Brian Solis: We’re Making Life Changing Decisions Based on Our Digital Personas And Don’t Even Know It

Brian Solis has written a new book. And he calls it Lifescale – How to Live a More Creative, Productive and Happy Life. The book serves as a departure from his previous work. And this includes books like X: The Experience When Business Meets Design and What’s The Future of Business.  These books focused on the impact of modern technology on our business and professional lives. However, Lifescale looks at the impact that digital distraction is having on our personal lives. And it examines our ability to be who we really want to be.

As with those previous books, I got the chance to chat with Brian about Lifescale. We looked at why he decided to write this kind of book. We also talked about what he learned about himself and how digital distraction impacted his life. And we asked what people can do to put their lives back into more balance in order to be closer to their true selves.

Below you’ll find an edited transcript of the conversation.  To hear the full interview watch the video or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

More About the Book

Small Business Trends:  Were you surprised at just how distracted you were, personally, after going through all this?

Brian Solis:  Well, no one’s watching this, right? So I can tell the truth. All right. I ended up learning more about myself than I was ready to. But then, I was ready to.

Small Business Trends:  Wow.

Brian Solis:  It wasn’t just the distractions. Right? It was the effect of the distractions over what? How long have we had iPhones? Is it 11 years? It’s the distractions over time, and what they do to you. So it’s not just your body and your brain. It also changes your center of reference. It changes your presence, it changes your relationships, it changes your friendships.

We get so busy and so distracted that we don’t even realize that the decisions that we’re making about life are kind of based upon our digital lives. I call it selfie aspiration that we create this idea of ourselves online and that actually becomes who we are in the real world.

A Closer Look at Distraction

But it’s constantly distracted. It’s constantly changing. We’re constantly moving and that we don’t even realize that that center of reference has moved. And so, we’re making decisions about who we are, and who we want to be, and how we interact with everybody that we know based on these, let’s just not call them concrete foundations, but these sort of quicksand foundations, and they completely change everything. Over time, our values, our behaviors, our norms, all of these things evolve and change without even realizing it because it’s like a slow boil, if you will, like that frog in boiling water analogy.

I was just surprised at how far off my path I had gotten. And I think what I was really inspired by, wasn’t just how to fix my life, but I realized is that pretty much anyone who uses a smart phone or anyone who’s on social media is probably going down these paths that they don’t necessarily realize, and it was because there was no … Our parents pass down to us the standards that were passed down to them around what success and happiness look like. What we’re supposed to follow, life’s milestones. Right?

The Impact of New Technologies

It’s been pretty common for decades now. Right? But then suddenly, boom, we get these new technologies that make us more informed than ever before; that we actually have a voice now, and people are following us, and we’re building networks all around the world. It’s like everybody’s become famous all of a sudden, and nobody taught us how to deal with any of that because it was nothing that other generations had to deal with before. And then suddenly we started getting access to information like, “Well, is this really happiness? Are these really life milestones? Is this really what success looks like?”

And so, it became this massive free for all, and I realized, “Wow, I’m reading about all of these things of who I’ve become. Is this really who I want to be? Is this really happiness? Is this really success?”

An Approach to Reshaping Your Life

Now that I know all of these things, and I have the opportunity to reshape my life, and I know that I’m not going to give up digital, it’s part of my life, anyway; it’s my job, then how am I going to be much more mindful about today’s distractions and tomorrow’s distractions? How am I going to build a better pillars for my life and where I want to go and my purpose? How am I going to use technology to be an enabler there?

So, if I can do that, if I can define that, then imagine what a manual for life could be today. And that’s, I think, what Lifescale ended up becoming… Just the first couple of chapters are about what’s happened to us and why. The rest is just about how to take back control and how to put your life path in a direction that’s going to be much happier, productive, and creative.

Small Business Trends:  You mentioned that we’re all are distracted, and you found out a lot of certain things about just how deep your distractions were and the impact of those distractions on pretty much all aspects of your life.  It may not be the traditional addictions that a lot of us are used to, and maybe some of us are actually battling. But it sounds like it could have the same kind of negative impacts, even some physical impacts, but emotional impacts, and it can take a toll in a number of ways. But a lot of people just say, “Ah, this is nothing like those.” What do you say to those folks?

