by Hayley Doyle
This year, I started piano lessons.
Just 30 minutes. Every other Monday. Straight after the school run and before working from home. I’d always regretted giving up learning an instrument as a child and now, I’m setting this wrong to right! Piano lessons have come on leaps and bounds since I was 10. Theory can be done via an app on my phone. I’m re-learning the bass clef much quicker than I remember, all thanks to what feels like a mobile game. Kids these days must be over the moon when their piano teacher recommends them to download it.
But I made myself a promise.
Every time I feel the urge to scroll through social media, I tap and open this app instead. And If I’m at home with 15 minutes to spare, I go to the actual piano and play. Badly. But I play, and I get a sense of satisfaction when I hit the right note. Okay, I’m under no illusion that I’ll become the next Elton John. But something about tinkling through the scales and getting my brain around the difference between a crotchet and a quaver has taken me away from spiralling into dangerous doomscrolling. We all know how addictive mindless phone scrolling can be and as soon as I muster up the energy to drag myself away from my screen, I’m always left feeling empty. Yes, I’d tried all the tips; removing apps, setting timers, letting my phone charge in a different room… I’m sure you’ve tried them, too. But learning the piano, even if I still haven’t quite mastered ‘Old Macdonald’, has created a purposeful distraction.
Perhaps piano isn’t your forte (pun 100% intended). So here’s a bit of inspiration if you’re keen to connect with something as easy as your phone, but not your phone. I promise, you won’t need to go anywhere or rely on anybody else to enjoy these distracting, yet mindful, activities. And you might just feel full rather than empty when you finish.
In, over, through and out… In, over, through and out… I learnt how to knit in primary school (remember ye olden days when girls learnt to knit and boys… did not, because they were outside collecting worms?) But knitting is not just an old past time or for the elderly. It enforces mindfulness by creating a calm mood and an increased sense of wellbeing. The repetitive rhythmic movements manage stress levels and distract from chronic pain. What’s more, it’s trendy. Yes! Trendy! Celebs such as Amanda Seyfried and Kristen Stewart have been spotted knitting on set between takes, and Demi Lovato was seen knitting on a plane. And who can forget SJP - another awesome knitter - in that purple Hanifa cardigan dress?
Puzzle giant Ravensburger saw US sales jump 70% during the pandemic, and UK sales of jigsaws hit £100m in 2020. Doing puzzles, such as jigsaws, provides multigenerational enjoyment, relaxation and a distraction from worry. It gives you a realistic, yet challenging goal, and a deep sense of satisfaction during and on completion. You can listen to the radio or music whilst playing, and why not pour yourself a glass of red or enjoy a coffee? Thanks to the boom in the industry, from your favourite city to Disney to Friends, jigsaws are no longer just based on oil paintings of flowers either. Frame it when you’ve finished… Or, destroy it and start all over again!
3. Read a Real Magazine
The power of reading something on a physical page is still strong. I recently went to the hair salon to get a balayage, so was there for a couple of hours. The latest edition of a glossy magazine was on the table. I picked it up with the intention of flicking through, maybe skimming the cover story. In truth, I ended up reading it cover to cover. I devoured each word. The main attraction was Women of the Year, featuring in-depth interviews with the likes of Claire Foy, Sarah Snook and Cynthia Erivo, and I can tell you so much about what I learnt about them and how they came across. I absorbed the information. I didn’t feel anxious. I loved turning the page and discovering the new images and words. I believe I’ll retain those stories for a long time, possibly forever. Think about it; do you remember an article you read as a teenager from your fave weekly magazine? Something that’s stayed with you? Now think about how much your brain attempts to absorb daily on your phone. How much of that can you recall?
4. Make a To-Do List
With pen and paper. Not on your phone. There is little satisfaction in deleting a note from an app. But crossing it out, watching the ink glide across the words, can promote productivity and good value. Perhaps it’s because it takes more effort to write a word by hand, so the satisfaction is greater. You’re more likely to get the To-Dos done if you write them down on paper, too, with the goal of ripping up the list once it’s completed and chucking it into the recycling. Plus, you’ll get a super cool sense of achievement if you score into the bin on the first throw!
