If you haven’t tried #Unplugging yet, it’s not too late. Sure, I’ve been trying to convince you for a few years now, but then again, I’ve never minded a bit of persistence. If you’re just catching up, you may want to check out the original #Unplugged post that started it all, the exceptional follow-up from dvm360 and finally, #Unplugged Moments.

You might be wondering, “Eric, why is this topic so important to you?” To answer that question, let’s backtrack for just a moment. I’d like to share a quick story about my good friend named Joe. During one of my #Unplugged trips several years ago I was fortunate enough to visit Machu Picchu in Peru…

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and something I was extremely excited about. During the entire vacation, I decided to unplug. This means that although I had access to a phone for emergencies, I wasn’t scrolling through Twitter, answering emails on the go, texting, pinging etc. I was in the moment. I wanted to focus on every little experience during my trip and had a feeling I’d learn more and feel more connected to my experience by doing so

The hike to Machu Picchu (not for the faint of heart, mind you) was a grueling journey involving intensive concentration and plenty of sweating. But when I finally laid eyes on the mountain peaks and valleys, I was in absolute awe. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; in fact, the scene was so vivid it felt a bit surreal. Photos, however stunning, don’t do it justice.

I walked around a bit and finally decided to sit down and take it all in. I sat for about an hour, staring at my surroundings and letting it all sink in. But Joe? The friend I mentioned? He was exploring every nook of the mountain by furiously snapping photos left and right, switching between his cell phone and Sony camera.

Later in the evening, we started to share stories of our experience and what it all felt like. Joe turned to me, and surprisingly he said, “You know, I don’t feel like I was really there. I was so busy taking photos that I didn’t get to enjoy it.” At that moment, it hit me. And I told him. “It sounds like you were looking for a post-able moment, instead of being in the moment.”

We all know about the “post-able” moment. Taking as many pictures as we need to get that perfect shot we can tag on Facebook and rack up the most likes. This becomes an odd type of pursuit, where being perceived as happy and successful in our travels, becomes more important than actually being those things. But I didn’t share this same regret with Joe. I felt like I was able to deeply enjoy my experience.

Of course, I remember plenty of moments before this trip where I decided intentionally to unplug (and yes, even still today) that I was guilty of this too: snapping that perfect photo but being too distracted or plugged-in to resonate more deeply within the moment. We’re not perfect and this is bound to happen, but it’s actually possible to make this the exception and not the rule.

This topic has actually become more important each year that I’ve written about it. A recent study found that Millennials check their phones 150 times per-day (I’m one of them!), a number that may surprise some but could even feel predictable to others. However, it’s not just my generation. Generation X is even worse! “Research by Nielsen, found that Americans aged 35 to 49 used social media 40 minutes more each week than those aged 18 to 34. Gen Xers were also more likely than millennials to pull their phones out at the dinner table.” Technology is becoming more entrenched into our daily lives in powerful ways, and we’ve got to take on the responsibility and consequences that come along with it.

The most important takeaway this year, is that for the #Unplugged experience to be worthwhile to you, you’ve got to make it your own. Sure, I love to provide examples and tips to friends and clients, but this is because I’ve learned what works best for me. For example, I have a friend who checks T

witter even during his #Unplugged vacations. This used to surprise me, and I would tell him, “Well, you’re not really unplugged if you’re on Twitter!” But he let me know that his unplugging involves no Facebook, calls or texts. He finds Twitter to be enjoyable and relaxing, so he’s made an exception to the “rules” that I adhere to. I encourage this!

Making your own rules is the theme here, and actually will lead to a more satisfying and holistic unplugged experience for you. Another friend says “yes” to her specific Social Media networks but does not check email or texts from work. This is enough for her and allows her to enjoy her experience. Again, the takeaway is that making your own rules can provide a more realistic and ultimately satisfying experience. While I still consider a fully #Unplugged vacation or sabbatical to involve unplugging from all technology (just read my upcoming away-message to see what this involves), you should set your own rules to benefit your experience.

There’s no #UnpluggedPolice that will sound the alarm if you start playing Words with Friends or tweeting. But still, you should remain mindful of what exceptions you’ve granted for yourself and why.

Ironically enough, there are some specific apps that can actually help you to unplug and enhance everyday wellness. For example, the VETgirl Wellness App gives you daily reminders and activities to help you de-stress, declutter and stay mindful.

VETgirl Wellness App

This app was actually created by Dr. Justin Lee and Garret Pachtinger (whom I greatly admire and am lucky to call my friends) of VetGirl on the Run. They understand the benefits and pitfalls of technology extremely well and have created this app using everything they’ve learned

Another friend of mine, introduced me to an app earlier this year that actually reminds you of your mortality at different times throughout the day. The app, called WeCroak costs $0.99 and gives daily reminders via push notifications. Why would I want to pay for an app that tells me that I’m going to die? (The app literally sends the same message each time: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”) It’s because this is really a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. A lot of the drama and concern that seems important during our daily lives, just won’t matter in the end. I think it’s important to stay focused on the big picture as much as we can.

Another app is called Forest and costs $1.99. This app is perfect for holding you accountable during your #Unplugged moments. When you first open the app, you set a time you’d like to avoid using your phone and simply tap on “Plant”. At this stage, a tree will begin to grow. If you use your phone to make a call or check an app before the allotted time is up, you’ll interrupt the growth of your tree and it will die. If you do wait for the full amount of time to pass, the tree will flourish, and you can begin to plant an entire forest with additional trees every time you unplug. To me, this is a perfect metaphor and meditation wrapped into one.

These apps can help you to stay focused on your goals while detoxing from excess technology. While I encourage you to make your own rules while #Unplugging, I do believe that at least a few times a year, #Unplugging with absolutely no use of technology is the most beneficial thing of all.

At the end of the day, we’ve only got one life to live. How we use it is up to us, so let’s be in the moment and pay attention to what matters most.

As for me? I’ll be #Unplugging soon and won’t stop trying to convince you to unplug, until you’ve shared your first unplugged story with me. This practice is totally transformational and is something you can get started with…right now.