How Technology Becomes an Addiction

Brian Solis:  Yeah, it’s … Look, because to admit that, right, is [to say this is] like any addiction; that awareness is the first step in anything, any path to recovery. It’s a hard step to take.

What the book does is it walks you through a series of steps from realization and awareness to allowing you to take control, allowing you to see what’s actually happened without blaming anybody. Right? Just it’s more like a “Did you know?”

For example, I hear push-back all the time because to say that you’re addicted or … You’re challenging your entire lifestyle. Right? Your norms are based upon how you interact with these devices online and offline, how you’re present on Facebook. They even shaped your political views, and how you vote, and the news that you believe in that you don’t believe. Right?

Realizing the Distractions in Your Life

So it’s gotten really far along, and it’s not like people are going to say like, “Oh, I totally do that. I should change that.” But all I can do is share with you what are some of the things … Like, for example, I started off with very light things. I’m very honest at the beginning saying, “You know, I don’t even remember at what point I realized I had a problem.

And the only reason that I really had to take action is because my creativity was absolutely compromised. And my job is dependent on that creativity.” Right? If I’m not original or interesting to the market then there’s a lot of other great people to choose from. So I introduced light things like, “Did you know that the average person spends over four hours a day on their device?”

When that happens, your brain is rewiring, and it’s speeding up, and so you’re then multitasking. When you’re multitasking, you’re not actually multitasking, your brain is engaging what’s called a neuro-chemical switch that’s releasing these chemicals so that you can switch from task to task, but you’re expending that energy and, by the end of the day, it’s depleted.

You start the next day fresh again, and you just repeat the cycle over and over again. You get upwards of about 200 notifications a day, and each time you would indulge one of those notifications, it takes you 23 minutes to get back into the zone of whatever work that you were trying to do. So you add that up over time, and those are all opportunity costs and productivity costs that you can probably put a hard number to.

Empowering the Reader to Take Control

I just introduce these things, and then I also tell the stories of how those were designed in the apps that you use so that you’re like, “I had no idea.” And hopefully empower the reader just as they’re turning the pages and say, “Wow, wow, wow. Now what do I do?” Then that’s when we get to work.

Small Business Trends:  Okay, so I’ve already started reading the book, and there’s a lot of great information there. There’s a lot of great insights. You just mentioned a few of them. So knowing, after you read the book, you feel like, “Oh, I do know that I have some issues, and I do know how important it is to get over those issues.” Okay, the information is great, all right. How do I actually do this? Because knowing is one thing, but then actually trying to step through it and get away from that addiction has got to be extremely difficult.

You wrote the book, so you live the book, where do you feel you are in the process?

Brian Solis:  Yeah. The irony of this is that I had to go right back into the pit of fire to promote the book. In many ways, it’s like if you just quit drinking, and then you have to start going to mixers …

Small Business Trends:  Where it’s all around you, right?

Brian Solis:  Yeah, exactly. I’m rereading the book. There’s a lot of exercises in the book that you build upon. For example, one of the first things that I had to do, and I shared it in the early stages of the books, was I had to come up with what I was calling productivity hacks.

Creating Productivity Hacks

You can’t get to the deeper exercises in the book if you don’t have the attention span and the emotional commitment to do it. So you have to build up there. You have to start building new routines and rituals to help you get there.

And one of the first ones I did was called the Pomodoro Technique, which is you focus in … It’s like the kitchen timer. You focus in 25-minute bursts, and then you take a five-minute break. Not to go to social media or your devices, but just to breathe, kind of close your eyes. I don’t know. Enjoy some music, whatever it is.

Then you come back, and you focus for 25 minutes, and then the next thing you know, you’re building that skill to be able to focus and focus, focus. The first time I tried it, I kept a little scorecard. First time I tried it, I think I got about three minutes into it and I reached for my phone, and it wasn’t even because there was a notification, it was just built into my muscle memory. It’s just, that’s what you do.

