Be Present, Be Intentional
Be Present, Be Intentional
By Justin Wright
I unfortunately had to attend the funeral of a college friend last week, and nothing puts things in perspective quite like the untimely passing of a peer whose life was cut short far too soon. The service was beautiful, and through the tears of my classmates there were stories being shared about his impact on all of us. There was a recurring theme in these stories: his ability to be fully present in our lives, and fully present in those moments we gratefully recalled.
On the ride home I thought quite a bit about what all of this means. While there was great sadness, I also realized that the entire situation was beautiful in a way. Beautiful in its ability to remind me how important it is to be fully present in life. To be intentional with our actions, to cherish the moments we have with the people who are important to us. In the modern age, we are more connected than ever before yet find ourselves drifting further apart. It is easy to get in touch with someone, and impossibly hard to have a conversation. It is on our shoulders to change the trend.
So close, yet so far
A 2015 CNBC article titled “Is technology killing the human touch?” describes the modern landscape of communication in great detail.(1) It starts with the story of a busy couple who used to spend time together in the evening after work. With the rise of social media, their connection has decreased as they both spend more time on their phones each night. An “addiction” to social media has reduced their in-person interaction by a noticeable degree.
The article also goes on to describe dating sites and apps, which have essentially removed the barrier of going up to a stranger and initiating a conversation from the world of dating. Now it’s simply a matter of swiping through profiles and conversing digitally, behind the protective barrier of a screen. Approaching people and making small talk, actually developing a relationship and connection, seems to be a lost art in the modern, digital age.
Despite being more interconnected than ever, we are further away from each other than we have ever been. Social media, dating apps, and email allows us to connect on a surface level and hold basic conversations. The problem becomes when deeper conversation, the kind that drives meaningful relationships, is necessary. As a species, we seem to have a harder time than ever fostering these deeper connections in the modern age.
It is crucial that we be fully present in our interactions with others in order to foster deeper, more genuine relationships. When going out to dinner, for example, leave your phone in your jacket or even in the car if you are tempted to check it. Focus on making eye contact and following the course of the conversation without being distracted by your device. You will find that it is incredibly hard to do at first; we have been conditioned to speak to others with our phone as our translator. Direct, face-to-face conversation is a lost art that has become almost like a different language entirely.
Challenge yourself to fully submerge in whatever activities you are doing in the presence of others. Instead of letting your thoughts drift to what is going on in the outside world, try placing your full effort on what is happening right now, right in front of you. It is too easy to be distracted in the modern age with so much information readily available at our fingertips. This increased access to information has made us appreciate the present moment less as we spend more time focusing on the external world instead of our internal reality.
Hold others around you to this standard as well. If you see friends on their phones while you are out together, encourage everyone to put devices away and talk about their day. You may seem annoying or bothersome at first, but the end result will be increased conversation and a deeper connection amongst your friends. It always takes the first domino falling to start the cascade of others following suit. Choose to be the first domino with those in your life who you care about, and watch the positive benefits of this increased presence and awareness take shape.
While it is important to be fully present while spending time with others, it is also important to carve out time for those you care about. Another, unintentional, consequence of the digital age is that it creates a false sense that we are engaging with others constantly. For this reason, it has become harder to set up concrete plans and be able to depend on people to follow through. When you want to spend time with someone you care about, be intentional and carve out time specifically for this interaction.
I have counseled a number of couples about the importance of scheduled date nights. They always laugh initially, but ultimately realize how crucial it is to schedule time for those we care about. With so much going on around us, if we are not intentional with how we spend time with others it can be easy for time to slip away and for that date to never happen. Many marital issues can be solved with increased communication; the problem is that many couples do not set aside time for this communication to happen. While pushing forward with careers and goals is important, we must slow down enough to foster these relationships in our lives.
Show people they matter by creating time to be with them, to interact on a personal level without being stuck behind a screen. As human beings we have social needs, and being a member of a larger community is one of them. There is a reason that people go insane in solitary confinement; lack of true human interaction can actually be detrimental to our physical, not just our mental, health. Combat this by finding time to spend, uninterrupted, with those you care about on a regular basis.
The deeper problem
It becomes fairly obvious when looking at the available information that it benefits us greatly to foster more human interaction. The way this affects us on a personal level is also fairly obvious. There are, however, deeper issues that stem from the digital age and its adverse effect on communication.
Look at the modern workforce, for example. Inc.com recently published an article which outlined the staggering financial costs of poor communication in the workplace today. A recent Holmes report found that communication problems account for $37 billion in financial costs.(2) While these issues cannot be solely attributed to the digital age, there is a correlation between decreased communication and these staggering financials.
From a different viewpoint, let’s look at how an effective team operates. Before any action can be taken, members of the team need to have shared values and a shared mission. If no one on the team understands the objective, or understands the rules their teammates are willing to play by, then forward progress cannot happen. All great teams start first with great communication; the members of that team must enjoy speaking with one another, and must understand how to effectively get their point across with other members of that team.
I have discussed the book The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle in the past, but he succinctly outlines these exact traits required for team success. Members must feel safe, and must feel that their opinion is valued and respected. There must be an understanding that they have a voice and can contribute, in some way, to the final product or decision. Without effective communication skills, none of these things can happen.(3)
Make progress before it’s too late
Whether you are trying to improve the performance of your team, be more satisfied in your marriage, or simply reconnect with old friends, developing authentic communication is essential. The problem is that this skill is losing market share in the modern world as digital forms of communication become increasingly popular. If we are to preserve this basic human need, we must fight for it and be intentional with our actions moving forward into the future.
Focus on being fully present in your interactions with others. Understand that time is our most valuable resource, and it is being used up during every second we spend with other people. Be respectful of this fact and make sure that the return on that investment is worthwhile. Put your phones away, look someone in the eyes, and attempt to have a genuine, meaningful conversation. Unfortunately, our lives are shorter than we realize and you may not have the chance to interact with those you care about tomorrow. Appreciate those who are important to you, and give them the ultimate gift of your time and undivided attention. Together, we can change the trend and rekindle genuine communication in the modern age.
(1) Morris, Chris. “Is technology killing the human touch?” CNBC, 15 Aug. 2015, https://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/15/gy-killing-the-human-touch.html.
(2) Schneider, Michael. “Costs of Poor Communication Reach $37 Billion. Avoid Disconnects By Implementing These 2 Things.” Inc, 11 Jul. 2018, https://www.inc.com/michael-schneider/the-extrovert-vs-introvert-dynamic-could-be-costing-your-organization-millions-heres-how-to-bridge-communication-gap.html.
(3) Coyle, Daniel. (2018) The Culture Code. New York, NY: Bantam Books.