at his or her own screen).

So it’s time now to mindfully notice what void it is I’m trying to fill each time I reach for my phone (and not necessarily only when I’m walking).

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