Creating a Healthy Relationship with Technology

Walking down the street is a hazardous experience these days. People have their heads down, eyes glued to their smartphones, while walking full speed ahead (or unconsciously zigzagging), oblivious to people walking in the other direction. From time to time, collisions occur and people and gadgets come crashing down in a heap. Other times, those without a device in their hands are forced to adjust their path to avoid the oblivious human-meteor coming toward them.

Collisions happen in organizations too. Sometimes they happen physically, in the corridor as they would happen in the New York street scene described above. Other times, they are psychological collisions. The collisions take different and more subtle forms, but are real nonetheless. For example, studies show that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table is enough to reduce the extent to which we experience empathy for those around us. It doesn’t matter if it is turned on. It doesn’t matter if it belongs to anyone around the table, or whether it rings or not. Because we are now primed to check our devices so much, their mere presence is enough to cause a collective empathy-reducing psychological collision. Yikes.

Choosing to give your attention to your device over the person in front of you can be experienced as a values-based decision. Many of us have prioritized our gadget ahead of the person in front of us, me included. In fact, doing so is so widespread that we have come to accept it as normal and okay. It is not. It is a small example of the psychological collision described above. It takes a de-energizing toll on the workplace and the individuals in it.

Do not get me wrong: I do not believe the solution is tech abstinence. Technology can offer many benefits. It is about constructing a healthy relationship to technology in our lives and our families and our organizations. How can we get the benefits our gadgets offer us, while mitigating the downside to ourselves and those around us. An example of this paradox in action is down the street from me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Menlo Innovations. Menlo is an excellent software company; their job is to create technology. (Disclosure: Menlo is a member of the Consortium of Positive Organizations at the Center for Positive Organizations. I am an unapologetic fan). They do so in very thoughtful and innovative ways. One such way is by having project boards made from pen and paper rather than sophisticated project management software. At Menlo, they believe this gives a better way to visualize work in progress, and allow team members to connect with each other around the work in meaningful ways. Founders Rich Sheridan and James Goebel are making deliberate choices about when to get technology out of the way.

In recent months I have found myself running some small experiments. My goal has been to increase my overall presence, wellbeing, and effectiveness by making deliberate choices about my use of technology. In some cases, this has involved using more technology. In others, this has involved using less technology. So, yes, I keep my cell phone off the table. And here are four other such experiments that might be of interest:

1. Removing email and social media from my smart phone.

I have been trying to follow the widely-offered advice to batch email and social media time into two-to-three 30-minute chunks a day. I have been failing. However, I made significant progress recently when I removed all email and social media apps from my phone. I have found myself able to take what I call “micro-sabbaticals” while in the elevator, or walking along the street, instead of taking out my device in every spare moment. It has also been enlightening through this process to realize how strong my connectivity addiction is at present. When I first removed email and social media from my phone, I noticed my hand would still twitch toward my pocket when walking along the street, conditioned to check for new messages or updates. When I would get home at night, I would open my laptop on the kitchen counter, insanely rationalizing to myself that this little workaround was somehow okay, because I sticking to my resolution to remove email and social media from my phone. The behaviors of an addict, for sure. Over time, my overall addiction is waning. I notice my mind – and schedule – feeling less busy. And yet I am still operating at an almost-zero inbox, with a response rate to most messages of 24 hours or less. Progress indeed.

2. The JOOL app has helped me stay focused on the right things. 

Living life in alignment to a purpose that is meaningful to you has many benefits.Similarly, paying due attention to sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating (S.P.A.C.E., per Professor Vic Strecher), pays dividends in energy and wellbeing. The JOOL app encourages daily reflection and tracking of these factors, and then offers insightful analytics about the elements that lead to you being at your best. Recording this daily is a good daily reminder for me to pay attention to the things that lead to sustainable performance in all parts of my life.

3. Using a Fitbit (for me the Charge 2, specifically) has had unexpected benefits. 

It is nice to track how many steps I have taken per day, and to be reminded to get up and move. It is also helpful to get some information about the length and depth of my sleep cycles. I expected these benefits. The unexpected boost has been that my Fitbit buzzes on my wrist when I get a text or phone call. This builds on the progress made by removing email and social media from my smart phone. Now, I have no reason at all to check my smart phone “just in case I have received a text or missed a call”. The compulsive checking of my phone is fading into the distance.

4. Evernote to notebook for tracking agenda topics

I have found Evernote to be my preferred digital notebook. It is simple, searchable, and synchronizes across all my devices easily. Wherever I am, I can pull up an article I clipped, or a note I made. One way I use Evernote is to keep track of topics I would like to discuss in recurring one-on-one meetings with my team. Increasingly, I am getting into the habit of transposing the items to my written notebook immediately before the meeting. This serves a double purpose. Firstly, it enables me to review the agenda before getting into the room, which helps me make a running start on getting the outcomes we are working toward. Secondly, it allows me to extend the principle of “no cellphones on the table” to “no laptops between us.” Of the changes I have listed here, this is the one that is the most “in progress” for me. Like everyone, I too am a work in progress!