5. Sort that Cupboard Out
Let’s face it. That cupboard. You know the one. It’s been driving you mad for months. And the longer you leave it in its current state, the worse it’s going to get. So kick off your shoes, put your favourite tunes on, tie your hair up into a messy bun and get sorting! Get folding! Make space by giving things away that you don’t use. Recycle! Once I make this decision and start pulling everything out from the shelves, I know I’m doing the right thing. That I’m using my time wisely. Productively. And I promise, it will take you half the time you predicted! Maybe less! The transformation from hating that cupboard to loving it will be instant. Now, how’s that for turning a negative into a positive? Without having to leave the comfort of your own home.
6. Read in the Bath
Oh, but how?! The pages get all wet! Fold a small hand towel over the side of the bath to help keep your fingers dry. Get yourself a bath pillow, lie back and relax. But as you press the pause button after a busy day, the urge to bath-scroll might take over! Don’t. Even if your smartphone is waterproof! You’re undoing all the delicious goodness of the actual bath. As an author, I’m constantly being apologised to by people who haven’t yet read my book. “I want to,” they say, “But I can’t find the time to read… anything!” Truly, I get it. I have the same struggles and well, it’s part of my job to read! So in this day and age of fast and frantic, it’s best to try and do the whole ‘kill two birds with one stone’. Soak in the bubbles, indulge in your well-earned me-time, and feed your soul with a book you’ve been longing to read. You’ll be squeaky clean and mentally satisfied all within 30 minutes.
7. Phone a Friend
Not Whatsapp. Not DM. Go into your contacts, select their number and call them. Don’t even think about putting yourself (or them) under pressure to video call or zoom. This will turn it into an event. Just simply call. Hear their voice. Talk. Do it while you’re out walking. Sit cross-legged on the sofa or on the floor with your back against the wall. Lie down. Do a bit of Happy Baby pose. Laugh. Listen. A friend called me on her way to the train station recently. I answered in a panic and said, “You okay?” Of course she was okay. She was calling me to chat. Like we used to do every day for a decade before smartphones silenced us. And you know what? We had such a good chat. I put my washing away, restyled my hair, put on my pjs and had a good stretch, all during our conversation. It was effortless. And if that isn’t a good dose of soul food, then what is?
8. Re-Watch Your Favourite Childhood Movie
You know it word for word. You’ve seen it hundreds of times. It makes you cry. It makes you laugh. It reminds you of the food you ate at your nana’s house. Of your siblings. Your first in-jokes and silly sayings. From The Goonies, to Labyrinth, to The Princess Bride, or maybe it was a musical like The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music. Whatever your favourite movie was then, will still be your favourite now. Like a familiar hug. A bar of chocolate. Each frame has your own personal memory imprinted upon it. If you put that movie on, not only will you remain seated from start to the finish, I can guarantee you won’t be tempted to doomscroll during it either.
9. Send a Book to your Friend
Everybody loves getting a surprise dropped through their letterbox or delivered to them at work. Especially something personal. The next time you’re being drawn to browse your phone mindlessly, get off the sofa and browse your bookshelf instead. Look through the titles, run your finger down the creased spines of books you devoured. What were your most thrilling reads? What made you cry? And what book would your friend love? One that might excite them, or make them laugh, or lift them out of a difficult situation. Fact or fiction, whatever you choose, take the book off the shelf and slip a little handwritten note inside. Then either post the book, leave it on their doorstep or send it to their work. It’s a beautiful task that will leave you fulfilled and make somebody else’s day.
10. Get the Old Photos Out
This is something I especially love to do when visiting family. I get the heavy, ripped and fragile cardboard box down from my mum’s wardrobe and suddenly… I’ve lost a day knee deep in pure nostalgia. Did I really think my hair looked good? Did you really think your hair looked good? That tracksuit! That swimming costume! Those shoulder pads! Your roots are remembered. Memories are surfaced. You might cry, and you will definitely laugh. This activity can be enjoyed in private or shared with somebody else, sparking conversations. Of course, there will be the temptation to take photos of the old photos with your smartphone to share digitally… and that’s okay. It means you’re happy you’ve decided to do this ;)