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To pass Justin McDaniel’s “monk class,” University of Pennsylvania students must get rid of their phones and voices for 30 days.
The course, formally called Living Deliberately, requires its 14 students to “observe a code of silence, refrain from the use of all electronic communications, and limit their spending to $50 per week” for one month, according to the university’s website. The class often has 300 people on its waiting list, McDaniel says.
The strict classroom rules, inspired by the actual practices of monks, are not intended to socially isolate students. Instead, McDaniel says he wants 20-somethings to get used to uncomfortable emotions.
“We exercise to build muscle and stamina, but we don’t practice emotions,” McDaniel, professor of humanities. who practiced as a monk for nearly a year at age 21, tells CNBC Make It. “Without [that exercise]when we feel jealous or inadequacy or depressed or even joyful, we don’t know how to handle it.”
The monk’s class is supposed to be like “shock therapy,” a crash course to push students into mindfulness: spending a month with fewer distractions helps students become more aware of their physical environment and emotions , says.
But you don’t have to leave Instagram or never speak again to become more resilient. Here are three practices you can try at home, says McDaniel.
Some monks believe that making fewer decisions means being more available for religious epiphanies, McDaniel says. By that logic, it’s hard to be physically present for divine intervention if you’re addicted to watching Instagram Reels of corgis.
There are other psychological benefits to taking a break from social media, too: A seven-day break from Twitter and TikTok reduced levels of depression and anxiety in a small randomized trial, researchers at the University of Bath in the UK found last year. past.
And there’s a correlation between less screen time and better quality sleep and reported well-being, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Less time on your phone can also give you a better chance of meeting people in real life, as long as you can handle half a minute of initial awkwardness, McDaniel adds.
“I always tell my students that the difference in many things in life is dealing with 30 seconds of discomfort,” he says. “What if you get into an elevator or subway with someone else and you don’t get your phone out right away?”
McDaniel’s class has been described by a former student as “learning the art of doing a single task,” he says.
In class, McDaniel teaches that doing one thing at a time is the best way to stay present. “How often do we walk without making a phone call, eat a snack without watching TV, or exercise without listening to a podcast?” he says.
Allowing yourself to do one thing at a time helps you notice your surroundings and your thoughts, says McDaniel.
It also helps you avoid the costs of multitasking. People who “media multitask” or regularly split attention between media like Netflix and work email have shorter attention spans and memories than people who constantly multitask, a study has found from Stanford University in 2019.
“You have to learn to be bored,” McDaniel says. “Or sit with feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness without sharing your emotions with your friends.”
McDaniel and his sons try to sit or walk for 30 minutes, without music, TV or calling a friend, every day.
“During that half hour, you can’t read, you can’t learn, you can’t listen to music,” he says. “You just have to sit with your thoughts and breathe and look around you.”
In a sense, it’s a type of meditation or mindfulness, similar to “niksen,” a Dutch concept meaning “do nothing” often used to combat exhaustion and stress.
For McDaniel, better mental health doesn’t mean being happy all the time. Instead, his goal is to help students get less fear of being sad and more confidence in their ability to handle complex emotions.
Often, students start to perform better in other classes after taking his course, he says.
“It’s not about changing your life, changing your religion, or finding the right yoga teacher,” says McDaniel. “The question is, does it make sense to listen to you rant or feel your heartbeat and not judge it. You acknowledge a passing feeling of stress without answering why or how to fix it.”
“It’s like the Taoist conception of water,” he adds. “If you throw dirt into the water and wait, the dirt settles to the bottom and the water stays clear.”
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