Interview with Natalie Sennes
CEO & Co-Founder of Moving Mountains | Mindfulness Coach | Project Manager & Innovation Architect at German Entrepreneurship GmbH | Agile Coach & Senior Organizational Developer at Leadership
Not only in times of the coronavirus crisis, but in general being online and connected 24/7 is a typical vice of our digital society. In fact, 80% of men admit to use their phone on the toilet compared to 69% of women who are “toilet texters.” We feel the urge to be available for anyone, anywhere, at any time and in the event we missed out on a call, we might even feel apologetic for not being there. This doesn’t only apply to our private life, but also to business environments many times – which in turn increases the pressure on ourselves. We asked Natalie Sennes, CEO and Co-founder of MovingMountains, for her advice on how we can cope with the pressure, her essential tips on how to reduce screen time, and how she personally manages to detach. Being a founder, a strong business woman and a mindfulness coach at the same time, she also experienced all the challenges you might face in your daily life and certainly knows some best practices on how to solve them.
The mobile phone – a curse or a blessing?
For me – I have to be honest – most of the time it is a drug and therefore it is both a curse and a blessing. It always depends on how I use it and in which context. During weekdays, checking my social media profiles and emails is too often the first thing I do. And at the same time, this is where I get my updates and inspirations from, do my online yoga session, and stay in touch with people I don’t get to see too often. The important thing for me is to check for myself regularly whether I can spend time without it and if it really serves my needs right now. If I can answer both questions with a YES – then it’s a blessing.
How do you actually define “digital detox”?
We define it as “getting clean” from our attachment to digital communication or relaxing from our digital traffic. And positively framed it means becoming more mindful with the present moment, connecting back with reality and our inner passion.
Life wants to be lived fully and actively – if we consume too much passively, we become passive and unhappy. This is where digital detox can help once in a while to experience our own self-efficacy and productivity more and relate to what is really important to us.
Why is digital detox important for us in the digital age?
Today’s digital flow of communication and information can obscure reality. This leads to us trusting more in the things we consume on our phones than in ourselves. Digital detox means getting back in touch with reality and what is really happening.
Moreover, digital communication can stress and overwhelm us at a subconscious level. So, in order to still be able to solve complex problems and be creative, we need to de-stress and regain our full senses. With online consumption, our thoughts are guided all the time – just imagine, what will happen once we let them flow instead?
Do you believe in the effect of “digital detox tours”?
Whatever helps you with detaching from the digital world is good – it’s an individual decision. The support from peers and social pressure of these digital detox tours can be helpful for some people. Find what suits you!
Sometimes it needs an abrupt halt or a radical change to re-create more consciousness. Digital detox tours or just nature itself give you the chance to be in totally different surroundings. For example, I did a ten-day silent retreat with no access to any digital device and this radical stop helped me afterwards to better regulate my digital consumption in daily life. You will be confronted and connected with yourself more directly. This creates great lasting memories and might make it easier to transfer this experience back into your daily routine.
Why is it so hard for people to go offline?
We want to be or just feel connected to others and being online is an easy way to get what you want instantly. We rely on relationships and contact with others and we are afraid to be cut off or left out. Being offline can even feel life-threatening which makes it so difficult to let go of – the coronavirus crisis especially shows this. However, being in touch online can only be a limited replacement for real personal contact.
Do you have tips for people who try to reduce their screen time every day?
My overall tip would be to stick to a routine. Over time, I developed a routine to reduce my screen time.
- Start the day without your mobile phone – spend the first 30 minutes of your day without a screen and just be with yourself for once
- End your day without your mobile phone
- Leave your phone in the office/ at home, when going to lunch or dinner
- Challenge yourself and turn off the phone completely or put it on flight mode once in a while
- Travel somewhere, where network is bad anyways
What we need to know: First, change only happens in small steps, we are “Gewohnheitstiere”/creatures of habit and need daily practice and routine. Second, being constantly online is a strategy to avoid dealing with our real needs, such as taking a break, spending time with good friends and loved ones. Give yourself room to explore what you are really looking for in life. Third, we need new options to change our behavior. This is why we have started MovingMountains: To help people explore new techniques and help them find out what they really want. We run seminars that combine hiking in nature with personnel development and self-leadership. Most of our participants turn off their phones completely during that time and experience it as being extremely liberating to be offline for several days and to free their mind for new experiences and new ideas.
What is the most surprising effect for people going on an Exploration tour with you?
Most surprising for teams and people joining us on developmental hikes into nature is to discover how fast and deep they dive into the processes and how transformational this journey is. Stepping outside the office and taking a walk with your colleagues in a natural environment is unusual in most team settings. However, it acts in a similar way as meditation does: hiking together connects the group and connects everyone with themselves. It allows you to slow down, to feel your body and breathing and to deeply reconnect with yourself. People are more open, more honest, more relaxed and more ready to hear different perspectives. This is an excellent preparation for exploring the topics that are most pressing in your life. In this way, hiking in nature enhances team processes and at the same time anchors them in a better way than indoor seminars do.
Are mobile phones allowed during the sessions?
We recommend turning them off and most of the time we are in regions with bad connection anyway. That definitely helps! People are self-responsible human beings, making it forbidden would contradict this. Everyone knows for themselves why they go on a hiking and coaching tour. The sense and purpose of switching off your digital devices is obvious to the participants even before we mention it.
What do you think about the apps on the market that are supposed to help people disconnect from their smartphones? Do they actually work?
Not really. Do New Years Resolutions actually work? – No they don’t. We need to be willing from within to really open up for change. And then there are far better solutions out there that can help you with that than these apps such as: coaching techniques like “Immunity to change”from Kegan and Lahey, stretches, The 5 Questions from John Scherer, or practical things like switching your phone to black-and-white mode (grayscale), which decreases our level of addiction and relaxes our eyes. Another technique would be turning your phone in flight mode during the night or simply not taking it to your bedroom.
One typical recommendation we often hear or read about is that we should simply stay away from email for a few hours or dedicate certain email time, even during working hours. Isn’t this unrealistic in a digital world?
Of course, you can reserve certain times for digital use or limit yourself to them. Why should this not be possible? It is unnatural and inhuman to be constantly available. Of course, it depends on the specific situation. Some professions require more accessibility than others. But in principle, it is not unrealistic at all. Being offline once in a while can actually increase rather than decrease your productivity.
For me, since I’m in live-meetings and workshops regularly, I’m offline quite often and that’s just natural because there is somewhere else I need to be. And, upfront I just inform people when I will be available and when I will not be available, then it works just fine. I also know many other people and of course entrepreneurs who do that.
My tip: Become aware of what you want to focus your attention towards instead of wasting your attention to mail or chat programs.
What is your opinion on work-life balance vs. there is no such thing?
There is no such thing for me, but it’s about BALANCE in general…and not either-or. I do my work with passion and it gives me energy, this decreases my need for balancing or compensation.
How do you actually take a break from things?
I meditate, drink good coffee, do yoga for my back, go hiking whenever I can…and if days get really busy and I don’t have time for any of that, the least I can do is cook or go for a short walk. It’s very relaxing.
What, in your view, makes an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur is someone who seizes opportunities despite the obstacles ahead. It can be someone who is willing to take up challenges and finds effective solutions to address them.