Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives

The Mindful Check-in


Human attention is like a flashlight that we can direct at different objects in our environment. I can pay attention to (shine your flashlight on) the person who is talking to me, the road while I’m driving, or to the email message I want to read. Thus I can focus outward on the things of the world.

But the flashlight of attention can also be focused inward to illuminate our present experience — what’s happening in our mind and body. If I ask myself how or what I’m feeling, I can notice things happening in my body (an itch just below my left shoulder blade, a certain stiffness in my neck). I can also potentially notice my current mood (that I’m excited or bored, that I’m feeling up or down) and the quality of my attention (that my mind is clear and focused or perhaps jumpy and distracted).

The exercise

The Mindful Check-in invites you to examine the current state of your mind and body. To do it, just read each of the four questions that immediately follow. As you read each question, pause for a minute or two to observe your inner state, then move on to the next question. If you’re not able to answer one or more of the questions, that’s okay too.

1. What is the quality of your breathing?

Take a moment to notice the current rhythm and pattern of your breathing, but don’t try to alter it (although some change may naturally occur during this period of observation). Is your breathing currently fast or slow, shallow or deep? Are you holding your breath? Or are you perhaps having trouble even noticing your breathing?

2. What is going on in and within your body?

How are you sitting, standing, or lying down? Are you holding yourself in a comfortable position? Can you notice places of tension or pain (in your neck or shoulders, for example), or places where you are currently numb to sensation? Overall, would you say you are feeling relaxed or tense?

3. What is your current emotional state?

You may find a word to describe your current state, such as “delighted” or “bored.” Or trying to find a verbal label may get in the way of just sensing your current mood. Then too, you may not be able to identify your emotional state, either verbally or nonverbally. In this case, does the quality of your breathing or the state of your body (which you examined in the first two questions) give you any hints about your current emotional state?

4. What is the quality of your attention?

How focused or distracted are you at the moment? Answering the first three questions may have been hard because it was challenging to focus on them, and thus to pay attention to your breath, your body, and your emotions. (If this is the case, just knowing this, recognizing the current state of your attention, is itself an achievement.) Or you may be in a state of greater settled and focused awareness.

One final note: The Mindful Check-in can be done just as I’ve outlined it here, as you sequence through these questions over the course of a few minutes. But after you’ve gained some familiarity with the process of turning your attention inward in this way, it can also be done in a more abbreviated form: You can simply ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?” and notice which aspects of your current mental and bodily experience are most salient.