Recognizing How Big the Problem Is

“Maybe I should check my feeds,” and you realize just how deep the problem is when you put yourselves to those tests. Even before the Pomodoro Technique, I think I asked, can’t remember what page it is, but I asked readers to just close their eyes for 60 seconds, and I said, “Okay, no, no seriously try it again because we …”

Small Business Trends:  It’s never going to take on the first try.

Brian Solis:  Yeah, it wasn’t going to take on the first try. And it’s incredibly difficult. I mean even silence. We don’t allow ourselves to enjoy silence. We don’t allow ourselves to be bored. We’ve trained that out of us anymore.

Those things are really critical for ideation and creativity, and those are the building blocks for innovation. Right? I was just trying to teach people how to build those skills so they can get deeper and deeper into the book. Right?

A Vision of What Your Life Should Be

And so the “hows” were all just kind of really setting the stage for, I think, what was more important, which was getting to a vision for what you want your life to be. Reacquainting yourself with the values that we probably assumed we had, but had probably lost, and how we were actually behaving every single day, and the decisions that we were making every single day. And then, building upon that, giving your life new purpose, so that you could do these hard things and chase these hard things. And so, those exercises I have in …

Everybody’s going to go through it differently, but I have physical manifestations of all of those things, and I have them as constant reminders to … I’m not wearing it right now, but I created bracelets that I’m going to start to offer to readers that remind you of the journey that you’re on so that you can give yourself strength and validation just … It’s from a visual reminder.

Small Business Trends:  So you’ve written the book, and you’re living the book. What does it feel like to start to get the benefits of putting some of the things that you wrote in the book into play to free up yourself to live a less distracted life?

Brian Solis:  One of the things that I realized was that I was living to this idea of success that actually wasn’t what I felt like success was. For example, I acquired a lot of material stuff because those were supposed to be symbolic or milestones or trophies of successful accomplishments over the years. And that stuff actually carries a cognitive load… For example, I like to collect cars over the last 20 years, and I never see them. I never drive them. I never do anything with them. But I always feel guilty about never doing that. “I’ve got to make time for that.”

How to Make Time for What’s Important

And so, I was never feeling good about actually owning them. I was just feeling stress and guilt and things that are relevant. I used to collect pens, the same thing, and so I just started freeing myself of this stuff. Right?

Just the weight that comes off your shoulders without even knowing that that was there in the first place was … All kinds of stuff. It’s one of the reasons, for example, why the Marie Kondo stuff was so popular is that we’re just getting rid of things that are actually cognitive loads on who we are. It actually affects our health and wellness whether we know it or not.

The same is true for our digital diets and consumption. Right? So if you think about your browser tabs … How many browser tabs do people have open all the time? Right? And if you think about the metaphor for what that’s doing to your computer, your system resources that it takes to have all of those tabs open, that’s exactly what’s happening to your brain and your body is that we’re keeping that cognitive load constantly going.

Becoming More Present and Mindful

So things like that have manifested in my life. But I’ll tell you the other thing too is that just becoming more present and mindful allows to just enjoy other people more or to enjoy space or surroundings and experiences more. I’ve already noticed that I’m spending more time with my children instead of saying, “Yeah, I’m going to get to that.” Right? I’m actually finding more time with my wife. I’m spending more quality time doing the things that I said I was always going to do, which I never got to.

The other thing is that I’m more creative again. And it doesn’t even need to be creative with the big C. Little c creativity, right, is … I carry this Apple pencil, and I’m not an artist in any way, but I draw. I draw out my ideas, and I just get into the habit of doing that because you’re teaching your brain new things.

You’re rewiring your brain every time you do those things.  All of these things add up to just being not only present, but much more alive. And then, I also think that, as a result, I hope my family likes me more, that they see it in me. All that stuff just takes practice, but it’s not even done yet. I’m still going through all of these things. I’m still churning out stuff that I don’t need. I’m learning new ways to live life. I’m learning new ways to find happiness, and that, I think … It’s only getting better.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.