I am still very much in the experimental phase in seeking a healthy relationship with technology. I would love to hear how you have changed your own technology individually or organizationally to enhance your presence, wellbeing, and effectiveness!


Originally at

7 Smart Strategies That Will Cure Your Fear of Public Speaking

By Minda Zetlin at Originally at

7 Smart Strategies That Will Cure Your Fear of Public Speaking
Got stage fright? Reframe what you expect from a speech, and your attitude about it will change as well
IMAGE: Getty Images

Does the prospect of speaking in front of a live audience make you nervous? If you’re human, the likely answer is yes. In surveys, people routinely report public speaking as their number-one fear–ahead of their fear of death.

Chris White, who leads the Center for Positive Organizations at The University of Michigan, struggled with similar feelings. “Many of us can relate to this stomach-clenching, heart-pounding, throat-choking anxiety,” he says. “This is a problem for someone teaching MBAs and executives as part of his day job!”

But White used his leadership smarts to overcome this problem by reformulating his goals for every speech. It’s a process that he says will work for nearly any challenge that makes you feel overly pressured or nervous. Here’s his approach:

1. Stop hoping that your speech will be a smash hit.

“I knew both from my past experience of clamming up in front of groups, and from research, that having a performance orientation–‘this next talk has to be a home run!’– is often counterproductive,” White says. “As my stress level increased, my presentation skills would decline.”

White fought this phenomenon by reframing his ambitions for each presentation. Instead of trying to make every one a home run, he thought of each as an opportunity to learn and improve for next time. “Each talk became a ‘practice swing’ in which some things would go well and others could be adjusted,” he says.

Perhaps counterintuitively, this mental exercise actually improved his presentation skills by loosening the grip of stagefright. “Don’t swing for the fences,” he advises now. “Take a lot of practice swings.”

2. Make learning one of your goals.

“Research shows that having both performance goals and learning goals is often a better way to get you to your destination,” White says. You can harness this effect for public speaking and for many other kinds of tasks as well. “When setting an intention, create multiple kinds of goals: performance goals, contribution goals, and learning goals,” he says. “Among the goals, keep the learning orientation front and center in your mind as you take action.”

3. Consider the ultimate purpose of your talk.

This may seem to conflict with White’s suggestion to put more emphasis on learning and less on performance outcome. The difference is that, rather than focusing on your own success or failure, you consider the broader purpose of your talk. Are you trying to build awareness for your brand or product? Address a social problem that deserves greater attention? Inspire investors to invest or students to learn?

“When fueled by a sense of purpose and a desire to help others, our intrinsic motivation grows–and, accordingly, so does our productivity,” White explains. Studies have compared the productivity of those who heard from a beneficiary of their work, and those who have not, he adds. “Unsurprisingly, those who felt a strong sense of contribution dramatically outperformed those who had not–even when following the exact same work process.”

4. Notice if you’re putting undue pressure on yourself–and stop it!

“Obsessing about the performance outcome is not always the best way to go,” White notes. No matter how important the speech you’re making actually is, taking that pressure off yourself will only help. “In my case, reassigning the speech’s meaning from ‘hit a home run!’ to ‘take a good practice swing’ really helped lower self-imposed anxiety,” White says. “It opened up new possibilities for learning and improvement every time.”

5. Good or bad, get feedback about each speech.

“To especially boost learning–as well as performance–create opportunities for self-reflection and feedback from others along the way,” White says. “As 70 percent of leadership development happens through experience rather than in the classroom or from books, using a process to catch every drop of insight from what we do could be more beneficial than taking another course. These days, however well or badly I feel a talk has been perceived, I try to do the same personal preparation and debrief.”

6. Find fellow travelers.

To find others who were working on similar stage fright issues, White began taking acting courses in his spare time. “This gave me supplemental practice outside of the workplace, and a structure to practice getting out of my comfort zone in front of people,” he says.

Even better, it gave White a new way to think about the question of good and bad performance. “The acting class format routinizes feedback on things that go well–and things that don’t!–such that when little things go wrong, they are looked at in the proper perspective,” he says. “Additionally, it created a gentle and fun, yet strong, accountability mechanism to keep me on track for at least the ten weeks of each course. I felt accountable to my scene partners… and had a big showcase on the calendar to focus my efforts if I felt tempted to slack off!”

There are many kinds of fellow travelers for various tasks, he adds. “It could be a training buddy, an acting group, a mentor or coach. It makes the journey more fun, and keeps you accountable along the way!”

7. Take the long view.

Seeing each speech as one point along a continuum of constant improvement will give you a much better attitude toward its success, or lack thereof. “No matter how big the talk, or how well it goes, there are always things that go well, and things that can be adjusted,” White says. “These days, my comfort with public speaking has increased, and so too my performance. And it will keep doing so–I have many practice swings ahead of me!”

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