Stillness is vital for leadership – Put your phone to bed

At the USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace in December, 2021, MaCher partner, Patrick Marsden spoke about the importance of finding stillness as a leader and how switching off mobile devices can be an important part of that. His speech is repeated here now for Safer Internet Day.

How many of you, like me, find yourself checking email during meetings, constantly checking your phone for no reason, jumping between half-finished tasks, scrolling through your phone while watching TV, zoning out while having a conversation? In short being constantly half present and wholly distracted?

I speak for myself when I feel like I have lost my attention span.

“All of humanity’s problems” Blaise Pascal said in 1654 “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

What I am seeking, As Ryan Holiday pointed out in his excellent book “Stillness is key” has been highlighted by nearly every philosophy or religion: The Buddhist word is upekkha, in Islam aslama, for the Hebrews hishtavut, in the Bhagvad Gita samatvam, The Greek eurythmia, The Epicureans ataraxia. The Christians aequanimitas. And in English: Stillness.

The Stoics, in whom I have found a great deal of solace during the pandemic referred to finding peace in oneself as apatheia. As Marcus Aurelius said in Meditations, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Shakespeare summed up the stoic mentality beautifully when Hamlet says “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Inner peace is vital to a happy life

The inner peace of having some control over one’s mind is vital to having a happy life.

It is incredibly hard to find a religion or philosophy that does not venerate this inner peace. But and I quote the Bhagavad Gita, “the mind is restless, impetuous, self-willed, hard to train: to master the mind seems as difficult as to master the mighty winds.”

To find stillness is vital as a leader. It allows us the mental space to think deeply about the big picture. It allows us to find perspective. This is especially important in a time such as this. To think deeply and considerately without the perpetual din and clamor of distractions that the modern world brings us.

To quote the remarkable economist Herbert Simon “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

In order to find this space to think we need to limit the flow of information that we are exposed to.

Our phones are the greatest distraction devices ever created

Our phones are the greatest distraction devices ever created. Do you remember when we used to sit for an hour staring out of a train window? Do you remember when we used to let our minds wander, daydream, and think through ideas and problems? Now we are on our phones. We have lost this time our brains need.

We have primate brains that are not designed to be overloaded with this level of information. More than 6 hours of screen time a day increases your chances of being depressed by 230%. Screen time in adolescents was an average of 3.8 hours per day prior to the pandemic and is now 7.7.

When we lie on our death beds, as average Americans, we will have spent just under a decade on our phones, 9.7 years to be exact. Picture yourself on your deathbed now. Imagine what you will feel you could have done with those 9.7 years that you spent aimlessly scrolling through data you didn’t need, that made you less productive, unhappier, more distant from your loved ones, ruined your sleep cycle, and directly funded some of the most unscrupulous organizations in the history of capitalism.

The personal and societal harm caused by social media organisations

The leaked reports from facebook and Instagram in September of this year should give us pause. Read them if you want to truly understand how callous these organizations are. Simultaneously, Facebook’s advertising effectiveness plummeted 33% after the introduction of Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update. We all should understand now the incredible personal and societal harm that these organizations cause. I can’t urge you enough to delete them. LUSH cosmetics two weeks ago deleted all of their social media accounts stating that the company would not ask customers to “meet us down a dark and dangerous alleyway”. Hundreds of brands like Patagonia and Dunkin Donuts have boycotted Facebook and Instagram ads due to their facilitation of the spread of hate speech and misinformation around climate change. Think about how your business interacts with these platforms. Does it align with your company values to be associated with them?

Travel has a positive impact on mental health

Reclaiming our attention spans, our ability to think, and proactively addressing one of the most significant negative contributors to mental health is an opportunity for our industry. The travel industry has significant sustainability issues to address but over and over again has been proven to have a positive impact on mental health. We can provide the venue and opportunity for travelers to take a pause, to stop, take a breath, let the mind slow down and unwind.

The tools to help both ourselves and our customers regain some control over our state of presence and ability to find mental stillness are plentiful, often free, well researched and peer reviewed. mindfulness or meditation, gratitude journaling, journaling in general, exercise, digitally disconnecting, sleep, treducing material consumption, increasing experiential consumption, spending time alone with your thoughts, taking up a hobby and many more. All are deeply compatible with travel, pre-trip, on-trip, and post-trip.

In closing I hope that you can find the time to reflect upon your business’s role in the growing conversation around our mental health. We’re an industry that can lead this charge. We have the moral high ground, backed by science but we risk losing it when we drive our customers into social media platforms to interact with us. We have the product that can take our customers out of the savage raging storm of noise and distractions that is modern life and place them in the calmness of being present in a new place. The sun warm upon their face, really tasting the food, savoring the moment. Their phones away somewhere else, minds present, relaxed and finally for a few glorious moments… still.

Watch Patrick giving his speech here.

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